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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Saturday, November 19, 2016

“Seeing him buried under Liberty Tree”

On 22 Aug 1774, the Boston Gazette carried a small item at the end of its front-page news from Britain:
Died, a few days since, at Backway, near Cambridge, Philip Billes, Esq: possessed of a considerable fortune, which he had left to two gentlemen, no relations, on condition of seeing him buried under Liberty Tree at Boston, in New England.
The most recent dateline for London news in that paper was 1 June, probably the date of its British newspaper that printers Edes and Gill copied this item from. I’ve also seen a mention in the Craftsman or Say’s Weekly Journal for 4 June of the death of “Philip Billes, Esq; a gentleman possessed of a considerable fortune, which he has left to two gentlemen.”

I believe “Backway” was a variant spelling of Barkway, a village and parish in northeast Hertfordshire fifteen miles from Cambridge. Billes might be the person baptized in November 1700 in Dorset, from a genteel family whose last name also appears as Biles and Byles.

But I haven’t been able to find anything more about Billes or his body. When he died, the Boston Port Bill had come into effect, complicating any effort to ship a casket into Boston. War broke out the following spring, and by September Liberty Tree was as dead as Mr. Billes. So he probably never got his wish. Presumably his two friends still enjoyed his fortune.

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