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.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

“Liberated upon each of them giving bail”

Back on 27 March, I described how a Suffolk County grand jury indicted four civilians for murder in the Boston Massacre.

As acting governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote, those four men had been “committed to close prison, where they lay about a fortnight,” because of the testimony of Charles Bourgate.

That “French boy” claimed that his master, Edward Manwaring, had fired a gun out of the Customs House window. The other three men were charged with being part of the fatal conspiracy simply because they testified in support of Manwaring’s denial.

Ordinarily, there was no bail for people charged with murder. But some Superior Court judges thought the evidence against those men was weak enough to make an exception.

According to an anonymous correspondent keeping track of events in Boston for the Customs service, the town committee gathering evidence about the Massacre “threw every obstacle in the way in order to prevent this affair coming to a hearing by informing the Court that they daily expected new Witnesses from the Country.”

Eventually the court scheduled a bail hearing on Saturday, 7 Apr 1770—250 years ago today. According to the diary of acting Chief Justice Benjamin Lynde, it took “all forenoon.” The anonymous report described the event this way:
The Witnesses brot. against the Custom house People Manwarings french boy and one [Samuel] Drown, the former had sworn to so many falsities that the Court paid no regard to his evidence—the latter was proven in Court to be a fool, unable to utter one coherent sentence. . . .

Upwards of 40 Creditable people were summoned by Manwaring to disprove Guns being fired out of the Custom house but only the family of Mr. [Benjamin] Davis who lives directly opposite was examined—they all declared they had their eye upon the Custom house during the whole affair, and that they saw no Guns fired nor believ’d any were fired. their Evidences were so very clear that the Court thought it unnecessary to examine any other of his exculpatory Witnesses.
Lynde was nonetheless still inclined not to grant bail. Judge Peter Oliver (shown above), brother of province secretary Andrew Oliver and related by marriage to Hutchinson, already believed there was “little cause of Confinement.” Judge John Cushing (1695-1778) cast the deciding vote.

The court let the four men out of jail pending trial if they paid bail of £400 each. As comparison, in 1770 Paul Revere paid £213 for an entire house in the North End. With the help of sixteen sureties, the defendants came up with the necessary money. They still had to go on trial, but until then they were free.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Samuel Fitch Takes the Case

Jonathan Sewall wasn’t the only attorney missing from the big trials in Boston in the spring of 1770.

As the Massachusetts Superior Court geared up for the Boston Massacre trials, Ebenezer Richardson was having a hard time finding a lawyer to represent him.

Richardson was arraigned on Monday, 19 March, and brought out for trial that Friday. British law already recognized that a man charged with a capital crime deserved to have legal representation. But no attorney, not even those politically allied with the Crown, had agreed to represent Richardson.

That echoed how on 2 March the Customs service, as I noted back here, had publicly and falsely claimed that Richardson had “never been employed as an Officer or Under Officer, or in any Capacity in the Customs.” Killing a child had made the man even more unpopular than he already was. No one wanted anything to do with him.

An anonymous correspondent for the Crown reported on Richardson’s lament:
He observ’d to the Court that he had made application to almost every Lawyer in town to undertake his cause, which no one would do, that the Constables had refused summoning his Witnesses, that the Jailer, had used him in so cruel a manner that he was even frequently debarred the Liberty of conversing with his friends, that every Newspaper was crouded with the most infamous and false libels against him in order to prejudice the minds of his jury; that without Counsel, without the privilege of calling upon his Witnesses to support his innocence he was now to be tried for his life.
The royal judges accordingly postponed the murder trial, which is just what the Boston Whigs were pressuring them not to do. They also tried to get Richardson representation.
The Court then made application to the several Lawyers present to appear as his Counsel but this one and all of them declined. The court finding that a requisition had no effect asserted their Authority and order’d Mr. Fitch the advocate General to appear on his behalf on his trial. Fitch made use of a variety of arguments in order to excuse himself which the Court did not judge sufficient. He concluded with saying that since the Court had peremptorily ordered him, he would undertake it, but not otherways.
Samuel Fitch (1724-1799) had come to Boston from Lebanon, Connecticut, and Yale College. He was an established lawyer but not particularly prominent. Politically Fitch leaned toward the Crown, though not so strongly as to prevent him from representing James Otis, Jr., in his lawsuit against Customs Commissioner John Robinson.

In 1768, Jonathan Sewall was seeking a successor to himself as advocate general in the Admiralty Courts, now that he was going to be attorney general. He approached John Adams with hopes of winning the younger lawyer to the side of the Crown. Adams later wrote that when he declined, he suggested that Fitch would be more comfortable in the job. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson eventually did give Fitch that permanent position.

The judges scheduled Richardson’s trial for 6 April. Fitch told the judges that he was feeling sick that month. Also, he had received an anonymous letter hinting at a valuable witness. The court postponed the trial to give Fitch time to investigate that information and decamped to Charlestown for a weeklong session in Middlesex County.

Richardson’s new trial date was Tuesday, 17 April. When the court convened that day, Fitch was nowhere to be found.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Disappearance of Jonathan Sewall

In the mid-1760s, Jonathan Sewall allied with Gov. Francis Bernard, writing pseudonymous newspaper essays lampooning James Otis and favoring the Crown. The governor appointed Sewall to be attorney general of Massachusetts in 1767.

Sometime in March 1770, Attorney General Sewall wrote out the indictment of Capt. Thomas Preston and eight soldiers for multiple counts of murder—the Boston Massacre. This document used old British legal formulas: “not having the Fear of God before their eyes, but being moved and seduced by the Instigation of the devil and their own wicked Hearts…”

After 27 March, Sewall expanded that indictment to include three Customs service employees and notary John Munro, caught up in young Charles Bourgate’s accusations. It’s highly unlikely he believed in those charges, but he didn’t fight them.

Ordinarily Sewall would have prosecuted all those defendants, as well as the murder charges against Ebenezer Richardson and George Wilmot. He had personally argued all previous criminal cases since his appointment. Because people knew Sewall was a friend of the royal government, on 13 March the town of Boston voted to hire an attorney to assist him—an unusual move to ensure there was an aggressive prosecution.

Instead, the indictment turned out to be Sewall’s last official act in the Massacre trials. He never appeared in the Boston courthouse again that term. In 1816 defense counsel John Adams recalled: “Mr. Sewall, the Attorney General, who ought, at the hazard of his existence, to have conducted those prosecutions, disappeared.” Solicitor general Samuel Quincy wrote that Sewall couldn’t appear “by reason of Ill health.”

According to Thomas Hutchinson, the problem was the Boston Whigs’ visit to the court on 22 March to demand that the judges proceed to those murder trials. The acting governor wrote, “Sewall tells me he never will appear at any other court in that town, after the present, as Attorney General, and the whole court say they do not sit there with freedom.”

