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, July 09, 2020

“Become a violent advocate in the Cause of Liberty”

As recounted yesterday, Capt. Thomas Speakman was killed in the French and Indian War in January 1757.

Though I haven’t seen his probate records, Speakman appears to have left a considerable estate to his wife Mary and their children, including properties in Marlborough and Boston. But perhaps not as much as they needed to maintain their lifestyle. Then a house on Milk Street belonging to Thomas Speakman’s estate was among the buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of 1760.

Thomas and Mary Speakman’s oldest child, William, was then twenty years old, looking ahead to his career. The other surviving siblings included:
  • Gilbert Warner, born 7 Nov 1747
  • Hannah, born 1 Nov 1749
  • Sarah, born 27 Oct 1751
  • Mary, born 26 Sept 1754
One important asset for young William Speakman were the men who had married his late father’s sisters—the merchants John Rowe and Ralph Inman. Rowe in particular became a mentor for William and his younger brother. It’s possible William spent time in Rowe’s counting-house, learning business skills; Gilbert certainly did.

By 1765, at the age of twenty-five, Speakman was partners with a slightly older man named Thomas Chase at a rum distillery in the South End of Boston. William may have inherited that building from one of his grandfathers while Chase handled day-to-day management, but it’s hard to tell. Chase and Speakman also appear together on the records of King’s Chapel, sponsoring babies in their circle at baptism.

Then came the Stamp Act. Thomas Chase was one of a small group of young businessmen who organized public protests against that law, calling themselves the Loyall Nine and later the Sons of Liberty. On 15 Jan 1766 John Adams described dining with the group in “their own Apartment in Hanover Square, near the Tree of Liberty. It is a Compting Room in Chase & Speakmans Distillery. A very small Room it is.”

Speakman never appeared on the list of Whig activists, but he was activist-adjacent. I’ve found only one instance of him participating in politics. On 18 Mar 1768, the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act, his uncle Rowe reported that Speakman, Thomas Crafts, and John Avery took down “two effigies on Liberty Tree this morning marked C[harles]. P[axton]. and J[ohn]. W[illiams].” That action looks like supporting those Customs officials, but in fact Crafts and Avery were members of the Loyall Nine. They wanted to control such protests, and they were among the few men in town with the clout to take down someone else’s effigies when they thought the timing was bad.

A few months later, on 29 August, Rowe wrote in his diary: “Poor Wm. Speakman was taken in a fit & had doubtful Struggles for Life.” Speakman survived this health scare, but it probably prompted him to leave Boston and move out to Marlborough, where his mother was living. William and his brother Gilbert Warner Speakman (listed erroneously as “G. William Speakman”) appear on the 1770 list of polls reprinted in Charles Hudson’s history of the town.

Mary Speakman was an upper-class Anglican, a relative of imperial merchants, and thus a natural supporter of the royal government. But in that same month, on 7 August 1768, her Marlborough neighbor Christian Barnes reported to her friend Elizabeth Smith:
Mrs. Speakman was become a violent advocate in the Cause of Liberty which (if I was not upon my gard) would ocation some warm disputes but I saw so much of party rage in my last excurtion that I determin’d to surpress my sentiments rather than enter into any debate upon that subject.
The following year, on 20 Nov 1769, Barnes confirmed: “my Friend Mrs. Speakman still continues a Staunch Whig tho to do her Justice not from any Self interested Motives at least that I can see.”

It was in that context that Barnes wrote in June 1770 after locals vandalized her husband’s property (including a coach apparently bought from Smith):
it is said that a Young Gentleman (who had formily Headed the Mob in Boston and now resides with us) is the perpetrator of all this Mischeife but I will not beleive it till I have further profe
On 13 July, after the threats had escalated, Barnes was ready to name names:
I mention’d in my former Letter that some people affirm’d that Billy Speakman was the Person that cut your Coach to Peices I did not beleive it nor do I now but this I am certain of that those who have taken such a cruel Mession [?] to undermine us in our Business would stick at nothing to perpetuate their Scheem and who knows what these two Young fellows may be capible off and how far they may work up the People (already distracted with party rage) to Molest and injure us.
The “two Young fellows” appear to be William and his younger brother.

Meanwhile, the gulf between Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Speakman had widened to include not just politics but business.

COMING UP: What to do with Gibby?

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

The Speakman Chronicles, or, That Escalated Quickly

Last month, I said I didn’t know whom Christian Barnes was referring to when she wrote in June 1770 about “a young gentleman who has formilly headed the mob in Boston and now resides” in Marlborough.

I’ve since figured out who that young man is. But I’ll make a running start at him, beginning at the turn of the eighteenth century.

William Speakman (c. 1685-1748) was a baker from England, possibly Lancashire, who moved to Boston in the early 1700s. The town was growing, and he prospered. On his death the Boston Evening-Post said Speakman was “one of the rarest Instances of Industry and Diligence, that perhaps ever was in the Country.”

Speakman was also a pillar of the local Anglican church. He owned the land that the first Trinity Church (shown above) was built on and served as one of its first wardens. But he grew so wealthy that by the end of his life he was back at King’s Chapel, which had become the upper-class Anglican congregation.

William Speakman married Hannah Hackerel (spelled various ways) in 1719, and they had three children who grew to adulthood:
  • Thomas, born in 1722, who who went off to Harvard College in the late 1730s (a bit later than typical).
  • Hannah, born in 1725, who married merchant John Rowe.
  • Susannah, born in 1727, who married merchant Ralph Inman.
Clearly the Speakmans were rising in the world, and forging connections with other Anglican families.

Then Thomas fell off the collegiate track. He left Harvard in March 1740. When his classmates were about to graduate two years later, Thomas asked the college if he could get a diploma, too. The authorities decided “it would be neither agreeable to the Laws of this Society, nor for the Honour and Interest thereof.”

By then Thomas had married and become a father—hopefully in that order. We don’t have a date for his marriage to Mary Warner, but their first child, William, arrived in September 1740. So Mary was already well into her pregnancy when Thomas left college.

Mary was a daughter of Gilbert Warner, an Anglican distiller. The newlyweds’ fathers were both investors in the settlement of New Boston, New Hampshire. Mary’s father gave them property on Essex Street in Boston’s South End.

Thomas Speakman went into business in Boston. His father died in 1748, leaving a considerable estate, including a distillery in the South End. Mary’s father died in 1753, leaving the Speakmans more. They acquired substantial property in Marlborough. By this time Thomas and Mary had two sons and three daughters.

In 1755, Thomas Speakman volunteered to be a captain in a military force that Gov. William Shirley was assembling to fight the French. He served at first in Nova Scotia in the period when the British expelled thousands of French colonists. At the end of 1756 Speakman marched west to join in the fighting along Lake George and Lake Champlain.

