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, October 28, 2009

Stand-off at Captain Malcom’s

And speaking of Paul Revere, as I did yesterday, here’s his sworn testimony about what he saw outside Capt. Daniel Malcom’s house in Boston’s North End on 24 Sept 1766, in the form of a deposition copied and sent to London:

I Paul Rivere of lawfull age testifieth and Sayeth that as I the Subscriber on Wednesday 24th Septr last between 3 and 4 oClock post meridium was going to the north part of the Town I saw a number of men I believe above fifty standing near the Revd Mr. Mathews [sic—Samuel Mather’s] meeting house and in the lane leading to the North Grammar School

I went up to some of them and asked why they were standing there

they told me they understood the Custom House Officers were agoing to break open Capt. Malcom’s house to search for some casks of Wine that had been run,

I stopt some time I believe about an hour and asked where the Officers where [i.e., were]

they told me they were gone to get assistance from some Justices of the Peace, soon after Capt. Benjn Hallowell [Comptroller of the Customs in Boston] came (I thought he looked very angry)

a number of Gentlemen gathered round him, soon after Mr. [justice of the peace John] Tudor came and then Mr. Sheriff [Stephen] Greanleaf, I saw a number of People gather round him but I did not hear any of their discourse only Mr. Greanleaf asked them if they would assist him in the discharge of his Office

I think I heard Mr. Benjn. Goodin say he would assist him out of doors but would not go into Capt. Malcom’s house.

While I was there I did not see any officer go near Capt. Malcom’s house if they had they might have spoken to Capt. Malcom for as I passed by Capt. Malcom’s house going down the land to Mr. [justice of the peace Joseph?] Gardner I saw Capt. Malcom look through the Window

I am certain the people that were gathered there had not any intent to hinder the officers in the discharge of their duty but would have protected them all that lay in their power

I did not hear that the old North bell was to ring nor that Capt. Malcom had encouraged any person to come to his Assistance, and while I tarred there the people behaved with decency and good order.

Paul Rivere
So there were at least fifty men standing around watching the Customs officers closely, Revere recalled. But that was in no way an attempt to interfere with or intimidate those officers, or any local officials they summoned to help them under writs of assistance.

And as for rumors that the crowd would ring the Old North Meeting-house bell to summon an even bigger crowd, Revere and his fellow deponents insisted those were just rumors, or something only schoolboys were saying, or words that had been misunderstood, or...

Eventually, Justice Tudor told the Customs officers that evening was coming on, when their writ would expire, so they might as well go home. The boys who were watching for a riot had to content themselves with razzing Ebenezer Richardson, who they assumed had informed on Malcom and his tenant, “for the great Prize he’d got.”

This posting was prompted by Caitlin G. D. Hopkins’s tribute to Capt. Malcom, who died in 1769. While this stand-off outside his house cemented Malcom’s reputation as a fervent Son of Liberty, we can’t be sure sure that he would have broken with London in the end. He was an Anglican, and his brother John actually worked for the Customs service at another port.

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