Yet the judges continued to sit. To prosecute the big murder cases, they appointed Robert Treat Paine, a private lawyer in Taunton, and Samuel Quincy. Adams wondered if Sewall was involved in those choices, but there’s no surviving evidence that he was.

Samuel Phillips Savage of Weston complained that Sewall didn’t stop all legal work. In his almanac diary Savage wrote that the attorney general continued to appear “with the jurys of the Inferior Courts at Charlston and Ipswich in the petty Concerns cognizable before the General Sessions of the Peace.” But he never went into Boston.

I suspect there was another factor in Sewall’s action, or lack of it: he was prone to depression. During the war he had a breakdown and spent more than a year in his bedroom. He had other spells of depression later in life, and his son suffered from the same spells while serving as chief justice of Upper Canada.

Even before the war, I think Sewall’s public writing shows a pattern of bursts of energy and silence. He published series of lively and often verbose essays from February to June 1763 (as “J,” “Jehosaphat Smoothingplain,” and “J. Philanthrop”), December 1766 to August 1767 (“Philanthrop”), December 1770 to February 1771 (Philanthrop” reviewing the Massacre trials he’d stayed away from), and June to August 1773 (“Philalethes”).

But in late 1774, after the Powder Alarm drove him into Boston, Sewall went silent. To argue for the Crown, “several of the principal gentlemen” turned to Daniel Leonard and Sewall’s law clerk Ward Chipman to deliver the “Massachusettensis” essays. Sewall may have supported the project, but he couldn’t do the work.

Historians are reluctant to apply psychiatric diagnoses like bipolar disorder to figures of the past. They’re beyond the reach of psychologists. And more than anyone historians know how concepts of mental illness change over time.

But in Sewall’s case, I think attributing his refusal after March 1770 to try the Massacre cases solely to his politics or to Whig pressure might miss a crucial internal force. The attorney general couldn’t bring himself to prosecute the big cases, nor to refuse to prosecute. He just stayed away.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

The Mystery of Ebenezer Richardson’s Mother

A very long month ago, on the day we reenacted the Boston Massacre for its Sestercentennial, I stopped by the Edes and Gill print shop in Faneuil Hall.

Andrew Volpe was printing his recreation of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Massacre. As proprietor Gary Gregory said, this was the first time in centuries that image was being reproduced on an authentic eighteenth-century press. See an example here.

Volpe had colored some of the prints. I shared my theory about one of the fallen figures being painted with a darker face than othersjust how dark varies from copy to copy—to represent Crispus Attucks.

Gary told me about something I hadn’t come across pertaining to the fatal events of early 1770, and I’m still puzzling over it.

The 19 Dec 1771 Massachusetts Spy included this item referring to Ebenezer Richardson:
“Last Tuesday se’nnight died suddenly at Stoneham, Mrs. Abigail Richardson, mother of the noted Esquire Richardson, now under conviction of murder, and whose habitation is now, as it has long been, in Suffolk County goal. She has turned out a true prophetess, having often declared, that she should never live to see this ---famous fellow hanged, though she thought his tu---s in iniquity richly deserved it.”
That paragraph was printed within quotation marks, unlike most death notices. But there was no indication of what source printer Isaiah Thomas was quoting from. My only guess on what “tu---s” signified is “tutors.”

The 23 December Boston Evening-Post ran a shorter version of the same news:
DIED.]…At Stoneham, very suddenly, Mrs. Abigail Richardson, Mother of the noted Richardson, now in Goal here, under Conviction for the Murder of young Sneider. She has turned out a true Prophetess, having, ’tis said, often declared, “that she should never live to see him hanged.”
Other New England newspapers also echoed the Massachusetts Spy’s news.

Yet there’s no listing for Abigail Richardson dying in 1771 in the published vital records of Stoneham, nor the other nearby towns the Richardson family had links to.

However, J. A. Vinton’s The Richardson Memorial, a vast but not always accurate genealogy of the Richardson family, states that Ebenezer Richardson’s mother was born Abigail Johnson, widowed in 1735, and remarried in 1747 to “Dea. Daniel Gould, of Stoneham.”

And the Stoneham vital records do list this death under the name Gould:
Abigail, w[idow]. Dea. Daniel, Jan. ––, 1771, in her 65th y[ear].
The Stoneham records also confirm the marriage of Deacon Gould to “Mrs. Abigail Richardson of Woburn” in 1747. The Woburn records show an Abigail Johnson born in 1697 and one married to Timothy Richardson in 1717, data points that fit together. But that would make the widow Abigail (Johnson Richardson) Gould who died in January 1771 seventy-three years old, not sixty-four.

The next mystery is how this death in January 1771 relates to the Massachusetts Spy item from December. That quoted paragraph said Richardson’s mother had died “Last Tuesday se’nnight,” suggesting it was written in early 1771. Did that text take many months to reach Isaiah Thomas? Does quoting from an old letter explain why the newspaper put quotation marks around the old news?

It’s also notable that the letter referred to the woman by a previous surname, not Gould. Does that indicate the writer didn’t know Abigail (Johnson Richardson) Gould personally, but was passing on second- or third-hand information about her death? And if so, was that writer really privy to the woman’s comments about her son being hanged?

Friday, April 03, 2020

George Washington’s Honorary Degree from Harvard

On 3 Apr 1776, Harvard College awarded an honorary doctor of laws (Ll.D.) degree to Gen. George Washington.

The official college record of the event reads:
At a meeting of the President and Fellows at Watertown, Voted, that the following Diploma be presented to his Excellency General Washington, as an expression of the gratitude of this College for his eminent services in the cause of his country and to this Society. . . . 
The college had never conferred a degree outside of its regular summer commencement. It had never awarded an honorary degree to a man who hadn’t graduated from any college yet. Harvard’s treasurer, John Hancock, was away in Philadelphia at the time.

But this was Gen. Washington, and he had just successfully completed the siege of Boston. He had had also managed to leave the college campus, used by the Continental Army as barracks, reasonably intact.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper was a member of the Harvard corporation that conferred that degree, and his diary reveals the scramble to deliver it:
3. Went with Mrs. C. to Watertown. Corporation and Overseer’s Meeting there. Din’d at Mrs. [Dorothy] Coolidges [tavern] with College Gentlemen, went p. m. to Waltham with Mrs. C. who din’d at D[eacon Samuel]. Fisk’s. slept at Mr. [Jonas?] Clark’s. Horse there on my Hay.

4. Thursday. We din’d at home; Sign’d Diploma for Genl. Washington’s Doctorate of Laws. went to Cambridg p. m. to wait on him and take Leave; found him set out for Boston, and f’m thence to N. York, slept and H. at Mr. Clark’s, on his Hay.
That suggests that the Harvard dignitaries arrived at the general’s Cambridge headquarters too late to catch him. If a group of college officials chased after Washington to deliver the diploma, Cooper wasn’t among them.

