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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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Norwich’s Protest Against the Stamp Act

In order to discuss the anti-Stamp Act demonstration and riots in Newport in time for its reenactment last Saturday, I completely skipped over developments in Connecticut. Which had, in fact, come earlier in August 1765. So let’s catch up!

As I quoted back here, one letter describing Boston’s 14 August protest against the new law, with stamp-tax collector Andrew Oliver hung in effigy, included this passage:
It was Observd that a Connecticut Man very attentively viewd the Image and at length took off the Lines on which some one asked him what he was about. He replied, that as he was going home he was only taking a Sample of the Fruit of that Tree, it would be seen more; for he was satisfied that some their Trees would bear the like.
The 23 Aug 1765 New-London Gazette showed that Connecticut Whigs had indeed adopted the Boston method of protest:
NORWICH, August 22.

The noble patriotic Fire which has lighted up in one Place and another, and of late shone so conspicuous at Boston, blazed here, with all the vehemence and splendor of a Comet, guided by the dictates of Prudence and Decorum.

’Twas last Night [i.e., 21 August] our reputable STAMP-MASTER, in Effigie, made his public Appearance in this Town, clad in a Suit of White, trim’d with Black, the Gift of his Native Country, both as an Emblem of his Purity and Innocence, and his sorrow and tender Concern for this unhappy People: On his right Hand stood the restless Father of Mischief [i.e., the Devil] with the Stamp Act in his Hand, giving Credentials to his all attentive Pupil; the malignity of his Heart was lively portray’d by the expressive Cardinal Knave at Cards on his Breast, accompanied with a cautious Memento to all Place Men, that
“When Vice prevails & impious Men bear Sway,
“The Post of Honour is a private Station.”
Their Appearance was Becoming, and Procession Glorious, attended by such Invectives, Huzza’s, & disdainful Music as are the pure emanations of injured Freedom: After passing thro’ Town, our Hero with his Companion, was conducted “In all the Majesty of Greece” to the height of a loft Hill, perhaps the highest Summit he will e’er ascend, and there in Complaisance to his Fellow, committed to the Flames; and a few loyal and constitutional Healths crown’d the Night.
I'm not sure why Norwich was the first Connecticut town to host such a demonstration. That colony’s designated stamp master, Jared Ingersoll, had received several letters from men hoping to be his deputies for particular towns. Dr. Daniel Lathrop (1712-1782) appears to have been the sole hopeful from Norwich, but there’s no sign that his neighbors knew of his offer to help collect the tax. If he was smart, he kept quiet.

TOMORROW: Protests spread.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Mystery of John Webber

As quoted earlier, the 3 Sept 1765 Newport Mercury blamed “An Irish young Fellow, who had been but a few Days in the Town,” for fomenting more unrest just when town leaders thought their protest against the Stamp Act had reached a satisfying end.

The Rhode Island newspaper thus absolved the town of full blame for the ongoing violence and class conflict. (Similarly, Whigs in Boston liked to blame riots on sailors, blacks, boys, and occasionally “teagues”—anyone but the white men of the community.)

The Newport paper didn’t report the name of that “young Fellow.” Other records indicate that he was named John Webber. On 4 Nov 1765, the Mercury reported:
During last Week two threatning Letters were dropped at the Door of Joseph G. Wanton, Esq; High Sheriff of this County, imparting, that unless he released one John Webber, committed about 2 Months since, being charged by the King’s Attorney [Augustus Johnston] for his Crimes and Misdemeanors, they would effect his Release by Violence; and likewise threatened Mr. Wanton’s House with Destruction.

To prevent the intended Mischief, a Number of Persons patroled the Streets last Friday Night, and discovered nothing of the expected Outrage: But the Night following the Gaol was surrounded by between 20 and 30 Men; an Alarm was given, and they immediately dispersed, but not without losing two of their Company, said to be the Ringleaders, who were seized; and instead of releasing their Associate in Prison, were forced to take up their Residence in the same Place.—

That Mr. Wanton’s Property should be threatened with Injury, by those abandoned Villains, is very extraordinary; as no Person is more zealous in defending the Rights of his Country than he, and consequently detests and abhors Stamp-Act Projectors and Abbettors, of all Kinds. It is therefore presumed, that the Inhabitants of this Town will manifest a due Resentment in his Behalf.

