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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Monday, December 18, 2017

Why Wasn’t Henry Knox at the Boston Tea Party?

Considering how many families and authors have made claims for particular men to have participated in the Boston Tea Party, and how lionized Henry Knox has been since the Centennial, it’s surprising that no one’s made a claim that he helped to destroy the tea as well.

Instead, we have a plausible tradition that Knox was on Griffin’s Wharf on 15 Dec 1773, the night before the Tea Party.

That story first appears, so far as I can tell, in a series of essays titled “Recollections of a Bostonian” which ran in the Columbian Centinel starting in 1821.

One speaks in an interesting fashion about how the public memory of that protest had faded nearly fifty years afterward, a decade before the first book about George R. T. Hewes prompted Boston to celebrate the event:
There have been some doubts concerning the destruction of the tea on the 16th of December, 1773. The number of the ships, and the place where they were situated is not quite certain.—One gentleman, now living, over 70 years of age, thinks they were at Hubbard’s wharf, as it was then called, about half way between Griffin’s (now Liverpool) and Foster’s wharf, and that the number of ships was four or five.

Another gentleman, who is 75 years of age, and who was one of the guard detached from the new grenadier company, says that he spent the night, but one, before the destruction of the tea, in company with gen. Knox, then a private in that company, on board of one of the tea ships; that this ship lay on the south side of Russell’s wharf; and that there were two more on the north side of the same wharf, and he thinks one or two at Griffin’s wharf.

A gentleman now living, who came from England in one of the tea ships, thinks there were but two, but he is uncertain where they lay.

A song, written soon after the time, tells of “Three ill-fated ships at Griffin's wharf.” [I’ve found no other trace of this song.]

The whole evidence seems to result in this, there were three ships—but whether at Russell’s or Griffin’s wharf, or one or more at each, is not certain. The number of chests destroyed was, according to the news-papers of the time, 342.
(As Charles Bahne pointed out here, the number stated in East India Company inventories was 340.)

Henry Knox was indeed a member of “the new grenadier company” added to the Boston militia regiment in 1772. In fact, he was a founder of that company. That means he wasn’t “a private” but an ensign and then, by the time of the Tea Party, a lieutenant. But perhaps on the night of 17 Dec 1773 Knox was acting as a private, standing sentry like other men.

After all, that militia company had not been officially called out by the governor. Rather, Bostonians had decided on their own authority to patrol the docks and prevent the tea from being landed. At first the public meetings recruited volunteers ad hoc. After a few nights of that, leaders decided it would be a lot easier if the militia company commanders took turns calling for volunteers from their ranks.

Another, probably independent mention of the grenadier company taking a turn on the docks appeared in the Merchants’ Magazine in 1849:
Mr. Joseph Peirce, although a merchant of Boston, had, prior to the outbreak of the Revolution, organized a company of grenadiers, which he continued to command with Henry Knox, afterward Gen. Knox, as lieutenant, down to the day on which the tea was cast into Boston harbor. . . .

Capt. Peirce was in charge of the tea ships as guard on the night previous to the appearance of those world-renowned “Indians,” of whom his brother John was one. That event brought about the dissolution of the corps; but the friendship then formed between Gen. Knox and Mr. Peirce existed uninterruptedly to the death of the former, in 1806.
It’s not clear what that article meant by saying the Tea Party “brought about the dissolution of the corps.” Mills and Hicks’s almanac for 1775 still listed the grenadiers among the town’s militia units, Peirce and Knox among its officers. Perhaps the article meant that the Crown response to the Tea Party led to the British army’s clampdown on militia activity in 1775, the war, Knox’s departure, and the rest of history. Or perhaps the author was very confused.

In any event, there appears to be a strong tradition reaching us through two sources that Henry Knox helped to watch over the tea ships on the night before the Tea Party. So perhaps on the fateful night he was home resting.

Meanwhile, the artillery company or “train” had its turn patrolling the docks on 16 December—so those men, such as Ebenezer Stevens, John Crane, Samuel Gore, and Moses Grant, got to toss tea into the harbor. Some of them later served under Gen. Knox during the war.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

How Peter Slater Snuck Out to the Tea Party

Here’s another early insider’s account of the Boston Tea Party—made public only fifty-eight years after the event.

This account appeared in the obituary for Peter Slater, who died in Worcester in 1831. It was first published in the Newburyport Herald on 18 October and Slater’s home-town newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, on 19 October, and then reprinted with small changes in the November issue of the New-England Magazine:
Captain Slater was one of those persons who disguised themselves and threw the Tea overboard in Boston harbor, in December, 1773. He was then but a boy—an apprentice to a Rope maker, in Boston.

