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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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Smuggling in Boston, Before the Revolution and 18 Sept.

One of the sources John Tyler used for Smugglers and Patriots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution (1986) are the records of Ezekiel Price’s marine insurance office. Merchants were happy to lie to the Customs office about where their ships were headed, but they didn’t want to invalidate their insurance policies with misinformation. Many of the voyages that Price underwrote were therefore clearly going outside imperial bounds.

Tyler also reported that written evidence survives for smuggling by Thomas Hancock, the governor’s rich uncle; Shrimpton Hutchinson, the other governor’s cousin; Whig organizer William Molineux; fence-sitting merchant John Rowe; ropemaker Benjamin Austin; future tea consignee Richard Clarke; and Massacre victim Edward Payne, among others.

In 1766 the Boston Customs office tried to search the storehouse of Daniel Malcom, an incident that still shows up in histories of American search-and-seizure laws. There’s strong evidence that Malcom really was a smuggler, even aside from how he refused to let the Customs men onto his property.

The most prominent merchant accused of smuggling before the Revolutionary War was, of course, John Hancock. The fortune he inherited from his uncle was certainly based in part on illegal trade (as well as government contracts). But the case that John Hancock himself oversaw serious smuggling is still unproven.

Peter Andreas’s Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America is the latest book to ply this region.  It covers the period from colonial times to the present, with smuggling dominated in different eras by molasses, slaves, drugs, booze, and people.

Andreas, a professor in the Department of Political Science at Brown University, will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Wednesday, 18 September. There will be a reception at 5:30, and Andreas is due to speak at 6:00. This event costs $10 for people who aren’t M.H.S. members, and reservations are required. But if his book’s theme holds true, you can probably find someone to sneak you in.

1 comment:

John L Smith Jr said...

Great final sentence, J.L.! That's why a person should be sure to not scan your blog articles. You embed some great gems in there!