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 04, 2007

Scoundrel, Lobster, Bloody Back’d Dog!

A few weeks back, an email from a colleague made me consider what nasty phrases colonial Bostonians used for the British soldiers stationed in their midst in 1768-70 and 1774-76. And who better to record those insults than the men who were their targets? All the following phrases come from depositions that those soldiers dictated to sympathetic ministers or magistrates in mid-1770, as friends of the royal government built a case that the locals had brought the shootings known as the Boston Massacre upon themselves.

  • Capt. Thomas Preston: “you rascals, you bloody backs, you lobster scoundrels.”
  • Sgt. Thomas Smilie: “the most scurrilous & abusive Language..., Such as Blood back Rascal, Red Herring &ca. . . . ‘Damn You Bloody Back Rascals our Town is free, We will have no Soldiers in it but our Selves, which we think better Soldiers than You’.”
  • Sgt. Thomas Light: “Bloody Back Thieving Dogs.”
  • Sgt. Thomas Thornley: “Lobster scoundrels, what business had they there”
  • Sgt. John Ridings: “Lobster and other abusive Names.”
  • Sgt. John Norfolk: “one [John] Ruddock, who said he was a justice of the peace, and expressed the words, Go fetch my broad sword and Fusee and Damn the Scoundrels, let us drive the Bloody backs to their Quarters, Send for my Company of men, for I think we are men enough for them.”
  • Sgt. William Henderson et al.: “there should be no Bloody backs permitted to walk on the Common.”
  • Cpl. Henry Cullen: “Bloody back, Lobster, and Many other provoking Speeches.”
  • Cpl. John Arnold: “go through the dirt like other Lobsters and Scoundrels.”
  • Cpl. John Shelton et al.: “those bloody back’d rascals.”
  • Cpl. Samuel Heale: “offered to shake hands, which Winship insultingly refused to do, saying he would not shake hands with any dirty Rascals like us for fear of Catching the Itch.”
  • Pvt. Richard Ratcliff: “a Lobster Scoundrel Bloodyback dog.”
  • Pvt. John Care: “Lobster and bloody back,...bloody back’d Dogs.”
  • Pvt. Jacob Moor: “Damn’d Lobstering scoundrels,” “lobster and bloody back’d Scoundrel.”
  • Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse: “Scoundrel, Lobster, bloody back’d dog.”
  • Pvt. Cornelius Murphy: “the Common Appelations of Bloodybacks Red Herrings &c.”
To be sure, British soldiers had developed their own talents for invective. Their insults show up in testimony, depositions, and newspaper articles collected and published by the Whigs. But even American sources, given enough distance, acknowledged that locals often insulted the British soldiers. For example, Traits of the Tea-Party (published in Boston in 1835) says:
Mr. [William] Pierce...remembers [Crispus] Attucks...had a large stick in his hand, and that he saw him early in this tumult harassing and abusing the sentry, poking him rather severely with the stick, and calling him a “lobster”—a popular reproach—and swearing that he would have off one of his claws.
But the big mystery here is the son-of-a-bitch that didn’t bark. What insulting word for British soldiers would we expect to find on this list, given how closely it’s identified with this conflict in our history books, but is nowhere to be seen? (And I don’t mean “redcoats,” which isn’t really an insult.)

TOMORROW: A guest blogger explores that mystery.

Thumbnail image above from Jacqamoe’s nice Flickr set of historical reenactors in Britain.


Anonymous said...

I give up - what obvious, derogatory term for British soldiers was missing from the list?

J. L. Bell said...

This one.