He attended the meeting of the citizens of Boston at the Old South Church, in the afternoon, where the question was agitated relative to the landing of the tea, and some communications were made to [Francis] Rotch, the consignee of the cargoes. His master, apprehensive that something would take place relative to the tea then in the harbor, took Peter home and shut him up in his chamber.

He escaped from the window, went to a Blacksmith’s shop, where he found a man disguised, who told Peter to tie a handkerchief round his frock, to black his face with charcoal and to follow him—the company soon increased to about twenty persons.

Captain Slater went on board the Brig [the Beaver] with five others—two of them brought the tea upon deck—two broke open the chests and threw them overboard—and Captain Slater with one other, stood with poles to push them under water. Not a word was exchanged between the parties from the time they left Griffin’s wharf till the cargo was emptied into the harbor, and they returned to the wharf and dispersed. This is the account of that memorable event as given by Capt. Slater.

He afterwards served five years as a soldier in the Revolution. He was a firm patriot, a brave soldier, a valuable citizen and an honest man.
Slater was born in 1760, thus thirteen years old at the time of the Tea Party and (contrary to the claim on his gravestone, above) seventy-one when he died. Though he was one of the youngest people who helped to destroy the tea, that wasn’t his first participation in political violence: he’d already been involved in the brawls that led up to the Boston Massacre.

Like Joshua Wyeth and Benjamin Simpson, who spoke for attribution about their experiences at the Tea Party in the late 1820s, Slater had moved out of Boston, and thus away from the ethos that kept such stories private. And of course by the time his account made it into print, he was dead.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The “Rally, Mohawks” Song of the Tea Party

In an address titled “Reminiscences of the Green Dragon Tavern,” delivered to the St. Andrew’s Lodge in 1864 and published in 1870, Charles W. Moore stated:
I have looked in vain for a copy of an old revolutionary song said to have been written and sung as a “rallying song” by the “tea party” at the Green Dragon. The following fragment, though probably not in all respects an exact transcript of the original, will indicate its general character:—
Rally, Mohawks!—bring out your axes!
And tell King George we’ll pay no taxes
On his foreign tea!
His threats are vain—and vain to think
To force our girls and wives to drink
His vile Bohea!
Then rally boys, and hasten on
To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.

Our Warren’s there, and bold Revere,
With hands to do and words to cheer
For Liberty and Laws!
Our country’s “Braves” and firm defenders,
Shall ne’er be left by true North-Enders,
Fighting Freedom’s cause!
Then rally boys, and hasten on
To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.
I regret not being able to give the balance of this song, but perhaps some curious antiquary may hereafter discover it, if it ever appeared in print. I am inclined to think, however, that it was a doggerel made for the occasion, and passed away when it ceased to be of use, or appropriate. The two stanzas I have re-produced, are given as nearly as my memory serves, as they were often recited more than a third of a century ago, by the late Bro. Benjamin Gleason, who, born near the time, was curious in gathering up interesting reminiscences of the revolutionary period of our history.
No other verses ever surfaced, nor any earlier printed source. Nonetheless, these lyrics were reprinted in Drake’s Tea Leaves, Goss’s Revere, Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston, and many later books to this day.

But are they authentic? Moore could trace them only to “more than a third of a century ago,” or about 1830—still more than fifty years separated from the Tea Party. Moore’s source, Benjamin Gleason, was a Grand Lecturer for the Freemasons. He was born in Boston in 1777—four years after the Tea Party. So what we have here is at least third-hand, passed on orally.

The internal evidence gives good reason to doubt that the men involved in destroying the tea sang these words that night. Why would people before or shortly after committing an illegal act declaim where they were meeting (“at the Green Dragon”) and who their leaders were (Dr. Joseph Warren and Paul Revere)?

There are more anachronisms:
  • As I wrote back here, it took years for Americans to make “Mohawks” the standard label for the tea destroyers.
  • In the Revolutionary turmoil, Boston’s political leaders tried to tamp down rivalries between different parts of the town, so they would discourage mentioning “true North-Enders” alone.
  • The American Patriots didn’t treat “King George” as their main villain until 1776.
The lyrics strongly hint that they were written decades after the Revolution, when Warren and Revere’s memory had eclipsed those of William Molineux, Dr. Thomas Young, and other street leaders of 1773. The Freemasons in the Green Dragon Tavern had particular reason to honor Warren and Revere, who had been leaders of their lodge.