That formal certificate did get to Washington one way or another, and it remained in his papers. Here’s an image from the Library of Congress (with the webpage stating the wrong date for the document). The honorary degree was also reported in several American newspapers over the following weeks.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Becoming Most Wanted

This month brings a new picture book about Samuel Adams and John Hancock: Most Wanted, written by Sarah Jane Marsh and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

That same team previously created Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word. Fotheringham also illustrated Those Rebels, John and Tom, written by Barbara Kerley.

All these books are in the genre called “picture book biography,” which introduces kids in the early elementary-school grades to notable figures. The mode emphasizes lively storytelling and historical accuracy—which can be at odds, especially when subjects’ lives were not well detailed. (There’s ongoing debate in the field about just how accurate every detail must be.)

I’m highlighting Most Wanted: The Revolutionary Partnership of John Hancock and Samuel Adams because back in 2018 I had the pleasure of fact-checking the manuscript for the publisher. I’ve worked in publishing and even written for kids myself, so I can mix my nitpicky remarks about interpreting historical sources with some some realism about what’s feasible in a children’s book.

For instance, how to explain the Stamp Act in a picture book when it took me years to grasp it myself? And when a picture-book page contains one small paragraph of text? Most Wanted takes the editorial-cartoon approach, with Marsh explaining (in 35 words!) the purpose and scope of the law and Fotheringham sketching a giant sheet of stamped paper falling onto the colonists’ heads. Hancock’s comments on the law appear in italics to underscore how those words are documented to be his.

In fact, we checked all the quotes in the book. Marsh provided detailed source notes, and I dug further. Then a few months later I reviewed Fotheringham’s sketches and queries because he was just as concerned about depicting Hancock’s coach, wardrobe, natural hair, and other details correctly.

Most Wanted covers Adams and Hancock from the formation of their political partnership in the mid-1760s to their arrival at the Second Continental Congress ten years later. It describes the Stamp Act, the Liberty riot, the Massacre, and the Tea Party. But the climax of the book, taking up about a quarter of its 80 pages, is the drama of April 1775, as Hancock and Adams hole up in the parsonage at Lexington only to learn about redcoats marching their way. It’s therefore quite an appropriate book to share with young readers this month.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

“A TRAGEDY (Not acted here these seventy-eight years)”


On 1 Feb 1770, a curious notice appeared in the Boston Chronicle, the twice-weekly newspaper published by Scottish immigrants John Mein and John Fleeming.

It read:

Intended speedily to be acted
By a Company of young Tragedians,
A TRAGEDY
(Not acted here these seventy-eight years,)
called the
W I T C H E S,
With many Alterations and Improvements.

The scenery, decorations, &c. for the exhibition to be entirely new, and supplied by Messieurs J——n, L——, B——d and Company.

N.B. Notice will be given for the Rehersal, by ringing of the Town bells, when the Actors are desired to meet at FUNNY-HALL.—But as the young Gentlemen have lately been interrupted at some of their Rehearsals by the intrusion of Improper persons, it is desired that NONE but such as are to be REAL Actors will attend, and that NO ONE will presume to go behind the scenes without a TICKET from the Managers.

The names of the Managers, to whom Gentlemen may apply, with the Dramatis Personae, will be in a future Advertisement.
This announcement was fake news, which is one reason I’m discussing it on 1 April. But the item also carried a serious political message that genteel Boston readers of the day would have recognized immediately.

The item used phrasing for theatrical entertainments that often appeared in newspapers from outside New England. Since theater was illegal in Massachusetts, right away this ad had an edge.

The title of the putative play, “the WITCHES,” and the reference to “seventy-eight years” ago were a clear allusion to the witch trials of 1792, an embarrassing episode in Massachusetts history.

The gentlemen said to be furnishing the sets, “Messieurs J——n, L——, B——d and Company,” were William Jackson, Theophilus Lillie, John Bernard, and the other shopkeepers defying the non-importation committee that winter.

“Funny Hall” was clearly a disdainful reference to Faneuil Hall, seat of the town government. The “Town bells” referred to the customary way of gathering a crowd—either to fight a fire or, as this item hints, to start a riot.

In sum, this item in the form of a theatrical advertisement was satirizing the town’s non-importation committee and its attempts to put pressure on the merchants who were refusing to cooperate. The last line, promising to name the managers of this enterprise, echoed how the Boston Chronicle published a lot of embarrassing and insulting material about the Whigs in 1769.

When I first read this item, I interpreted the “company of young Tragedians” as a reference to the schoolboy picketers outside importers’ shops. But it actually appeared a week before the first picket line was reported at Jackson’s Sign of the Brazen Head.

It seems unlikely that Mein and Fleeming were privy to the Whigs’ plans for those picket lines. And I read the evidence to say the schoolboys’ participation developed over time and was largely self-directed. That means the “young Tragedians” referred to the crowd meeting at Faneuil Hall in January—which would have gotten the Whigs even angrier.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

“A number of Soldiers with their Baggage landed”

On Monday, 12 Mar 1770, Bostonians assembled for a town meeting to elect officers for the coming year and transact other business.

In fact, there was so much other business that that meeting kept going by adjournment for over two weeks, with sessions starting:
  • Monday, 12 March, 3:00 P.M.
  • Tuesday, 13 March, 9:00 P.M. [sic]
  • Friday, 16 March, 9:00 A.M.
  • Monday, 19 March, 9:00 A.M.
  • Monday, 26 March, 9:00 A.M.
  • [intervening meeting to tidy up some items]
  • Tuesday, 27 March, 4:00 P.M.
At that last session there were only three agenda items: putting off all other concerns until May, thanking the moderators, and complaining about troops in Boston. Soldiers were back! Well, some of them:
The Town having been informed by several Persons that a number of Soldiers with their Baggage landed Yesterday at Wheelwrights Wharff—one Gentleman supposing that there was not less than Sixty Men—Voted, that
Mr. William Mollineux
Joshua Henshaw Esq.
Joseph Jackson Esq.
Mr. Jonathan Mason
Ezekiel Goldthwait Esq.
be a Committee to make enquiry from time to time, whether any more Troops came up from Castle Island than they think necessary, and if they shall find it to be otherwise, that they then immediately acquaint the Selectmen in order for their calling a Meeting of the Inhabitants
In fact, Henshaw, Jackson, and Mason were selectmen. Molineux was the Whigs’ leader on resistance to the troops, and also manager of properties on Wheelwright’s Wharf that the army had rented. Goldthwait (1710-1782) was Suffolk County registrar of deeds, having served Boston as town clerk, as selectman, and otherwise. (It’s striking I haven’t mentioned him before, only his young namesake who died from a fireworks injury. Here’s registrar Goldthwait as painted by John S. Copley.)

I rather doubt “Sixty Men” came over from Castle William all at once on 26 March, but there might well have been dozens. In her new book The Boston Massacre: A Family History, Serena Zabin discusses this moment in the context of the soldiers’ families who came to Boston and were left behind when the regiments were moved to the Castle.

