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, March 05, 2020

Charles Bourgate’s Massacre

Today, 5 March, is the Sestercentennial anniversary of the Boston Massacre. I’ve written a lot about the Massacre over the years, including this post from 2007 about how the trouble started and how easily people could have avoided it.

So today I’m sharing a rarely recounted perspective on the event from a teen-aged servant named Charles Bourgate. He was reportedly born at Bordeaux, France, but also identified as “a Jersey boy.”

This was the French boy’s testimony at the trial on 12 Dec 1770 of his master, Customs official Edward Manwaring, along with Manwaring’s friend John Munro and lower-level Customs employees Hammond Green and Thomas Greenwood.

All four of those men were charged with participating in the murders on King Street, with muskets actually shot out an upper window of the Customs house, as shown above from the print by Paul Revere.

Charles testified:
I am an apprentice to Mr. Edward Manwarring. On the evening of the 5th March last, I was at Mr. [John] Hudson’s in Back-street, at the North-end, where my master then lodged, Mr. Hudson and his wife [Elizabeth] were at home;…
According to the boy’s earlier deposition for town magistrates, Manwaring and Munro had gone to the Customs house to “drink a glass of wine” about half an hour before he heard an alarm.
when the bells rung I ran into King street, and to the door of the Custom-house which was on a jarr partly open, and a young man one Green, he with one eye, (pointing to Hammond Green) opened the door and pulled me in; two or three gentlemen came down stairs, and one of them a tall man, pulled me up stairs, and said to me, you must fire, the tall man gave me a gun, and said to me “if you don’t fire I’ll kill you”
In his deposition, Charles said, “I saw my Master and Mr. Munroe come down stairs, and go into a room; when four or five men went up stairs, pulling and halling me after them.” So not exactly the same detail, but the same result.
I went up stairs and stood by a front window in the chamber, and the tall man loaded two guns with two balls each, and I fired them both; as soon as I had fired one gun, he, the tall man, said again to me, “if you don’t fire I will kill you.” He had a cane with a sword in it in his hand, and compelled me to fire both the guns.

After I had fired these two guns, Mr. Manwarring fired one gun also out of the same window. The tall man loaded the three guns, and I see him put the balls in each of them and heard them go down. The two guns I fired, I pointed up the street and in the air. When my master Mr. Manwarring pointed his gun out of the window I was in the room, but went out and was on the stairs before his gun went off, I heard it, but did not see it.

As soon as I had fired, the tail man took me down stairs, and said he would give me money if I would not tell: I replied, I did not want any money, but if I was called before the Justices, I would tell the truth.

There were a great many people in the house, and a number of people round me in the chamber where I fired, I can’t tell the precise number, but there were more than ten, Mr. Munro and Hammond Green were in the house below stairs, Mr. Manwarring was in the chamber when all the three guns were loaded and fired, there was the space of a minute and an half between the second gun I fired, and the third which my Master fired. There was a candle in the chamber, but I cannot tell whether there were one or two windows in it. When I came up into the chamber, there were two guns in it, I fired twice out of the same gun, but I cannot tell whether Mr. Manwarring fired the same gun I did.

At the time I and my master fired, the street below was full of people, and the mob were throwing sticks, snow-balls, &c. It was pretty dark, but I don’t know but there might be a little moon. I can’t tell whether the guns my master and I fired, were fired before or after the firing by the soldiers.

When I went from Mr. Hudson’s to the Custom-house, I passed through the lane that leads from the Market to the Custom-house, (Royal-exchange-lane) and I did not see the Sentry-box or any soldiers near the Custom house; there were many people round there in the street.

Immediately after I went down stairs, I went out of the house and saw a great number of people throwing snow-balls and sticks, but I saw no soldiers. I returned to Mr. Hudson’s house, Mr. Hudson and his wife were then at home, and no other person in the house.
Earlier Charles had declared, “I ran home as fast as I could, and set up all night in my master’s kitchen.”

At the trial, attorneys asked the French boy again “where he was when be heard the report of his master’s gun?” He said “he was quite down stairs,” thus not able to declare positively that Manwaring had shot at the crowd but certainly implying he had.

Asked whether William Molineux had asked him about his story, Charles said “he was in the goaler’s house with Mrs. Otis the prison-keeper’s wife, Mr. Wallis, deputy sheriff, and Mr. Molineux, and that the latter told him to tell the truth.”

Of course, none of this was the truth. Except, probably, that Hammond Green had only one eye.

TOMORROW: The morning after a Massacre.

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