Speakman and his company were assigned to the corps of rangers under Maj. Robert Rogers. On 17 Jan 1757, Speakman (whom Rogers referred to in his journal as “Spikeman”) joined in a “march on the ice down Lake George.” Also on this mission were Lt. John Stark and a gentleman volunteer with the 44th Regiment named Baker. After the major sent some injured soldiers back to Fort William Henry, there were 74 men in all.

By 21 January, Rogers wrote, the expedition was camped “about mid-way between Crown Point and Ticonderoga.” They spotted some sleds moving between the forts and captured seven prisoners, only to learn there were hundreds of French soldiers in the two posts and more coming. And some of the sled-men had gotten away, so they were no doubt warning their comrades of enemy rangers nearby. “I concluded it best to return,” Rogers wrote.

At about two o’clock that afternoon, as the British made their way through a small valley “in single file,” the enemy ambushed them from a hilltop. Two men were killed instantly, several more wounded. Rogers ordered his men back to another hill. In the withdrawal, he wrote, “We were closely pursued, and Capt. Spikeman, with several of the party, were killed, and others made prisoners.”

However, in early 1760 a young soldier named Thomas Brown returned to Charlestown from captivity and told a more grisly story. According to him, Speakman, the volunteer named Baker, and he were “all very badly wounded” and left behind as Rogers led the rest of the force away that night under darkness.

The three men built a fire on the snowy ground and talked about surrendering. Before they could, an “Indian came to Capt. Speakman, who was not able to resist, and stripp’d and scalp’d him alive.” Baker tried to kill himself with a knife, but the Native soldier stopped him and dragged him away. Only Brown had managed to hide in the woods.

Left for dead, Speakman called out to Brown “to give him a Tomahawk, that he might put an end to his life!” Brown urged the captain instead to pray for God’s mercy. “He desired me to let his Wife know (if I lived to get home) the dreadful Death he died.”

The next morning, Natives found Brown but treated his wounds and turned him over to the French. He recalled how they took him to see “Captain Speakman, who was laying in the place I left him; they had cut off his Head & fix’d it on a Pole.”

Maj. Rogers made it back to Fort William Henry on 23 January with 54 men. He had been shot himself; the New Hampshire soldier John Shute recalled seeing “one of the Rangers cutting off Rogers’ cue [queue] to stop the hole in his wrist.” Lt. Stark was given temporary command of Speakman’s company.

Capt. James Abercrombie, aide de camp to Gen. James Abercrombie [yes, I know], responded to Rogers’s report on the mission by writing, “I am heartily sorry for Spikeman…, who I imagined would have turned out well, as likewise for the men you have lost; but it is impossible to play at bowls without meeting with rubs.”

TOMORROW: Thomas Speakman’s wife and sons.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

“A Letter was left by some unknown Person”

In 1770, the Boston town meeting named Henry Barnes as one of a small group of businesspeople who were openly defying the town’s non-importation agreement.

Barnes was unusual in that group because his shop and main business were off in rural Marlborough, where he also oversaw some small manufacturing enterprises.

In a long letter written over June and July that I’ve been quoting, Henry’s wife Christian Barnes told her friend Elizabeth Smith how their neighbors tried to pressure him into backing down: public meetings (official and unofficial), window-breaking, not one but two effigies.

“But still finding that their malace had no effect,” Christian wrote, “they made a bold push and dropped an incendiary letter.”

Henry Barnes immediately sent a copy of the letter to Thomas Hutchinson at his home in Milton. The acting governor convened his Council at Cambridge on 25 June and showed them the letter. The Councilors asked Hutchinson to summon Barnes to another meeting.

On 28 June, Barnes brought “the original Incendiary Letter [and] his Oath annexed to authenticate the receipt.” Unable to stall any longer, the Council advised Hutchinson to issue a proclamation about it:
Whereas on the 21st. Inst. a Letter was left by some unknown Person at the House of Henry Barnes Esq. of Marlborough, directed to him, threatening to fire his Shop and destroy all his substance that he hath on ye Earth, to take his Body & Tar it & if nothing else will do but death he shall certainly have it if he did not shut up his Shop and forbear Selling and importing of Goods; to the receiving of which Letter in manner as aforesaid the said Henry Barnes made solemn oath…
The province offered a £50 reward for any information about the “unknown Person.”

The Barneses already felt besieged, and they were hearing bad news from friends in Boston. In her letter to Smith, Christian Barnes wrote about other supporters of the royal government being attacked:
Barnes told Smith:
You may judge what sleep I had that night, and, indeed, ever since we have sleept in such a manner that it can hardly be called rest. It is the business of the evening to see the firearmes loaded, and lights properly placed in the store and house; and this precaution we have taken ever since we received the letter.
As for Marlborough’s response, on 30 July the Boston Gazette published a dispatch from that town with this to say about the warning:
Afterwards Barns pretends to have found a letter, threatning of him, and has sent, to the selectmen for their assistance to discover the authors of so vile a thing, and after the most close search, and considering all circumstances of said letter, are of opinion that the same was hatched by Barns’s own party—and one of the Selectmen went and told Barns so; whereupon Barns raged furiously and said, “Then you think I swore falsly do you?” Afterwards Barnes pretends he expect a mob, whether from the horror of his own conscience, or the phrenzy of a Don Quixote and a Squire Sancho, is not said…
The modern term for this political tactic is, of course, “gaslighting.”

TOMORROW: Naming “the perpetrator of all this mischief”?

(The portrait of Christian Barnes above was painted by Prince Demah, who grew up enslaved in the Barnes household. She wrote about his talent for drawing portraits in 1769, and in late 1770 Henry Barnes took Demah to London for training. The artist later returned to Boston and advertised as a portraitist. Demah’s portraits of Christian and Henry Barnes are now owned by the Hingham Historical Society.)

Monday, July 06, 2020

An Effigy on Horseback in Marlborough

When we left merchant Henry Barnes sometimes in June 1770, his Marlborough neighbors had just hanged him in effigy.

A letter from Marlborough dated 20 July and published in Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette for 30 July gave some Whiggish townspeople’s view of that incident:
THERE was in Marlborough some time last June an old hay-bag stuffed with hay or straw formed with a man’s crotch, body, neck and head, but with a very little resemblance thereof, and hanged by the neck to a gallows with a paper fastened to his breast with these words written in capital letters, “A notorious Importer Henry, Tory, Booby, Tom, Bellus————a spectacle indeed!: and in the evening was cut down & burnt with loud huzzas; and was found to be an Impostor.
In her letter completed 6 July, 250 years ago today, Henry’s wife, Christian Barnes, told her friend Elizabeth Smith what happened next:
A few nights after they stole the covering from the wagon, which was tarred to secure the goods from the weather, and the same night stole a man’s horse from a neighboring stable. They dressed an image in this wagon covering, tarred the horse, saddle and bridle, placed the image upon his back, and set him loose about the town, with an infamous paper pinned to the breast, which was summed up with wishing of us all in hell.
Again, some of the Barnes’s neighbors put a different spin on that event:
Afterwards there appeared in the street an old horse with another hay bag in the fashion of the first, sitting upright on the saddle and made fast to the same, and both man [&] horse dripping with tar, and the old horse, whether by revelation or instinct, marched directly towards Sir Harry’s: but the horse on receiving a fright made off as fast as he could, but Tim. Swann (Barns’s boy) pursued the horse & man, but all in vain.
The Whigs of Marlborough weren’t denying that those public demonstrations of disapproval and intimidation had taken place. In fact, they wanted others in the province to know about those actions.

