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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Friday, December 18, 2015

The Young Gentleman in the Gallery

There’s a third description of what Josiah Quincy, Jr., said in the Old South Meeting-House on 16 Dec 1773, preserved in the biography of the young lawyer authored by his descendants.

But not in the first edition of that biography, published by the subject’s son Josiah Quincy (1772-1864) in 1825. That book had little to say about the destruction of the tea, which had not yet gained fame and respect as the “Boston Tea Party.”

Instead, the anecdote first came into print in the second edition, edited by the subject’s granddaughter Eliza Susan Quincy (1798-1884) for publication almost fifty years later. (Actually, this Massachusetts Historical Society webpage says she had prepared the first edition as well, though it was published under her father’s name.)

The 1874 book says:
During the interval, speeches were made by Samuel Adams and others. Josiah Quincy, Junior, standing in the east gallery of the Old South meeting-house, spoke in a tone of bold and animated invective against the measures of the British government.

Harrison Gray [royal treasurer of Massachusetts], standing on the floor, in reply warned the young gentleman in the gallery against the consequences of the intemperate language in which he indulged, saying that such language would be no longer borne by administration; that measures were in train which would bring the authors of such invectives to the punishment they deserved.

Mr. Quincy replied, “If the old gentleman on the floor intends, by his warning to ‘the young gentleman in the gallery,’ to utter only a friendly voice in the spirit of paternal advice, I thank him. If his object be to terrify and intimidate, I despise him. Personally, perhaps, I have less concern than any one present in the crisis which is approaching. The seeds of dissolution are thickly planted in my constitution. They must soon ripen. I feel how short is the day that is allotted to me.”
The remarks about “my constitution” alluded to the tuberculosis Quincy was suffering from, but also brought up thoughts of the British constitution. Was it also doomed to dissolution?

Two days ago, I quoted a report of that meeting written by a Crown informant inside Old South. It didn’t describe Quincy speaking “against the measures of the British government,” even though the informant’s job was to pay attention to such remarks. It didn’t mention Harrison Gray, a royal appointee by then firmly on the side of the Crown, at all.

That report did say Quincy was heckled, but it described the voice coming down from the gallery, not directed up to it. And that voice insinuated that Quincy had taken money to support the Rotch family, not that he was using “intemperate language.”

So was that exchange between Quincy and a suspicious radical transmuted by memory into this back-and-forth between Quincy and a leading Loyalist?

TOMORROW: Quincy looks at clouds from both sides.


RBK said...

Who was the crown informant? Was there a name on any of the reports? Maybe they were intentionally "without an obvious bias for or against Quincy" because maybe, the crown informant was secretly a patriot and wished to buy time, since everyone knew what was coming, but it was not quite there yet. Perhaps (if the informant was secretly a spy) they thought that reporting it would hasten King George III resolve and leave the patriots less equipped and prepared than they could have been with a little extra time. I bet they weren't betting on the Boston Tea Party happening so soon after though.

RBK said...

I know that it is highly unlikely, it was just fun to imagine.

J. L. Bell said...

The report isn't signed, but the handwriting is reportedly in the same handwriting as other documents marked "Colman," suggesting that the writer was a cousin of Massachusetts attorney general Jonathan Sewall. This week I came across a report that another copy descended in the Sewell family, which seems to seal that connection.

Compared to other reports to the Crown I've been reviewing lately, this one is pretty remarkable for not revealing much passion on the part of the writer. It was more strictly factual. By the time it was compiled, the Tea Party had taken place, and the local royal authorities were focused on who could be held responsible.

RBK said...

If he had included a little more information, it would probably have been easier for royal authorities to identify those responsible. Well, maybe not since everyone had their faces painted and were dressed as Mohawks. I have been racking my brains trying to figure out how such huge chunks were deemed not important enough to include in the report. It seems very important. It almost seems lazy, but I can't imagine that would be why the report was so basic. It's so mentally frustrating!...ahhhh to be able to ask him!

Was it not unusual to see native americans at town meetings and around the town?

What other reports to the crown have you been able to review lately?

One of my favorite things that I have read about the Boston Tea Party is that they didn't destroy anything else besides the tea and the crates they were in. They even swept the decks of the ships! No ships were destroyed. How different from the stamp act mobs and riots. It would have been another Gaspee, but wasn't. That's admirable. Another thing I was reading was the the British war ships would have weapons pointed towards the ships in the harbor. Why not just wait until the ships tried to sail out away from the town and civilians, then sink them. Pointing weapons towards everyone is a little extreme.

J. L. Bell said...

In chronological order, there's a collection at Harvard called the Sparks Manuscripts that includes a lot of reports to Customs official John Harrison in 1769 and 1770. Some are signed, others are not. Some are quite credible, others not.

The person taking notes inside Old South during the tea meetings couldn't spot who was responsible for destroying the tea because he was looking in the wrong place. The gentlemen at that meeting weren't going to openly discuss destroying the tea, much less order that done. Except for noticing Molineux's absence, that report doesn't say anything about who was actually at the docks, only who was definitely not.

I don't think anyone at the tea meetings was dressed or painted as Mohawks. In fact, I think the idea of men disguised as Indians was emphasized after the event as a way to discuss the action while maintaining plausible deniability about who carried it out. One likely participant, Ebenezer Stevens, even insisted that very few men were disguised. Some probably had their faces blackened or colored to elude recognition, but the pictures of men with feathers and Native dress are grossly exaggerated.

Yes, the Tea Party was a very controlled act of violence. If the town's radicals were going to destroy £9,000 of property belonging to a politically connected company, they were going to do that in the most respectable way possible.

As for the Royal Navy warships, I think local Whigs emphasized the idea that their guns pointed threateningly at the town, but it's not like a warship can put its cannons in its pockets. Those guns point off to either side. At no point until the war did the Royal Navy ever fire a cannon at Boston or a ship in its harbor.

RBK said...

I thought that the idea of the mohawks at the meeting and around town was a little strange, and obvious. It was just in a book that I read, not any actual historical documents.

And I think it only surprised me that the destruction of the tea was so controlled given the history of Boston citizens destroying property of those loyal to the crown, or those appointed to act for the crown, during other previous riots. I know that not all of the destruction was caused by Sam Adams, his affiliates or the Sons of Liberty and that they most likely called for caution during such events, it was just impressive that this time, those outside of the Sons of Liberty, people were able to restrain themselves and still accomplish what needed to be done.

J. L. Bell said...

As with political protests today, episodes that turn violent burn brighter in people's memory than the more frequent peaceful demonstrations.

In the case of the Tea Party, organizers put a lot of effort into ensuring that the destruction was directed just at the tea, that no one was hurt, and that none of the protesters could be accused of acting for his own gain. (They made an example of Charles Conner for supposedly trying to make off with some tea.) Part of that effort included keeping the meeting at Old South going while the tea destruction began so the docks wouldn't be overrun with crowds.