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, December 12, 2019

“Expected that you personally appear at Liberty Tree”

Richard Clarke (1711-1795, shown here in a detail from a family portrait by his son-in-law John Singleton Copley) was one of Boston’s leading tea merchants.

Clarke’s son Jonathan happened to be in London when Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773. That law mandated the East India Company to designate exclusive agents, or wholesalers, for tea in the major North American ports. Jonathan Clarke secured one of those valuable slots for the family firm, Richard Clarke & Sons.

News soon got back to Boston. Politicians immediately began to organize resistance to the new law. The idea that “taxation without representation is tyranny” was firmly established in people’s minds, and people knew that the tea tax would go toward salaries for Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, royally appointed judges, and the Customs service.

In the middle of November 1773, the Clarkes sent a long letter to their London contact, Abraham Dupuis, describing the pressure on them not to import tea. One part of the letter said:
in the morning of the 2nd instant [i.e., of this month], about one o’clock, we were roused out of our sleep by a violent knocking at the door of our house, and on looking out of the window we saw (for the moon shone very bright) two men in the courtyard. One of them said he had brought us a letter from the country. A servant took the letter of him at the door, the contents of which were as follows:
Boston, 1st Nov., 1773.

Richard Clarke & Son:

The Freemen of this Province understand, from good authority, that there is a quantity of tea consigned to your house by the East India Company, which is destructive to the happiness of every well-wisher to his country. It is therefore expected that you personally appear at Liberty Tree, on Wednesday next, at twelve o’clock at noon day, to make a public resignation of your commission, agreeable to a notification of this day for that purpose.

Fail not upon your peril. O. C.
Two letters of the same tenor were sent in the same manner to the other factors [i.e., wholesalers].

On going abroad we found a number of printed notifications posted up in various parts of the town, of which the following is a copy:
To the Freemen of this and the other Towns in the Province.


You are desired to meet at Liberty Tree, next Wednesday, at twelve o’clock at noon day, then and there to hear the persons to whom the tea, shipped by the East India Company, is consigned, make a public resignation of their office as consignees, upon oath. And also swear that they will reship any teas that may be consigned to them by the said Company, by the first vessel failing for London.

Boston, Novr. 1st, 1773. O. C., Secrey.
In this you may observe a delusory design to create a public belief that the factors had consented to resign their trust on Wednesday, the 3d inst., on which day we were summoned by the above-mentioned letter to appear at Liberty Tree, at 11 o’clock, A.M.

All the bells of the meetinghouses for public worship were set a-ringing and continued ringing till twelve; the town cryer went thro’ the town summoning the people to assemble at Liberty Tree.

By these methods, and some more secret ones made use of by the authors of this design, a number of people, supposed by some to be about 500, and by others more, were collected at the time and place mentioned in the printed notification. They consisted chiefly of people of the lowest rank, very few reputable tradesmen, as we are informed, appeared amongst them. There were indeed two merchants, reputed rich, and the selectmen of the town, but these last say they went to prevent disorder.
Summoning a royal appointee to publicly resign was an act that hearkened back to the anti-Stamp Act protests of 1765, when the great elm in the South End was first dubbed Liberty Tree. Since some of those protests had ended in property-damaging riots, the invitation carried a clear threat of violence.

Another ominous historical allusion in these notes appears in the initials at the bottom: “O. C.” seems to refer to Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader who overthrew Charles I in the 1640s. Most of the British Empire had come to see that revolution as having gone too far. New England was one of the few parts of the empire that still admired Cromwell and what he stood for.

TOMORROW: The tea agents’ response to this summons.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Tar-and-Feathering and Execution of John Roberts

Last month I wrote about using today’s online newspaper databases to track down a couple of reports about women tarred and feathered by sailors in the mid-1700s. Those reports turned out to be different distortions of a newspaper report about sailors tarring one woman in 1743.

Here’s another investigation into an even more horrific event, reported in a secondary source and for a long time untraceable. In 1865, Frank Moore’s Diary of the American Revolution, which was a collection of news reports and letters, ran this item on page 359 of volume 1:
THIS morning, at Charleston, South Carolina, John Roberts, a dissenting minister, was seized on suspicion of being an enemy to the rights of America, when he was tarred and feathered; after which, the populace, whose fury could not be appeased, erected a gibbet on which they hanged him, and afterwards made a bonfire, in which Roberts, together with the gibbet, was consumed to ashes.
Unfortunately, the footnotes on that page got garbled in the printing. There were three notes, numbered 1-3. But within the text there was no superscript 1 and two superscript 2s.

The first few paragraphs on that page should have ended with a superscript 1. They indeed came from the source listed in note 1: Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury newspaper for 2 Dec 1776. I checked.

The second item was the story of John Roberts’s torture and killing, and Moore found that in the William Upcott Collection of Newspaper Extracts at the New-York Historical Society. Unfortunately, some authors trying to make sense of Moore’s footnotes have written that the story came from the New York newspaper.

The Upcott collection consisted of Revolutionary-era newspaper clippings, most or all from British printers. I hope that each clipping includes information on the newspaper it came from, but, having never seen the files, I don’t know if that’s true. I kind of doubt it.