The army soon stopped renting buildings for barracks, which meant some of those families would lose their homes, perhaps at the end of the month. In other cases, the wives and children were living in quarters they rented themselves. There appears to have been a scramble for new places to live. That might have been why so many soldiers came into town.

Some women ended up squatting in a building with no fireplaces. The wives of two of the soldiers jailed for the Massacre, Pvts. Edward Montgomery and James Hartigan, stayed behind in Boston while most of the 29th was sent south. We know about those vivid details because of Boston’s custom of “warning out” strangers so they wouldn’t become legal burdens. A few actually did end up in the poorhouse, but most managed to join their husbands or support themselves, which meant they didn’t reappear on town records.

To hear more about The Boston Massacre: A Family History, check out this video of Serena Zabin’s talk at the beginning of this month at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Capt. Preston and the Town of Boston

On Monday, 12 Mar 1770, one week after the Boston Massacre, the Boston Gazette ran this letter:
Boston-Goal, Monday, 12th March, 1770.

Messieurs Edes & Gill,

PERMIT me thro’ the Channel of your paper, to return my Thanks in the most publick Manner to the Inhabitants in general of this Town—who throwing aside all Party and Prejudice, have with the utmost Humanity and Freedom stept forth Advocates for Truth, in Defence of my injured Innocence, in the late unhappy Affair that happened on Monday Night last: And to assure them, that I shall ever have the highest Sense of the Justice they have done me, which will be ever gratefully remembered, by

Their most obliged and most obedient humble Servant,

THOMAS PRESTON.
Preston was of course the army captain jailed after the Massacre.

In the initial coroners’ inquests and newspaper reports, some witnesses declared that they hadn’t seen Preston give a clear order to his men to fire, or that many other people in the crush on King Street were yelling the word “Fire!” Some added that Preston definitely stopped the soldiers from firing a second time by knocking their muskets up.

Other witnesses, to be sure, said that they had heard and seen Preston give the order to fire. The prints soon to be published by Henry Pelham and Paul Revere depict that. The legal case against Preston was based on that testimony.

By writing this letter, Preston sought to keep the first group of witnesses on his side, to ensure the populace understood his guilt was not clear, and perhaps to break down the stark division between army and civilians. By running the letter, printers Edes and Gill were pleased to show how Preston recognized Boston as a fair-minded town.

Hovering over Preston’s head was the historical memory of John Porteous, a captain of the Edinburgh City Guard who was convicted in 1736 of ordering soldiers to fire at a riotous crowd, killing several people. When it became clear that the royal government planned to reprieve him, a local mob broke into the jail and lynched Porteous, as depicted above.

Preston of course didn’t want that to happen to him. The Boston Whigs didn’t want that to happen, either. They wanted to show the rest of the British Empire that their town was peaceful and law-abiding when not flooded with troops. Providing Preston with a fair trial was the way to do that. The captain’s public thanks to “the Inhabitants in general of this Town” seemed to endorse their position.

The Whigs didn’t know that two days later Preston completed a much longer piece of writing, eventually published under the title of the “CASE of Capt. Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment.”

It portrayed Boston in a very different light:
IT is Matter of too great Notoriety to need any Proofs, that the Arrival of his Majesty’s Troops in Boston was extremely obnoxious to it’s Inhabitants. They have ever used all Means in their Power to weaken the Regiments, and to bring them into Contempt, by promoting and aiding Desertions, and with Impunity, even where there has been the clearest Evidence of the Fact, and by grossly and falsly propagating Untruths concerning them.

On the Arrival of the 64th & 65th, their Ardour seemingly began to abate; it being too expensive to buy off so many; and Attempts of that Kind rendered too dangerous from the Numbers.—But the same Spirit revived immediately on it’s being known that those Regiments were ordered for Halifax, and hath ever since their Departure been breaking out with greater Violence.

After their Embarkation, one of their Justices, not thoroughly acquainted with the People and their Intentions, on the Trial of the 14th Regiment, openly and publicly, in the Hearing of great Numbers of People, and from the Seat of Justice, declared, “that the Soldiers must now take Care of themselves, nor trust too much to their Arms, for they were but a Handful; that the Inhabitants carried Weapons concealed under their Cloaths, and would destroy them in a Moment if they pleased.”
Lt. Alexander Ross reported hearing justice of the peace Richard Dana give such a warning.
This, considering the malicious Temper of the People, was an alarming Circumstance to the Soldiery. Since which several Disputes have happened between the Towns-People and Soldiers of both Regiments, the former being encouraged thereto by the Countenance of even some of the Magistrates, and by the Protection of all the Party against Government. . . .

The Insolence, as well as utter Hatred of the Inhabitants to the Troops, increased daily; insomuch, that Monday and Tuesday, the 5th and 6th instant, were privately agreed on for a general Engagement; in Consequence of which several of the Militia came from the Country, armed to join their Friends, menacing to destroy any who should oppose them. This Plan has since been discovered.
Preston thus suggested a conspiracy theory to rival the Whigs’ suspicions about the Customs Commissioners with a whiff of treason stirred in.

The “Case” the captain was making appears to be for a royal pardon to rescue him and his men from an unjust death sentence in a hostile province:
And this must be the fate of all the unhappy Soldiers confined with me. In short with such Jurors and Witnesses we have nothing better to expect than to be sacrifyc’d as a terror to all others who would oppose the people, however wrong. . . . The Commanding Officer with the Officers of both the two Corps and every other dispassionate man here have approved of my conduct and hope it will also deserve the attention of His Majesty.
Capt. Preston’s essay was one of the documents that Customs Commissioner John Robinson was carrying to Britain in late March 1770, 250 years ago. Convinced by Preston’s letter that he felt locals were treating him fairly, the Boston Whigs had no idea of his range of feelings about their town.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

“Cutting a plate of the late Murder”

On 26 Mar 1770, the Boston Gazette ran this advertisment:
To be Sold by EDES and GILL
(Price Eight Pence Lawful Money)
A PRINT containing a Representation
of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street.
The same ad appeared that evening in the Fleet brothersBoston Evening-Post.

That picture of the Boston Massacre was made by Paul Revere. It showed a British army officer ordering his soldiers all to shoot into a recoiling crowd. Men lay dead on the ground, their wounds blood red in the painted versions. The Customs House behind the soldiers was labeled “Butchers Hall.”

Ironically, this picture went on sale on the same day the Boston town meeting voted not to distribute the Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre lest that sway potential jurors’ minds.

This image is probably Revere’s most famous production, but it’s not at all typical of his artwork. He rarely came up with such a complex composition with people and buildings lined up in careful perspective. So how had he managed that this time?

The Boston Gazette advertisement caught the attention of twenty-one-year-old Henry Pelham, half-brother of the painter John Singleton Copley and an aspiring artist himself. On Thursday, 29 March, 250 years ago today, Pelham addressed an angry note to Revere:
Sir,

When I heard that you were cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible, as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and as I thought I had entrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and Trust I reposed in you.