TOMORROW: A disputed “incendiary letter.”

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Reading Too Much into the Declaration

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about since I heard the “Celebrating the Fourth” episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast from Liz Covart and the Omohundro Institute.

That episode came out a year ago, though it took at least a couple of months for me to catch up to it through my listening backlog. Fortunately, good podcasts don’t go out of date.

The conversation started with John Adams’s famously wrong prediction that Americans would celebrate independence on 2 July, when the Second Continental Congress voted to separate from Britain. As we all know, we celebrate on 4 July, when the Congress issued its Declaration of Independence.

One of Liz’s interviewees was Prof. Benjamin E. Park of Sam Houston State University, author of American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in an Age of Revolutions (2018). Ben said:
When they ratified the written document,…that’s the moment we celebrate. And I think it’s important to take a moment and note why. I think there’s something in the written document. I think there’s something that’s tangible, there’s something that’s written. We’re a nation that celebrates…our founding ideals as captured in the written word. So I think it’s important the we celebrate for our Independence Day the day we have the document, not just the political vote or the political words.
I agree that the written tangibility of the Declaration is crucial in how the nation quickly came to celebrate Independence Day. I’m not convinced, however, that the choice of the Fourth shows a cultural preference for the written declaration over the political vote. And here’s a little thought experiment to explain why.

Imagine that the Continental Congress had issued a slightly different Declaration. Instead of starting, “In Congress, July 4, 1776, a Declaration…,“ the imaginary document started, “In Congress, per a resolve of July 2, 1776, a Declaration…”

Just like the Declaration we know, that text would have been printed, issued to newspapers, and sent out to all thirteen colonies and overseas. The newly independent states would have received that document at different times, just as they did historically. They would have announced the news on different dates. In New York City, for example, the official reading and unofficial statue-toppling was on 9 July. In Boston, both those rituals occurred on 18 July. But right up at the top of the document would come the big date from Philadelphia, “July 2, 1776.”

When 1777 rolled around, all thirteen states would celebrate one, united anniversary of independence. I don’t think officials and the public would consider the propriety of the date of the vote versus the date of the issuance of news. Even if they did prefer one or the other of those choices, they’d still have to rely on what information the Congress had sent out. The easiest course was simply to choose the big date at the top of the national document.

In this hypothetical scenario, John Adams’s prediction would have been absolutely right. As it was, he celebrated with other Americans on 4 July 1777 and showed no resentment, or even memory, of having predicted otherwise.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

There Once Was a Man from Virginia

Yesterday the Journal of the American Revolution observed Independence Day (Observed) by publishing contributors’ limericks about the Declaration of Independence.

I had one in that bunch, but I wrote others before choosing which to submit. Since the J.A.R. would publish only one, I’m sharing the rest here, you lucky people.

Here’s the verse that appeared in the J.A.R. round-up:
“Since our new circumstances allow,”
Said Congress, “we’ll separate now!”
But all the while,
Upon Staten Isle
A British advance force asked, “Howe?”
On 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence, and on 4 July it approved its formal public declaration. In between, on 3 July, the British military under Adm. Richard Howe and Gen. William Howe began to land 10,000 troops on Staten Island.

Here’s one in the voice of Thomas Jefferson:
“With high-minded principles, my
Declaration nobly states why
We plan to leave, and says
Plenty of grievances,
But the bottom line’s ‘This is goodbye.’”
And speaking of grievances, some analyses of the Declaration’s complaints:
The king like a tyrant “assented”
To laws unjust and resented.
A well-founded cause?
A lot of those laws
Were never in fact implemented.

The king brought on “Indian savages,”
Well known for their “merciless” ravages.
That abuse was the worst!
(Though we did do it first,
So it all evened out in the averages.)
On John Adams’s immediate response to the vote:
Independency, John Adams reckoned,
Would be glorious, far-reaching, and fecund.
But as for the dating,
He foresaw celebrating
Not on the 4th, but the 2nd.
Finally, what turned out to be a well-founded anecdote about Benjamin Harrison, Elbridge Gerry, and signing the Declaration:
Big Harrison said to wee Gerry,
“After signing this, you should be wary.
When it comes time to hang, I’ll
Die quick, but you’ll dangle
For hours, and that will be scary.”
Enjoy the Fourth!

Friday, July 03, 2020

Revolutionary Cinema beyond Hamilton

Disney Plus is making a very big deal of airing the film of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton musical tonight. Though Boston 1775 reported on that show before it reached Broadway, I haven’t seen the whole thing, so I’m looking forward to watching. (Assuming my router stops having problems.)

My editor at Den of Geek invited me to write an article about other film and television depictions of the American Revolution. I didn’t foresee time to research and write a Top Ten list, and even if I had, it didn’t seem worthwhile to rank very different approaches.

Instead, I thought about ten myriad ways that filmmakers have depicted the American Revolution, including an earlier musical, star-driven Hollywood vehicles, animated cartoons, coastal melodramas, Loyalist stories from Canada, feminist semi-documentaries, and so on. For each recommendation I came up with yet another example in the same category.

Den of Geek being a pop-culture website, I looked for connections to other entertainment. This, I ended up comparing Liberty’s Kids to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and noting that the director of Mary Silliman’s War has more recently directed episodes of The Umbrella Academy.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

”Altering the Name of ROYAL Exchange Lane”

As I quoted yesterday, in 1796 William Cobbett, a Federalist writer based in Philadelphia, complained about Bostonians changing the name of “Royal Exchange Alley” to “Equality Lane.”

Cobbett said this showed the pernicious effect of the French Revolution on America. He thought that the name “Liberty Stump” showed the same effect even though, as discussed yesterday, that term for the remains of Liberty Tree predated the French Revolution by over a decade.

The name “Equality Lane” doesn’t appear in the records of the Boston selectmen. It’s not mentioned in the town directories of 1789 and 1796, the earliest issued. I haven’t found it on any maps of the town. In 1910 the city published A Record of the Streets, Alleys, Places, etc. in the City of Boston, and that doesn’t include “Equality Lane” as an entry or as an alternative name for Exchange Alley.

Nonetheless, Cobbett was correct. For a very short time, under the influence of news from republican France, at least some Bostonians did rename Royal Exchange Alley as Equality Lane. The new name shows up in newspapers of early 1793—and let me tell you, those newspapers are wild!