However, through online hunting I can say that at least three British newspapers printed this text. Here’s how it appeared in the 4 Jan 1777 Ipswich Journal:
Charles-Town, Dec. 2. This Morning John Roberts, a Dissenting Minister, was seized at this Place, on Suspicion of being an Enemy to the Rights of America, when he was tarred and feathered, after which the Populace, whose Fury could not be appeased, erected a Gibbet, on which they hanged him, and afterwards made a Bonfire, in which Roberts, together with the Gibbet, was consumed to Ashes.
On 7 Jan 1777 the same news appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer and Manchester Mercury.

The Ipswich Journal headed that section “F. America,” and the first three items (of which that was third) “From the SOUTH-CAROLINA GAZETTE.” The Manchester Mercury headed its section “London, January 2,” suggesting this news came from a London newspaper of that date, and underneath that “From the SOUTH CAROLINA GAZETTE.”

We should therefore expect to find that news item in at least one London newspaper from early January 1777. Unfortunately, I have limited access to British databases, and their O.C.R. transcriptions are terrible.

We should also expect to find the original report in John Wells’s South-Carolina and American General Gazette from 2 Dec 1776. But the early American newspaper database I use doesn’t include any issue from that month. It’s possible no copies of this issue survived, or it’s possible that database has limitations.

Finally, once this item appeared in the South Carolina press, I’d expect to see it reprinted or alluded to in other American newspapers. At this time each side was hyping stories of atrocities by the enemy and trying to explain away enemy accusations, so this news would have been most appealing to Loyalist printers. Gaine had restarted his New York Mercury with a Loyalist slant in late 1776 under British occupation, and James Robertson launched another Loyalist paper in that city in January 1777. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette was itself a Loyalist paper from 1780 to 1782. But I couldn’t find any further reference to John Roberts’s death in eighteenth-century newspapers.

In fact, I can’t find another period record of the torture, execution, and burning of John Roberts beyond those two British newspapers. No South Carolina Loyalist appears to allude to it. No coreligionist of Roberts is recorded complaining about it. No published letter, memoir, or local history of South Carolina mentions it. I can’t find any report of the incident until Frank Moore’s Diary in 1865. After that, all citation trails lead back to Moore.

Among the possible explanations to explore:
  • The chaos of wartime printing meant that the crucial issue of the South Carolina Gazette got to London but not to New York.
  • There are errors in the London account, such as the victim’s name, which get in the way of searching independent American sources.
  • Roberts was killed not just for being an enemy to American Patriots but also for fomenting a slave rebellion. That could explain why he was treated so badly and his body was burned. It might also explain why so little was published about it, why Loyalists didn’t make a martyr out of him—the slaveholding class tended to tamp down news of actual uprisings.
All further possibilities and leads are of course welcome.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

“Think/Write/Speak” Oration Workshop in Boston, 14 Dec.

On the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre in March 1771, Dr. Thomas Young delivered an oration about the event in the Manufactory building, site of a defiant stand-off against the royal army in 1768.

Boston’s political leaders liked that idea, but they preferred a speaker and venue more mainstream and respectable than Dr. Young in a weaving workshop.

The selectmen therefore asked South Latin School usher James Lovell to deliver a memorial oration at the Old South Meeting-House in April. The town then paid to publish Lovell’s speech. (Dr. Young’s speech, in contrast, has been lost.)

The town made the Massacre memorial oration an annual tradition until 1783, usually inviting a rising young gentleman to speak. After America’s victory in the Revolutionary War had brought sufficient retribution for the Massacre, the town shifted the date of the annual oration from the 5th of March to the 4th of July.

Massachusetts nurtured some of the most celebrated orators of the nineteenth century, including Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, and Frederick Douglass. Whenever a monument or statue was dedicated in the city, or a major historical anniversary commemorated, an orator was on the program.

To revive “the tradition of public oration as a tool of civic action,” the Bostonian Society is teaming with Brown Art Ink, a “nomadic community incubator” for a series of free public programs starting this weekend. The press release about the Think/Write/Speak initiative says: “Participants in these workshops will be led by local artists in exercises to develop original orations to highlight issues important to their own communities.”

The first workshop session will take place from 3:00 to 4:30 P.M. on Saturday, 14 December, in the Commonwealth Salon at the central branch of the Boston Public Library. It is free and open to the public, but participants should register through the society’s website.

There will be two more such public workshops in early 2020. Select participants will be invited to perform their orations at a commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

Monday, December 09, 2019

”Given to me about 50. years ago by William Burnet Brown”

Here’s a postscript to the Otis-Robinson coffee-house brawl involving William Burnet Brown, the Salem native who threw himself into the fight.

Boston’s Whig magistrates brought charges against Brown because they couldn’t locate John Robinson and wanted to blame someone for the violence. But it looks like those charges were later quietly dropped. Brown returned to his wife and new home in Virginia.

As I detailed back here, Brown had bought his slave-labor plantation from Carter Braxton, future signer of the Declaration of Independence. Decades later, one of Brown’s daughters married a nephew of George Washington. And he crossed paths with at least one more prominent American Revolutionary.

Sometime soon after he came to Virginia in the mid-1760s, Brown gave a historic manuscript that he had inherited from colonial governor William Burnet to a Virginia planter he thought would appreciate it: Thomas Jefferson.

