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, August 26, 2019

“They must be Sent directly, or by God, I should never See the Morning”

Last week I guessed that the Boston Chronicle’s 24 July 1769 account of Newport’s Liberty riot reflected the perspective of William Reid, commander of that sloop for the Customs Commissioners.

It turns out we have Capt. Reid’s description of the event in his own words, preserved and published in Connecticut. Dated 21 July 1769, Reid testified:
On the Evening of the 19th Inst. between Seven & Eight OClock, as I was going down the Long Wharfe to go on Board the Sloop Liberty, A Vessell then under my Comand, employed in the Service of the Revenue, I was, of a sudden, surrounded by a great Number of Men, some of which seized hold of me,

upon asking what they wanted I was answered that I was a Damn’d Rascal, & that they had now caught me, I asked what I had done to any of them, they Answered that I had Seised many of their Vessels & by God I should now pay for all,

the first Person that I knew in the Mob was Jos: Packwood, Master of the Brigantine Thames, A Vessell which I had detained, he told me that some of my People, on Board of the Brigantine had used him very Ill,

soon after Nathl. Shaw, Owner of Brigantine Thames came up to me, & told me that I had not five minutes to Live, if I did not order Two Frenchmen on shore, which was then on Board of the Sloop Liberty, that I had taken out of the Sloop Sally, a Vessell then under Seisure,

I told them I had no design in keeping those Frenchmen, & that they should come on Shore, provided the Mob would not hurt them, which they declared they would not, they were brought on shore,

the Sd. Packwood then mentioned to the Mob that John Carr second Mate of the Liberty had used him ill & had ordered the People on Board of the Liberty to prevent his going on Shore in the Brigantine’s Boat, by Firing at him, & further said, that they did fire at him, & that he wanted them to be brought ashore to be delivered up to a Magistrate,

the Mob, then with Threats of Violence, against my Life, Insisted, that I should Order Said Carr & John Freeman Pilot to be brought to Justice,

I proposed to send them on Shore in the Morning, but was answer’d they must be Sent directly, or by God, I should never See the Morning,

being in this Defenceless condition, I found myself under the Necessity of Complying with every thing they had a Mind, to propose, & accordingly ordered them on Shore,

as Soon as they came the Sd. Packwood again Addressed himself to the Mob & told them there was another Mate, that had fired at him, from on Board the Sloop Sally,

The Mob ordered that he might be bro’t also, which was accordingly done.

I desired that they would let me go on Board of the Liberty, & that if there was any Person on Board, which had been guilty of any Indiscretion, I would deliver him up to Justice directly.

They told me I should not go off the Wharf Alive nor any of my People, if I attempted to go, & insisted, that there was another Man on Board, which was concerned in firing at Capt Packwood, & that they would have him on Shore likewise, they then Man’d two Boats, one of which put off to go on Board to search for the aforesd. Man,

[Joseph] Adams then Comanding Officer on Board of the Liberty, called to me, to know, if they should go on Board,

as I thought to refuse, their going on Board, would perhaps exasperate the Mob to some Acts of Violence against the Sloop Liberty I told him to permit them which he did,

the Boat then returned with Two of the Men, that went in her, & one of mine, the Mob then seemed more Satisfied,

I asked them again to let me go on Board my Vessell, which they refused. But told me I might go to my Lodgings, about 11 oClock, I got clear of the Mob & went directly to Charles Dudley Esqr. Collr. of His Majesty’s Customs for his Assistance who advised me to apply to the Govr. [Joseph Wanton] which I did by Letter requesting His Honor to use his Authority in preventing the further Violence of the Mob, against the Sloop Liberty, & the two aforementioned Vessels.

About four O’clock in the Morning, as soon as I thought the Mob was disposed, I went to go on Board of the Sloop Liberty, But found her cut from her Anchors, & laying on Shore, with her mast cut away by the Deck, her Sails & Rigging all Cut to pieces. Two of her Guns, all her Swivels & small Arms, hove over Board her Bottom Scuttled, her two Boats Burn’d, my Cabbin tore all to Pieces, & all my Furniture Cloaths Papers & every thing belonging to me Destroyed.
Duncan Stuart and Thomas Moffatt, the top two Customs officials in New London, had the number-three man, surveyor Thomas Dare, carry Reid’s testimony to Hartford. They wanted William Pitkin, governor of the colony, to help in prosecuting Shaw and Packwood.

According to the governor’s files, “Govr Pitkin gave a general prudent Answer to the foregoing Matters, that entirely satisfied the Officers of the Customs at New London.” Which suggests he didn’t help that much, but the Customs officials had little opportunity to appeal because Pitkin died on 1 October.

(The picture above shows Gov. Pitkin’s grave, as photographed by Lori for Find-a-Grave. It’s quite wordy. It describes Pitkin as “Zealous and bold for the Truth, Faithfull in Distributing Justice, Scattering away Evil with his Eye…”)

COMING UP: The Customs service strikes back.

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