The first hint of a change appears in the 21 Jan 1793 issue of Benjamin Edes’s Boston Gazette. That paper was full of news from Europe, including a list of “Places subdued by the victorious French,” a description from London of a procession in “Stratsbourg" in which “Louis the last was personated,” and news of a “Tree of Liberty” planted in Belfast with “NO KING AND LIBERTY” inscribed on it.

A great deal of page 3 was about a Civic Feast that Bostonians were planning later that week to celebrate “the triumph of Liberty in France,” which had become a republic in September 1792. A committee was selling tickets to a banquet inside Faneuil Hall, trying to gather the banners left over from President George Washington’s visit in 1789, and urging people to close their shops at noon. There would be plenty of roast ox, the committee promised.

One of the paragraphs associated with that festival said of a volunteer militia company:
The Boston Independent Fusileers, are to celebrate the CIVIC FEAST at Bryant’s Hall, near the Exchange.—They will make their appearance with a Cockade similar to that worn by the National Guards of France, the form of which was recommended to the Company by Madame PLACIDE.
John Bryant had announced just the previous month that he had “opened a Boarding and Lodging-House, in that large, roomy, and elegant building in Exchange-Lane.”

In the midst of all that festive planning was this small item:
A correspondent submits to the Citizens Selectmen, the propriety of altering the Name of ROYAL Exchange Lane.
As I said, there’s no evidence in the selectmen’s records that they took up that question, but the newspapers of the following weeks show that John Bryant did.

COMING UP: The citizens’ feast of 1793.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The Origin of “Liberty Stump”

In 1796 the British-born, Philadelphia-based bookseller and publisher William Cobbett issued “A History of the American Jacobins, &c.” as an pseudonymous appendix to his edition of William Playfair’s The History of Jacobinism, Its Crimes, Cruelties and Perfidies.

Playfair (1759-1823) was the inventor of the bar graph, the pie chart, and other forms of presenting data that infuse our information culture. He was also a secret agent for the British government during its wars with Revolutionary France. At the same time Playfair wrote that book about Jacobinism, he was trying to collapse the French economy with counterfeit money. But I digress.

In that appendix on “American Jacobins,” Cobbett as “Peter Porcupine” claimed the French Revolution had inspired a fad for renaming places in America to reflect more radical, less royal values. He stated:
The rage for re-baptism, as the French call it, also spread very far. An alley at Boston, called Royal Exchange Alley, and the stump of a tree, in the same town, which had borne the name of Royal, were re-baptized with a vast deal of formality: the former was called Equality Lane, and the latter Liberty Stump.
Cobbett had arrived in the U.S. of A. in late 1792 and appears to have known Boston only through newspapers. He was mistaken about the origin of the phrase “Liberty Stump,” which Bostonians used for over a decade before the start of the French Revolution.

“Liberty Stump” was no more and no less than the remains of Liberty Tree, so dubbed by Boston Whig leaders in September 1765. Ten years later, in the summer of 1775, Loyalists and British soldiers chopped down that political landmark. That tree was a large and stately elm, but neither it nor its stump had ever been designated “Royal.”

The term “Liberty Stump” appeared in November 1776 in an advertisement in the Continental Journal. Locals must already have been referring to it by that phrase. Before the end of the war many other Bostonians used the same term in their ads, including the chemist Robert Hewes, the printers Ezekiel Russell and Nathaniel Coverly, the hostess Mary Freeman, and the maltster William Patten.

The last advertisement I found dropping the phrase “Liberty Stump” was in the Columbian Centinel in June 1803. Two years later the Boston Commercial Gazette received a letter signed “Liberty Stump,” but the editors declined to publish its contents as “too personal.”

After that, the phrase disappears from the newspaper database I use until 1824, when Lafayette came through town and stopped to view the half-century-old stump, prompting patriotic nostalgia.

Thus, “Liberty Stump” was in no way an example of American “Jacobins” renaming sites to reflect their new politics. Instead, it was a way Revolutionary Bostonians held onto a homegrown political tradition.

Of course, Liberty Tree had been an example of American “Patriots” renaming sites to reflect their new politics. But Cobbett didn’t object to that example of “re-baptism”—only to examples coming from a political movement he disliked.

TOMORROW: What about “Equality Lane”?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

“The principal cause of the Mobbish turn in this Town”?

Early this month I recounted some moments in the mid-1700s when the royal governors of Massachusetts found themselves stymied by crowds protesting for their traditional liberties.

Without army units nearby or a large, full-time police force, no power in the province was strong enough to pacify the mass of ordinary men. Except, that is, a government that accommodated their demands for respect and rights.

In letters to London, those governors offered their diagnoses of how that situation had come about. Gov. William Shirley didn’t say the root of the problem was the Royal Navy forcing sailors and other young men into service. Gov. Francis Bernard didn’t say that Parliament made a mistake in imposing a tax without representation. Those officials said the basic problem was that Boston and Massachusetts’s forms of government were too democratic.

On 1 Dec 1747, Shirley wrote to the Lords of Trade:
But what I think may be esteem’d the principal cause of the Mobbish turn in this Town, is it’s Constitution; by which the Management of it is devolv’d upon the populace assembled in their Town Meetings; one of which may be called together at any time upon the Petition of ten of the meanest Inhabitants, who by their Constant attendance there generally are the majority and outvote the Gentlemen, Merchants, Substantial Traders and all the better part of the Inhabitants; to whom it is Irksome to attend at such meetings, except upon very extraordinary occasions;

and by this means it happens, as it would do among any other Community in a Trading Seaport Town under the same Constitution, where there are about Twenty thousand [actually about 16,000] Inhabitants, consisting among others of so many working Artificers, Seafaring Men, and low sort of people, that a factious and Mobbish Spirit is Cherish’d; whereas the same Inhabitants under a different Town-Constitution proper for the Government of so populous and Trading a place, would probably form as well dispos’d a Community for every part of his Majesty’s Service as any the King has under his Government.
Here’s Bernard in 1765, arguing for an appointed Council rather than one elected by the Massachusetts elite, in turn elected by the white men of property in their towns:
The Authority of the King, the Supremacy of Parliament, the Superiority of Government are the real Objects of the attack; and a general levelling of all the powers of Government, & reducing it into the hands of the whole people is what is aimed at, & will, at least in some degree, succeed, without some external assistance.

The Council, which formerly used to be revered by the people has lost its weight, & notwithstanding their late spirited exertion, is in general timid & irresolute, especially when the Annual Election draws near. That fatal ingredient in the Composition of this Constitution is the bane of the whole: and never will the royal Scale be ballanced with that of the people ’till the Weight of the Council is wholly put into the former. The making the Council independent of the people (even tho’ they should still receive their original Appointment from them) would go far to cure all the disorders which this Government is Subject to.
Making the Council appointed instead of elected was one of the big changes of the 1774 Massachusetts Government Act.

Thomas Hutchinson was speaker of the house under Gov. Shirley and lieutenant governor and chief justice under Gov. Bernard. He became royal governor himself in 1770 and took up his predecessors’ complaints about the people (i.e., the white men of property) having too much power.