John Webber, mentioned above, endeavored to hang himself last Friday [1 November], but was prevented by a Person’s entering his Apartment just as he was perpetrating the Act.

The Authority have appointed a Military Watch, in order to suppress any Riots which may happen in Town.
As of February 1766, Rhode Island assembly records show, Webber was still in the Newport County jail. He was then deemed too poor to support himself, so the colony reimbursed the jailer for buying him food.

In 1999 the Newport Historical Society published a paper titled “Who Was John Webber?” by Ruth Kennedy Myers and Bradford A. Becken. I haven’t been able to access it, but the abstract says those authors regretted not being able to ferret out much more information about Webber. The paper probably cites the following items.

The Newport Mercury for 8 May 1784 reported the death of a man with the same name and approximate age of the crowd leader nineteen years before, but said he was from southwestern England instead of Ireland:
On Tuesday Morning last died of a Dropsy in this Town, in the 42d Year of his Age, Mr. JOHN WEBBER, late of Stratton, in the County of Somerset, Great-Britain, and on Wednesday his Remains were decently interr’d in Trinity Church-Yard.
This John Webber’s gravestone is still in that cemetery, as shown above (via Find a Grave), giving the same information about his origin. He must have been prominent enough in Newport for his death to warrant a full paragraph in the newspaper, yet the newspaper saw no reason to explain why he was prominent.

The carved stones (head and foot) suggest that Webber had notable property when he died, as did an advertisement that appeared in the 5 June Mercury inviting people to an auction of his effects to be held “near the Rev. Dr. [Ezra] Stiles’s Meeting-House.” Those effects included:
Had John Webber prospered in the two decades since the Stamp Act riots (including years that were very hard for Newport)? What had he done during the war, when Newport was occupied by the British military? All those things remain obscure.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Wilson on Stepfamilies in Boston, 2 Sept.

On Wednesday, 2 September, Lisa Wilson will speak at the New England Historic Genealogical Society on the topic of her latest book, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America.

Here’s the purpose of this book:
Stepfamilies are not a modern phenomenon, but despite this reality, the history of stepfamilies in America has yet to be fully explored. In the first book-length work on the topic, Lisa Wilson examines the stereotypes and actualities of colonial stepfamilies and reveals them to be important factors in early United States domestic history.

Remarriage was a necessity in this era, when war and disease took a heavy toll, all too often leading to domestic stress, and cultural views of stepfamilies during this time placed great strain on stepmothers and stepfathers. Wilson shares the stories of real stepfamilies in early New England, investigating the relationship between prejudice and lived experience, and, in the end, offers a new way of looking at family units throughout history and the cultural stereotypes that still affect stepfamilies today.
Lisa Wilson is the Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of American History at Connecticut College. As well as being a member of the N.E.H.G.S., she’s a stalwart of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Boston Area Early American History Seminar series [here’s the schedule for that series in the coming year]. Her previous books have been about widows in Pennsylvania and New England men’s domestic and family lives.

This talk is scheduled to begin at 6:00 P.M. It will be followed by a book-signing. register for this free event, use this page.

Monday, August 31, 2015

“A new Fire” in Newport

Yesterday I broke off the news from Newport with the resignation of Augustus Johnston as stamp-tax collector on the morning of 29 Aug 1765.

The town did not stay calm, as the Newport Mercury reported:

Next Morning the Stamp Master’s Resignation being publickly read, the People announced their Joy by repeated Huzza’s, &c. and the Storm ceased.

Things, however, did not continue long in this easy State: An Irish young Fellow, who had been but a few Days in the Town, stood forth, like Massaniello, openly declared that he was at the Head of the Mob the preceding Night, and triumphed in the Mischief that was done. Some Gentlemen, to prevent any further Evil, thought it best to seize immediately upon this Desperadoe, and put him on board the Man of War, which they accordingly did: But this, instead of answering the desired Purpose, kindled a new Fire.

