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, March 03, 2019

Questioning the Suspects

Yesterday we watched three men—William Scott, Thomas Archibald, and Nero Faneuilburgle the home of James Lovell in the early morning of 23 Nov 1784. Then they split up, Scott and Archibald taking the coins while Faneuil took care of the paper currency.

Scott and Archibald had talked about laying low outside of Boston. A man named John Vicker testified that they showed up at his house—I can’t tell where—about daybreak on 24 November. The men “wanted liquor,” three pennies worth, and “asked me to let them lay down 3 hours.” Vicker thought they seemed “worried in mind.” They also “ask’d for a Sling,” presumably to carry something away.

Thursday, 25 November, was a Thanksgiving holiday in Massachusetts, so nothing much happened.

Archibald and Scott were back on Boston on Friday, 26 November. Somehow Archibald provoked the suspicion of a man named Goodbread. John Ingersol, perhaps a tavern keeper, took both Goodbread and Archibald to the Lovells’ house.

As James Lovell recalled, Goodbread accused Archibald of the burglary. The suspect insisted “he lay in a Haybarn with a N. Engld. man Tuesday night.” But he couldn’t provide details about ”when he breakfasted, where he worked.” He mentioned how a ”Negro had helped him to work.”

Lovell fetched others. His neighbor Archibald McNeal came, looked at Archibald, and “took him to be the man” he’d seen during the nighttime robbery. Bartholomew Broaders, an elected constable, searched Archibald and “found a bag of 1/2 Crowns” in his footwear. Archibald insisted “he brought ’em from Phila[delphia].” But he gave inconsistent answers about how long he’d been in Boston. Broaders reminded the suspect “he had said he had no money wn. he came to Town.” Archibald then changed his story to say ”a blk man lent him the money.” That was all suspicious enough for the authorities to commit Archibald to jail.

That evening, Broaders “catched [William] Scot tapping at Nero [Fanueil]’s window 11 oClock.” John Middleton Lovell, the Continental agent’s son (shown above in a later portrait by Ralph Earl), and a man named Benjamin Homans recalled spotting Scott behind Faneuil’s house that afternoon as well.

The authorities found coins on Scott and questioned him. At first he too insisted that he had brought the money from Philadelphia. He said he “had pd. for a W[eek’]s. board, brough 6 or 7 doll[ar]s into Town, & had been 2 or 3 Women parted the value of 4 or 5 dolls out of his Fob 5 1/2 Crowns.”

But Scott got too clever. As Broaders kept questioning him, Scott “said he would not tell unless he could be an Evidence [i.e., witness] and then he would bring out the whole.” John M. Lovell recalled “he would not tell any thing unless he cd. receive some advantage.” Instead, Scott went into the jail for the night, too.

The next morning, it appears, James Lovell went to the jail and demanded that the suspects tell him where his papers were. He heard Scott answer that “the negro was the only person who could give me informn. of my papers.”

The Lovells visited Nero Faneuil, who recalled that “Mr. Lovel told me if I wd. Confess I should be a Witness.” So Faneuil started to cooperate. According to the younger Lovell, “Nero carried me to the place where the money was & confessed he took it.” The case was solved.

John M. Lovell also reported, “Scot found fault that he was not called out instead of the Negro”—which sounds like he regretted not cooperating at the first opportunity. Both Archibald and Scott tried to point the authorities to Faneuil, a black man, but he had the advantage of being known in town.

The following Monday, according to the newspapers, officials found evidence from the robbery of John Fullerton’s shop and charged Nero Faneuil with that crime. It’s conceivable that Faneuil had confessed and told people where to find the stolen goods. Curiously, Fullerton was also a witness at the trial for the robbery of Lovell’s house, testifying about finding coins on one of the suspects.

The state brought Archibald and Scott to trial on 3 March 1785.

TOMORROW: A last-ditch defense.

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