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, November 08, 2018

“The stench occasioned by the troops in the Representatives Chamber”

Even after His Majesty’s 14th Regiment of Foot moved out of Faneuil Hall, owned by the town of Boston, some troops remained in the Town House, which had become provincial property.

That building is now known as the Old State House. Its interior is different from how it looked in the 1760s. Back then it included a large, elegant room where the governor met with the Council and an even larger room with a small spectators’ gallery where the lower house of the General Court met.

No representatives had met in the Representatives’ Chamber since June 1768 when Gov. Francis Bernard had dissolved the legislature. But that space was also used as Boston’s courtroom. (A standalone courthouse was under construction a block away on Queen Street, to open in 1769.)

On 8 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, Massachusetts’s top court met in that room. That offered the Boston Whigs another opening for a complaint about Crown policy, written the next day:
Yesterday the Superior Court met by adjournment at the Court House. In the afternoon a motion was made by J[ame]s O[ti]s, Esq; one of the bar, that the court would adjourn to Faneuil-Hall, not only as the stench occasioned by the troops in the Representatives Chamber, may prove infectious, but as it was derogatory to the honour of the court to administer justice at the mouths of cannon and the points of bayonets.
At the time, many doctors thought bad odors and miasmas could carry disease.

The Superior Court judges, led by Thomas Hutchinson, turned aside Otis’s suggestion to move, but he had made his point. The Whigs’ report continued:
This day the troops were removed from that Chamber, much to the satisfaction of the people who have looked upon their being placed there at first by the G[overno]r as an insult upon the whole province.
The army set up its main guard in a building facing the Town House, with a guard and a couple of small cannon at the door. So the Whigs complained that set-up threatened the civil government.


Joe Bauman said...

I’m curious about the journalism practice of leaving the middle letters blank when referring to certain people or positions. Did the papers think that would protect them from a charge of libel? I deeply admire your work!

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, it's clear from how newspaper printers deployed abbreviations that they were trying to create plausible deniability for charges of sedition or libel. “You thought ‘the G——’ meant ‘the Governor’? No, no, I was referring to, um, a goldsmith I once knew.”

One of the most interesting examples appears in this post, which quotes a British printer quoting arguments in Parliament. The printer supported what “L— C——” had said to the “B—— P———,“ so this wasn’t a matter of libel. But British law hadn’t yet established that printers could publish parliamentary debates.