As shown by John Johnson’s picture of the Green Dragon above, Boston’s post-Revolutionary Freemasons celebrated the link between their lodge and the destruction of the tea. Older members of that lodge knew Warren, and even younger men like Gleason probably knew Revere, who lived to 1818. And I think one of those men composed this song to honor their forebears’ actions—not to rally men behind them in 1773.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Assessing Benjamin Simpson’s Tale of the Tea Party

Yesterday I quoted Benjamin Simpson’s account of the Boston Tea Party, as he reportedly wrote it in 1828 and as it was published in 1830.

That’s one of the earliest descriptions of the event from someone who said he participated in destroying the tea. Men who remained in Boston must have talked about what they did, but they kept those accounts out of print. Simpson lived in Saco, Maine, so he might not have felt so much pressure to conform to follow that model.

According to a genealogy published in the Bangor Historical Magazine in 1891, Simpson was born in York, Maine, to Joshua and Maria Simpson on 2 Jan 1755. He was their first child, born four months after their marriage.

Simpson applied for a pension as a Revolutionary War veteran twice under different laws, in 1820 and 1833. Those documents described his military service in the Massachusetts militia and the Continental Army, including a stretch at Valley Forge, between 1775 and 1779. In those applications he didn’t mention destroying the tea, but that wasn’t germane.

Evidently something happened in 1828 that caused Simpson to write down his story about the tea. Perhaps he read accounts of Joshua Wyeth of Cincinnati. Wyeth was probably the first to speak to a newspaper-man about helping to destroy the tea, and he came up with the label “Tea Party” (for the participants, not the event). Like Simpson, Wyeth had moved away from Boston.

Simpson left behind some other documents about his life. One is a diary written from 1781 to 1849, the year of his death; that’s held by the Dyer Library in Saco. Scholars have used it to study the patterns of labor in the area and the sect that Simpson joined in 1818, the Cochranites. Neighbors respected Simpson, electing him to town offices.

To participate in the Tea Party, Simpson had to have been in Boston in December 1773, and the surviving records don’t indicate when or why he left his family in York. He didn’t name the bricklayer he was apprenticed to. I haven’t been able to locate Simpson in pre-war Boston, but as an apprentice he wouldn’t have shown up in many public records.

Simpson’s pension file indicates that he was back in York when the war began. Two other Tea Party participants in the building professions, carpenters John Crane and Ebenezer Stevens, also left Boston after the event, either out of fear of being arrested or because the Boston Port Bill meant there was more work elsewhere.

Simpson’s account suggests he was in the gallery of the Old South Meeting-House during the final tea meeting—he describes what people in the gallery were calling out as Francis Rotch reported his frustrating trip to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house in Milton.

“We repaired to the wharf where the ships lay,” Simpson wrote. That was an impromptu act; he wasn’t part of the small group that had prepared to board the ships in disguise. He saw “a number of men came on the wharf, (with the Indian powaw).” That last word could mean either a gathering of Natives or a leader of them, and in this case Simpson indicated the latter. It would be nice if he had offered more detail about how that man was dressed, but the brief phrase indicates that leaders of the action had indeed disguised themselves in some way as Indians while other participants hadn’t.

Simpson correctly recalled that one of the vessels was a “brig,” the other two “ships” in eighteenth-century terms. He noted how the brig still carried other cargo besides tea, unlike the two ships. He described a detail that appears in other sources as well: at low tide, the water was so shallow that the heaps of tea began to build up beside the vessels. Teen-aged apprentices had to climb overboard and sweep the leaves into the water to ensure nothing drinkable survived.

There are small glitches in Simpson’s account. He called Rotch the captain of the first tea ship rather than one of its owners. He wrote, “I was then 19 years old, am now 75.” He was three weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday during the Tea Party and seventy-three in 1828. But those are minor matters. All in all, Simpson’s story seems reliable. He wasn’t part of planning the event, but he was there.

(Confusing matters a little, another man named Benjamin Simpson moved from Massachusetts to Maine about the same time. He is said to have been born in Groton, married Sarah Shattuck in Boston in 1781, and settled in the town of Winslow in 1789. This Simpson died in 1839; accounts differ about his age. His family believed he had not only been in the Battle of Lexington and Concord but “took an Englishman prisoner” that day, and also saw action at Bunker Hill. But no Tea Party connection.)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Benjamin Simpson and the “Destruction of Tea in Boston”

On 10 Nov 1828, a prosperous farmer in Saco, Maine, wrote out his recollections of an event in Boston fifty-five years earlier:

Destruction of Tea in Boston, Dec. 16, 1773.

