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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Sunday, March 15, 2020

“The flashes of two guns fired from the Custom-house”

Soon after Charles Bourgate reaffirmed his earlier story of being made to shoot down at the crowd during the Boston Massacre, the Boston Whigs (William Molineux in particular) got the young servant in front of a magistrate.

This time that magistrate was Richard Dana, a higher authority than Edmund Quincy, the official who had collected Bourgate’s testimony. Quincy was merely a justice of the peace. Dana was a justice of the peace and of the quorum, which I think means that some level of the county court couldn’t meet without him.

The notion that one or more people shot at the crowd from the Customs House behind the soldiers actually had some support. A young gentleman named Jeremiah Allen stated that he was on the balcony of Joseph Ingersoll’s Bunch of Grapes tavern (shown above) during the incident.
he heard the discharge of four or five guns, the flashes of which appeared to be to the westward of the centry box; and immediately after, he the deponent heard two or three more guns, and saw the flashes thereof from out of the house now called the Custom-House, as they evidently appeared to him, and which he the said deponent at the same time declared to the aforesaid Molineux and [John] Simpson, being then near him, saying to them, at the same time pointing his hand toward the Custom-House, there they are out of the Custom-House.
The “aforesaid Molineux” was William Molineux, Jr., son of the Whig leader. He no doubt passed Allen’s story on to his dad, who then went looking for confirmation.

Other witnesses would soon tell even more damning stories. Those later quoted in the town’s report were:
  • George Coster, sailor from Newfoundland: “the deponent heard the discharge of four or five guns more, by the soldiers; immediately after which the deponent heard the discharge of two guns or pistols from an open window of the middle story of the Custom-house, near to the place where the sentry box was placed, and being but a small distance from the window, he heard the people from within speak and laugh, and soon after he saw the casement lowered down”
  • Cato, enslaved servant to postmaster Tuthill Hubbart: “he stood near the sentry box and saw the soldiers fire on the people, who stood in the middle of said street; directly after which he saw two flashes of guns, one quick upon the other, from the chamber-window of the Custom-house; and that after the firing was all over, while the people were carrying away the dead and wounded, he saw the Custom-house door opened, and several soldiers (one of whom had a cutlass) go into the Custom-house and shut the door after them”
  • Samuel Drowne, shop assistant to a stationer on Cornhill: “during the time of the soldiers firing, the deponent saw the flashes of two guns fired from the Custom-house, one of which was out of a window of the chamber westward of the balcony, and the other from the balcony, the gun which he clearly discerned being pointed through the ballisters, and the person who held the gun in a stooping posture, withdraw himself into the house, having a handkerchief or some kind of cloth over his face.”
All those witnesses would testify before Justice Dana and Justice John Hill on 16 March. Their stories might have been circulating even before then.

Faced with Charles Bourgate’s accusation, Dana summoned Edward Manwaring and asked him how he responded to what his servant had said.

COMING UP: A singing alibi?

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