The Mob began again to collect; and a Number of Persons, who, it seemed, were not before concerned, were so irritated as his being carried on board the Man of War, that it became necessary to bring him on Shore again. This was done; and upon his promising immediately to quit the Government [i.e., leave the colony], he was released, and the Night passed without any Tumult.

The Morning following [30 August], Massaniello appeared again in the public Streets, boldly declaring himself to have been the Ringleader of the Mob, and threatning Destruction to the Town, more particularly to the Persons and Houses of those who seized him the preceeding Day, unless they made him Presents agreeable to his Demands.

The Attorney-General, who was the late Stamp-Master, being met and insulted by him, heroically seized upon him; and some Gentlemen running to his Assistance, they carried him off to Goal. This proved effectual;—nobody appeared to rescue him, nor to say a Word in his Favour. He is now under Confinement;—the Town is again in Peace, and we sincerely wish it my continue so.
The whole situation had gone topsy-turvy twice. First, the “Gentlemen” merchants who had led the town’s anti-Stamp protest turned against the self-proclaimed leader of the mob that followed. They put that young man on board the same Royal Navy ship as Martin Howard and Dr. Thomas Moffatt, two targets of that protest. That left him in danger of impressment, so the Newport crowd turned against those local merchants until they brought him back to town.

But then the young man kept threatening disorder, enough to be arrested by the colony’s Attorney General—none other than the central target of that anti-Stamp protest three days before. Johnston had resigned as stamp master and was now helping to stifle class conflict, so the local gentry accepted him again. (As I noted yesterday, the populace was also more lenient on Johnston than on Howard and Moffatt, so he might have had more social capital built up overall.)

One thing that didn’t change was how the other two Newport protest targets were still unwelcome. The 2 September Mercury concluded: “The Ship Friendship, Capt. Lindsey, sailed for England Yesterday. Doctor Thomas Moffat, and Martin Howard, jun, Esq; of this Town, went Passengers.”

The same issue of the Newport Mercury contained this advertisement.
Howard’s house is now the Newport Historical Society’s Revolution House. In London the Crown government gave both supporters new patronage positions, Howard as Chief Justice in North Carolina and Moffatt as a Customs official in New London, Connecticut.

COMING UP: Who was that “Irish young Fellow”?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

“They soon returned to the Charge with redoubled Fury”

Yesterday I quoted the 2 Sept 1765 Newport Mercury’s description of the Rhode Island capital’s anti-Stamp Act protest on 27 August. Locals hung up effigies of stamp agent Augustus Johnston and supporters Martin Howard, Jr. (shown here), and Dr. Thomas Moffatt, and then burned those effigies when night fell.

It all seemed to be over. The newspaper went on to a paragraph about assembly elections. But then there were more disturbances, perhaps inspired by news of the destruction of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house in Boston on 26 August.

The Mercury resumed its reporting:
Early on Wednesday Evening [28 August], as four Gentlemen, among whom was Martin Howard, jun. Esq; were walking down Queen Street, a Person, in Consequence of a private Pique, assaulted one of them, who soon disengaged himself, and retreated. The other Gentlemen manifested some Resentment in his Behalf; but the Return they met with, induced them to withdraw, and go towards Mr. Howard’s House.

An Account of this Affair immediately spread among the People, a Mob collected, and marched directly to Mr. Howard’s; and not finding the Gentlemen there, they shattered some of the Windows, and went off. But not satisfied with the Mischief they had done, they soon returned to the Charge with redoubled Fury, broke the Windows and Doors all to Pieces, damaged the Partitions of the House, and ruined such Furniture as was left in it, the best Part being happily removed out between the Attacks.

This being done, the Mob drew off, and proceeded to the hired House that Doctor Moffatt lived in, where they committed Outrages equally terrible, in tearing the House in Pieces, and demolishing his Furniture. The Cellars of both Houses were ravaged, and the Provisions, Wines, &c. destroyed and lost.—

From the Doctor’s they went in Quest of the Gentleman first aimed at, who had luckily, by that Time, got on board the Cygnet Man of War, which lay upon the Back of the Fort.