Here’s Hutchinson writing to Bernard on 24 May 1771:
The town of Boston is the source from whence all the other parts of the Province derive more or less troubled water. When you consider what is called its constitution, your good sense will determine immediately that it never can be otherwise for a long time together, whilst the majority which conducts all affairs, if met together upon another occasion, would be properly called a mob, and are persons of such rank and circumstance as in all communities constitute a mob, there being no sort of regulation of voters in practice; and as these will always be most in number, men of weight and value, although they wish to suppress them, cannot be induced to attempt to do it for fear not only of being outvoted, but affronted and insulted. Call such an assembly what you will, it is really no sort of government, not even a democracy, at best a corruption of it.

There is no hopes of a cure by any legislative but among ourselves to compel the town to be a corporation. The people will not seek it, because every one is sensible his importance will be lessened. If ever a remedy is found, it must be by compelling them to swallow it, and that by an exterior power,—the Parliament.
To “compel the town to be a corporation” meant ending the town-meeting form of government and becoming a city with an elected mayor and council—a change Boston eventually made in 1822, to some controversy.

Instituting a mandamus Council didn’t quell disturbances in Massachusetts. In fact, it spread them, producing militia uprisings in the countryside within weeks. Ending Boston’s town meetings didn’t end riots in Boston. Instead, American governments became more democratic than the royal governors would have imagined in their worse nightmares, and popular protests became less destructive.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Perspectives on Boston’s 1764 Smallpox Epidemic

On 13 Apr 1764, John Adams sent his fiancée Abigail a story about being inoculated against smallpox in Boston.

Through a cousin of Abigail’s, Dr. Cotton Tufts, Adams and his brother had received a referral to Dr. Nathaniel Perkins. At first Perkins responded that he wasn’t taking any new patients, however, and that the brothers should have prepared with medications before coming into town. When Adams wrote again, dropping Tufts’s name, that changed things:
The Dr. came, immediately with Dr. [Joseph] Warren, in a Chaise—And after an Apology,…for not recollecting what Dr. Tufts had told him, Dr. Perkins demanded my left Arm and Dr. Warren my Brothers.

They took their Launcetts and with their Points divided the skin for about a Quarter of an Inch and just suffering the Blood to appear, buried a Thread about a Quarter of an Inch long in the Channell. A little Lint was then laid over the scratch and a Piece of a Ragg pressed on, and then a Bandage bound over all—my Coat and waistcoat put on, and I was bid to go where and do what I pleased. (Dont you think the Dr. has a good Deal of Confidence in my Discretion, thus to leave me to it?)

The Doctors have left us Pills red and black to take Night and Morning. But they looked very sagaciously and importantly at us, and ordered my Brother, larger Doses than me, on Account of the Difference in our Constitutions.
This was the first time Adams met Warren, whom he described as “a pretty, tall, Genteel, fair faced young Gentleman.” Warren was still only twenty-two years old. Eventually he would become an Adams family physician, political colleague, and friend. As a doctor barely out of training, Warren didn’t lead Boston’s fight against smallpox in 1764, but that was the first public health crisis he faced and thus a milestone in his medical career.

The Dr. Joseph Warren Historical Society was founded recently by Randy Flood, an interpreter at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Randy’s using the current pandemic to explore the 1764 smallpox outbreak through a series of online interviews, which you can watch here. So far he and Christian Di Spigna, author the Warren biography Founding Martyr, have talked to:

Sunday, June 28, 2020

“Tom Gage’s Proclamation” Parodied

The Readex newspaper database I use offers this page from the 28 June 1775 issue of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser.

In fact, it offers two images of this page, apparently identical.

Obviously, someone clipped an item out of the copy of that newspaper which was photographed decades ago for a microfilm publication and then digitized for this database. I hope there’s an intact copy of this printed sheet somewhere.

Fortunately, through other sources I confirmed what was missing (on this side). It was a response to the preceding item in that same newspaper, Gen. Thomas Gage’s 12 June proclamation of amnesty to anyone in arms against the Crown government except Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Somebody went to great pains to parody the general’s announcement in rhymed verse:
TOM. GAGE’S PROCLAMATION,
Or blustering DENUNCIATION,
(Replete with Defamation,)
Threatning Devastation,
And speedy Jugulation,
Of the New-English Nation.---
Who shall his pious ways shun?

WHEREAS the Rebels hereabout,
Are stubborn still, and still hold out;
Refusing yet to drink their Tea,
In spite of Parliament and Me;
And to maintain their bubble, Right,
Prognosticate a real fight;
Preparing flints, and guns, and ball,
My army and the fleet to maul;
Mounting their guilt to such a pitch,
As to let fly at soldier’s breech;
Pretending they design’d a trick,
Tho’ order’d not to hurt a chick;
But peaceably, without alarm,
The men of Concord to disarm;
Or, if resisting, to annoy,
And ev’ry magazine destroy:---

All which, tho’ long oblig’d to bear,
Thro’ want of men, and not of fear;
I’m able now by augmentation,
To give a proper castigation;
For since th’ addition to the troops,
Now re-inforc’d as thick as hops;
I can, like Jemmy and the Boyne,
Look safely on---Fight you Burgoyne;
And mowe, like grass, the rebel Yankees.
I fancy not these doodle dances:---

Yet e’er I draw the vengeful sword,
I have thought fit to send abroad,
This present gracious Proclamation
Of purpose mild the demonstration,
That whosoe’er keeps gun or pistol,
I’ll spoil the motion of his systole;
Or, whip his breech, or cut his weason,
As haps the measure of his Treason:---

But every one that will lay down
His hanger bright, and musket brown,
Shall not be beat, nor bruis’d, nor bang’d,
Much less for past offences, hang’d;
But on surrendering his toledo,
Go to and fro unhurt as we do:---

But then I must, out of this plan, lock
Both SAMUEL ADAMS and JOHN HANCOCK;
For those vile traitors (like debentures)
Must be tuck’d up at all adventures;
As any proffer of a pardon,
Would only tend those rogues to harden:---
But every other mother’s son,
The instant he destroys his gun,
(For thus doth run the King’s command)
May, if he will, come kiss my hand.---

And to prevent such wicked game, as
Pleading the plea of ignoramus;
Be this my proclamation spread
To every reader that can read:---
And as nor law nor right was known
Since my arrival in this town;
To remedy this fatal flaw,
I hereby publish Martial Law.
Mean while let all, and every one
Who loves his life, forsake his gun;
And all the Council, by mandamus,
Who have been reckoned so infamous,
Return unto their habitation
Without or let or molestation.---

Thus, graciously, the war I wage,
As witnesseth my hand,---------TOM. GAGE.
By command of MOTHER CARY,
THOMAS FLUCKER, Secretary.
That’s the text as it was reprinted in the 10 July 1775 Norwich Packet. Many other American newspapers also picked up the poem. It was anthologized in the 1800s, often in rewritten forms. So far as I can tell, no one ever identified the poet.

