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, June 20, 2020

“The affair of breaking Mr. Hulton’s Windows at Brookline”

Yesterday we left Henry Hulton under attack in his home in Brookline.

Hulton, one of the five Commissioners of Customs for North America appointed in London, had been woken on the night of 19 June 1770 by a man claiming to have a letter for him. He wrote later that he “slipt on my breeches and waistcoat,” grabbed his sword, and went to a window.

After a brief exchange, Hulton slammed down the window on the man’s hand. Then that man and others stationed all around the house beat in the first-floor windows with clubs.

Hulton wrote:
The family immediately rose in the greatest consternation, and Mrs. H opening the Window shutter in her room had a large stone thrown at her which happily missed her. Imagining the people would break into the house, and seek to murther me I ran to the Servants’ room at the head of the back Stairs with my sword in my hand, leaving two Servant Men at the bottom.
The commissioner’s servants included both white and black people, the latter almost certainly enslaved. And those were his ground-floor defense against the mob. Also in the household were Hulton’s wife Elizabeth; their two children, Thomas and Henry, Jr., both under the age of three; and his sister Ann.

Ann Hulton wrote the next month:
I could imagine nothing less than that the House was beating down, after many violent blows on the Walls and windows, most hideous Shouting, dreadful imprecations, and threats ensued. Struck with terror and astonishment, what to do I knew not, but got on some Clothes, and went to Mrs. H.’s room, where I found the Family collected, a Stone thrown in at her window narrowly missed her head. When the Ruffians were retreating with loud huzzas and one cryd he will fire—no says another, he darn’t fire, we will come again says a third—Mr. and Mrs H. left their House immediately and have not lodged a night since in it.
Her brother recalled the men outside “swearing, ‘dead or alive, we will have him.’” Eventually, though, that crowd left, and Henry and Elizabeth Hulton “retired to a Neighbour’s house till daylight, and passed the following day at Mr. John Apthorp’s at little Cambridge,” now Brighton. (That house may have survived into the early 1900s as one of the houses on the John Duncklee estate.)

Ann wrote:
The next day we were looking up all the Pockit Pistols in the house, some of which were put by, that nobody could find ’em and ignorant of any being charged, Kitty was very near shooting her Mistress, inadvertently lets it off. The bullets missed her within an inch and fixed in a Chest of Drawers.
A fellow Customs Commissioner, William Burch, learned of the attack and moved with his wife to Castle William (shown above). After hearing about that, Henry “came home the following morning, and carried the Children and part of the family from Brooklyn to the Castle,” arriving on 21 June. They squeezed into the quarters reserved for the governor with the other commissioners, lower Customs officers, and their relatives and servants.

Back in Brookline, locals discussed who had carried out the attack. Ann Hulton reported:
And for the honour of the Township we lived in, I must say, the principal People, have of their own accord taken up the affair very warmly, exerting their endeavors to find out the Authors, or perpetrators of the Villainy.

They have produced above twenty witnesses, Men in the Neighborhood who were out a Fishing that night, that prove they met upon the Road from Boston towards my Brother’s House, Parties of Men that appeared disguised, their faces blacked, with white Night caps and white Stockens on, one of ’em with Ruffles on and all, with great clubs in their hands. They did not know any of ’em, but one Fisherman spoke to ’em, to be satisfied whether they were Negroes or no, and found by their Speech they were not, and they answered him very insolently. Another person who mett them declares, that one of ’em asked him the way to Mr. H’s house, and another of ’em said he knew the way very well.

After all, you may judge how much any further discovery is likely to be made, or justice to be obtained in this Country, when I tell you that the persons who were thus active to bring the dark deed to light, were immediately stop’d and silenced, being given to understand (as I’m well informed) that if they made any further stir about the matter, they might expect to be treated in the same manner as Mr H. was. However, so much is proved as to clear Mr H. from the charge of doing himself the mischief, one would think.
On 21 June, acting governor Thomas Hutchinson issued a proclamation describing the assault on the Hultons’ house and offering a £50 reward for identifying the perpetrators. The 25 June Boston Post-Boy and 28 June Boston News-Letter printed that proclamation in full. The 25 June Boston Evening-Post reported on it. The Boston Gazette ran one sentence saying that Hulton’s windows had been “broke by Persons unknown” with no mention of the reward.

On 4 October, the News-Letter said, a sea captain returned from London with word that news of the violence on 19 June—the carting of Patrick McMaster and the mobbing of the Hulton house—“Causes great Uneasiness among our Friends at Home.” With the Boston Massacre trials coming up, the Massachusetts Whigs were under pressure to prove that their society was law-abiding. At the time, the Hultons were still living at the Castle for their own safety.

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