After this, they surrounded the House of the then Stamp-Master; but upon Promises of his resigning that Office, they offered no Violence to his Habitation.—It was near Eleven o’Clock when they were about to perform this last Act of Devastation; but desisting from this they contented themselves with rendering more complete the Ruin of the two Houses aforementioned.——
The London journalist John Almon later published a report with more detail about the crowd’s interaction with the stamp master, though he didn’t get the man’s name right:
They then proceeded towards the house of Augustine Johnston, Esq; who had been appointed stamp-master for Rhode Island, but were met and parlied with by a gentleman, who, telling them the house was not Mr. Johnston’s property, they desisted from any farther attempts, but insisted that Mr. Johnston’s effects should be delivered to them next day, unless he would resign his place, which he did on his coming to town next day, in the following terms, and then they dispersed:
To the Inhabitants of the town of Newport,
Gentlemen,

As I find my being appointed the stamp-officer of this colony has irritated the people of this town against me, though the office was bestowed on me unasked and unthought of; and being willing, as far as it is in my power, to restore tranquility to the town, do engage, upon my honour, that I will not accept of the said office, upon any terms, unless I have your consent for the same.

Augustine Johnston.
August 29, 1765.
In Boston, the mob on 26 August had been dissuaded from attacking Charles Paxton’s house by his landlord, as discussed here. Someone evidently made a similar claim for Johnston’s house, but I’m not sure that was true: according to this page, he inherited the house from his grandfather in 1765. And the Newporters didn’t mind tearing apart Dr. Moffatt’s “hired house.”

In another respect, the Newport crowd behaved like the Boston crowd two nights before: they didn’t focus all their anger on the stamp-tax collector but attacked other men who supported Parliament’s new taxes. A lot of Newport’s Customs officials also took refuge on the Royal Navy’s Cygnet that night; among them was John Robinson, who later moved to Boston and got into a brawl with James Otis, Jr., in 1769.

TOMORROW: But that still wasn’t the end of it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Anti-Stamp Act Protests in Rhode Island

Public protests against the Stamp Act spread outside of Boston in August 1765 so quickly that I’ve fallen behind the sestercentennial anniversaries of those events.

Since the Newport Historical Society is commemorating that port town’s protests with a reenactment today, I’m focusing on the events in Rhode Island.

On 24 August, ten days after the first protest at Boston’s Liberty Tree, A Providence Gazette Extraordinary appeared. William Goddard (1740-1817) had stopped publishing this newspaper in May. This special issue was “Printed by S. and W. Goddard,” the “S.” being William’s mother Sarah (c. 1701-1770).

Sarah Goddard resumed the weekly publication of the paper in 1766 as “Sarah Goddard, and Company.” From January 1767 to 1769, the colophon clarified that she printed “(In the Absence of William Goddard),” the son having gone on to other cities. Finally she sold the business to employee John Carter, who maintained the paper for decades to follow. Her daughter, Mary Katherine Goddard, established a print shop in Baltimore.

That issue of the Providence Gazette was extraordinary indeed, being almost entirely devoted to one political cause:
  • Above the masthead it proclaimed, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (“The Voice of the People is the Voice of God”).
  • The essays were all about the problems with the Stamp Act, including a paragraph from Isaac Barré’s speech in Parliament.
  • The news was all about anti-Stamp Act protests in Boston and Connecticut, and similar disturbances in Britain.
  • The paper printed five resolutions from the Providence town meeting modeled on the resolutions that the Virginia House of Burgesses had reportedly passed that spring.
  • The last page described a new paper mill that the Goddards were helping to build outside Providence—a business potentially at odds with the Stamp Act.
In his history of the Revolution, the Rev. William Gordon wrote that “Effigies were also exhibited; and in the evening cut down and burnt by the populace” in Providence on this date, but I haven’t found any confirmation of that.

Instead, the next big development in Rhode Island appears to have happened down in Newport on 27 August. Here’s the description of that day published in the 2 September Newport Mercury:
Last Tuesday Morning a Gallows was erected in Queen-Street, just below the Court-House, whereon the Effigies of three Gentlemen were exhibited, one of whom was a Distributor of Stamps, which was placed in the Center. The other two were suspected of countenancing and abetting the Stamp Act.

