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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Friday, May 15, 2020

Another Boston Town Meeting, “all in very good order”

On 15 May 1770, 250 years ago today, Bostonians convened in Faneuil Hall for another town meeting session.

That gathering was meant to finish up some business from the week before, as discussed starting here, and the year before.

The first order of business was to hear from the school committee. At this time Boston didn’t have a regularly elected or appointed school committee. Instead, the seven selectmen invited a long list of leading gentlemen to accompany them as they visited the town’s five schools in early July, at the end of the regular school year.

In 1769 the committee included eight members of the Council, the four General Court representatives, the twelve Overseers of the Poor, ten ministers, and twenty-four other men, as shown here.

That committee probably watched the grammar school boys recite in Latin and/or Greek and observed the writing school boys’ handwriting samples. I don’t know whether all fifty-odd gentlemen went to each school or whether they broke out into teams.

That committee reported back to the town at this May meeting—ten months later, and a week after the town had approved the schoolmasters’ salaries. They told the citizens at Faneuil Hall that the gentlemen had
found the South Grammar School had 142 Scholars; the North Grammar School 60 Scholars; the South Writing School 203 Scholars; the North Writing School 253 Scholars; the Writing School in Queen Street 251 Scholars; all in very good order.
As I discussed back here, the system educated slightly over 200 grammar-school boys and more than 700 writing-school boys, but the town paid the masters of the grammar schools significantly more.

The town meeting then moved on to financial matters. A committee reported on its review of town treasurer David Jeffries’s accounts. Another committee reported on the accounts of the Overseers of the Poor. The meeting voted to raise £4,000 for poor relief in the coming year—a major expenditure, but not as large as in other years.

Then the big guns came out. The committee to instruct the town’s newly elected representatives to the Massachusetts General Court delivered its report of what issues those politicians should raise with the royal governor. Although the first man named to that committee was justice Richard Dana, a manuscript of its report survives in the handwriting of member Josiah Quincy, Jr., indicating that the young lawyer drafted the report. That was just weeks after Quincy had defended Ebenezer Richardson, and he was on the defense team for the Boston Massacre trials as well.

The document started by saying there was “great reason to believe, that a Deep laid & desperate plan of Imperial despotism has been laid, and partly executed, for the extinction of all civil liberty.” More specifically, the problems were “holding the General Court at Harvard College” (an ongoing that merited several long paragraphs of precedents and argument), “The despicable situation of our provincial militia,” and “the unwarrantable practise of ministerial instructions to the Commanders in Chief of this Province.”

As solutions, the committee sought measures “to increase population, incourage industry and promote our own manufactures”; a “firm and lasting union of the Colonies”; and an “endeavor to revive the antient method of appointing the Attorney General,” presumably not leaving that choice up to the royal governor.

The town meeting unanimously approved that lengthy report and asked that it be printed in the newspapers, confirming that it was a document for public consumption.

Finally, one of the Overseers of the Poor elected in March, Thomas Tyler, had died. This meeting quickly elected Samuel Abbott as a replacement. Then the citizens adjourned, thinking that they had done all the work they needed for a long while.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to see one of my ancestors, "Mr. Treat", on that list. Aside from his lengthy military service and being a grandson of one of the shipbuilding Hartts, he wasn't really in the same league as 90% of the people on that list.