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 27, 2020

Trouble for Henry Barnes, “an Infamous importer”

Yesterday I started to describe how the town of Marlborough started to pressure Henry Barnes (shown here, in a portrait by his former slave Prince Demah) to stop importing goods from Britain.

The men of Marlborough adopted some of the same measures as the non-importation activists in Boston, just a year or more later. They held a town meeting to formally condemn importers. They appointed a committee to inspect goods and customers. They even called a meeting that didn’t have a property requirement so more young men could participate. And some folks started to make their disapproval even clearer by damaging Barnes’s property.

Henry Barnes’s wife Christian heard rumors that this activity was being guided from Boston:
It is said that a young gentleman who has formilly headed the mob in Boston and now resides with us is the perpetrator of all this mischief, but I will not believe it until I have further profe.
Alas, I haven’t found a clue about which young gentleman that might be.

In her letter to her friend Elizabeth Smith, Christian Barnes described how Bostonians themselves had attacked her husband’s property while it was in transport:
The greatest loss we have as yet met with was by a Mob in Boston who a few Nights ago atack’d a wagon load of goods which belongs to us they abused the Driver and cut a Bag of Peppur which contain’d three hundred [pounds?] leting it all into the street then gather’d it up in their Hand’fs & Hatts and caried it off the rest of the load they ordered back into the Publick Store of which the well disposed Commity Keeps the Key

Mr. Barnes has apply’d to the Lefnt. Govener [Thomas Hutchinson] for advice and he advised him to put in a petition to the General Court he then repaired to Mr. [James] Murray [a justice of the peace who was also Smith’s brother] and beg’d his assistance in the drawing of it up he complyed with his request and it is lade before the House next week, as I have entered so largly into the affair I will send you a Coppy of the Petition, we expect no Satisfaction or redress from the General Court but only as it is a legal Method and praparatory (in case of further insults) to the appealing to Higher Powers

You would be pleased to see with what moderation Mr. Barnes behaves in his present distresses at the same time I am well assured his resolution will carry him through all difficultys without swerving from his first principles

The Merchants in Boston are now intirely out of the question in all debates at their Town Meeting, which is caried on by a mob of the lowest sort of people leaded by one [John] Balard and Doct. [Thomas] Young Persons that I never before heard off
Dr. Thomas Young had led a crowd to the McMaster brothers’ store in early June to press them to stop importing. After another crowd carted Patrick McMaster around with a tar barrel on 19 June, John Ballard administered the oath by which the Scotsman swore not to return to Boston. Barnes heard from either Ame or Elizabeth Cumings that “the other two [McMaster] brothers had fled for their lives” as well.

And the people of Marlborough were still ramping up pressure on Henry Barnes. His wife wrote:
on the 10 of June the unqualified Voters had a meeting and enter’d into the same resolves the others had done before and the next day an Effigy was Hung upon a Hill in sight of the House with a paper Pin’d to the Breast, wheron was wrote Henry Barnes an Infamous importer this Hung up all Day and at Night they Burn’d it
In the five years since the Stamp Act, only the society’s worst political enemies had the honor of being hanged and burned in effigy.

COMING UP: Another effigy, this one on horseback.

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