But I find I was mistaken, and after being at the great Trouble and Expence of making a design paying for paper, printing &c, find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived, not only of any proposed Advantage, but even of the expence I have been at, as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway.

If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect upon and consider of one of the most dishonorable Actions you could well be guilty of.

H. Pelham.

P S. I send by the Bearer the Prints I borrowed of you. My Mother desired you would send the hinges and part of the press, that you had from her.
Pelham had been working on his own engraving of the Massacre, headlined “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power.” It reflected the same anger at the shooting that his older half-brother showed on 6 March when he went to the town meeting to complain about a soldier’s threat.

Revere’s print was almost identical to Pelham’s. The small differences included slightly wonkier perspective, the removal of a church spire, and that “Butchers Hall” sign.

Pelham had the decorative painter Daniel Rea, Jr., (1743-1803) printing 575 copies of his engraving. Along with “12 Quire of Paper,” that left the young artist owing Rea £5.9s.

There was no copyright law in colonial America. If an engraver went to all the trouble to carve a copy of someone else’s design, he could sell those prints. Pelham couldn’t object to Revere copying one of his published prints, but he obviously thought the silversmith had taken advantage of a drawing or early proof he’d cordially shared and then beaten him to market.

Revere and his Whig colleagues appear to have mollified the young artist. On Monday, 2 April, a new ad appeared in the Boston Gazette:
To be Sold by EDES and GILL,
and T. and J. Fleet,
(Price Eight Pence)
The Fruits of Arbitrary Power,
an Original Print, representing the last horrid Massacre in King Street, taken from the Spot.
A similar ad appeared in the Boston Evening-Post. The next week’s Gazette advertised Pelham’s print again. There was no second ad for Revere’s print. The town’s most radical printers thus helped Pelham earn back his investment. Revere’s accounts showed he continued to do business with the Copley and Pelham family over the next few years.

Curiously, there are more copies of Revere’s Massacre in collections today than Pelham’s. Did Revere make a lot more than 575 copies? Did that one-week edge in the market bring much wider distribution? Or did Revere’s fame in the late 1800s mean more people preserved copies of the print with his name?

Designing this image was the height of Henry Pelham’s Whiggism. His family was Anglican to begin with, which made him more apt to side with the royal government. Then Copley married a daughter of tea importer Richard Clarke, beleaguered in the weeks leading up to the Tea Party.

By the outbreak of the war in 1775, Pelham was so angry and suspicious about the Patriot cause that he feared a mob would attack another half-brother, Charles Pelham, in Newton. Henry Pelham left Boston with the British army in 1776 and settled in Ireland.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Departure of Commissioner John Robinson

Although the Boston Whigs indicted the Customs officer for the port of Gaspé; a passing notary; and a couple of bottom-level Customs employees for the Boston Massacre, those men weren’t their real targets.

The anonymous person reporting on events for Customs Commissioner Joseph Harrison wrote:
This affair has struck every friend of Government with Horror and amasement, not Knowing but that it may be their case tomorrow . . . almost Every person in the Province are made to believe, that the Commissioners, and principal Officers of the Revenue were aiders & abettors, in the fireing on the 5th Inst.
In his role as historian, and thus referring to himself in the third person, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson later recounted:
Another witness, having sworn that he saw a tall man in the Custom house or in the balcony; it was insinuated to the Lt. Governor in Council that this was one of the Commissioners, who soon after left the Province and went to England.—There is no judging, in such times, where the credulity of the People will stop.
Who was this “tall man,…one of the Commissioners”? That was John Robinson.

Back in September 1769, Robinson had gotten into a coffee-house brawl with James Otis, Jr., seriously injuring the leader of the Massachusetts Whigs. That popped him to the top of the Least Popular Customs Commissioner list, beating out perennial Charles Paxton.

In February 1770, after land waiter Ebenezer Richardson killed Christopher Seider, some people whispered that superiors in the Customs service had encouraged him to use violence. Perhaps the Customs sloop sailor George Wilmot, who joined Richardson in defending his house, was acting under agency orders?

Clearly all these events were connected! Obviously Robinson and his colleagues were engaged in a secret transatlantic conspiracy to slowly press Massachusetts into political slavery!

Did anyone question how this conspiracy would benefit from killing an eleven-year-old? Or how a well-known tall man in hiding after the Otis brawl got into the Customs House in the center of town without anyone seeing him? Or why his method of attacking the crowd outside that building was by loading a musket, thrusting it into the hands of a teen-aged servant boy, and ordering him to shoot? (Charles Bourgate insisted he had shot over the crowd’s heads.)

Presumably the Boston activists believed that an investigation in the courts would answer those questions. Or, if we take the more cynical approach, they believed that they simply had to keep the questions alive until they achieved some sort of political victory over the Customs bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, what was John Robinson really up to? He had, as Hutchinson wrote, “left the Province and went to England.” The 22 March Boston News-Letter reported:
Friday last [i.e., 16 March] sailed for London the Captains Robson and Miller; in the former went the Hon. John Robinson, Esq; one of the Commissioners of the Board of Customs.
Robinson carried an important cargo: documents telling the army’s side of the story. Lt. Col. William Dalrymple wrote to his commander on 19 March:
I have sent to England States of the affairs here, as well as of Captain [Thomas] Preston’s case. You will pardon my doing so by any other channel than yours, when you consider that the first impression is always the strongest in such cases, an opportunity offered and I presumed to use it.
“Captain Preston’s case” meant a 2,200-word narrative by the imprisoned captain dated 14 March. Robinson also carried affidavits from twenty-one other army officers and several local eyewitnesses dated 12-15 March. They were all certified by James Murray, the Scottish-born justice of the peace appointed by Gov. Francis Bernard in 1768.

By comparison, Boston town officials started to collect testimony about the Massacre on the morning after—at the town meeting and for coroners’ inquests. But it wasn’t until 13 March that the town voted to commission a report on the event to send to Britain.

Whig magistrates took down depositions over the following week, particularly on 16, 17, and 19 March. Then they collected more. They deposed Charles Bourgate on 23 March. They interviewed three Customs service employees who refuted him on 24 March. Meanwhile, there was a debate in the town meeting about how best to send a fast ship to London with the report. The Short Narrative was finally printed on 30 March, and Capt. Andrew Gardner sailed with it on 1 April.

By that point, John Robinson and his documents already had a two-week head start for the imperial capital.

I think the Massachusetts Whigs learned a valuable lesson from this episode. The next time British soldiers shot and killed locals—at Lexington and Concord in April 1775—the Patriots were much more efficient about gathering testimony, printing it, and speeding it to London. In 1775, Capt. John Derby sailed from Salem on 29 April, ten days after the battle—or about as quickly as it took John Robinson to embark after the Massacre.

Friday, March 27, 2020

“The Grand Jury haveing found bills against them”

As I recounted back here, the Suffolk County grand jury inquiring into the Boston Massacre took a lot of testimony about whether people had fired down at the crowd from the Customs House behind the soldiers.