I was then an apprentice to a bricklayer, when two ships and a brig, with tea on board, arrived at Boston, with heavy duties, which the Bostonians would not consent to pay. The town being alarmed at such proceedings, called town-meetings day after day, night after night.

The captain of the first ship that arrived [actually Dartmouth owner Francis Rotch], went from the town-meeting, to the governor [Thomas Hutchinson] to see if he would give his ship a passport out by Castle Island. At his return in the evening (the town waiting the result of the application,) he was asked the governor’s answer, which was that he should not grant a pass unless she was well qualified from the Customhouse.

After the captain reported this answer to the meeting, a voice was heard in the gallery, hope she will be well qualified. The captain was then asked if he would take charge of the ship and carry her out of Boston, notwithstanding the refusal of the governor; to which he answered, No. (A whistle in the gallery—call to order.) The meeting was then declared to be dissolved, (in the gallery, Every man to his tent!)

We repaired to the wharf where the ships lay. I went on board one or both ships, but saw no person belonging to them. In a few minutes a number of men came on the wharf, (with the Indian powaw,) went on board the ships then lying at the side of the wharf, the water in the dock not more than two feet deep. They began to throw the tea into the water which went off with the tide till the tea grounded.

We soon found there was tea on board the brig [Beaver]; a demand being made of it, the captain told us the whole of his cargo was on board; that the tea was directly under the hatches, which he would open if we would not damage any thing but the tea; which was agreed to. The hatches were then opened—a man sent down to show us the tea, which we hoisted out, stove the chests, threw tea and all overboard. Those on board the ships, did the same.

I was on board the ships when the tea was so high by the side of them as to fall in; which was shovelled down more than once. We on board the brig were not disguised. I was then 19 years old, am now 75.

Benjamin Simpson.
That reminiscence was published by the Portland Weekly Advertiser on 17 Apr 1849 in its obituary for Simpson. He had died on 23 March at the age of 94.

The same words, with different punctuation, had already appeared in George Folsom’s 1830 History of Saco and Biddeford. But the newspaper editors felt certain they had Simpson’s recollection in his own handwriting.

Simpson and his Revolutionary history were well known in Saco. Back in 1835 the Daily Advertiser had pointed out that George R. T. Hewes, then being feted in Boston, was not the only survivor of the Boston Tea Party since Simpson “enjoys very good health, and retains all his faculties.”

TOMORROW: Assessing Simpson’s story.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Mystery of “Mucius Scævola”

Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy started to publish the essays of “Mucius Scævola” on 30 May 1771, four months after Joseph Greenleaf advertised his property in Abington for sale.

That summer there was a dispute over which Boston printer got the contract to publish the graduating Harvard class’s theses—Richard Draper of the established and government-friendly Boston News-Letter or Thomas of the Spy. Thomas won, which sparked a little newspaper war. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts published a whole article about that dispute, which it’s made available here.

On 8 Aug 1771 the News-Letter offered an essay which described the men behind “the dirty Spy” this way:

What a wretched Triumvirate! a poor shiftless erratic Knight from Abington, a dunghill-bred Journeyman Typographer, and a stupid phrensical Mountebank
Thomas was the “Typographer.” The “Mountebank” was almost certainly Dr. Thomas Young, who many people agreed was writing for the Spy under the name “Leonidas” and was well known for this enthusiasms in both medicine and politics. And the “Knight from Abington” could only be Joseph Greenleaf—it wasn’t that big a town.

The 15 August Spy carried a couple of replies. One insisted that “neither Joseph Greenleaf, Esq; Doctor Thomas Young, nor Mr. Isaiah Thomas” had been involved in composing a statement from the graduating Harvard students. But that’s different from denying that those men were connected to the Spy. In fact, Greenleaf and Thomas had become business partners of some sort.

Another reply in the same issue addressed three pseudonymous or anonymous News-Letter essayists this way:
If by ridiculing and sneering at my character, and maliciously defaming me; you think you have offered a sacrifice of a sweet smelling favour in the nostrils of his Excellency [Gov. Thomas Hutchinson], you may possibly be mistaken; he too well knows your views, he also knows that “Nero’s flatterers, were Nero’s assassins.”

I have one favour to ask of you, that is, that you would not lurk priv’ly to take away my reputation; act like veterans; take the field in open day-light, and to use the language of the Cantabrigian, “Lie on,” make yourselves what mirth you please at my expence, bury none of your talents at defamation, only let the world know your names; subscribe your future productions, and let mankind judge of the truth of the charges by the credibility of the accusers of

In his article “Tag-Team Polemics,” published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1995, Neil L. York wrote that this was one of three times that Greenleaf denied having anything to do with the “Mucius Scævola” essays.