In 1814, the recently founded American Antiquarian Society voted to make Jefferson a member. He responded with a letter expressing his gratitude, paying dues, and enclosing the manuscript that Brown had given him. Jefferson wrote:
I avail myself of this occasion of placing a paper, which has long been in my possession, in a deposit where, if it has any value, it may at sometime be called into use. it is a compilation of historical facts relating, some of them to other states, but the most to Massachusets, and especially to the Indian affairs of that quarter, during the first century of our settlement. this being the department of our history in which materials are most defective, it may perhaps offer something not elsewhere preserved. it seems to have been the work of a careful hand, and manifests an exactitude which commands confidence.

it was given to me about 50. years ago by William Burnet Brown who removed to Virginia, from Massachusets I believe. he told me he had found it among the archives of his family. I understood he was a descendant of your Governor Burnet, son of the bishop of that name.

the writer speaks of himself in one place only (pa. 11. column 1.) and I should have conjectured him to have been Governor Burnet himself but that in pa. 7. col. 3. the Govr is spoken of in the 3d person. all this however is much more within the scope of your conjecture, & I pray you to accept the paper for the use of the society, & to be assured of the sentiments of my high respect and consideration.
The secretary of the society, Samuel M. Burnside, wrote back to the former President:
The Gentleman, from whom you received it, Mr. Wm. Burnet Brown, did remove, as You suppose, from this Commonwealth and was a native of Salem.—He was of a very respectable family, but not descended, I believe, from Gov. Burnet, who left no children, as I am told.—His mother, however, was an adopted daughter of Gov. Burnet.—
Genealogically, Burnside was mistaken. Gov. Burnet had children by both his wives, and William Burnet Brown was a grandson.

In 1982 Daniel K. Richter analyzed that manuscript and published an article about it in the society’s Proceedings series: “Rediscovered Links in the Covenant Chain: Previously Unpublished Transcripts of New York Indian Treaty Minutes, 1677–1691” (P.D.F. download). The manuscript was a briefing document for Gov. Burnet which preserved details of treaty negotiations in the late seventeenth century between officials of the New York colony and the Iroquois and Mohican nations.

(The picture above is an engraving done after the portrait of Jefferson that Bass Otis painted in 1816. Jefferson’s family hated this depiction.)

Sunday, December 08, 2019

“James Otis having ever entertain’d a most consummate Contempt of seeking a Purse”

On 14 Sept 1772, a little more than three years after James Otis, Jr., and John Robinson got into a fight inside the British Coffee-House, the lead item on the front page of Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette spelled out the end of that dispute.

Otis had sued Robinson for assault, won a whopping jury award of £2,000, and then moved on to the appeals level. Before the legal case came up in the court’s August term, however, the parties reached a settlement, as laid out in the newspaper:
BE IT REMEMBERED, That this same Term in a Case here depending, wherein James Otis of said Boston is Appellant and original Plaintiff against John Robinson, late of said Boston, Esq; the said John Robinson, Esq; by James Boutineau, Esq; his Father-in-Law and Attorney, comes into Court and on the Behalf and in the Name of said John Robinson, Esq; who is now in Parts beyond Sea, to wit, in the Kingdom of Great-Britain, being thereunto fully empower’d as by his Letters of Attorney on File in the Case may appear, FREELY confesses that in the Assault committed by him the said John Robinson, Esq; on him the said James Otis, in presumptuously attempting to take him the said James Otis by the Nose was the first Assault, which occasioned and brought on all the consequent Insults, Wounds and other Injuries whereof the said James Otis in his Declaration more particularly complains; HE the said John Robinson, Esq; was greatly in Fault, is very sorry for his Conduct and Behaviour that Night towards the said James Otis, and asks the Pardon of the said James Otis.
Boutineau signed that statement on behalf of his son-in-law.

The newspaper then published another document, written by Otis himself:
WHEREUPON the said James Otis being personally present here in Court, duly reflecting that he has ever been as ready to give, as to ask or demand Gentleman-like Satisfaction for an Insult real or suppos’d, at the same Time being fully conscious, and, as he apprehends, able abundantly to prove, that he then publickly offer’d that Kind of Satisfaction to the said John Robinson, Esq; previously to the said first Assault, as on the Part and in Behalf of the said John Robinson, Esq; by his Attorney James Boutineau, Esq; is above confess’d—

And the said James Otis having ever entertain’d a most consummate Contempt of seeking a Purse or pecuniary Reparation for a personal Insult, if any other more Gentleman-like could be obtained, by the Consent of the Parties, and that consistently with the Laws of his Country: ACCEPTS of the above Submission here in Court in full for the Assault, Insults, Injuries and Damages above complain’d of in the Declaration of the said James Otis and confess’d as above.

And upon the same Submission, so far as the said John Robinson, Esq; was concern’d in the Assaults, Insults and Injuries above mention’d and confess’d, as he thinks a Gentleman and Christian ought in such Case and on such Submission, freely forgives the said John Robinson, Esq; and by these presents remiseth, releaseth, acquitteth and dischargeth him the said John Robinson, Esq; from all Actions, Suits and Demands, by Reason of or occasion’d by the Premises; and also, all Right and Cause of Action in the Declaration specified.