Now for translations and annotations:
  • “Jugulation”: killing by cutting the throat.
  • “bubble”: a “false show,” one of several contemporaneous meanings provided by Dr. Samuel Johnson.
  • “Jemmy and the Boyne”: the 1690 battle where the forces of William and Mary defeated James II.
  • “doodle”: “A trifler; an idler,” wrote Dr. Johnson.
  • “systole”: heartbeat. 
  • “weason”: an old Scottish word for the throat or gullet. 
  • “toledo”: a well made Spanish sword. 
  • “debentures”: financial bonds. 
  • “Mother Cary”: a supernatural personification of the dangerous ocean. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Trouble for Henry Barnes, “an Infamous importer”

Yesterday I started to describe how the town of Marlborough started to pressure Henry Barnes (shown here, in a portrait by his former slave Prince Demah) to stop importing goods from Britain.

The men of Marlborough adopted some of the same measures as the non-importation activists in Boston, just a year or more later. They held a town meeting to formally condemn importers. They appointed a committee to inspect goods and customers. They even called a meeting that didn’t have a property requirement so more young men could participate. And some folks started to make their disapproval even clearer by damaging Barnes’s property.

Henry Barnes’s wife Christian heard rumors that this activity was being guided from Boston:
It is said that a young gentleman who has formilly headed the mob in Boston and now resides with us is the perpetrator of all this mischief, but I will not believe it until I have further profe.
Alas, I haven’t found a clue about which young gentleman that might be.

In her letter to her friend Elizabeth Smith, Christian Barnes described how Bostonians themselves had attacked her husband’s property while it was in transport:
The greatest loss we have as yet met with was by a Mob in Boston who a few Nights ago atack’d a wagon load of goods which belongs to us they abused the Driver and cut a Bag of Peppur which contain’d three hundred [pounds?] leting it all into the street then gather’d it up in their Hand’fs & Hatts and caried it off the rest of the load they ordered back into the Publick Store of which the well disposed Commity Keeps the Key

Mr. Barnes has apply’d to the Lefnt. Govener [Thomas Hutchinson] for advice and he advised him to put in a petition to the General Court he then repaired to Mr. [James] Murray [a justice of the peace who was also Smith’s brother] and beg’d his assistance in the drawing of it up he complyed with his request and it is lade before the House next week, as I have entered so largly into the affair I will send you a Coppy of the Petition, we expect no Satisfaction or redress from the General Court but only as it is a legal Method and praparatory (in case of further insults) to the appealing to Higher Powers

You would be pleased to see with what moderation Mr. Barnes behaves in his present distresses at the same time I am well assured his resolution will carry him through all difficultys without swerving from his first principles

The Merchants in Boston are now intirely out of the question in all debates at their Town Meeting, which is caried on by a mob of the lowest sort of people leaded by one [John] Balard and Doct. [Thomas] Young Persons that I never before heard off
Dr. Thomas Young had led a crowd to the McMaster brothers’ store in early June to press them to stop importing. After another crowd carted Patrick McMaster around with a tar barrel on 19 June, John Ballard administered the oath by which the Scotsman swore not to return to Boston. Barnes heard from either Ame or Elizabeth Cumings that “the other two [McMaster] brothers had fled for their lives” as well.

And the people of Marlborough were still ramping up pressure on Henry Barnes. His wife wrote:
on the 10 of June the unqualified Voters had a meeting and enter’d into the same resolves the others had done before and the next day an Effigy was Hung upon a Hill in sight of the House with a paper Pin’d to the Breast, wheron was wrote Henry Barnes an Infamous importer this Hung up all Day and at Night they Burn’d it
In the five years since the Stamp Act, only the society’s worst political enemies had the honor of being hanged and burned in effigy.

COMING UP: Another effigy, this one on horseback.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Meanwhile, out in Marlborough…

One of the Sestecentennial stories I’ve neglected because I don’t have solid dates for all the events is the way the people of Marlborough joined in the non-importation movement by pressuring local businessman Henry Barnes.

Barnes was born in Boston in 1723. His father was a merchant from Britain who helped to administer and set up all three of the Anglican churches in town. In 1746, Henry married Christian Arbuthnot, a daughter of his father’s business partner.

In 1752, Henry Barnes set up a cider distillery in the rural town of Marlborough. That area was apparently a big producer of apples and cider. It also produced people named Barnes, descended from one of the earliest British families to settle there, but Henry Barnes had no connections to that clan.

Over the years, Barnes built up his business to include a pearl ash factory and a general store where he sold goods he imported through Boston to locals. He built a large house, shown above in expanded form before it was taken down to build a fire station. He owned slaves, including a woman named Daphney and her artistically talented son Prince Demah.

On 29 March, in the wake of the Boston Massacre, Marlborough held a town meeting on the imperial crisis. The resolutions that the townspeople approved said:
we are astonished to find that a number are at this critical time so sordidly detached from the public interest, and are so selfish and impudent, as to stand out and not comply with the Non-Importation Agreement, or break the same when entered into, and remain obstinate and bid defiance to their country, when entreated by the Committee of Merchants in the most salutary manner to enter into and abide by the same; and as they continue to practice those things that tend to ruining and enslaving their country and posterity…
The men of Marlborough pledged not to buy anything from the merchants that Boston had designated as importers, listing ten names. In practical terms, that meant boycotting Henry Barnes. And more.

Christian Barnes wrote to her friend Elizabeth Smith about that development in a letter she wrote over the month of June and finished on 6 July:
The Spirit of discord and confusion which has prevailed with so much violence in Boston has now begun to spread itself into the country. These Poor deluded People with whome we have lived so long in Peice & harmony have been influenced by the Sons of Rapin to take every method to distress us, at their March meeting they enter’d into resolves similar to those you have often seen in the Boston News Papers

at their next meeting they Chose four inspecters [Hezekiah Maynard, Peter Bent, Robert Baker, Alpheus Woods, and Moses Woods] (Men of the most Violent disposition of any in the Town) to Watch those who should purchas goods at the Store, with intent that their names should be recorded as enimies to their Country this did not deter those from coming who had not voted to the resolves these were cheifly Young People who were not qualified to vote in their Town Meeting

when they saw their measures had not the desired effect and that our custome still encreased they fix’d a paper upon the meeting House impowering and advising these unqualified voters to call a Meeting of their own and enter into the same resolves with the other this was a priviledg they had never enjoy’d and fond of their new goten Power hasten’d to put it in execution summon’d a Meeting chose a Moderater and (by the direction of those who sat them to work) resolves were drawn up but not yet pass’d

while all this was in agitation their was great outrages commited & insults offer’d to the Importers in Boston so that some of them have been compel’d to quit the Town as not only their Property but their lives were in Danger nor are we wholly free from apprehensions of the like treetment for they have already began to commit outrages

the first thing that fell a Sacrifice to their Mallace and reveng was the Coach which caused so much desention between us this they took the cushings out of and put them in the brook, and the next night cut the carriage to pieces. Not long after they broke the windows at the Pearl Ash Works.
Evidently Henry and Christian Barnes had disagreed in some way about buying a coach, and now it was all broken up anyway. I like how such private details surface in the middle of political trouble.