That’s not how I read Greenleaf’s reply. He wasn’t denying anything, except that his opponents’ attacks would win them favor with the governor. He challenged his opponents to drop their anonymity. Sure, it would be hypocritical to issue that challenge while continuing to publish under a pseudonym, but Greenleaf didn’t confirm or deny he was “Mucius Scævola.”

Likewise, the other two “denials” never really denied that connection. On 22 November, as I quoted yesterday, Greenleaf disingenuously said that he couldn’t imagine why he had received a summons from the Council after “Mucius Scævola” called the governor a “USURPER.” In the 13 Jan 1772 Boston Gazette, Greenleaf went further in an addendum to a letter about the whole controversy:
P. S. A secret has leaked out, it is said, it was my duty as a magistrate, to have prevented the publication of the Piece signed Mucius Scævola! But I have no such connections with Mr. Thomas or any other Printer, as give me a right to restrain him or them in any publication, though I must confess, that if I had power to restrain the Press, I should have no inclination to hinder Mucius, or even Chronus, or Impavidus, from laying their sentiments before the public.
Greenleaf thus denied “connections with Mr. Thomas”—but only connections which would give him legal authority as a justice of the peace to restrain the press. We know he really was in business with Thomas.

In that postscript Greenleaf wrote of “Mucius” in a way that implied the writer was separate from himself. Likewise, in a 2 Jan 1772 essay in the Spy “Mucius Scævola” reproached Gov. Hutchinson for how he had treated “J. Greenleaf, Esq”:
I argued this point with you in a former paper, and you summoned Mr. Justice Greenleaf to appear before you in council to answer to it. He knew you had again gone beyond your last, and treated your summons as it deserved.
Those remarks certainly imply that Greenleaf didn’t want to be identified as “Mucius Scævola,” but they’re not direct denials.

In Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts, Richard D. Brown accepted the implication of Greenleaf’s Gazette postscript and wrote that the governor went after him because he “had made no attempt to suppress an inflammatory piece by [Dr. Joseph] Warren in Isaiah Thomas’ Spy.” I suspect that mixes up the 1771 controversy with the similar dispute over one of Warren’s essays in 1768, which I noted here. In his recent biography of Warren, Samuel Forman took Brown’s opening to ascribe all the “Mucius Scævola” essays to Warren. I’m not convinced by that reading of the evidence.

Rather, I think Greenleaf’s replies show how carefully he avoided making a direct statement about whether he was “Mucius Scævola.” He played dumb about why the Council would want to see him. He fudged his connection with Thomas. He challenged his opponents to give up their anonymity first. But he never stated that he hadn’t written the essay everyone was talking about, which he could have done at any time if he were really being unjustly accused. Anyone observing political interviews today can see him silently sidestepping the big question he didn’t want to answer.

It’s true that we have no claim from either Greenleaf or Thomas (shown above in old age) that Greenleaf wrote as “Mucius Scævola.” But neither did they or any contemporary ever name someone else as that writer. Thomas did acknowledge that Greenleaf became his partner in some ventures and wrote effective political essays. If those weren’t the “Mucius Scævola” pieces in the Spy, where are they?

The Abington Resolves that Greenleaf penned in 1770 declared that Parliament’s new laws were “a mere nullity” because they didn’t come from proper authority. “Mucius Scævola” called the governor’s decrees “null and void” for the same reason. And in his January 1772 response over his own name, Greenleaf declared the Council’s summons “WHOLLY illegal” and not worth “paying any obedience to.” That was his go-to argument.

Hutchinson and other supporters of the royal government were convinced that Greenleaf was “Mucius Scævola,” even if they couldn’t prove it. For almost two centuries, historians accepted that assessment. No one before Brown ascribed those essays to Dr. Warren. Even York, while writing that Greenleaf denied authorship, treated him as “Mucius Scævola.” And unless more evidence turns up, I’m giving him credit, too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Joseph Greenleaf and “the Council-chamber in Boston”

On 16 Nov 1771, the day after Joseph Greenleaf declined to meet with Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and the Massachusetts Council (on the understandable grounds that his teen-aged son was dying), the Council issued a formal summons for him:
You are required to appear before the Governor and Council, at the Council-chamber in Boston, on Tuesday the tenth day of December next, at ten of the clock in the forenoon, then and there to be examined touching a certain paper called The Massachusetts Spy, published the fourteenth day of November, 1771; whereof you are not to fail at your peril.
Greenleaf’s name didn’t actually appear in that issue of the Spy. The essay that angered the governor was signed “Mucius Scævola,” and Hutchinson was convinced that was Greenleaf’s pen name.