FURTHERMORE the said James Otis knowing full and right well that by the Operation of the Law hereupon, he also of Course releaseth and dischargeth the alledged and suppos’d Confederates of the said John Robinson from all Demands supportable on the Premises by our Laws, but the said James Otis would by no Means be understood to give up any other Demands he may hereafter make by Reason of the Premises against any of the alleg’d or suppos’d Confederates—
At this point the original document on file with the Massachusetts courts contained a phrase that Otis crossed out before signing: “should he ever meet with either of them in a state of nature, or without the reach of municipal laws.” In other words, he threatened his enemies with a physical attack. (After all, that had gone so well for him before.) Ultimately, Otis decided not to make that bluster part of his legal and public statement.

The official document continued:
At the same Time the said James Otis of his own free Will and meer Motion thinks fit to give it under his Hand, to remain on Record in Favour of the said John Robinson, Esq; as the said James Otis has often privately and publickly, in the hearing of his Friends and others, and even in the Court of Common Pleas declared, as he now does in this honourable Court, That he looks on the said John Robinson, Esq; to be infinitely less to Blame in this (for both Parties in the Suit) very unhappy Affair, than those, who the said James Otis, were he inclin’d to give himself the Trouble, thinks, and is perswaded, he could fully prove artfully and most insidiously as well as maliciously incited the said John Robinson, Esq; to so very unworthy an Action.
Despite no longer openly threatening violence, Otis still had to include insinuations of a conspiracy behind the incident.

The final paragraph of Otis’s statement laid out what payments he wanted Robinson to make:
  • £13.10s.8p. as “Common Costs of Court.”
  • £30 for each of his attorneys—Samuel Fitch, John Adams, and Sampson Salter Blowers.
  • £7.12s. for “the Doctors Bills.”
  • £1.8s. for “taking Affadavits out of Court.”
  • “not a Farthing for the Use of the said James Otis, he having (as before observ’d) a most thorough Contempt for a pecuniary Recompense when a better can be obtain’d.”
Thus, instead of £2,000 or more, Robinson had to pay only £112.11s.8d. and be done with the whole mess. In his accounts, John Adams noted receiving his £30 payment as “a genteel Fee.”

Those settlement documents ran also in the Boston Evening-Post, Essex Gazette, New-Hampshire Gazette, Providence Gazette, Boston News-Letter (after a week’s delay blamed on “Want of Room”), Connecticut Gazette, Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Connecticut Courant. Otis and his allies made sure everyone in New England knew about what they saw as his moral victory.

As I read that settlement, though, I can’t help but see the similarities between its language and the statements Otis was publishing back in September 1769, just before the fight. Once again, Otis was deploying the language of genteel honor (and dueling), hinting at conspiracies against him, threatening violence. In 1769, that mood led him into the conflict with Robinson. Three years later, a similar feeling of extravagance drove his proposal to make a public settlement.

Otis’s colleagues and successors praised his magnanimity at this moment. But they also knew that the leader of Boston’s Whigs in the 1760s had lost a great deal and would never be the same man again.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

James Otis’s Legal Recovery

As James Otis, Jr., recovered physically from the blow on his head with the help of top Boston doctors, he also took legal steps with the help of top Boston lawyers.

In order of seniority, the three men Otis hired to represent him were:
Interestingly, Fitch and Blowers were already leaning toward the Crown politically and became Loyalist refugees during the war.

Of course, Otis himself was one of the province’s leading attorneys, and he no doubt directed his legal strategy.

Otis sued Customs Commissioner John Robinson for £3,000 in damages. To put that figure in perspective, in 1770 Paul Revere bought his house in the North End for a little over £213. When Thomas Hutchinson became royal governor of Massachusetts in 1770, the Crown granted him a salary of £1,500.

In In a Defiant Stance: The Conditions of Law in Massachusetts Bay, the Irish Comparison, and the Coming of the American Revolution, John P. Reid pointed out that any colonial jury award of £300 or more could be appealed to courts in Britain, which would have been much less sympathetic to Otis than one from Suffolk County. In other words, if Otis wanted to maximize his chance of receiving money, he could have asked for £299, and Robinson would have had no appeal. Otis’s huge demand was making a public point.

The court case came up in the January 1770 term, but was continued with the agreement of both parties. And then continued again.

In the meantime, on 5 Oct 1769 Robinson married Anne Boutineau (born 1748, shown above). After the Boston Massacre, the couple sailed for London, carrying documents showing the Crown side of that event. John Robinson never returned to New England.

The case of Otis v. Robinson finally went to court in July 1771. By that time Otis had suffered some very public episodes of madness, but he was back in the Massachusetts General Court. The jury awarded him less than he asked for but still a whopping £2,000. Both parties appealed, Robinson’s side asking for a smaller award and Otis’s for a larger one.

After further delays, that appeal came up in August 1772. Robinson’s father-in-law, merchant James Boutineau, acted as his attorney—probably meaning that he spoke for Robinson, not that he practiced lawyer. By then Otis no longer held public office, his mental instability having become apparent after one legislative session. However, he was still steering his case.

TOMORROW: James Otis’s magnanimity, and how he wanted everyone to know about it.

Friday, December 06, 2019

James Otis’s Medical Recovery

According to James Otis’s first biographer, William Tudor, Jr., after his brawl in the British Coffee-House in September 1769 he received care from “Doctors Perkins and Lloyd.”