Various Labels were affixed to their Breasts, Arms, &c. denoting the Cause of these indignant Representations, and the Persons who were the Subjects of Derision.—They hung from Eleven o’Clock till about Four, when some Combustibles being placed under the Gallows, a Fire was made, and the Effigies consumed, amidst the Acclamations of the People.—The whole was conducted with Moderation, and no Violence was offered to the Persons or Property of any Man.
A report published in London later that year offered some more physical details: “about nine o’clock in the morning, the people of Newport, in Rhode Island, brought forth the effigies of three persons, in a cart, with halters about their necks, to a gallows, twenty feet high.”

Notably, the Mercury didn’t identify the three “Persons who were the Subjects of Derision,” even by initials. But everyone in town knew who they were:
  • Rhode Island’s stamp-tax collector, Augustus Johnston (c. 1729-1790).
  • Martin Howard, Jr. (1725–1781), a lawyer who had written a pamphlet titled A Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax to His Friend in Rhode Island, supporting the Stamp Act—a very rare position for an American to take.
  • Dr. Thomas Moffatt (c. 1702–1787), another supporter of stronger royal government.
Moffatt later identified three merchants—Samuel Vernon (1711-1792), William Ellery (1727-1820), and Robert Crook—as guarding the spectacle from local officials, just as the Loyall Nine did in Boston. The doctor also said that to build a crowd they “sent into the streets strong Drink in plenty with Cheshire cheese and other provocatives to intemperance and riot.” Yet that day ended with no other destruction than the burning of the effigies.

TOMORROW: But it wasn’t over yet.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Watching the Mob with Deacon Tudor

One of the most telling accounts of the mobbing of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house on 26 Aug 1765 came from John Tudor (1709-1795), a merchant, marine insurance dealer, and deacon who lived nearby in the North End.

After that event, Tudor went back in his journal to fill in what he’d heard about recent house-mobbings, then got to what he saw himself:
This brought it to the dusk of the evening, tho’ it was a moonlight Night near the full Moon. Then the Monsters being enflam’d with Rum & Wine which they got in sd [Benjamin] Hallowells Celler proceeded with Shouts to the Dwelling House of the Honl. Thos. Hutchinson Esqr. Lieut. Governor & The Mob enter’d in a Voyalant manner, broke the Wainscot, partitions, Glasses &c.; broke & distroy’d every Window, Broke, tore or carred off all the Famaly’s Apparel Jewels, Books &c. and Carred off about 900£ Sterling in Cash, they worked hard from 8 O’Clock on the House, Fences &c. till about 12 or one O’Clock; when they got on the top of the House and cut down a large Cupola, or Lanthron which took up their Time till near Daylight, leaving the House a mear Shell.

So great a piece of Cruilty (I believe) on so good, so inocent a Gentleman was never committed since the Creation. The next Day the Governor & Councle Issued out a proclamation of 300£ Lawful m’y to anyone who shold discover the Leador, or Leadors of the Mob and 100£ reward for the discovery of any Actors in the affare. T’was supposed that several Contrey Fellows & saylors was concerned in this Mob, as there was but few of them known. There was a number of Boys from 14 to sixteen Years of age, som mere Children which did a great deal of damage in breaking the Windows & distroying the Furniture Apparel &c.

But what is surprising there was some hundreds of people looking on as spectators, I was one, that had they known each others minds they mite have prevented the Mischief don at the Livt. Governor’s; But there was such a Universal obhorance of the Stamp Act which past in England & was soon to be put in execution in America and which was the cause of the Mob’s riseing and commiting such cruilty on the Governor; thinking he had som hand in the Stamp Act, but it was soon known that he was not only inocent, but had protested against it. . . .