In an article in the 13 Jan 1772 Boston Gazette, Greenleaf laid out his response:
This proceeding alarmed me, as I judged it WHOLLY illegal, for I could have no idea of the legality of erecting a court of INQUISITION in this free country, and could find no form for such a citation in the province law books: My duty to my country therefore forbad my paying any obedience to it, especially as it might hereafter be used as a precedent.

I should be very unwilling to be thought a despiser of the laws of my country, I religiously submit to them all, “not only for wrath, but for conscience sake.” [Romans 13:5] I have not such a mistaken notion of liberty, as to think it consists in a freedom from obligation either to the laws of nature or of the laws of the land: But the freedom I now contend for is, a right of resistance, or rather withholding my obedience, when unlawfully commanded.
Greenleaf had the summons printed in the 22 November Massachusetts Spy. “I know not the design of it, nor why it is sent to me rather than to any body else,” he wrote. That and other Whig newspapers began to run essays in support of him.

On 10 December, Greenleaf didn’t go to the Town House as demanded. (The empty Council Chamber appears above, courtesy of the Old State House Museum.)

The Council minutes for that date therefore stated:
His Excellency having acquainted the Board at their last meeting, that Joseph Greenleaf, Esq; a Justice of the Peace for the county of Plymouth, was generally reputed to be concerned with Isaiah Thomas, in printing and publishing a News-Paper, called the Massachusetts Spy, and the said Joseph Greenleaf having thereupon been summoned to attend the board on this day, in order to his examination touching the same, and not attending according to summons, it was thereupon unanimously advised, that the said Joseph Greenleaf be dismissed from the office of a Justice of the Peace, which advice was approved of and consented to by his Excellency, and the said Joseph Greenleaf is dismissed from the said office accordingly.
That notice was printed in the newspapers. Hutchinson had found a way to punish someone for the essay that called his a “USURPER,” even if he had to take a roundabout route to that result.

Greenleaf’s response in the Boston Gazette was a legal argument that royal commissions couldn’t be repealed that way:
…if a Justice of the Peace may be dismissed from his office, because he refuses to be examined about a common News-Paper by any Court, but one legally impowered to summon and examine him, if he may be dismissed, because he is “supposed by people in general” to be concerned with a Printer, or any other person, that the governor has conceived a dislike to, we are in a pitiable case.
Greenleaf went on to say that losing the job of magistrate “gives me no uneasiness, for by leaving the County where I had jurisdiction [Plymouth], I voluntarily relinquished it.” Yet he insisted, “I still have jurisdiction when I please to take my seat on the bench at the Court of Sessions.” So he wasn’t fired—he quit. And he could take that back any time.

TOMORROW: Was Greenleaf really “Mucius Scævola”?

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Unusual Ambitions of Joseph Greenleaf

As I quoted back here, on 14 Nov 1771 the Massachusetts Spy published an essay signed “Mucius Scævola” that called Gov. Thomas Hutchinson a “USURPER,” which was at least close to sedition. After some effort, the governor convinced his Council to respond to that essay.

That body didn’t summon just Isaiah Thomas, the newspaper’s printer. They also sent a message to Joseph Greenleaf, who in January had put his “30 Acres of choice Land” and “handsome Dwelling-House” in Abington up for sale and moved into Boston—to devote more time to the press.

That was an extraordinary action for an eighteenth-century gentleman. British society had an established social ladder. Journeymen aspired to become independent craftsmen with prosperous workshops, no longer managed by another man. Independent craftsmen aspired to become merchants arranging lucrative ventures, no longer working with their hands. Merchants aspired to become landed gentlemen overseeing large farms, no longer subject to the vagaries of trade because their fortune was now in “real estate.”

Furthermore, British society still considered printing a craft, not a gentleman’s profession. Printers literally got their hands dirty, after all. Even writing for publication was less than genteel. Most upper-class authors published anonymously or under pseudonyms, though their neighbors and rivals often knew the real identities behind those pen names. All told, giving up a rural estate in order to go into publishing looked like a step or two down the social ladder.

When 1770 began, Greenleaf was a country squire—a big man in Abington. He was a justice of the peace for Plymouth County. His had married Abigail Paine, older sister of Robert Treat Paine, thus allying him with some other genteel families in southeastern Massachusetts.

But Greenleaf got excited about Massachusetts’s resistance to Parliament’s new policies. He drafted sixteen resolutions that his town adopted two weeks after the Boston Massacre, laying out a political philosophy that started with “a state of nature” and went on to reject any new taxes “passed in either of the Parliaments of France, Spain, or England” as “a mere nullity”—a striking way of saying that the legislature in London had no authority over the people of Massachusetts.