Dr. James Lloyd (1728-1810, shown here) was one of Boston’s leading medical practitioners. Although he was a Loyalist in his politics, he remained in town after the siege and reestablished his popularity and practice.

There were three prominent doctors named Perkins in Boston at this time: John Perkins (1698-1781), his son William Lee Perkins (1737-1797), and Nathaniel Perkins (1715-1799). Nathaniel seems to have had the most active practice, so he’s most likely to have examined Otis. The court records (more about that tomorrow) could say for certain.

Back in 1764 Dr. Nathaniel Perkins inoculated John Adams against smallpox, and Adams described him this way:
Dr. Perkins is a short, thick sett, dark Complexioned, Yet pale Faced, Man, (Pale faced I say, which I was glad to see, because I have a great Regard for a Pale Face, in any Gentleman of Physick, Divinity or Law. It indicates search and study). Gives himself the alert, chearful Air and Behaviour of a Physician, not forgeting the solemn, important and wise.
Lloyd and Perkins found James Otis had suffered a deep head wound. They reportedly testified that it must have come from “a sharp instrument,” which Whigs insisted meant a sword. Nonetheless, all the eyewitness evidence says Customs Commissioner John Robinson walloped Otis with a walking stick.

Years later Adams wrote that Otis bore “a scar, in which a man might bury his finger,” and joked, “what is worse, my friends think I have a monstrous crack in my skull.”

At first, people thought Otis would recover. Within a few weeks he was behaving more rationally than before the fight. Toward the start of this series of postings I quoted a couple of entries from John Adams’s diary just before the brawl. In early September Adams had been struck, then annoyed, by how much Otis was talking at social events.

The next time Adams mentioned Otis in his diary (which he kept sporadically enough that year that this might not have been the next time they met) was on 19 October. Adams wrote:
Last night I spent the Evening, at the House of John Williams Esqr. the Revenue officer, in Company with Mr. Otis, Jona. Williams Esqr. and Mr. McDaniel a Scotch Gentleman, who has some Connection with the Commissioners, as Clerk, or something.

Williams is as sly, secret and cunning a fellow, as need be. The Turn of his Eye, and Cast of his Countenance, is like [Ebenezer] Thayer of Braintree. In the Course of the Evening He said, that He knew that Lord Townsend borrowed Money of [Charles] Paxton, when in America, to the amount of £500 st. at least that is not paid yet. He also said, in the Course of the Evening, that if he had drank a Glass of Wine, that came out of a seizure, he would take a Puke to throw it up. He had such a Contempt for the 3ds. of Seisures. He affects to speak slightly of the Commissioners and of their Conduct, tho guardedly, and to insinuate that his Connections, and Interest and Influence at Home with the Boards &c. are greater than theirs.

McDaniel is a composed, grave, steady Man to appearance, but his Eye has it’s fire, still, if you view it attentively.—

Otis bore his Part very well, conversible eno, but not extravagant, not rough, nor soure.
Adams was acerbic about Inspector Williams’s boasting but thought Otis very well behaved. He no longer monopolized conversation or indulged in “bullying, bantering, reproaching and ridiculing” as he had weeks before. If Otis had indeed been suffering a manic mood back in early September, it had passed.

Unfortunately, in the following spring it became clear that James Otis had become prone to serious mental instability. The injury to his head might not have brought on such problems, but it certainly didn’t help.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Career of Captain Dundas

Once I saw that “Captain Dundas” had come up in the dispute between James Otis, Jr., and John Robinson, I had to figure out who that was and what role he played in the coming of the Revolution.

In September 1769, Otis called Dundas “a well known petty commander of an armed schooner,” meaning he was in the Royal Navy. (The Customs service had just lost its one and only armed schooner, the Liberty.)

Fortunately, the Royal Navy keeps good records, and websites like Three Decks make that information available as long as one keeps running searches. So here’s what I’ve put together.

Ralph Dundas was born on 12 Oct 1732, the eldest son of Ralph and Mary Dundas of Manour, Scotland. He was serving in the Royal Navy by 1748, when he was in his mid-teens, and passed the exam to be a lieutenant in October 1757.

Lt. Dundas received his first command in 1764: H.M.S. St. Lawrence (also spelled St. Laurence). In British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792 Rif Winfield writes that this schooner was “purchased on stocks at Boston [or Marblehead?],” though J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow’s Ships of the Royal Navy says the Royal Navy bought it in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It carried thirty men, six three-pounder cannon, and twelve swivel guns—by no means a fearsome warship but powerful enough for peacetime patrols, carrying messages, and supporting larger vessels as a “tender.” Among the crew was master’s mate John Whitehouse, who later sailed under Capt. James Cook.

On 28 July 1766, the Boston Evening-Post reported:
Friday last arrived a Schooner from Louisbourg, by whom we learn, that some time before he sail’d fro thence, his Majesty’s armed Schooner the St. Laurence, commanded by Lieut. Dundas, was struck by Lightning as she lay at Anchor there, which set Fire to the Powder Magazine in the Fore Part of the Vessel and blew her up, by which Accident three Men were instantly killed, and several others terribly wounded, two of whom died the next Day:

We hear that the Officers on board, being in the Cabin, escaped unhurt; and that the Bows of the Vessel being carried away by the Explosion, she sunk in a few Minutes after.
The Boston Post-Boy of the same date said the explosion happened “between two and three Weeks ago.” The Narrative of American Voyages and Travels of Captain William Owen, R.N. names the site of the wreck as Neganishe, now probably called Ingonish.