The foreman of that grand jury was William Taylor of Milton. (At the time, Suffolk County included all of present-day Norfolk County, so most of its population was outside Boston.)

According to A. K. Teele’s History of Milton, Taylor was born in Jamaica in 1714. His older brother John became Milton’s minister in 1729, and William went into business as a merchant in Boston, living on Cornhill near the Old Brick Meeting-House.

(It looks like another William Taylor was warden at King’s Chapel early in the century, and another William Taylor was a sea captain sailing in and out of the harbor, and another William Taylor had a mercantile store on Long Wharf and became a Loyalist.)

The Rev. John Taylor died in early 1750, and William advertised many times in the Boston newspapers over the next few years to sell and then rent property in Milton. He described that estate as “suitable for a Gentleman’s Seat, being but 8 Miles from the Town of Boston.” Also in the 1750s he paid Joseph Blackburn to paint his portrait, shown above.

William Taylor was active in Boston’s militia regiment, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in December 1764. He also held offices in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and served for one year as a fireward.

In late 1765, Col. Taylor remarried, to the widow Sarah (Cheever) Savage. The following summer, the Taylors left Boston, apparently moving to that “Gentleman’s Seat” in Milton. His name then appears mainly in advertisements promoting land in Pownalborough, Maine. Thus, while Taylor was a country gentleman as he led the grand jury in 1770, he had close ties to the Boston elite.

After war broke out in 1775, soldiers broke into Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s uninhabited mansion in Milton and found a trunk of letters, among other things. Col. Taylor took charge of that property. The letters went into the Massachusetts state archives while other goods “were sold at auction, at the barn of Col. Taylor.” This William Taylor died in 1789.

Hutchinson singled out another member of this grand jury as influential: “Mr Sam Austin of Boston.” Samuel Austin was a merchant and active Whig, playing a prominent role in the march on Hutchinson’s home earlier in 1770. In 1773 Austin was elected one of Boston’s selectmen, a position he held until the end of the siege.

One of Samuel Austin’s sons was Jonathan Williams Austin, who graduated from Harvard in 1769 and started clerking for John Adams that August. The younger Austin was also a witness at the Massacre trials, identifying Pvt. William Macauley.

In their deliberations, the grand jury led by Col. Taylor decided to believe the young French servant Charles Bourgate and the people who testified to seeing flashes from the Customs House windows. They therefore rejected the testimony of the men Bourgate accused. According to an anonymous Crown informant:
Notwithstanding [John] Munro & [Edward] Manwarring proveing a perfect Alibi they were this day (27th March) committed to Jail, as was also Green’s son and Thomas the manservant—the Grand Jury haveing found bills against them, as seven people positively swore to guns being fired that night out of the Custom House Windows.
Thus, 250 years ago today, the response of the grand jury to hearing Hammond Green, Thomas Greenwood, and others testify that there was no conspiracy to shoot people from the Customs House was to indict those men as being part of the conspiracy.

TOMORROW: The real villain—or the real target?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

“The Committee reserve all the printed Copies”

On Monday, 26 Mar 1770, 250 years ago today, the inhabitants of Boston once again gathered in Faneuil Hall for a town meeting. Technically, this was a continuation of the meeting they had adjourned the week before.

To discourage various sorts of bad behavior, the town elected twelve men, one from each ward, to the office of “Tything Men.” In his dictionary Samuel Johnson defined a tithingman as “A petty police office; an under-constable.”

The town already had a warden and a constable from each ward, enforcing the Sabbath, delivering writs, and otherwise policing public morals. But in this month they apparently needed help.

Notably, colonial Boston never elected tithingmen again. The town had done without them since 1727. Yet the town felt they were important in 1770—perhaps as a belated response to the presence of soldiers, perhaps because with the Massacre people felt a renewed need for the town to look proper.

The committee on how “to strengthen the Non Importation Agreement; discountenance the Consumption of Tea and for employing the Poor by encouraging Home Manufactures” reported that three new ships would be built in town. Those vessels would of course provide for more employment, but how they affected tea and imports is unclear. Nonetheless, that committee’s report “passed in the affermative by a unanimous Vote.”

Later, another committee reported that 212 sellers of tea had signed an agreement “not to sell any more Teas, till the late Revenue Acts are repealed,” and others were willing to agree “if its general.” Bostonians had no way of knowing that over in London the Parliament was already moving to repeal the Townshend duties—except the one that produced the most revenue, the tax on tea.

At this meeting James Bowdoin, Dr. Joseph Warren, and Samuel Pemberton reported that their analysis of “the execrable Massacre perpetrated on the Evening of the 5” was ready for printing. The town responded with an important vote:
whereas the publishing said Narrative with the Depositions accompanying it in this County, may be supposed by the unhappy Persons now in custody for tryal as tending to give an undue Byass to the minds of the Jury who are to try the same—

therefore Voted, that the Committee reserve all the printed Copies in their Hands excepting those to be sent to Great Britain ’till the further orders of the Town

Voted, that the Town Clerk [William Cooper] be directed not to give out Copies or deliver any of the Original Papers respecting the late horred Massacre; till the special order of the Town, or the direction of the Selectmen
The town would send copies of the report to advocates in London and sympathetic British politicians. As this letter shows, William Molineux sent a copy to Robert Treat Paine so he could prepare to prosecute the case. But the town meeting officially kept those books under wraps in America.

On this same date, Josiah Quincy, Jr., told his father why he had agreed to defend Capt. Thomas Preston in court:
I at first declined being engaged; that after the best advice, and most mature deliberation had determined my judgment, I waited on Captain Preston, and told him I would afford him my assistance; but, prior to this, in presence of two of his friends, I made the most explicit declaration to him, of my real opinion, on the contests (as I expressed it to him) of the times, and that my heart and hand were indissolubly attached to the cause of my country; and finally, that I refused all engagement, until advised and urged to undertake it, by an Adams, a Hancock, a Molineux, a Cushing, a Henshaw, a Pemberton, a Warren, a Cooper, and a Phillips.
Two of the three Short Narrative authors had urged Quincy to represent Preston, along with several of the town’s other leading politicians. Molineux, who had worked to build the case against Customs officer Edward Manwaring as being one of the shooters, nonetheless told Quincy to speak for the defense.

To make the town look good, to make any pardons seem unjust, and simply to be fair, the Boston Whigs wanted Capt. Preston, his soldiers, Manwaring, and even Ebenezer Richardson to have fair trials in Massachusetts courts.

And then to be hanged.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A New President for Harvard College

To be sure, there were other things going on in Massachusetts in March 1770 besides responses to the Boston Massacre. On 21 March, Harvard College installed a new president, the Rev. Samuel Locke.

Locke had been born in Woburn on 23 Nov 1731, the oldest child of a substantial farmer and his wife. Later his family moved to Lancaster, where he studied for college with the local minister.