Abington’s resolutions were published widely. The Essex Gazette ran a letter from New York that said:
The Resolves of those illustrious, and immortal Friends to the RIGHTS OF MEN—The Abington Resolves, have given their Brethren here, INFINITE PLEASURE, and I imagine some others as much Pain.
The same paper also ran a letter from London:
The Abington Resolves are too flaming and rash. They are rather like the transient flashes of passion, than the cool, steady, equal flame of patriotism and liberty…
Either way, Greenleaf seems to have been hooked on imperial political debate. Abington became too small for him.

In 1771, as I said, Greenleaf moved into Boston. What’s more, he made some sort of deal with Isaiah Thomas, the young printer of the Massachusetts Spy. It’s not clear what their arrangement was because the culture of the time didn’t have the occupational category of “publisher”—i.e., someone who finances and manages the printing and selling of a periodical or books without actually operating the press.

The Council stated in December that Greenleaf “was generally reputed to be concerned with Isaiah Thomas, in printing and publishing a News-Paper, called the Massachusett’s Spy.” The following year, the Censor magazine, set up to support the royal government, said Greenleaf was “reputed…to be in Co-Partnership with Mr. Thomas.”

In October 1772, Greenleaf himself advertised that he “carries on the Printing Business with E. Russell.” But that was a footnote to an announcement that he had opened “A STORE, INTELLIGENCE-OFFICE, and VENDUE ROOM,” or auction house, selling imported goods, cloth, “Bristol Beer,” and more. He was presenting himself mainly as an import merchant, with the printing as a side business.

A lot of people then and since nonetheless referred to Greenleaf as a “printer.” I doubt he set type or worked the levers on the press (as demonstrated above by Gary Gregory of the modern Edes & Gill Print Shop). But he definitely worked with Thomas to publish the Spy and later the Royal American Magazine, probably by putting up money and writing and editing copy. In between those ventures he also funded work in Russell’s shop (but not the Censor, both the magazine and Greenleaf were anxious to assure people).

Because of his financial interest in the Spy, Gov. Hutchinson and the Council summoned Greenleaf to discuss the “Mucius Scævola” essay. According to Greenleaf:
On the 15th of November last [i.e., in 1771] I received a polite message from the Governor and Council, by Mr. Baker, desiring my attendance at the Council Chamber, this I have no fault to find with: The distress of my family, on account of a sick child, who died that day, was such that I could not possibly attend, and I excused myself in the most polite manner I was capable of.
Indeed, the 18 November Boston Evening-Post ran a death notice for “Mr. Joseph Greenleaf, jun, in the 18th Year of his Age, Son of Joseph Greenleaf, Esq.”

But Gov. Hutchinson wasn’t satisfied with Greenleaf’s excuse for not coming to the Council chamber. Because he didn’t think the man was simply Thomas’s partner in putting out the Spy. He believed that Greenleaf was “Mucius Scævola.”

TOMORROW: Greenleaf’s claims.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“To prosecute the Printer at Common Law”?

Yesterday I quoted the essay published in the 14 Nov 1771 Massachusetts Spy over the signature “Mucius Scævola.” It attacked Thomas Hutchinson, declaring him to be an illegitimate governor.

(On what grounds? Mostly because Hutchinson was being paid by the London government with revenue from Parliament’s tea tax. But also because he had issued a Thanksgiving proclamation. Such a bad man.)

The Boston Evening-Post reported some people thought this essay “(from its nature, and tendency) is the most daring production ever published in America.”

On the afternoon after it appeared, Gov. Hutchinson summoned the Massachusetts Council to their usual meeting-place in the Town House and laid the issue of the Spy before them. The Councilors debated the crisis until sundown without coming to any conclusion. The next day, they started up again.

The first thing the Council could agree on was to summon the printer of that newspaper, Isaiah Thomas. According to the Boston Gazette, Thomas, “in answer to their summons, told the messenger he was busy in his office and should not attend.”

Someone on the Council then proposed committing Thomas to jail for contempt. But there was no majority for that action—“Whether through the abundant lenity of the honourable Board, or from their having no legal authority in the case, has not yet transpired to us,” the Gazette’s Edes and Gill stated.

About the Council meeting that newspaper concluded, “The final result was, their unanimous advice, to the Governor to order the King’s Attorney to prosecute the Printer at Common Law.” According to Hutchinson, “the attorney general [Jonathan Sewall] thought it so plain a case that no grand jury could, upon their oaths, refuse to find a bill.”

