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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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Renting Property “for the quartering of troops”

The longer the 14th Regiment of Foot bunked inside Faneuil Hall and the Town House, the harder Boston’s selectmen found it to get those soldiers out again.

The Whigs kept making that an issue. On 5 October, for example, their “Journal of Occurrences” complained: “The Council now met, and were obliged to pass the guards placed in the passage way, entering their chamber.” And the next day they added:
This day, by order of Governor [Francis] Bernard, the south battery was delivered up to Col. [William] Dalrymple. If this people had not more patience and loyalty, than some others have tenderness and sound policy; what a scene would soon open!
At the same time, the Whigs objected to any hint that supporters of the royal government might solve that problem by providing other places for the soldiers to stay. Back on 4 October their “Journal” had sneered:
Report, that James Murray, Esq; from Scotland, since 1745, had let his dwelling house and sugar houses, for the quartering of troops, at £15 sterling per month, and that Mr. [James] Forrest from Ireland had let them a house lately purchased for about £50 sterling, at the rate of £60 sterling per annum.
Murray (shown above) was Scottish by birth. The reference to “since 1745” was a reminder of that year’s Jacobite rebellion—no matter that Murray had settled in North Carolina ten years before that. Forrest was likewise not a New England native and known for Loyalist politics.

As it worked out, Murray did rent a large sugar-distillery on Brattle Street to the army. It wasn’t actually his property, though. He was agent for his sister Elizabeth and her second husband, James Smith. That building thus became known as both Murray’s barracks and Smith’s barracks.

As for Forrest, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that he rented a house out for barracks.

Meanwhile, another property owner who did rent to the army was selectman John Rowe. On 7 October, 250 years ago today, he wrote in his journal: “Let one of my houses to Capt. [Brabazon] Ohara yesterday & the other this day to Major [Jonathan] Furlong—both at £20 Ster’g per annum.”

Capt. O’Hara of the 14th was a witness to the fight between James Otis, Jr., and Customs Commissioner John Robinson in 1769. According to one document, he testified about the Boston Massacre in 1770. The regiment was transferred to the West Indies after that, and he died on the island of Saint Vincent in 1773.

Maj. Furlong of the 14th had a less eventful time in Boston. The start of the war found him in St. Augustine, Florida, commanding a small garrison there. He died in 1782, having attained the rank of colonel.

Back in October 1768, O’Hara and Furlong weren’t looking for homes for their men. They were renting genteel accommodations for themselves, paying out of their own money. After all, we shouldn’t expect British military gentlemen to share quarters with ordinary soldiers. Many Bostonian householders rented rooms to officers like that, and it wasn’t as controversial as supplying buildings for barracks.

That said, the Boston Massacre trial testimony refers to “Rowe's Barracks,” otherwise unidentified. So it’s likely that Selectman Rowe did rent a large building to the army as well.

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