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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Saturday, August 17, 2019

”A Procession that extended near a Mile and a half”

On rereading the Boston Gazette’s description of the Sons of Liberty 14 Aug 1769 dinner this year, I was struck by the detail that three times the men punctuated their toasts with “A Discharge of Cannon.” Perhaps only one cannon, but still.

By the early 1770s, the innkeeper who hosted that celebration, Lemuel Robinson of Dorchester, was captain of a militia artillery company protecting Suffolk County outside of Boston.

His Liberty Tree tavern—shown above, in a sketch from the Dorchester Historical Society—was where the Massachusetts Committee of Safety hid the Boston train’s four missing cannon in early 1775. (And the committee’s records suggests there was some effort required to get Robinson to let them out of his hands to be hidden in Concord.) But Robinson had cannon on his property, at least for this special occasion, as early as 1769.

The Sons of Liberty dinner also included music. John Adams wrote in his diary:
We had also the Liberty Song—that by the Farmer, and that by Dr. Ch[urc]h, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus.
“The Farmer” was John Dickinson. As I detailed here, he cowrote the original “Liberty Song” the previous year. Adams’s mention of Dr. Benjamin Church is the reason scholars attribute the version of the song that begins “Come swallow your Bumpers, ye Tories! and roar,” to that poetic physician.

Adams then wrote:
Between 4 and 5 O clock, the Carriages were all got ready and the Company rode off in Procession, Mr. [John] Hancock first in his Charriot and another Charriot bringing up the Rear.
Adams had to head out of town, but the Boston Gazette reported on the gentlemen’s return to Boston:
About Five o’Clock the Company left Mr. Robinson’s in a Procession that extended near a Mile and a half, and before Dark entered the City, went round the State-House, and retired each to his own House.
Merchant John Rowe, who wasn’t at the dinner, added in his diary that the procession contained “139 Carriages” and “Mr. [James] Otis brought up the rear.”

That circle around the seat of government was a victory lap over Gov. Francis Bernard, and a warning to remaining royal officials that the Whigs dominated the landscape. To rub that in, the Gazette added:
Should this Account overtake the Baronet of Nettleham on this Side T–b—n, he and Ld. H——h are at Liberty to write seventy-seven Volumes of their High Dutch and low Diabolical Commentaries, “about it, and about it.”
The baronet was Bernard. “Lord H——h” was the Earl of Hillsborough, secretary of state overseeing the colonies. “T–b—n” was Tyburn, where criminals and traitors were hanged. “About it, and about it” was a common way to say “and on and on.” And the whole sentence crowed over how Bernard’s letters complaining about the Whigs had leaked and destroyed his standing in the province.

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