But Hutchinson must have suspected that approach would be doomed. Back in early 1768 his predecessor as governor, Francis Bernard, had tried to take legal action against another newspaper essay, this one penned by Dr. Joseph Warren and published in the Boston Gazette. After getting unsatisfactory responses from both houses of the legislature, Bernard had presented the offending material to a grand jury.

Hutchinson had presided over that hearing in his role as Massachusetts Chief Justice. He had told the jurymen “that they might depend on being damned if they did not find against the paper, as containing high treason.” Nevertheless, the grand jury had refused to return any charges. The governor had no reason to expect citizens in 1771 would do anything different.

Sure enough, the grand jury session in February didn’t go Hutchinson’s way. The foreman asked if the statements in question could be libel if they were true. The Boston Gazette compared the proceeding to the John Peter Zenger case in New York, already a free-press precedent. The jury returned no charges. The royal authorities dropped the case.

Gov. Hutchinson did get the Council to punish someone, however.

TOMORROW: Tracking down “Mucius Scævola.”

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Thomas Hutchinson as “a monster in government”

You might think that getting through November meant the end of the saga of Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s controversial 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation. But he wasn’t that lucky, and neither are we.

On 14 November the actual holiday was still a week away, but the controversy was at its height in newspapers and meetinghouses. Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy published this essay from one of its regular contributors:
If it be true, that the exceptionable clause in the late proclamation, was not proposed by Mr. Hutchinson, but by ONE of the council; yet there it stands, and is nevertheless exceptionable, and must reflect dishonor somewhere, even though it were inadvertently inserted.

It is not denied, even by Mr. Hutchinson’s friends, that the other part of the proclamation was drafted by him: We may consider him then as triumphing over us as SLAVES, or persons who have no priviledges; and though we well knew it would be a piece of mockery, to lead us to the throne of grace, with thanksgivings, for the preservation of privileges, which, by his means, in part, we have been deprived of; yet he thought fit, with the advice of six, out of twenty-eight of his council. (if by HIS CRAFT, could make it their act) to insert it.

We have need of the wisdom of serpents, who are concerned with such rulers; to be considered by them as fools, is irritating; for fools they must think us, if they can imagine that we can complain of loss of liberty in one breath, and with the next solemnly thank God for the preservation of it. What account can be given for such conduct, consistent with common honesty, mankind must judge.

It would give me pain to harbour one thought, that the six members, who it is said voted for the insertion of that impious paragraph, intended thereby to curry favour with the ministry; I cannot indulge such a thought, besides there is no danger that this people will ever receive a council appointed by the KING himself: And certainly it is unlikely, that if the representatives of this people should once adopt such a sentiment of them, that these men should ever again be re-chosen into the council. Mr. Hutchinson may think we are easy, because we have for so long waited for a redress of grievances; but our patience is nearly exhausted. It cannot be that we shall hear much longer, to have our money forced from us.—
(It’s interesting to read that argument about the Council while looking ahead to the popular response to the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774, which created just what this essay said the people of the province wouldn’t stand—“a council appointed by the KING himself.”)
An Englishman should never part with a penny but by his consent, or the consent of his agent, or representative, especially as the money thus forced from us, is to hire a man to TYRANNIZE over us, whom his Master calls our Governor. This seems to be Mr. Hutchinson’s situation; therefore I cannot but view him as a usurper, and absolutely deny his jurisdiction over this people; and am of opinion, that any act of assembly consented to by him, in his pretended capacity as Governor, is ipso facto, null and void, and consequently, not binding upon us. A ruler, independent on the people, is a monster in government; and such a one is Mr. Hutchinson; and such would George the third be, if he should be rendered independent on the people of Great-Britain

A Massachusetts Governor, the King by compact, with this people may nominate and appoint, but not pay. For this support, he must stipulate with the people, and until he does, he is no legal Governor; without this, if he undertakes to rule, he is a USURPER.

It is high time then, my countrymen, that this matter was enquired into, if we have no constitutional Governor, it is time we had one. If the pretended Governor, or Lieut. Governor, by being independent on us for their support, are rendered incapable of compleating acts of government, it is time, I say, that we had a lawful one to preside, or that the pretended Governors, were dismissed and PUNISHED as USURPERS, and that the council, according to the charter, should take upon themselves the government of this province.

This essay attacked Hutchinson personally as a “USURPER” and denied is authority as governor. It also explicitly stated that the king could be deposed on the same grounds, and that might have galvanized Hutchinson more than the attack on himself.

TOMORROW: The governor returns to his Council.