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, November 07, 2019

Tar, Feathers, and the Trevett Brothers

A couple of days ago, I quoted George Gailer’s court filing after he was assaulted with tar and feathers (and other things) on 28 Oct 1769.

That legal document named seven individuals as having taken part in the attack. Those were the people Gailer must have recognized or been told were involved. So, even though he never proved his case against them in court, that’s one of our best indications of exactly who participated in tarring and feathering in Revolutionary America.

And of course I love nothing more than ferreting out info on individuals from Revolutionary New England. So let’s look at those seven names.

Three men were from Newport, whence Gailer had sailed. According to the Boston Gazette, he had arrived on “the Sloop Success from Rhode Island.” Issues of the Newport Mercury from February 1768 show that Eleazer Trevett, Sr., was managing a sloop called Success.

Trevett was a merchant prominent enough to settle other men’s estates and serve on civic committees. He often advertised wine in the Newport Mercury, so it’s notable that the Boston Gazette accused Gailer of informing the Customs office that the Success had “a Cask or two of Wine on board.”

And indeed the first two people on Gailer’s list of attackers—“Eleazar Trevett Junior and Benjamin Trevett, Merchants”—have the same names as two of Eleazer Trevett, Sr.’s sons:
  • Eleazer Trevett, Jr. (1743-1782?), followed his father in becoming a merchant captain. By October 1768 he was commanding a voyage to Tenerife, a wine island off the African coast. In June 1770 he brought a ship into Marblehead, only for him and his father to run into a dispute with locals over non-importation. In May 1773 the younger Trevett was wrecked off Antigua. Later that year, as James Roberts has described in a Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes article (P.D.F. download), Trevett got into a legal dispute over mahogany with Aaron Lopez. That lawsuit pushed the captain into declaring bankruptcy in 1774. In the summer of 1775 Trevett sailed again to Antigua. I can’t find information on what he did when the war finally came to Rhode Island, but at some point Eleazer, Jr., was captured by the British and died at the age of thirty-nine in a prison ship off New York.
  • Benjamin Church Trevett (1748-1826) reached the age of majority in 1769. He appears to have gone inland, served a couple of terms in Continental regiments raised in Massachusetts and Vermont, and settled in western New York, where he drew a pension from the federal government.
They had an intermediate brother, John Trevett (1747-1823), who served in the Continental marines and left a diary.

It looks like Eleazer and Benjamin came to Boston either on the Success or as soon as they learned that the Customs office had seized that sloop. Unable to retrieve the family property, the Trevett brothers directed or led the attack on Gailer.

In much the same way, Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., had overseen the attack on the Customs ship Liberty and the rescue of his ship Sally back in July.

TOMORROW: The third Rhode Islander.

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