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, October 03, 2020

Samuel Adams’s Two Character References for William Story

When William Story was preparing to sail to London in late 1771, Thomas Cushing wasn’t the only Massachusetts Whig he asked for a letter of reference.

Story also asked Samuel Adams, clerk of the Massachusetts house, to write on his behalf. On 27 September, Adams obliged with a postscript on his regular letter to Arthur Lee, the house’s alternate agent in Britain:
P.S.—The Bearer hereof is William Story Esqr. formerly of this town, but now of Ipswich a Town about 30 Miles East. He was Deputy Register in the Court of Vice Admiralty before & at the time of the Stamp Act & would then have given up the Place as he declared but his Friends advisd him against it—he sufferd the Resentment of the people on the 26 of August 1765, together with Lt. Govr. [Thomas] Hutchinson & others for which he was recompencd by the Genl. Assembly, as he declares in part only.

He tells me that his Design in going home is to settle an Affair of his own relating to the Admiralty Court, in which the Commissioners of the Customs as he says declare it is out of their power to do him Justice. One would think it was never in their Power or Inclination to do any many Justice. Mr. Story has always professd himself a Friend to Liberty for many years past.

I tell him that I make no doubt but you will befriend him as far as shall be in your power in obtaining Justice, in which you will very much oblige,
Samuel Adams
Five days later, however, Adams had second thoughts. That was the same day that Cushing wrote his letter about Story to Benjamin Franklin, quoted yesterday. But Adams had heard something which made him no longer trust Story.

In a second letter to Lee, dated 2 October, Adams said:
I have already written to you by this conveyance, and there mentioned to you Mr. Story, a gentleman to whose care I committed that letter. I have since heard that he has a letter to Lord Hillsborough [the Secretary of State for the colonies] from Gov. Hutchinson, which may possibly recommend him for some place by way of compensation for his joint sufferings with the governor. I do not think it possible for any man to receive his lordship’s favour, without purchasing it by having done or promising to do some kind of jobs.

If Mr. Story should form connexions with administration upon any principles inconsistent with those of a friend to liberty, he will then appear to be a different character from that which I recommended to your friendship. I mention this for your caution, and in confidence.
By this point, Adams viewed any cooperation with Gov. Hutchinson as a sign that a man couldn’t be trusted.

Story probably felt himself well positioned for his meetings in London. He had Gov. Hutchinson’s letter to the Earl of Hillsborough as well as another to Sir Francis Bernard, former governor. But he also had Cushing’s and Adams’s letters to Franklin and Lee on the Whig side. He didn’t realize that his ship carried another letter from Adams canceling out the first.

COMING UP: How’d that work out for him?

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