TOMORROW: More trouble for Henry Barnes.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Last of the Boston Chronicle

On 25 June 1770, 250 years ago today, this announcement appeared in the Boston Chronicle:
The Printers of the Boston Chronicle return thanks to the Gentlemen, who have so long favoured them with their Subscriptions, and now inform them that, as the Chronicle, in the present state of affairs, cannot be carried on, either for their entertainment or the emolument of the Printers, it will be discontinued for some time.
Printer John Mein had left for England the previous fall. His partner John Fleeming had carried on publishing the newspaper, still including documents from the Customs office. Each issue started with a list of the leaders of the non-importation committee, formatted like the Boston Gazette’s accusatory list of the remaining importers. But Fleeming no longer carried political essays from local authors, instead reprinting news from Europe and the letters of Junius.

Financial pressure was mounting on Fleeming. John Hancock was still pursuing his lawsuit against Mein as an agent of London creditors, seizing printing equipment and supplies. The only people still advertising in the Boston Chronicle were friends of the royal government. The 21 June issue contained only two ads: one by John Bernard, the departed governor’s son, announcing that he was leaving Massachusetts, and one for an auction in Nova Scotia.

When most of the Customs Commissioners and their administrators moved to Castle William after the 19 June attack on Henry Hulton’s home, that probably deprived Fleeming of another form of financial support.

Finally, Fleeming faced physical threats. He had been with Mein when angry merchants confronted him back in October. And then there’s this item from the 8 Jan 1770 Newport Mercury, also reprinted in some other American newspapers:
From Boston we hear, that on the Evening of the 29th Ult. [i.e., December 1769] Mr. —— Fleeming, Printer of the Boston Chronicle, was attacked in one of the Streets of that Town, by a Number of Ruffians, who abused him very much; and, ’tis thought, he would have died of his Wounds on the Spot, had not a humane Negro, who knew him, taken him up and helped him to his Home.
Boston 1775 reader John Navin set me on the path to this article through Facebook. As far as I can tell, the news was never printed in Boston, not even in Fleeming’s own paper.

E. J. Witek quoted Fleeming as telling Lord North in 1773 that his “life was threatened and finding the power of Government too weak to protect him against the fury of a lawless mob, he fled to Castle William.” Witek dated the time of Fleeming’s move to the Castle to the end of June 1770, just after closing the Chronicle.

So I might have been wrong when I wrote back in 2011 that, unlike Mein, Fleeming “never had mobs on his tail.” I’m still not certain whether he was actually attacked or merely threatened. The Newport news item came from someone who didn’t even know Fleeming’s given name and thus might not have heard all the facts straight, and his own petition doesn’t appear to have mentioned an actual assault. But he had reason to flee.

Whatever the exact circumstance, Fleeming shut down the Boston Chronicle two and a half centuries ago today, silencing Boston’s most aggressive newspaper support for the royal government.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Swett’s Collection of Bunker Hill Documents

Last year I wrote about three volumes of recollections about the Battle of Bunker Hill taken down in 1825 that went missing in the late nineteenth century.

Samuel Swett (1782-1866, shown here) consulted that collection, but he also assembled a file of his own documents as he wrote his “Historical and Topographical Sketch of Bunker Hill Battle,” published in 1818. In that essay he wrote (referring to himself in the third person):
The materials lay scattered among newspapers, magazines, records and files of Congress, the scattered surviving veterans of the day, and others. He was compelled by circumstances to commence his researches in July, and finish his sketch in August; but he reminded himself that our fathers fought for us in the same oppressive season, and spared no effort to render the work complete. Not a single fact is stated of which he has not the most satisfactory evidence. That the public however may judge for themselves, he has deposited his documents and proofs for their use at the Boston Athaeneum [sic].
However, in a letter published in the Boston Daily Advertiser on 20 Dec 1825, Swett reported:
…the original documents which were collected in the defence of General [Israel] Putnam, and which I was permitted to use in preparing my sketch of the battle, were deposited in the Athenæum, and for some years have been lost, and not the slightest trace of them can be found.
Fortunately, Swett said, he’d kept separate two documents he sent to that newspaper—the two I quoted last week.

At just about the same time, Swett published his “Notes to the Sketch of Bunker-Hill Battle,” quoting from his sources. On the first page of that appendix a footnote stated: “This, and every other statement referred to by the author, were taken down in writing at the time; any person who pleases may have copies taken of any documents in his possession.” Of course, the “documents in his possession” didn’t include those lost at the Athenæum.

Some people had transcribed parts of that collection, Swett explained on the next page (now using the second person plural): “As the original documents have long been lost from the Boston Athenæum, we can only say, the copies in the [Columbian] Centinel and N[orth]. A[merican]. Review are known to have been made by two gentlemen of as high honour and integrity as our country ever produced.”

On page 10 Swett switched to “statements taken down in writing by Gen. [William] Sullivan and other Directors of the Bunker Hill monument” in June 1825—the documents in that three-volume collection.

When Richard Frothingham, Jr., wrote his History of the Siege of Boston, first published in 1849, he wrote: “I am indebted to Colonel Samuel Swett for permission to take copies of his manuscripts.” Again, those might not have included the papers deposited at the Athenæum.

However, according to an item published in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register in 1920, at some point in the nineteenth century Swett’s original collection resurfaced. Artemas Ward of New York, descendant of the general of the same name, wrote that several people noted the recovery in their copies of Swett’s “Notes to the Sketch of Bunker-Hill Battle.” (I haven’t seen such a note.)

In May 1883, the New York book dealer Charles L. Woodward offered “Col. Swett’s Collection of Affidavits” for sale. This lot was said to include “nearly two hundred papers,” and the asking price was $200. Alas, there’s no information about where Woodward obtained that collection and where he sold it.

That makes two collections of documents about Bunker Hill collected within the lifetimes of the men who fought that battle which disappeared in the late 1800s. Any information about them would, of course, be appreciated.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

New Publications from the Journal of the American Revolution

I came across the 1818 recollections of the Battle of Bunker Hill that I shared last week while writing a new article for the Journal of the American Revolution website: “Who Said, ‘Don’t Fire Till You See the Whites of Their Eyes’?”

Way back in 2007, I wrote a Boston 1775 posting with that title, a lead-in to a discussion of how Thomas Carlyle alerted American historians to Prussian leaders using a similar phrase in the mid-1700s. Blogger tells me that posting has received more pageviews than any other on this site—which is a bit embarrassing since a few years later I decided that was just a side issue.

In 2014 I came across early publications of the “whites of their eyes” quotation that trace back to Israel Putnam. That led to further postings about that phrase appearing in British military sources before the first American publication and even before 1775.

