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, October 02, 2020

When William Story Sailed to London

On 2 Oct 1771, the speaker of the Massachusetts House, Thomas Cushing, wrote a letter to that body’s lobbyist in London, Benjamin Franklin.

Though the letter enclosed some legislative news, Cushing was really writing a reference for the man who would carry it to Britain, William Story. Story is an intriguing character because for several years he worked both sides of the political divide in Boston.

In 1763 John Adams listed Story among the members of the Boston political caucus, along with his cousin Samuel, his great-uncle William Fairfield, host Thomas Dawes, John Ruddock from the North End, and other men.

But Story was also a royal appointee, deputy register of the Vice Admiralty Court. That made him a target on 26 Aug 1765, when an anti–Stamp Act protest blew up into an attack on the homes of officials who had nothing to do with that law, including Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson. And William Story.

Those gentlemen asked the Massachusetts General Court to compensate them for their losses. The legislature did so only reluctantly and partially since most of the money would have gone to Hutchinson. Out of the £136 Story asked for, he received £97. Thus, he had a solid reason to resent the Boston Whigs and the General Court.

On the other hand, Story also had a grievance against the Customs Commissioners, and that was the main reason he crossed the Atlantic in the fall of 1771. Cushing’s letter to Franklin laid out the issue:
This will be handed you by William Storey Esqr. who will deliver you the Votes of the last sessions of the General Court.

He goes home to sollicit for releif from the Difficulty under which he at present labours; Natha. Wheelwright Esqr. during Mr. Storeys being Deputy Register in the Court of Admiralty had a Vessell and Cargo Seized and Condemned in said Court from which judgement he appealed; However the Vessell and Cargo were Sold at Public Auction at which Mr. Wheelwright was a Considerable purchaser.
Sometime in the early 1760s, the Customs service seized Wheelwright’s ship and goods for smuggling and put them up for auction. But Wheelwright himself was top bidder on a lot of the stuff, thus regaining ownership, perhaps at a bargain price. (Not a bargain when compared to getting away with the smuggling, but possibly still low enough to be profitable.)

Furthermore, Wheelwright made this purchase with the support of a top Customs officer:
Mr. [John] Temple the surveyer General, with a View of favouring Mr. Wheelwright as much as possible directed Mr. Storey, as he Informs me, to take Mr. Wheelwrights note of hand, in lieu of the Money, p[er?] amount of such goods as he purchased payable [as] soon as the affair of the appeal was fully determined.
At the time, Bostonians traded Wheelwright’s personal notes like cash, so it didn’t seem like a big risk for Story to accept one as payment. But in January 1765 Wheelwright went suddenly, spectacularly bankrupt, and dragged a considerable swath of Boston society down with him.
After some Time Mr. Wheelwright failed and has never been able to Discharge his Note. The Kings Advocate [Samuel Fitch?] has sued Mr. Storey for the Money. Mr. Storey thinks [torn: it would be unreaso?]nable and unjust to oblidge him to pay it, [torn: when he?] Acted in Consequence of orders received from the Surveyer General.

He has applied to the Commissioners of the Customs here, but as it was a Matter transacted before their appointment they can do nothing about it, he therefore has undertaken this Voyage in order to apply for releif to the Commissioners at home. Any assistance you may afford him by your Advise or thro your Influence with those before whom this matter may lie I shall esteem as a favor.
Temple actually was one of the Customs Commissioners from 1767 to 1771, when he sailed to Britain himself in search of even better prospects. But the other Commissioners hated and distrusted him, so they happily disavowed any promise that he had made to Story a decade before.
I would just mention that Mr. Storey was a Considerable Sufferer in the time of the Stamp Act by having his House and Furniture much Damaged by the Mob, who distroyed most of his Books and Papers amoung which there were some relative to the Seizure above mentioned, and for want of which he is fearfull he shall be a great Sufferer.

He had some Compensation made him by our General Court but as all the rest of the Sufferers at that time excepting Mr. Storey, have been Consider’d and in some way or another Compensated by the Government at home he hopes he shall have the more favourable hearing relative to this Matter.
Story was thus hoping for some cash from the royal government, as well as being shielded from the lawsuit over Wheelwright’s payment. And, even though he was carrying letters from some of Massachusetts’s leading Whigs, Story might have taken a new royal appointment as well.

TOMORROW: Samuel Adams’s doubts.

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