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.

Follow by Email


Monday, October 20, 2014

New Light on the North End Caucus

As Appendix C to his two-volume 1891 biography of Paul Revere, Elbridge H. Goss printed the “Proceedings of the North End Caucus,” which he said had been provided by A. O. Crane, a Boston publisher. Those documents have since disappeared, and historians have used Goss’s transcription as their best source.

This weekend I stumbled across an earlier publication of the same documents in the 25 Nov 1826 Boston News-Letter and City Record, also available through Google Books. The newspaper credited “a gentleman at the North End” for sharing his reminiscences. (The historian Richard Frothingham saw another version of those documents while preparing his 1849 history of the siege, but didn’t publish a transcription.)

There are many small deviations between the two transcriptions, such as in italicization or spelling proper names—enough to suggest that they were separate efforts and Goss wasn’t just reprinting from a newspaper provided by Crane. I also saw three significant differences.

In the first entry, dated 22 Mar 1772, the caucus appointed a committee to inquire into the “Minovery” of the town according to the 1826 transcription. Eighteenth-century dictionaries define that word as a form of trespass “by hand,” as in cutting wood or setting traps on land one doesn’t own. In the 1891 transcription that obscure word became “Minority,” which makes more sense in a political context but still raises questions. The clause appears to be about consulting with others in Boston about when to have a town meeting and what its business should be.

On 4 May 1773, the Boston News-Letter transcription says, the North End Caucus voted “the Pleasant-street [in the far South End] be not accepted as a town-street.” That item doesn’t appear at all in the Goss transcription. Perhaps that’s connected to the fact that the North Enders’ position lost when this issue came up for a vote. At the very least, it’s significant evidence that the North End Caucus couldn’t carry the town meeting on all issues—i.e., they didn’t always represent a majority.

On 9 May 1774 the caucus voted to oppose a petition from a man named Leonard. In the News-Letter he is named as “Geo. Leonard,” and in Goss he is “Gen. Leonard.” The records of the next day’s town meeting show that Boston rejected George Leonard’s petition to build a grist mill on Fort Hill in the South End. Leonard had managed the mill beside the North End earlier, but he had shown himself to be a Loyalist. [Not the most prominent Loyalist of that name, however.]

The Goss transcription includes a couple of blanks where individuals’ names have been deliberately left out. Alas, the News-Letter transcription has blanks in the same places, indicating that they were included in the North End Caucus’s original record.

TOMORROW: But some contextual study can fill them in.


J. L. Bell said...

At the same town meeting that discussed Pleasant Street, the agenda also included improvements to Kilby Street in the North End, which the North End Caucus strongly supported.

One plausible explanation for the disappearance of the anti-Pleasant Street vote from the caucus's minutes is that they reached a deal with the South End Caucus that both groups would vote for town spending on both Kilby and Pleasant Streets.

Charles Bahne said...

I think of Kilby Street as in the colonial South End -- it runs south from State Street. It was, however, close to the center of town (Town House/Old State House) as opposed to Pleasant Street, which was indeed in the far South End, almost on the Neck.

J. L. Bell said...

I guess I should have described Kilby as in the center of town as Bostonians considered it in the 1770s—south of the Mill Creek that defined the border of the North End, close to the Town House as you say.

As with the North End Gang, the population of Boston had grown so much that the South End Caucus presumably outnumbered the North End Caucus by a fair amount. And yet the North Enders kept acting like they were half the town.