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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Monday, December 17, 2018

Lt. Col. Leslie’s Report on the Tea Party

Five years ago Don Hagist at the Journal of the American Revolution shared another early report on the Boston Tea Party, penned on 17 Dec 1773.

The writer was Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie of the 64th Regiment of Foot, the British army unit then stationed at Castle William in Boston harbor. He had watched the crisis develop since the arrival of the Dartmouth at the end of November.

Lt. Col. Leslie told Gov. Thomas Hutchinson that his troops were available if the provincial government wanted to back up his policies with force. But Hutchinson felt he needed his Council’s approval to take that step, and the Council wouldn’t back such a move. Despite all the Whig complaints about “tyranny,” most Crown officials tried hard to adhere to the traditional British understanding of the rule of law, subordinating the military to the civil power and preserving some say for elected bodies.

Meanwhile, the merchants who had won the licenses to import East India Company tea and the Customs Commissioners in charge of administering the tax on it all joined Leslie on Castle William, seeking protection from the Boston crowd.

Leslie made sure to tell the Secretary at War in London, Viscount Barrington, about his offer to the governor, meaning he had done all he could. He also reported how Boston militia companies were guarding the tea ships to make sure they weren’t unloaded (as volunteers, not on the governor’s orders).

And then the locals destroyed the tea. The next day, Leslie wrote:
I did myself the honor to write your Lordship last Saturday, since then the Sons of Liberty have destroy’d 340 Chests of Tea on board three ships, that lay all together at one of the Wharfs.

The fourth vessel that brought the Tea [the William] is strand’d near to Cape Cod, but the Tea was got safe on Shore, and it’s expected by this time it has fared the same fate as the rest.

I had the regiment ready to take their Arms, had they been called upon.

I am informed the Council would not agree to the Troops going to town, however it must end in that at last. Lenity won’t do now with the People here. The Gentlemen that took refuge here still continue, and likely to remain, for the mob threatens them much if they go to town, in short they rule every thing at present.

The Governor who is now on the Island has wrote to My Lord Dartmouth on this late Affair.
So even Gov. Hutchinson had left his country home in Milton for the protection of the army.

Leslie is most remembered in Massachusetts for his unsuccessful February 1775 mission to seize cannon that David Mason was preparing for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in north Salem. But he had more successful days later in the conflict, particularly in the campaigns for New York City and Charleston. He became a major general by the end of the war.

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