The next Day there was a full town Meeting, when they Voted Vnanimously their utter detestation of the violent proceedings of the Mob &c. and had the minds of the people and the Inocence of Governor Hutchinson been known before, as it was at this meeting, the mischief at his house mite easily have been prevented, as the next day their was a Universal Lamentation for the Distruction don.
Tudor appears to have been caught up in the excitement of the night of 26 August, then woke up the next day with regrets and worries about what might happen next. And that’s how a lot of Boston felt. Town leaders stepped in to tamp down violence for the rest of the year even as they continued to encourage resistance to the stamp tax. The destruction of Lt. Gov. Hutchinson’s house remained the high tide of sustained anti-Crown violence inside Boston until the actual war.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

“The same enraged mob whent to the house of Judge Hutchinson”

On 26 Aug 1765, the Boston Gazette ran this notice on the bottom of its third page amidst the local news:
Messieurs Edes & Gill.

I Desire the Printers of the Thursday’s Paper [Richard Draper’s “News-Letter”] to tell their Readers who those Gentlemen of Integrity and Reputation were that informed the Populace that an honorable Gentleman had “not only spoke but wrote AGAINST laying on the Stamp Duties”

And if these Gentlemen will make it appear to be a Fact, they shall have the Honor of three Cheers, with the free Consent, of your humble Servant,

TOM.
As Harbottle Dorr’s note on his copy of the newspaper shows, readers understood that the “honorable Gentleman” in question was Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson.

Bostonians had been assigning Hutchinson some blame for the Stamp Act for weeks. On 14 August he tried to defend—reportedly with his sword—the house of stamp agent Andrew Oliver. The next night he refused to tell crowds at his door that he’d opposed the law because, as he wrote, “I did not like to be accountable to them.”

On top of that, Hutchinson was also connected to the Customs house inquiry that had riled Boston’s maritime community the previous year, as described yesterday. On the night of 26 August, crowds visited four men who had been part of that scandal, ransacking at least two of their homes. And then they headed for Hutchinson’s mansion in the North End.

The lieutenant governor left several accounts of this event, but I’ll quote one from his niece Hannah Mather Crocker, recently printed in Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston. Hannah’s father, the Rev. Samuel Mather (1706-1785, shown above courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society), was Hutchinson’s brother-in-law and neighbor. Thirteen years old at the time, she recalled:
The same enraged mob whent to the house of Judge Hutchinson [&] demanded his person. Not finding him, they distroyed great part of his house and furniture [&] drank wine till many of them could drink no more.

Part of the mob whent to Dr. Mather’s house where he had taken refuge. The Dr. told them his house was his castle and he should protect his brother Hutchinson.

At last the contest grew so warm that it was not thought safe for Mr. Hutchinson to stay any longer at his sister’s house. The present writer of this account was sent to shew him a private pass, the back way through an alley to the house of Mr. Thomas Edes [1715-1794] father of the late Edwards Edes.

There he remained till six o’clock in the morn when he partook of breakfast with his sister’s family. He conducted like a calm philosopher through the whole scene. After breakfast he whent up to court in his common dress, as his bag wig and robes had been distroyed by the mob. He opened court with a very affecting speach.
Young lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., heard that speech and wrote down one of two versions to survive. According to him, Chief Justice Hutchinson began:
Gentlemen: There not being a Quorum of the Court without me, I am oblig’d to appear.—Some Apology is necessary for my Dress—indeed I had no other. Destitute of every Thing—no other Shirt—no other Garment, but what I have on.—And not One in my whole family in a better Situation than myself. The Distress of a whole family around me, young & tender Infants hanging about me [Hutchinson’s youngest children were eleven and thirteen], are infinitely more insupportable than what I feel for myself, tho’ I am obliged to borrow Part of this Cloathing.
In addition to almost all his household’s clothes, Hutchinson was missing his windows, his furniture, his plate, his family pictures, his wainscotting, his front fence, his official comission as lieutenant governor, £900 sterling, and—perhaps most devastating to a historian—his books and manuscripts. Fortunately for Hutchinson, he had a backup mansion in Milton.

TOMORROW: A street-level view of this riot.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

“The usual Notice of their intention to plunder & pull down an House”

Eleven days after Andrew Oliver resigned as Massachusetts’s collector of the stamp tax on 15 Aug 1765, the Boston crowd mobilized again.