Commodore Samuel Hood then bought a merchant’s sloop called the Sally, renamed it St. Lawrence, and assigned it to Lt. Dundas.

In the spring of 1768, the St. Lawrence accompanied H.M.S. Romney from Halifax to Boston. On 23 May, the Boston Chronicle carried Lt. Dundas’s advertisement for four deserters. Keeping the sloop fully manned was a challenge. Within a month the town was upset about a “man pressed by Capt. Dundas, and carried down to Halifax.” Capt. John Corner of the Romney and Councilor Royall Tyler sat down to discuss that issue and others, according to the 27 June Boston Chronicle.

The Boston News-Letter and Post-Boy show that over the next several months the St. Lawrence sailed back and forth along the northeast coast: off to Halifax in August, back to Boston in November and then heading off to Halifax again, collecting military stores at Canso and Louisburg over the winter, then back to Halifax. The St. Lawrence returned to Boston again in August 1769.

That put Lt. Dundas in town for the busy fall of 1769. He probably wasn’t in the British Coffee-House when Robinson and Otis started hitting each other with their canes on 5 September. Otis hinted that he participated in the fight, but Robinson denied that. Otis also said rumor had it Dundas “swore last year that the whole Continent was in open Rebellion.” However, the lieutenant’s name doesn’t appear to have come up again in this or other political disputes, which suggests that Otis’s Whig allies didn’t think they could make a case against him, even to their own followers.

The next month brought the Neck Riot on 24 October, followed four days later by the attacks on printer John Mein and sailor George Gailer. In the next couple of weeks, Royal Navy captains helped to hide Mein from the crowd. On 11 November, provincial secretary Andrew Oliver reported to Gov. Francis Bernard that Mein “thinking it unsafe for him to continue in Tow has taken his passage for England with Capn. Dundass.” In fact, it looks like Mein sailed away on another ship, but Oliver’s letter indicates that Dundas left Boston early in the month.

In April 1770, the sailmaker Ashley Bowen wrote in his diary that Dundas’s schooner had come into Marblehead harbor. However, the diary’s annotations suggest he mistook that ship for the Magdalen under Lt. Henry Colins. That suggests how common it was for New Englanders to see Dundas’s schooner. The 16 July 1772 Massachusetts Spy stated that Dundas had sailed the St. Lawrence to the Bahamas, and the 17 June 1773 Boston News-Letter reported that it had come back from the Bahamas to Boston.

As of June 1774, the Royal Navy listed the St. Lawrence, with six guns and thirty men, at Boston. It was small part of the big fleet under Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves sent to enforce the Boston Port Bill. In November Lt. Dundas sailed for London; part of a letter he carried was forwarded to Lord North as useful intelligence in January 1775.

That was the last voyage of that St. Lawrence, at least as a naval schooner. In May 1775, immediately after the war began, Graves reported that he had bought and armed two schooners at Halifax and planned to call one the St. Lawrence. He assigned it to a new commander. Lt. Dundas’s ship was sold off in London the next year.

Ralph Dundas became commander of the new fourteen-gun sloop Bonetta in April 1779, then the new sixteen-gun sloop Calypso (shown above) in December 1782. He served in that post until 1787. Dundas died that year at age fifty-four, having spent about four decades in the Royal Navy. He was buried at St. Clement Danes in Middlesex County. He left no known wife or children.

Commander Dundas served during two wars, but his naval career was overshadowed by his little brother George (1756-1814), who rose to be a rear admiral—having presumably joined the navy with Ralph as inspiration. An intervening brother, David (1749-1826), became a doctor to George III and a baronet.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Otis and Robinson Continue Their Fight in the Newspapers

The earliest public comment I’ve seen from James Otis, Jr., about his altercation with John Robinson on 5 Sept 1769 was an “Advertisement” that appeared in the 11 September Boston Gazette.

It’s remarkable for the amount of emphasis Otis asked of the printers:
From a regard to truth, and to the character of a true soldier, whose honor, is ever, justly dearer to him than life: It is with pleasure I take this first opportunity voluntarily and freely to DECLARE, in the most open and unreserved as well as public manner, that in the premeditated, cowardly and villainous attempt of John Robinson, Commissioner, and his confederates, last week, to assassinate me, I have not the least reason to think, or even suspect, that any officer or officers, either of the army or navy, were directly or indirectly concerned in so foul a deed, except a well known petty commander of an armed schooner, of about 4 swivels, who if fame for once tells truth, swore last year that the whole Continent was in open Rebellion.
Because of the styling of this blog template, in long quotations I boldface words originally set in italics. That makes Otis’s writing style even more blatant. I imagine him furiously scratching lines under one word after another. To me this paragraph seems like more evidence that Otis might have been in the middle of a manic episode that month.