For the new J.A.R. article I combined all the Boston 1775 postings about the famous quotation with some new material. I hope it’s an enjoyable read.

In more Journal of the American Revolution news, an early copy of the latest annual volume of articles collected from the website arrived here at headquarters.

It contains my article on stories about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Which anecdotes can be traced back to men in the room where that happened, and which are totally unreliable?

In preparing that article for the print publication, I found an earlier source of the anecdote about John Adams and Stephen Hopkins at the signing. That prompted me to explore if Philadelphia Public Ledger editor Russell Jarvis was the anonymous journalist who first put that story into print. That possibility is still speculative enough to belong in a footnote, but it’s a long, substantial footnote, and it’s found only in the printed volume.

Monday, June 22, 2020

“Enraged upon reading Capt. Preston’s Narrative”

The publication of Capt. Thomas Preston’s “Case” in Boston in June 1770 heightened the danger that had prompted the captain to write to the British government in the first place: the possibility that he would be killed for the Boston Massacre.

One threat was that a Massachusetts jury would convict Preston of murder and the local authorities would quickly carry out a death sentence. The 21 June Boston News-Letter reported that the government in London had anticipated that possibility:
The Ministers expect, That if Captain Preston, and the soldiers, who committed the late murders at Boston, are condemned, That the Lieutenant Governor (Hutchinson) will respite them during the King’s pleasure [i.e., put off executions until the London government had a chance to pardon them], which may occasion another Porteu’s affair)
John Porteous was a captain of the Edinburgh City Guard in 1736. After he and soldiers under his command killed people while putting down a riot, he was convicted of murder. Rumors said he might be reprieved, so on the night before his scheduled execution a crowd took him out of the jail (shown above) and hanged him themselves.

Thus, the second danger that Preston and the ministry feared was that Bostonians would lynch him.

On 22 June, 250 years ago today, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage in New York:
I ever supposed it would be necessary for me, at all events if Capt. Preston & the Soldiers should be found Guilty and Sentence be passed to grant a Reprieve until His Majesty’s pleasure should be known. I am now under stronger Obligation to do it than before having received His Majestys express commands so to do.

I am much less concerned from an apprehension of the rage of the people against me than I am from the danger in our present dissolute state of Government, of the people’s taking upon themselves to put the Sentence into execution. I do not believe I have one Magistrate who would be willing to run any risque in endeavouring to prevent it. If Troops were in the Town I don’t know that a Magistrate would employ them on such an occasion but I think they might notwithstanding be the means of preventing it.
Hutchinson sent that letter from Boston and then went to his country house in Milton. As evening approached, he received a message from Lt. Col. William Dalrymple, commander of the 14th Regiment stationed on Castle William. Dalrymple enclosed “a Letter he had received from Capt. Preston expressing his great fears that the people were so enraged as to force the Gaol that night and make him a sacrifice, several of his friends having informed him this was their intention.”

The acting governor dashed off a note for Preston which said in its entirety:
Dear Sir

I will take every precaution which is in my power which I wish was greater than it is and am Yours sincerely

TH
Hutchinson told Gage the next day what other steps he took:
I sent immediately proper Orders to the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] & I directed to every precaution I could think of but, being extremely uneasy, I went to Town. I found the people were enraged upon reading Capt. Preston’s Narrative which I wish had not been published in England.

I sat up until midnight and until the Scouts which had been sent to different quarters made return that all was quiet and I find that where Capt. Prestons fears have come to the knowledge of the Liberty People they have generally remarked that what ever danger there may be after Trial it would be the heighth of madness to think of any such thing before.

I shall however continue all the caution I have in my power.
Hutchinson thought Preston’s trial for murder would come in “ten or twelve weeks,” or sometime in September. Both the royal authorities and Boston’s political leaders had to keep him and the soldiers alive until then.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Alarming News from Across the Atlantic

On 21 June 1770, 250 years ago today, the Boston News-Letter reported startling news from London. So startling that Richard Draper added a two-page “Extraordinary” sheet to his newspaper.

On Monday the 18th, Capt. James Hall had arrived from England with copies of the London Public Advertiser describing how the imperial capital had reacted to receiving news of the Boston Massacre back on 5 March.

The first word had reached London on 22 April. The next day, the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for North America, summoned Sir Francis Bernard, still officially the royal governor of Massachusetts, for consultation.

That evening the London newspapers published the Boston Gazette’s account of the killing, a statement from the Boston town meeting, and a letter from the Whigs to former governor Thomas Pownall. All of those sources of course blamed the royal authorities.

On 23 April, a Sunday night, there was a “Cabinet Council” about the news. The next day, Lord Hillsborough met with colonial governors and agents in a “grand levée at his house.” Those meetings gave rise to several rumors about what the government might do next: appoint Sir Jeffery Amherst commander-in-chief in North America, send more troops to Boston, repeal the tea tax before resigning? The tea tax was the last of the Townshend duties, and ending it would have been a total victory for the non-importation movement. (None of those things happened.)

Parliament met on 26 April. Member Barlow Trecothick, also a London alderman with close links to the Boston business community, formally asked the ministry to share all communications about Boston. Reportedly Hillsborough and Lord North had promised him a formal vote would not be necessary, but he “did not chuse to trust their assurances.” The ensuing debate included Edmund Burke, Isaac Barré, George Grenville, and others. It ended with agreement that the government would share the information with names redacted.

As part of that discussion, the London newspapers (still dashing out most names because it wasn’t clearly legal yet to report parliamentary debates) quoted Viscount Barrington, Secretary of War, as saying that Boston magistrates didn’t support the troops, and:
That the Government is a Democracy, and all civil Officers chosen by the People,—that the Council is a democratical Part of that Democracy,—that in his Opinion a Royal Council is necessary for a more proper Division of Powers of Government.
Such a Council appointed in London would be part of the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774.

Then on 28 April more documents arrived from Boston. Some were in the same vein as before. A letter from Lt. Col. William Dalrymple reportedly said Bostonians “had absolutely DETERMINED to risk their lives in an Attack upon the Military; in order to revenge the cruel and wanton Massacre of their Countrymen”—which is not what that army colonel would have ever written.

But the bombshell printed in the 28 April Public Advertiser, and reprinted in the 21 June Boston News-Letter after it went back across the Atlantic, was the “Case of Capt. Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment.” This 2,000-word account of the Massacre started with complaints of Bostonians being mean the soldiers, proceeded through a detailed account of the shooting on King Street that blamed the violent crowd, and concluded with warnings of the slanted local press. (The London newspapers, and thus the News-Letter, omitted Preston’s final paragraphs asking for a pardon.)

The Boston Whigs were upset because back in March Preston had sent the Boston Gazette a short letter thanking the town and praising its justice system. Even as he did so, those politicians realized, the captain must have been preparing this very different message for Customs Commissioner John Robinson to carry to London.

TOMORROW: The anger of the people.