At Harvard, Locke was in the class of 1755. His classmate and friend John Adams thought he was one of the “better Schollars than myself,” and enjoyed hearing him discuss metaphysics. After college, Locke did the equivalent of graduate school while seeking a job as a minister.

Sherborn had a vacancy because the Rev. Samuel Porter had died, and in November 1759 Locke was ordained as that town’s new pastor. Less than two months later, he married the previous minister’s daughter Mary. They had three children between 1761 and 1765: Samuel, Mary, and John.

Ten years later, Harvard College also faced the choice of a successor: Edward Holyoke, president of the college for thirty-two years, died in June 1769. Holyoke was highly respected, and he had built up the college’s reputation and campus, but his approach to education was conservative.

On 18 Dec 1769, after more than six months of discussion and some turn-downs, the Harvard corporation decided to offer the presidency to the Rev. Mr. Locke. Just thirty-eight years old, he would be the youngest person ever in that position.

The Rev. Andrew Eliot of Boston wrote on 25 December:
The corporation have at length chose a President. His name is LOCKE—a truly venerable name! This gentleman is minister of a small parish, about twenty miles from Cambridge. He has fine talents, is a close thinker, had at College the character of a first rate scholar; he is possessed of an excellent spirit, has generous, catholic sentiments, is a friend to liberty, and is universally acceptable, at least so far as I have heard. He has not conversed so much with the world as I could wish, and perhaps has not a general acquaintance with books; but he loves study, and will have opportunity at College to improve, being not yet forty years old. We know not whether he will accept.
Locke’s youth was thus seen as a plus, since he could grow in the job and serve for decades as Holyoke had. Even coming from a small country town turned out to be an advantage: though Eliot felt certain that Locke was “a friend to liberty,” the Sherborn minister had played no visible part in the religious and political controversies that split Massachusetts society.

People also perceived Locke as being strong in some of the modern subjects that the late president had neglected. The Rev. Ezra Stiles later judged:
Dr. Locke was scarcely equal to Mr. Holyoke in classical Knowledge but much superior to him in the Sciences, and in Penetration Judgment & Strength of mind. He was excellent & amiable in Government, tho’ he did not equal the Dignity of his Predecessor. And yet he was a greater Literary Character.
Locke’s old friend Adams always felt he had achieved “a Station for which no Man was better qualified.”

Members of the corporation rode out to Sherborn in late December and offered Locke the job. He took six weeks to accept. One obstacle might have been moving his family into Cambridge. Another was the Sherborn congregation’s reluctance to let him go; Harvard ultimately paid that body £37.1s.

On 21 March, the merchant John Rowe recorded in his diary: “This Day Mr. Lock was installed President of Cambridge.” The ceremony was even more grand than usual because the Massachusetts General Court was then sitting in Cambridge. Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, Boston representative John Hancock, and many other office-holders attended.

Locke delivered an inaugural address in Latin in his robes. A man who knew him later in life recalled him as “a stout, dignified looking man, a little below the common stature.” Hutchinson gave a brief reply, also Latin, and then a student orated for longer. There were prayers and hymns and a dinner for all the professors and other dignitaries. The institution looked forward to a grand future.

That night, students set fire to the outhouse.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

“I then went up stairs into the lower west chamber”

As I described yesterday, in late March 1770 the Boston Whigs threw themselves behind Charles Bourgate’s story of shooters in the Customs House during the Boston Massacre.

Though one of the most respected magistrates in Boston refused to proceed with that case, the grand jury decided to investigate. According to an anonymous Crown informant:
the Grand Jury had the people who were in the Custom House, Vizt. [Bartholomew] Green’s Son [Hammond] & Daughter [Ann], and Thomas [Greenwood] & Molly [Rogers] two Servants, before them, once and sometimes twice a day for several days, but they continued uniform in one story Vizt. that there was no other person in the house that Night but themselves that at the time the soldiers fired, they were in the Room, where the supposed fireing was, and were certain there was no such thing.

Every method was made use of by threatning to make them fix it on some person but to no effect—
On 24 Mar 1770, 250 years ago today, Justices John Ruddock and John Hill took down the testimony of three of the people who looked after the Customs House: John Green, his brother Hammond Green, and Thomas Greenwood.

I’ve quoted two of those men in detail before, so here’s what Hammond Green had to say about the evening of 5 March, as printed in the Short Narrative report:
between the hours of eight and nine o’clock, I went to the Custom-house; when I came to the front-door of the said house, there were standing two young women belonging to said house [Elizabeth Avery and Mary Rogers], and two boys belonging to Mr. [John] Piemont the barber [Bartholomew Broaders and Edward Garrick];

I went into the house, and they all followed me, after that Mr. Sawny Irving came into the kitchen where we were, and afterwards I lighted him out at the front-door; I then went back into the kitchen again, and the boys above-mentioned went out; after that two other boys, belonging to Mr. Plemont [one probably Richard Ward], came into the kitchen, also my brother John, who had been in a little while before;

he went to the back door and opened it, saying that something was the matter in the street, upon which, with the other three, I went to the corner of Royal Exchange-lane in King-street, and heard an huzzaing, as I thought, towards Dr. [Samuel] Cooper’s meeting, and then saw one of the first-mentioned boys, who said the centry had struck him; at which time there were not above eight or nine men and boys in King-street;

after that I went to the steps of the custom-house door, and Mary Rogers, Eliza. Avery, and Ann Green, came to the door, at the same time heard a bell ring, upon the people’s crying fire, we all went into the house and I lock’d the door, saying, we shall know if any body comes;

after that, Thomas Greenwood came to the door and I let him in, he said, that there was a number of people in the street; I told him if he wanted to see any thing to go up stairs, but to take no candle with him; he went up stairs, and the three women aforementioned went with him, and I went and fastened the windows, doors, and gate;

I left the light in the kitchen, and was going up stairs, but met Greenwood in the room next to the kitchen, and he said, that he would not stay in the house, for he was afraid it would be pulled down, but I was not afraid of any such thing;

I then went up stairs into the lower west chamber, next to Royal Exchange-lane, and saw several guns fired in King-street, which killed three persons, which I saw lay on the snow in the street, supposing the snow to be near a foot deep;

after that, I let Eliza. Avery out of the front door, and shut it after her, and went up the chamber again;

then my father, Mr. Bartholomew Green, came and knock’d at the door, and I let him in; we both went into the kitchen and he asked me what was the matter; I told him that there were three persons shot by the soldiers who stood at the door of the Customhouse; he then asked me where the girls were, I told him they were up stairs, and we went up together, and he opened the window, and I shut it again directly; he then opened it again, and we both looked out;

at which time Mr. Thomas Jackson, jun. knock’d at the door,

I…asked who was there?

Mr. Jackson said, it is I, Hammond let me in;

I told if him my father was out, or any of the commissioners came, I would not let them in.
Jackson had already testified on 16 March that “when I knocked at the Custom-house door, all the persons I saw at the window over the centry box at the Customhouse (which window was then opened) was Mr. Hammond Green and some women.”