Customs Commissioner Robinson responded to that and other newspaper items in a long letter to the Boston Chronicle dated 18 September. The second half of that letter addressed Otis directly, saying among other things:
On Tuesday [the 5th] you went to a shop, and asked, if I did not buy a stick there, and being told I had, you desired to have the fellow of it which you bought accordingly.—

In the evening we met at the Coffee-house, when I immediately laid aside my sword.—Did that look like assassination?—

Your insult was public, and I determined to give you a public chastisement; but I did not attack you abruptly:—We had a parley together, and I attempted to take you by the nose, which, one would think, was a sufficient warning of what was to follow. What ensued served to balance our accompts.
I do enjoy that “one would think.”

Robinson then addressed Otis’s insinuation in his “Advertisement”:
You have thought proper to acquit the officers of the navy and army, (one excepted,) for which I give you due credit.—You charge the officer so excepted, whom you are pleased to call a petty Commander, &c. with being my Confederate.––To set your right in this particular, I must inform you, that that Gentleman, if you mean Captain Dundas was not in the Coffee-house during the engagement between us, and you may have proof of it, if you desire it.—

Before I conclude, I would remind you, that the man who appeals to the public, should confine himself within the verge of truth, and for his own sake within the bounds of credibility.
In his reply Robinson demonstrated the more restrained, rational deportment of an Enlightenment gentleman—albeit one who had tried to grab his nemesis’s nose.

TOMORROW: Who was “Captain Dundas”?

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

“Treading the reforming justice out of me”

Yesterday we bravely accompanied James Murray, a justice of the peace known to be friendly to the royal government, into Faneuil Hall as two Whig magistrates heard a charge against William Burnet Brown for helping to assault James Otis, Jr., in September 1769.

According to a letter Murray wrote at the end of the month, selectman Jonathan Mason chided the crowd for jostling him, even if everyone knew he was no fan of Otis.

Then, lending me his hand, [Mason] helped me over the door into the selectmen’s seat. Before I got down from the seat I was hiss’d. I bowed. I was hiss’d again, and bowed around a second time. Then a small clap ensued. Compliments over, I sat down.

The justices asked me up to the bench. I declined.
The justices of the peace presiding at this session were Richard Dana and Samuel Pemberton. Murray had the status to sit beside them and render judgment—but of course he knew he would be outvoted.
The examination of some evidence [i.e., witness] was continued, and, being finished, the justices thought fit to bind over Mr. Brown. He lookt about for bail. No one offered but I.
According to Dr. Thomas Young, the printer John Mein also offered to be one of Brown’s “sureties.” That of course didn’t make Mein any more popular with the crowd. (This was several weeks before he was driven into hiding, as discussed here.)

Murray insisted that his offer to put up bail for Brown didn’t mean he supported one side of the the British Coffee-House brawl:
Here I desired the justices to take notice that I did not mean by this offer to vindicate what Mr. Brown had done, but only to stand by him now the torrent was against him. The recognizance taken, the justices desired the people to disperse, for that Mr. Brown had complied with the law; but the crowd, intending more sport, still remained.

As I was pressing out next to Mr. Dana, my wig was pulled off, and a pate, clean shaved by time and the barber, was left exposed. This was thought a signal and prelude to further insult, which would probably have taken place but for hurting the cause.

Going along in this plight, surrounded by the crowd, in the dark, Lewis Gray took hold of my right arm and Mr. William Taylor of my left, and supported me, while somebody behind kept nibbling at my sides and endeavoring to trip me; for the pleasure, as may be supposed, of treading the reforming justice out of me by the multitude.

Mr. [Gilbert or Louis] Deblois threw himself in my rear, and suffered not a little in my defence. Mr. G. Hooper went before, and my wig, disheveled, as I was told, was borne on a staff behind.

The gentlemen, my friends and supporters, offer’d to house me near the Hall, but I insisted on going home in the present trim, and was by them landed in safety, Mr. Gray and others having continually thus admonished my retinue in the way, “No violence, or you’ll hurt the cause.”
Gray, Taylor, and the Debois brothers were all Boston merchants who became Loyalists during the war. Taylor eventually moved back to Massachusetts.

I’m guessing that “Mr. G. Hooper” was George Hooper (1747-1821), a son of the late Rev. William Hooper of Trinity Church. Murray promised to look after that family when the minister died in 1767.

Murray had lived for decades in North Carolina, and he probably helped the Hooper brothers set themselves up in that colony. Oldest surviving brother William, having studied law under Otis, started a practice in Wilmington. He became politically active and eventually signed the Declaration of Independence.

George Hooper followed William to the Wilmington area by the 1770s, worked as a merchant, and held some local offices. In 1780 he was suspected of having Loyalist sympathies and left for Charleston, South Carolina. Since that city had fallen into British hands, that looks like the sort of thing a Loyalist would do. But Hooper’s brother and father-in-law, both active Patriots, advocated for him and he managed to come back to Wilmington after the war. Eventually he was the first president of the Bank of Cape Fear.

Murray’s experience on 6 Sept 1769 might have been the inspiration for this engraving, which appeared in James S. Loring’s Loyalists of Massachusetts. Having tried to describe the situation with detached wit, the justice wouldn’t have appreciated this depiction.

Monday, December 02, 2019

“For being accessory in beating Mr. Otis”

Back in September, before other Sestercentennial anniversaries came along, I started to explore the 5 Sept 1769 brawl in the British Coffee-House between James Otis, Jr., leader of the Boston Whigs, and John Robinson, one of His Majesty’s Commissioners of Customs.