It looks like the Stamp Act was no longer the main grievance on people’s minds on 26 August. Instead, Bostonians were out to chastise other royal officials for holding back the town’s economy. And, with a wave of personal bankruptcies coming on top of the post-war recession, that economy was hurting.

Back in 1760, the Boston Customs office had been rocked by infighting. On one side was a lazy, lenient, and therefore popular official named Benjamin Barons. On the other were a handful of colleagues who collected confidential testimony about Barons’s cozy relationship with Boston merchants and sent it to London.

In early 1764 a ship’s captain named Briggs Hallowell (1728-1778) returned to Boston with news that he’d seen that testimony, and “that the whole body of merchants had been represented as smugglers.” Of course, many of Boston’s merchants were smugglers, but they didn’t want people talking about it. The town meeting had lodged official protests which went nowhere. But the mobbing of Oliver’s house appeared to have produced results—so maybe, people thought, the same treatment could make other royal appointees back off.

Gov. Francis Bernard’s report on that evening presented the action as preconcerted, not spontaneous—which may reflect his prejudices or be entirely accurate. He wrote:
Towards Evning some boys began to light a bonfire before the Town house, which is an usual signal for a Mob: before it was quite dark a great Company of People gathered together crying liberty & property, which is the usual Notice of their intention to plunder & pull down an House.
Barons’s main rival in the Customs office had been Charles Paxton, known for his courtly manners. He was also the office’s point person on writs of assistance in 1761, and he had reportedly sheltered Oliver on 14 August. Paxton, a lifelong bachelor, rented half of a three-story brick house near Fort Hill, putting his elegant furniture conveniently close to the South End gang’s favorite spot for bonfires. So, the governor said:
They first went to Mr Paxton’s House (who is Marshall of the Court of Admiralty & Surveyor of the Port); & finding before it the owner of the House (Mr Paxton being only a Tenant) He assured them that Mr Paxton had quitted the house with his best effects; that the house was his; that he had never injured them; & finally invited them to go to the Tavern & drink a barrel of punch: the offer was accepted & so that House was saved.
Paxton’s landlord was Thomas Palmer (1743-1820), shown above in later life courtesy of Harvard University. He had only recently come of age and come into that building from his father’s estate. He seems to have been a quiet, studious gentleman (here’s his bookplate), not involved in politics. And he did offer everyone punch.

So the crowd left Paxton’s home alone and moved on. There’s some evidence people might have split up at this point, which could suggest either coordination or the opposite, lack of clear leadership. Some went to the house of William Story near the Town House. Just that day Story had placed a notice in the Boston Gazette protesting that he hadn’t advocated for the Stamp Act or given harmful testimony about the merchants. Still, that didn’t save his house from the mob.
As soon as they had drinked the punch, they went to the house of Mr Story, Registrar deputed of the Admiralty, broke into it & tore it all to pieces; & took out all the books & papers among which were all the records of the Court of Admiralty & carried them to the bonfire & there burnt them. They also lookt about for him with an intention to kill him.
Contrary to the governor’s suggestion of homicidal intent, the crowd probably just wanted to cripple the Vice Admiralty Court he helped to maintain. Mobs never targeted Story again. In the next few years he sought higher positions from the Crown, even traveling to London to lobby for an appointment, but got stymied. In the early 1770s Story moved to Ipswich, threw in with the Patriot movement, and became one of the busiest members of the Massachusetts General Court in 1775 and 1776.

Another part of the crowd headed to Hanover Street and the house of Briggs Hallowell’s older brother.
From thence they went to Mr [Benjamin] Hallowell’s, Comptroller of the Customs, broke into his house & destroyed & carried off evry thing of Value, with about 30 pounds sterling in cash. This House was lately built by himself & fitted & furnished with great elegance.
Over the next decade Benjamin Hallowell, Jr., vied with Paxton to be the least popular Customs official in Boston. He was mobbed in one way or another about every two years until the war broke out, and then he even got into a fistfight with a Royal Navy admiral.

