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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Thursday, August 27, 2015

“The same enraged mob whent to the house of Judge Hutchinson”

On 26 Aug 1765, the Boston Gazette ran this notice on the bottom of its third page amidst the local news:
Messieurs Edes & Gill.

I Desire the Printers of the Thursday’s Paper [Richard Draper’s “News-Letter”] to tell their Readers who those Gentlemen of Integrity and Reputation were that informed the Populace that an honorable Gentleman had “not only spoke but wrote AGAINST laying on the Stamp Duties”

And if these Gentlemen will make it appear to be a Fact, they shall have the Honor of three Cheers, with the free Consent, of your humble Servant,

As Harbottle Dorr’s note on his copy of the newspaper shows, readers understood that the “honorable Gentleman” in question was Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson.

Bostonians had been assigning Hutchinson some blame for the Stamp Act for weeks. On 14 August he tried to defend—reportedly with his sword—the house of stamp agent Andrew Oliver. The next night he refused to tell crowds at his door that he’d opposed the law because, as he wrote, “I did not like to be accountable to them.”

On top of that, Hutchinson was also connected to the Customs house inquiry that had riled Boston’s maritime community the previous year, as described yesterday. On the night of 26 August, crowds visited four men who had been part of that scandal, ransacking at least two of their homes. And then they headed for Hutchinson’s mansion in the North End.

The lieutenant governor left several accounts of this event, but I’ll quote one from his niece Hannah Mather Crocker, recently printed in Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston. Hannah’s father, the Rev. Samuel Mather (1706-1785, shown above courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society), was Hutchinson’s brother-in-law and neighbor. Thirteen years old at the time, she recalled:
The same enraged mob whent to the house of Judge Hutchinson [&] demanded his person. Not finding him, they distroyed great part of his house and furniture [&] drank wine till many of them could drink no more.

Part of the mob whent to Dr. Mather’s house where he had taken refuge. The Dr. told them his house was his castle and he should protect his brother Hutchinson.

At last the contest grew so warm that it was not thought safe for Mr. Hutchinson to stay any longer at his sister’s house. The present writer of this account was sent to shew him a private pass, the back way through an alley to the house of Mr. Thomas Edes [1715-1794] father of the late Edwards Edes.

There he remained till six o’clock in the morn when he partook of breakfast with his sister’s family. He conducted like a calm philosopher through the whole scene. After breakfast he whent up to court in his common dress, as his bag wig and robes had been distroyed by the mob. He opened court with a very affecting speach.
Young lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., heard that speech and wrote down one of two versions to survive. According to him, Chief Justice Hutchinson began:
Gentlemen: There not being a Quorum of the Court without me, I am oblig’d to appear.—Some Apology is necessary for my Dress—indeed I had no other. Destitute of every Thing—no other Shirt—no other Garment, but what I have on.—And not One in my whole family in a better Situation than myself. The Distress of a whole family around me, young & tender Infants hanging about me [Hutchinson’s youngest children were eleven and thirteen], are infinitely more insupportable than what I feel for myself, tho’ I am obliged to borrow Part of this Cloathing.
In addition to almost all his household’s clothes, Hutchinson was missing his windows, his furniture, his plate, his family pictures, his wainscotting, his front fence, his official comission as lieutenant governor, £900 sterling, and—perhaps most devastating to a historian—his books and manuscripts. Fortunately for Hutchinson, he had a backup mansion in Milton.

TOMORROW: A street-level view of this riot.

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