In sum, Hammond Green swore that he’d been in the Customs House the whole night, and he hadn’t seen Charles Bourgate, Edward Manwaring, John Munro, or a “tall man” with a musket. Furthermore, five other people in or around the building corroborated Green’s story. Four had even been in the room where the gunmen supposedly stood. And the local authorities had sworn testimony from at least four of those witnesses.

Nevertheless, the legal case against Edward Manwaring rolled on.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Superior Court “Overawed”

Even as the royal army and the town of Boston took steps to respond to the Boston Massacre in March 1770, a third institution was moving, albeit more slowly: the Massachusetts court system.

Under the provincial charter, governors appointed the judges in consultation with their Council. Judges served as long as they wanted. That meant the judiciary leaned toward the establishment and the Crown.

In fact, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court was still Thomas Hutchinson, the acting royal governor. He had stopped exercising that judicial role, however, so the acting chief was Benjamin Lynde of Salem (1700-1781, shown here).

The court was scheduled to start sitting in Boston on 20 Mar 1770, but Judge Lynde’s diary shows that he didn’t arrive (with his enslaved servant Primus) until the following afternoon. Then on 22 March, “Two of the Judges being sick, the Court came to a Determination to adjourn to the 2d. Tuesday in June,” according to a report to Crown officials.

The Boston Whigs had anticipated that possibility. As I noted back here, the town meeting had already discussed now judges falling ill would delay the murder trials of Ebenezer Richardson and the soldiers involved in the Massacre. They didn’t want that.

On 22 March or the next day, some of the town’s leading Whigs went to the courthouse. The informant stated:
a committe consisting of Ad[am]s Mol[ineu]x, War[re]n H[ancoc]k & others waited upon them in court, and in a very pathetic Speech, made by Mr. A---s, Represented the necessity of proceeding to the trial of the Criminals this Term, particularly those concerned in the late bloody Massacre. . . .

Numbers even of the Sons of L----y were shocked to see their Sup-----r C---t overawed and insulted in this manner.
The Superior Court remained in session, but it did business slowly, starting with the civil cases.

Also on 23 March, or 250 years ago today, Boston Whigs revived the case against Customs officer Edward Manwaring for shooting at the crowd during the Massacre. As I’ve been tracing, that case rested on the testiomony of Manwaring’s young French servant, Charles Bourgate.

Charles had told his story to a shopkeeper on 6 March, then denied it to a magistrate, then retold it to that magistrate, was then refuted by an alibi witness named John Munro, then accused Munro of being complicit, and was finally refuted by a second alibi witness. Since his first testimony, Charles had been in the Boston jail, either for perjury or for his own protection—the courts would sort out which.

According to Lt. Gov. Hutchinson:
Mr. [Richard] Dana, a Justice zealous for the cause of Liberty, had examined the boy and was so fully convinced of the falsity of his evidence that he would not issue a warrant for apprehending the persons charged. . . . Among other reasons given for the refusal of the Justice to issue his warrant it was said that the facts to which the boy swore were of such a nature that it was impossible they should have escaped the observation of the great number of other persons present
More radical Boston Whigs disagreed. They had a handful of witnesses ready to testify they’d observed shots come from the second floor of the Customs House during the Massacre, just as Charles claimed.

On 23 March, magistrates John Hill and John Ruddock took down the French boy’s sworn story, presumably in the jail. Also present to attest to the boy’s mark were Dr. Elisha Story, Ruddock’s son-in-law, and Edward Crafts, brother of coroner Thomas Crafts. All those men were strong Whigs.

The justices duly recorded that “Edward Manwaring, Esq; and John Munroe…were notified and present; and interrogated the deponent.” But the boy stuck to his tale.

This deposition would go into the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre report. It would also go to the grand jury, which didn’t need warrants or judges to indict people and put them in jail.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Town Meeting and the “Carrier of the Dispatches”

On Thursday, 22 Mar 1770, 250 years ago today, Boston began a new town meeting.

It had been only three days since the end of the last meeting, which had spread over several days as inhabitants chose men for town offices and discussed how to respond to the Boston Massacre. In fact, legally that meeting was still going on, in adjournment until Monday.

One of the decisions at that meeting, as described here, was for the town to hire a ship “as a Packet to carry home their Dispatches” about the shooting. Those “Dispatches” included the town’s report on the shooting, which James Bowdoin, Dr. Joseph Warren, and Samuel Pemberton were busy revising.

The town had appointed a committee—John Bradford, William Molineux, and John Barrett—and they had “hired a Schooner of Capt. [Andrew] Gardner for One hundred Pounds and twenty Pounds Sterling.” So suddenly Boston was about to spend real money.

But the idea of renting a ship to sail to London hadn’t been listed as an agenda item for that previous meeting. Opponents could therefore object that that vote wasn’t legal. And I suspect that some men in the town leadership were also worried about the practical outcome of the previous session’s decisions.

The selectmen therefore issued a call for this new town meeting to address the same proposals. The town quickly “Voted unanimously, that—John Barrett Esq. Mr. William Mollineux Capt. John Bradford be and hereby are appointed a Committee to take up for the Town a suitable Vessel as a Packet.” That was the same committee as before, just listed in a different order.

Then Gardner, the captain those men had already hired, came into Faneuil Hall to report on how he was preparing the Betsy to sail:
he had got a Mate for his Schooner, upon whom he could depend, also a Hand extraordinary; and that if it be the mind of the Town; he would endeavor to secure a Landing upon the first English Ground he might make, and then immediately proceed to London in order to deliver with his own hand the Packets he may be intrusted with, to the Gentlemen to whom they shall be directed.
So far, just like before. But then the town voted not to “employ any Person beside the Captain of the Packet to be the Carrier of the Dispatches.”

Earlier in the week, a merchant captain named Samuel Dashwood had offered to take the report to London as long as the town paid his expenses, and the Monday meeting had agreed. Dashwood was a strong supporter of non-importation. In fact, he had led the merchants’ violent confrontation with printer John Mein in October 1769. He had threatened to break importer Theophilus Lillie’s neck in January.

The Thursday town meeting decided it was best not to send Capt. Dashwood to London. Perhaps the voters didn’t want the extra expense since Capt. Gardner was offering to do the same job. Perhaps they didn’t trust Dashwood to represent Boston at its best. But their thinking didn’t go into the official record. The town just voted thanks to Dashwood for his “generous offer” and moved on.

The last item for that 22 March meeting was to empower town treasurer David Jeffries “to borrow upon Interest the Sum of One hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling” to pay for Gardner’s ship and expenses.

The committee had earlier reported that the Betsy “would be ready for sayling by to Morrow.” But it didn’t embark that quickly. Because suddenly the Short Narrative report had to be revised and expanded.

TOMORROW: Back to the French boy.