Gov. Bernard didn’t deign to mention another victim of the mob, but the 26 August crowd also did some damage at the house of Ebenezer Richardson. Those London documents had revealed how Paxton had paid Richardson to ferret out and inform on smugglers in the early 1760s. By the end of the month, Boston’s Overseers of the Poor sent Richardson and his family back to his home town of Woburn, perhaps for their own safety. But he was just as unpopular there for old reasons, and soon returned to Boston to work for the Customs service openly.

Gov. Bernard ended this portion of his report to London, “But the grand Mischief of all was to come.”

TOMORROW: The mob gets to Lt. Gov. Hutchinson’s house.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Andrew Oliver’s August Resignation

The anti-Stamp Act protest in Boston on 14 Aug 1765, followed that evening by the destruction of Andrew Oliver’s new building and other property, had a quick result: Oliver resigned as stamp agent for Massachusetts.

Oliver told his Connecticut counterpart Jared Ingersoll, who had visited Boston just a few days before, that he’d “stood the attack for 36 hours—a single man against a whole People, the Government not being able to afford me any help during that whole time.”

I’m not sure Oliver’s resistance quite totals to “36 hours.” That would have been from dawn on 14 August, when his effigy on Liberty Tree became apparent, to the evening of the 15th. Oliver resigned, according to his own writing, on that afternoon.

In the third, posthumously published volume of his history of Massachusetts, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson described his friend’s decision:

Several of the council gave it as their opinion, Mr. Oliver being present, that the people, not only of the town of Boston, but of the country in general, would never submit to the execution of the stamp act, let the consequence of an opposition to it be what it would. It was also reported, that the people of Connecticut had threatened to hang their distributor [Ingersoll] on the first tree after he entered the colony; and that, to avoid it, he had turned aside to Rhode Island.

Despairing of protection, and finding his family in terror and great distress, Mr. Oliver came to a sudden resolution to resign his office before another night, and immediately signified, by a writing under his hand, to one of his friends, that he would send letters, by a ship then ready to sail for London, which should contain such resignation; and he desired that the town might be made acquainted with it, and with the strong assurances he had given, that be would never act in that capacity.
Oliver’s decision took Hutchinson by surprise, suggesting it came after he left the Council meeting. On 20 Aug 1765 the lieutenant governor wrote, “This resolution he took without my knowing any thing of it & yet I was charged with advising him against it.”

Gov. Francis Bernard told the story differently on 16 August:
In the Afternoon of Yesterday, sevral Gentlemen applied to Mr. Oliver, to advise him to make a publick declaration, that he would resign the Office, & never act in it; without which they said, his House would be immediately destroyed, & his Life in continual Danger. Upon which he was obliged to authorise some Gentlemen to declare in public, that he would immediately apply for leave to resign, & would not act in the Office, (as indeed it was impossible for him to do) until he received further Orders. This satisfied the Leaders; but the lower Part of the Mob were not so easily pacified. 
However, Bernard appears to have skipped town before any of that happened (it’s not in the part of the letter he composed on the evening of 15 August), so he was reporting hearsay.

Oliver addressed his official resignation to the Treasury Office in London, which oversaw the collection of the stamp duty. He also released the news to “one of his friends,” and then copied out those “terms of Capitulation” for Ingersoll:
Mr. Oliver acquaints Mr. Waterhouse that he has wrote to the Lds. of the Treasury, to desire to be excused from executing the Office of Distributor of the Stamps: and that when they arrive he shall only take proper care to secure them for the Crown, but will take no one Step for distributing the same at the time appointed by the Act. And he may inform his friends accordingly.

Thursday Afternoon, 15th. August.
Why did Oliver make Samuel Waterhouse the recipient of this letter? Waterhouse was only a private merchant (he joined the Customs office in 1772). Oliver might have chosen him for two reasons:
  • Waterhouse wrote a lot of newspaper essays supporting the royal government, so he knew how to get news into the press. (Indeed, the resignation was reported in the papers on 19 August.)
  • Oliver was giving Waterhouse a heads-up that the office of stamp agent was soon to be vacant in case he wanted to apply for it himself.
The Whigs in town considered the second possibility serious enough that the following February Oliver had to publicly declare that he hadn’t meant that at all. By then he’d had to resign again—but I’ll get to that in December.

TOMORROW: The mob turns out again.