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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Sunday, November 22, 2020

“Being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann”

After his Gloucester neighbors mobbed him a second time, dragging him through town and tarring him in 1770, Jesse Seville stopped suing people for the previous assault, back in 1768.

He didn’t show up in court when his case (previously dismissed) came up for appeal at the end of March.

But that wasn’t the end of the legal process. Because once again some government authorities prosecuted the people who attacked Saville for assault. Or at least one person.

That criminal case came to trial 250 years ago this month. The 13 Nov 1770 Essex Gazette reported:
At the Superior Court held here last Week, a Mulatto Servant of Samuel Plummer, Esq; of Gloucester, named George [Penn], was convicted of aiding and assisting in seizing the Person of one Jesse Saville, in the Month of March last,…
Then came the description of the crime I quoted yesterday. The article concluded:
George would not or could not discover any of the Persons concerned with him: They being all disguised, except himself, prevented their being known.———

On Saturday last the said Servant George was sentenced, by the Court, to receive 39 Stripes, sit upon the Gallows one Hour, suffer two Years Imprisonment, and find Surety for his good Behaviour for the Term of seven Years.
Dr. Samuel Plumer (1725-1778) was the older brother of David Plumer, the merchant who had overseen the first attack on Saville’s home. It’s possible the judges sentenced George Penn to prison, not a common penalty at the time, as a way to punish Dr. Plumer by depriving him of the man’s labor.

It took over a year for the corporal punishment to be carried out. The 21 Jan 1772 Essex Gazette described the hanging of a rapist in Salem the previous Thursday and added:
George, a Mulatto, at the same Time sat on the Gallows, with a Rope round his Neck, for the Space of one Hour, and afterwards received 20 Stripes under the same, but being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann, some considerable Time since. He was sentenced to receive 39, but his Excellency the Governor [Thomas Hutchinson] was pleased to remit 19.
Penn resisted all pressure to identify the other men who had mobbed Jesse Saville in 1770.

Through these incidents we see the plight of enslaved blacks in Gloucester. During the first assault, Dr. Samuel Rogers threatened Saville’s “Servant” with his dental tools. In the second assault, the attackers reportedly disguised themselves as men of color—“Indians and negroes”—providing witnesses with plausible deniability. A black man was the only one identified and convicted.

TOMORROW: The disappearance of George Penn.

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