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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Saturday, February 08, 2020

“Pointing to Mr. Jacksons Shop”

On Thursday, 8 Feb 1770, two and half centuries ago today, the Boston Whigs tried a new tactic in their pressure campaign against shopkeepers who were still selling imported goods.

According to the anonymous witness sending reports to Customs Collector Joseph Harrison:
about 10 oClock in the forenoon, a board was stuck up, on the Town pump, with a Hand painted on it, pointing to Mr. [William] Jacksons Shop and below, the word Importer, in Large Letters.—
Jackson’s braziery, or hardware shop, was on Cornhill, one of the main streets forming the crossroads at the center of town. His shop sign, the Brazen Head, had been a town landmark for decades. I can’t help but think that Bostonians also remembered how their town’s last great fire had started at his shop, which he then co-managed with his mother.

Whether it was his shop’s visibility or something he’d done, the Whig activists seem to have singled William Jackson out for hard treatment. He and they were already trading accusations of arson and planting evidence. Some printer produced the handbill shown above, visible at the Massachusetts Historical Society website. It designated Jackson and his shop by name and concluded:
It is desired that the SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY, would not buy any one thing of him, for in so doing they will bring disgrace upon themselves, and their Posterity, for ever and ever, AMEN.
But that wasn’t the most notable part of this protest, as the informant continued:
this affair drew the attention of the boys, and Country people, who flock’d about it, in great numbers; the Boys insulting Every body who went in, or out of the Shop, by Hissing and pelting them with Dirt.—
Boston’s five public schools let out early on Thursdays, at 10:00 A.M. That schedule was supposed to allow the boys to attend the Thursday Lecture (an extra sermon that Harrison Gray Otis recalled no classmate ever taking the opportunity to hear). Thus, the Whigs had small but enthusiastic adherents available to reinforce their message not to shop at Jackson’s.

Thursday was also Boston’s big market day, when farmers brought their produce in from the countryside. That produced an extra large crowd of people passing up Cornhill to Faneuil Hall.

According to the anonymous report:
Jackson made several attempts to take it [the pointing hand] Down, but was Repulsed by a Number of Idle people, who were standing by, with Clubs and Sticks in their Hands, however about one oClock it was taken away, by those who put it up, and the Crow’d dispersed first taking care to bespatter, all Jacksons windows over, with mudd and dirt—

During this Exhibition a Number of considerable Merchants Stood at a Little distance, and seemed highly pleased with what was going on, and Mr. M——x took Care to distinguish himself in a particular manner—
“Mr. M——x” was of course William Molineux, the Wolverhampton-born merchant who had made himself the leader of the non-importation movement. He was, people assumed, the strategist behind this new form of pressure.

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