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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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Attack on Henry Hulton's House

Yesterday's post described the arrival of Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton (1731-1790) in Boston in 1767, and his opinion of the locals in early 1770. His attitudes weren't improved by the attack on his house later that year. The following account comes from a memoir that Hulton wrote after returning to England, which is now in the manuscripts library at Princeton.

That same night of the 19th. June 1770, after my family were all in bed in my house at Brooklyn [i.e., Brookline] (which was a dwelling in the Country, at some distance from any other) I was waked out of my sleep, with a gentle tapping at the Door of the house, on which I got up, & enquired who was there, a voice answered, I have a letter from Mr. H., from the Grenades [i.e., the Grenadines islands], which came by the express from New York this Morning, upon which I desired him to wait a little, & I wou’d come down.

Having slipt on my breeches and waistcoat, I took my Sword in my hand, & being cautious of opening the House door, I went to the parlour Window, & having opened the shutter a man stood there.

I asked him for the letter, & opened the Window a little. He said I have a letter indeed & advanced, puting his Hands out, with an intent to lift up the sash, upon which I clapt it down, & he instantly struck two violent blows at me, with a bludgeon, which broke the upper part of the Window, frame & all, but resting on the middle part did not touch me.

No sooner had he given the first blow, then all the windows round were broke in the same manner, by people placed at each of them. The family immediately rose in the greatest consternation, and Mrs. H opening the Window shutter in her room, had a large stone thrown at her which happily missed her.

Imagining the people wou’d break into the house, & seek to murther me, I ran to the Servants room, at the head of the back Stairs with my sword in my hand, leaving two Servant Men at the bottom. The People without, kept uttering Oaths & execrations for some time, swearing, "dead or alive we will have him," but at length they withdrew, and I soon after retired to a Neighbours house till day light, and passed the following day at Mr. John Apthorps at Little Cambridge [i.e., Allston].

Mrs. H and myself not thinking it safe to return home, we remained at his house for two nights, and hearing that Mr. Burch with his family was gone to the Castle, we came home the following morning, & carried the Children & part of the family from Brooklyn to the Castle [i.e., Castle William, a fort in Boston harbor].
Henry and Elizabeth Hulton had two young sons at the time, Thomas (about to turn three) and Henry, Jr., (thirteen months).

Hulton's sister Ann blamed another Customs Commissioner, Sir John Temple, for instigating the attack, and one of Boston's most eminent clergymen for excusing it:
I believe its very true, that the Sunday after my Bror was attacked in his own house, wth apparent design upon his Life, after we were gone to the Castle—Dr. Ch—cy [Rev. Dr. Charles Chauncy, minister at Boston's First Meeting] preached a Sermon on that occasion & told his people plainly out of the Pulpit, that the Commissr broke his own windows, to cast an odium on the Country & the next day this Rev Dr went all about, impressg this opinion on the People. . . .

...it was actualy believed by two thirds of the People in Boston, Untill those of our Township of their own accord, exerted 'emselves to bring the matter to light, Several Evidences before a Justice of Peace, who swore to meeting the Villains disguised upon the Road & that they enquired the way to Mr H: house, nay the Evidences went so far as naming particular persons upon which they were Stop’d & privately threatned that if they proceeded further in Information they sho’d suffer, so there the enquiry ended.
Personal attacks on high-born royal officials were rare in pre-Revolutionary times—the infamous tar-and-feathers attacks were almost all aimed at lower-level, lower-class Customs employees. But there was a long tradition of mobbing unpopular gentlemen's houses. Was that what this mob originally set out to do? Or did they actually aim to assault Hulton personally?

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