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 01, 2018

“Your Excellency will therefore excuse our doing anything”

During the conflict over the Manufactory building, Gov. Francis Bernard was still pushing other ways to find housing for the two-plus regiments in town.

The governing law was the Quartering Act of 1765. That required colonies to provide barracks for army troops, which Massachusetts did at Castle William—but the Crown didn’t want the troops off on that island.

The next option in the law was government-owned buildings—but locals didn’t want troops in Faneuil Hall, the Town House, and Manufactory.

After that came “inns, livery stables, ale houses, victualling houses, and the houses of sellers of [wine and spirits]”—and no one wanted to force citizens to turn over those properties without strong local authority behind the order.

Gov. Bernard had gotten no cooperation from his Council, so he tried another branch of local government. He put pressure on Boston’s justices of the peace. Those magistrates were appointed, not elected, so they supposedly owed more loyalty to the Crown.

The governor started that effort on 20 Oct 1768, the same day that Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf actually got into the Manufactory. In a letter to London, Bernard explained:
I therefore summoned all the acting justices to meet me in the Council chamber: Twelve of them appeared; I acquainted them that the General demanded quarters for two regiments, according to the Act of parliament; they desired to take it into Consideration Among themselves; I consented, & We parted.

Two justices, 2 days after this [i.e., 22 October], attended me with an Answer in writing, whereby the whole body refused to billet the Souldiers. But these Gentlemen informing me that the Justices had been much influenced by the Argument that the barracks at the Castle ought to be first filled &c, I showed them the Minutes of the Council whereby the barracks at the Castle were assigned for the Irish Regiments; and they must be considered as full. This was quite new to them, the Council themselves having overlook’t this effect of their Vote. I gave them a Copy of this Vote & returned the Answer desiring them to reconsider it.

Three days after [i.e., 23 October] the same Gentlemen informed me that they had resolved against billeting the Souldiers but could not agree upon the reasons to be assigned for the refusing it:
At that meeting, according to the Boston Whigs, Lieutenant Governor Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson insisted to the magistrates that Bernard “required their answer not in the usual way, but in writing, and under their hands.”

The justices therefore got another day to prepare a written reply to Gov. Bernard. (Meanwhile, the Manufactory option had collapsed.) The Boston Whigs included the 24 October result in their “Journal of Occurrences”:
May it Please Your Excellency,

Your Excellency having been pleased to demand of us to quarter and billet a number of officers and soldiers in the publick-houses in this town: we would beg leave to observe that in the act of Parliament, a number of officers are mentioned for that purpose, namely constables, tytheing-men, magistrates, and other civil officers of the town, which upon enquiring we cannot find have been applied to; and also that by the same act of Parliament the justices are not empowered to quarter and billet the said officers and soldiers, but in default or absence of the aforementioned officers; your Excellency will therefore excuse our doing anything in this affair till it is properly within our province.

William Stoddard
Richard Dana
John Ruddock
Nathaniel Balston
John Hill
Edmund Quincy
John Avery
John Tudor
Dana (shown above) and Ruddock would take the selectmen’s complaint against Capt. John Willson days later. With justices Hill and Quincy, they would also collect most of the depositions about the Boston Massacre. Avery’s namesake son was one of the Loyall Nine. So these men included the most radical of the magistrates.

Gov. Bernard had started this conversation with “Twelve” justices, but only eight signed that letter. The governor reported: “2 others were against billeting & gave other reasons for their refusal; 2 others argued for billeting, but declined acting by themselves after so large a Majority of the whole body had declared for the contrary Opinion.”

Stymied again, Bernard called his Councilors back in. The Whigs’ version of that meeting began:
the Governor proposed in the forenoon their submitting the dispute relative to quartering troops in this town, to the opinion of the judges of the Superior Court [i.e., Hutchinson’s court]; which extraordinary motion was with great propriety rejected.
Gov. Bernard had no legal avenues left to pursue. There was only one way for the army to solve the problem of housing its troops for the winter: throw money at it.

COMING UP: So where did the soldiers go?


Anonymous said...

Interesting tale.

I believe that the magistrates' contributions in enabling the pre-revolutionary fervor within Boston is greatly under-appreciated. While ostensibly serving as a key cog for helping maintaining law and order, many in this small group of Crown-appointed lawyers acted as a disruptive buffer for the local militants from the control of the royalist authorities. The story recounted in this entry is one of several such tales that could be told.

Among the magistrates, Dana (1699-1772) served as a one of the leaders. Although considered quite Intelligent and well-connected, Dana was often viewed as unusually opinionated and passionate in his support of the rights of the local militants. Tellingly, even though a magistrate, he was also a member of the Sons of Liberty, He is perhaps best known for administering an oath to Andrew Oliver in December 1765 under the Liberty Tree. In this oath, Oliver disclaimed the collections of taxes under the Stamp Act. Dana's role was arguably a treasonous act. Several of Dana's descendants became notables. His great grandson, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., would go on to write the great sailing tale, Two Years Before the Mast.

J. L. Bell said...

I don’t think most justices of the peace in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts were lawyers. They were more often merchants, large farmers, and other substantial gentlemen in their counties. Dana's unusually large knowledge of the law was one reason he gained respect among his peers.

Because magistrates received their appointments from the royal governor and invoked the authority of the king, they were indeed seen as part of the Crown government. But in practice the governor retained little control over them. Their appointments were usually for life (Joseph Greenleaf being a very unusual exception). They didn’t depend on government salaries or potential promotions, like Customs officers and other full-time civil servants. As a result, the royal government actually had little leverage over justices of the peace.

Dana was definitely a thorn in the royal government's side during this period. Local Whigs apparently knew to take complaints about soldiers to him, and officers reported he was far from judicial in those proceedings. But because of Dana's position and the respect he commanded, Gov. Bernard and Gov. Hutchinson couldn’t do anything about him.