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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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Wanted by Governor Wanton

The official Rhode Island response to the destruction of the Customs sloop Liberty in Newport harbor started even before the ship went up in flames. 

A mob attacked the ship on 19 July. Two days later, this proclamation appeared, as printed in the newspapers: 
By the Honorable
Joseph Wanton, Esquire,
Governor, Captain-General, and Commander in Chief, of and over the English Colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in America:

A PROCLAMATION.
Whereas, Charles Dudley, Esq; Collector and Surveyor, and John Nicoll, Esq; Comptroller, of His Majesty’s Customs for the Colony aforesaid, have this Day presented unto me a Memorial, setting forth, That a Number of People on the Nineteenth Instant, in the Evening, being assembled in a riotous and tumultuous Manner, did, with Threats against his Life, compel Captain William Reid, Commander of the Sloop Liberty in the Service of the Revenue, lying in the Harbour of Newport, to order the People who had the keeping and Charge of his Vessel, to come on Shore; after which a Number of Men boarded the said Sloop, and set at Liberty a Sloop brought into this Port by the said William Reid, laden with prohibited Goods and under Seizure, and she was afterwards carried away to the great Prejudice of his Majesty: And that they then proceeded to destroy the said Sloop Liberty, by cutting away her Mast and Rigging, and scuttling her so that she sunk; and burnt her Two Boats:

I HAVE, THEREFORE, thought fit, by and with the Advice of such Members of his Majesty’s Council, as could conveniently be called together, to issue this Proclamation, hereby directing and requiring all the Officers of Justice, in this Colony, to use their utmost Endeavours, to enquire after and discover the Persons guilty of the aforesaid Crimes, that they may be brought to Justice.
Many of the men who had attacked the Liberty on 19 July probably came off Capt. Joseph Packwood’s brig, based in New London, Connecticut. Packwood had sailed out of Narragansett Bay as soon as he could after the riot. The Rhode Island authorities would therefore have had a hard time tracking down those men—if they even really wanted to.

Ten days after this proclamation, the rest of the Liberty burned on Goat Island. That was more likely a local job, but since it took place away from town on a stormy night, there were no witnesses. Gov. Wanton didn’t even bother to use a new proclamation.

COMING UP: A new lead for the Customs office.

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