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, December 02, 2018

John Brown’s “inclination of serving a people”

In October, I tracked the conflict over the big Manufactory building beside Boston Common as the soldiers of the 14th Regiment tried to push out the people working and living inside.

Most of those soldiers were pulled out by the end of that month, and the regiment moved into privately owned buildings. But that didn’t mean the controversy was over. It simply moved into the courts and the newspapers.

On 2 Dec 1768, 250 years ago today, John Brown of the Manufactory wrote out an advertisement to the Boston public:
The unprecedented violence exercised and sixteen days continued on the Manufactory-House, and the works therein carrying on, to the great disappointment and chagrin of the numerous customers of the Subscriber, whereby they were driven from him to apply elsewhere, to the almost total destruction of his business:

He finds himself in this manner obliged to entreat the return of their favor and employ; that he may not be obliged to seek bread in some other part of the country, much against his inclination of serving a people to whom he acknowledges himself deeply indebted for the most zealous and finally successful endeavours to preserve his privilege.

He assures the publick that nothing shall be wanting on his part to render them substantial service, and that on terms as reasonable as any thing performed with equal care can be afforded. He cordially thanks the Public in general, and the town of Boston in special, for the favourable notice they have been pleased to take of his interest, and begs leave to subscribe himself
their much obliged
humble Servant,

JOHN BROWN.
Boston, Decemb. 2, 1768.
That advertisement appeared in the 12 December Boston Gazette, Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s radical Whig newspaper. Which is odd since its date suggests it was meant for the 5 December issue. Maybe Brown just didn’t get around to delivering his text to the print shop, or maybe that issue was already full—though those printers seem like the sort to find space for a politically tinged ad. (Of course, it’s also possible Brown or the printers just got the date wrong.)

Brown and his family were cloth weavers. The Massachusetts General Court had granted them the right to use the colony-owned Manufactory at little rent—the “privilege” that Brown described preserving. But doing so had come at a cost to the family business. The ad implies that customers had been kept from the building by soldiers, or that the Browns had had trouble supplying their customers during the crisis.

Perhaps the Browns also suffered from having so visibly taken sides in a political controversy. Had friends of the royal government stopped doing business with them? Conversely, now that they were Whig heroes, the Browns might have been angling for more business from like-minded customers by pleading poverty.

TOMORROW: A new line of business for the Browns.

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