As those two gentlemen were going at each other with canes and fists, other men intervened. The most energetic on Otis’s side was young John Gridley, identified here. On 6 September, Dr. Thomas Young wrote to John Wilkes that Gridley “had the ulna of his right arm fractured in the fray.”

The Whigs complained that several officers of the British army, navy, or Customs took Robinson’s side, but the one they named was William Burnet Brown, a native of Salem who had married and moved to Virginia. As I discussed here, he was probably visiting Boston to finish selling his New England property.

Interestingly, several recent authors credit Benjamin Hallowell, Jr., comptroller of the Boston Customs office, for breaking up the fight. I’ve read more anecdotes about Hallowell getting into disputes than stopping them, so this offers a novel perspective on him. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the contemporaneous source for that detail.

Robinson went into hiding after the brawl, probably moving out to Castle William, the Customs officers’ usual refuge, which was now in army hands. That kept him beyond the reach of Whig magistrates or writs. Otis’s supporters therefore focused their legal efforts on William Burnet Brown. In fact, some people accused Brown of having attacked Otis himself.

On 6 September the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary: “this afternoon the sheriff took Mr. Brown, Esq., formerly of Salem, for being accessory in beating Mr. Otis; he was carried to Faneuil Hall.” Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf was acting on a legal complaint sworn out by John Gridley, not making an arrest on his own authority the way police do now.

The magistrates overseeing the hearing at Faneuil Hall that evening were justices of the peace Richard Dana and Samuel Pemberton. Dana was a highly respected member of the Boston judiciary. Pemberton was a magistrate of long standing and a selectman. However, they were also both known for challenging Crown decrees and ignoring complaints from British officers. They were the Whig activists’ go-to magistrates, as the cases of Capt. John Willson, Ens. John Ness, and John Mein show.

In an attempt to counterbalance such magistrates, Gov. Francis Bernard had appointed James Murray (1713-1781) as a justice of the peace in the previous year. Murray was a Scottish gentleman who had settled in North Carolina in 1735, becoming a member of the governor’s council there. However, he didn’t do nearly so well financially as his little sister Elizabeth did in Boston, so in 1765 Murray moved north to join her.

In 1769 Elizabeth (Murray Campbell) Smith was widowed for a second time and decided to visit family in Britain, leaving her brother to manage her extensive property. They had already rented one large building to the British army; locals called that “Smith’s barracks” or “Murray’s barracks.” The public knew Justice James Murray supported the Crown in other ways.

On the evening of the 6th, Murray was taking a walk around the Town House when a gentleman named Perkins told him that Brown had been taken to Faneuil Hall. At the end of the month Murray wrote:
consulting my feelings for another's distress more than my own safety, [I] went directly to the Hall to attend the proceedings. Soon as the multitude perceived me among them, they attempted repeatedly to thrust me out, but were prevented by Mr. [Jonathan] Mason, one of the selectmen, calling out, “For shame, gentlemen, do not behave so rudely.”
What had started as a personal fight between two gentlemen had grown into a legal case. And now it was threatening to become a public fight that would make Boston look like a lawless place.

TOMORROW: Inside and outside Faneuil Hall.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Of Course They Had to Try Bleeding

I’ve been looking at how young Gershom Spear drowned in 1762 but got better. Finding some way to resuscitate drowning victims was a consuming topic in the Age of Sail. Not just because of the loss of life, but also the fear that someone presumed dead might accidentally be buried alive.

Two days ago I quoted a letter from Capt. John Bell about how British diplomat Gabriel Hervey had revived an apparently dead sailor in Portugal by rubbing him with salt. That 1761 letter was not only published all over the British Empire but also translated into French and published in Paris.

In reprinting the letter, the London Magazine and the Annual Report referred readers to other methods of reviving drowned people discussed in their pages. In a 1745 article the magazine had recommended these treatments for a man feared dead by drowning:
  • rolling him around in a bottomless cask
  • making him vomit by “thrusting several Times a Quill with its feathers down his throat”
  • keeping the body warm
  • shaking the body, or picking it up and dropping it
  • pouring spirits or pepper into his mouth
  • blowing tobacco smoke into his nose, mouth, or anus
  • bleeding from the jugular vein or “Trachian Artery”
The Annual Register for 1759 had reported on how a French doctor resuscitating a drowned “servant maid” by covering her in ashes. That doctor noted that “dry salt” would work just as well, and that might have been the inspiration for Hervey’s 1761 attempts.

In 1774 two London doctors, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan, set up a “Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned,” showing the ongoing interest in the challenge. Eventually that organization was renamed the Royal Humane Society. Its mandate expanded to include rescues and swimming lessons.

In 1776, the Gentlemen’s Magazine published an article by royal physician William Cullen (shown above) on a “Method of Recovering Persons Apparently Dead by Drowning.” Cullen said the top priority was to heat the body. Among other methods, he recommended keeping “bags of warm and dry salt” around to heat over a fire in an emergency. That advice was reprinted for decades.

However, in 1792 Dr. James Curry wrote in Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Suffocation, &c. that “The practice of rubbing the body with salt or spirits, is now justly condemned,” despite its apparent efficacy in those two cases from the early 1760s. He still recommended warmth, though.