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, October 28, 2017

Boston’s Urgent Town Meeting 250 Years Ago

On 28 Oct 1767, two hundred fifty years ago today, Boston held a special town meeting in Faneuil Hall to discuss an urgent threat. As stated in a broadside issued after the meeting:
the excessive Use of foreign Superfluities is the chief Cause of the present distressed State of this Town, as it is thereby drained of its Money: which Misfortune is likely to be increased by Means of the late additional Burthens and Impositions on the Trade of the Province, which threaten the Country with Poverty and Ruin:
In its post-Puritan way, Boston had made such official pronouncements against spending money on luxuries and “Superfluities” for a long time. Town leaders also promoted local manufacturing capability so people would spend less on cloth and other material shipped from Britain. Both campaigns dated back well before conflicts with the British government had started to grow in the mid-1760s.

Thus, the men at this town meeting promised they would
adhere to the late Regulation respecting Funerals, and will not use any Gloves but what are Manufactured here, nor procure any new Garments upon such an Occasion, but what shall be absolutely necessary.
But there was a bigger threat at this time. The phrase “the late additional Burthens and Impositions on the Trade of the Province” referred to how Parliament had imposed tariffs on the import of tea, glass, lead, paper, and painters’ colors into the North American colonies. Those new taxes came to be known as the “Townshend duties.” So private transactions were no longer the only thing taking hard money out of Boston; the government in London was about to do so as well without Massachusetts having a say in the decision.

Therefore, this town meeting went beyond issuing yet another call to do without “foreign Superfluities.” It sought to cut down on all imports from Britain as a strategy to pressure London merchants into lobbying Parliament to repeal those new tariffs. After all, that boycott strategy had worked against the Stamp Act.

The meeting appointed a committee to draft terms for a boycott. Those men included many of the town’s leading merchants: John Rowe, William Greenleaf, Melatiah Bourne, Samuel Austin, Edward Payne, Edmund Quincy tertius, John Ruddock, Jonathan Williams, Joshua Henshaw, Henderson Inches, Solomon Davis, Joshua Winslow, and Thomas Cushing. Leading politicians who weren’t in trade, such as James Otis, Jr., and Samuel Adams, didn’t make the list. At this moment the merchants were steering Boston’s political course.

That committee followed the meeting’s instructions and drew up a subscription for people to sign, pledging not to import any of these goods after the end of 1767:
Loaf Sugar, Cordage, Anchors, Coaches, Chaises and Carriages of all Sorts, Horse Furniture, Men and Womens Hatts, Mens and Womens Apparel ready made Houshold Furniture, Gloves, Mens and Womens Shoes, Sole-Leather, Sheathing and Deck Nails, Gold and Silver and Thread Lace of all Sorts, Gold and Silver Buttons, Wrought Plate of all Sorts, Diamond, Stone and Paste Ware, Snuff, Mustard, Clocks and Watches, Silversmiths, and Jewellers Ware, Broad Cloths that cost above 10s. per Yard, Muffs Furrs and Tippets, and all Sorts of MillenaryWare, Starch, Womens and Childrens Stays, Fire Engines, China Ware, Silk and Cotton Velvets, Gauze, Pewterers hollow Ware, Linseed Oyl, Glue, Lawns, Cambricks, Silks of all Kinds for Garments, Malt Liquors and Cheese.
The committee also called on people to use glass and paper made in North America, not Britain—though the supply of either commodity manufactured in America was still very small.


daffern1 said...

Mr. Bell, do you know the purpose of the posts and rails shown in the foreground of the engraving? Hitching posts for horses or livestock of those attending Market Days at Faneuil Hall?


J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I believe they were set out for the farmers bringing wagons of crops to the marketplace.

J. L. Bell said...

In March 1767 the town voted “That the selectmen be desired to shut up such parts of the Towns Land adjoining to Faneuil Hall Market as they shall Judge proper, and not suffer any Person to enter within the Rails for the sale of any kind of Provisions unless they pay such an acknowledgement to the Town as the Selectmen may think reasonable — Also that it be recommended to the Inhabitants of the Town not to purchase any Provision of such disorderly Persons as may presume to stand in Dock Square, or the streets round Faneuil Hall Market”. Those rails delineated the official market.

daffern1 said...