J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Daniel Usher at the Boston Massacre

On Saturday I quoted Henry Knox’s testimony in the trial of the soldiers after the Boston Massacre. In response to a lawyer’s question, he said he “did hear a young fellow, one Usher, about eighteen years of age say” of Pvt. Hugh White, “God damn him, we will knock him down for snapping,” or firing his gun with no ball inside.

I went looking for the person Knox described. One possibility is Daniel Usher, who (like Knox) testified to magistrates Richard Dana and John Hill for Boston’s report on the event:

…coming into King-street about half after nine o’clock on monday evening the fifth current, he saw several persons, mostly young folks gathered between the town house and coffee-house, some of whom were talking to the centinel at the commissioners or custom-house; after some time, the boys at a distance began to throw light snow balls at him, which he seemed much enraged at, & went on to the custom-house steps where he appeared to have charged his gun giving it a heavy stamp upon the door step, as if to force down the lead, and then swore to the boys if they came near him he would blow their brains out.

About ten minutes after this, the deponent saw Capt. [Thomas] Preston leading seven or eight men from towards the town-house, and placed them between the custom-house door and the centinel box. About four or five minutes after they were posted, the snow balls now and then coming towards the soldiers, the Capt. commanded them to fire.

Upon this, one gun quickly went off, and afterwards he said FIRE BY ALL MEANS! others succeeding, and the deponent being utterly unarm’d, to avoid further danger, went up round the town-house till the fray was over. And further saith not.
Despite (or because of) this accusation of Capt. Preston, Daniel Usher wasn’t called to testify at either of the formal trials.

A Daniel Usher was baptized at the Brattle Street Meetinghouse on 5 Feb 1749, son of Hezekiah and Jane Usher. That would have made him twenty-one in March 1770, or a year older than Knox.

However, I can’t fit that baptism into the genealogy published in volume 23 of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, which says that Hezekiah and Jane User did have a son Daniel, who died young, and that Hezekiah married another woman named Abigail in the early 1740s. Once again, there might have been multiple people with the same names.

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