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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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meeting John Fleeming

Earlier this year, E. J. Witek shared a three-part profile of John Fleeming, a Scottish printer in Boston during the years before the Revolution. He was the partner of John Mein, another immigrant from Scotland; Mein vociferously supported the royal government in 1768-1770 and was driven out of town. Fleeming never had mobs on his tail, but he was a natural Loyalist and left America in 1776.

Since I find myself unable to leave comments on Ed’s blog, I’m adding some responses to his profile here. On Fleeming’s marriage, Ed wrote:

Somehow, during all of this turmoil, Fleeming managed to find romance and on August 8, 1770, married Alice Church, sister of Dr Benjamin Church, Jr. The wedding took place in Portsmouth, N.H., perhaps to avoid any possible incidents since Fleeming’s flight to Castle William was still very recent. Given Benjamin Church’s prominence as a leader of the Whig camp, the prominence of the Church family in New England, and the fact that John Mein had lampooned  Church as “The Lean Apothecary”, this is an astonishing event.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Massachusetts couples went to Portsmouth and other towns just over the New Hampshire border when they wanted to get married quickly with no questions asked. That doesn’t explain what questions this particular couple wanted to avoid. They were probably too old for parental disapproval, but perhaps there was a child well on the way. Notably, the other inexplicable marriage between vociferously Whig and Loyalist families—that of Ann Molineux and Ward Nicholas Boylston—also took place in New Hampshire.

Mein and Fleeming’s Boston Chronicle got a lot of ads from the Customs office, as well as news tips about which merchants were importing goods in possible violation of their boycott agreement. After that newspaper closed, Fleeming continued to cultivate that source of patronage:
He remained the stationer to the Customs Board and attempted to gain the printing contract as well. But he faced the determined resistance of John Green and Joseph Russell, the publishers of The Boston Weekly Advertiser who had been very supportive of the British Government and the Tory cause.
O. M. Dickerson’s 1951 article “British Control of American Newspapers on the Eve of the Revolution” explains how the Customs office contracts helped keep Green and Russell’s newspaper, usually called the Boston Post-Boy, and the Chronicle afloat. (Of course, Edes and Gill of the radical Boston Gazette benefited in the same way from being the town government’s favored printer.) Given that patronage relationship, it makes sense that, as Ed reports, Fleeming tried to land a job with the Customs service after his printing business failed.

TOMORROW: Fleeming’s most famous publication, and the man responsible for it.


DCC said...

Do you know of any sources where I can see the ads the Customs placed in the Boston Chronicle? I'm interested in seeing how the British used local media to undermine the patriot's non-importation campaign. Thanks.

J. L. Bell said...

The Massachusetts Historical Society displays an issue of the Boston Chronicle highlighting inside information from the Customs office to show who was importing goods contrary to the town’s boycott. Some of those merchants had never signed the nonimportation agreement, but others had.

I don’t think these reports were formally paid advertisements, but the Customs office apparently did keep Mein’s newspaper afloat with stationery purchases and printing contracts, and in return he strongly supported the royal government.

EJWitek said...

I do not understand why you can't leave any comments on my blog J.L; I assure you it's not personal. Others have left comments. I have had all kinds of problems with blogger to include not being able to access my own blog as the author for several weeks. It's a mystery to me.
I would add a quibble with your statement that Fleeming was never confronted by a mob since he was with Mein on October 28th, 1769 when Mein was confronted by those "angry businessmen." In fact both Mein and Fleeming were armed and drew their pistols. A shot was fired by one of them, most likely by Mein.
And, in January 1770, a New York newspaper reported that:
"On the Evening of the 29th Ultimate Mr------Fleeming, Printer of the Boston Chronicle, was attacked in one of the Streets of that Town, by a Number of Ruffians, who abused him very much; and, 'tis thought, he would have died of his wounds on the Spot, had not a humane Negro, who knew him, taken him up and helped him to his home."

J. L. Bell said...

I know it’s not personal, Ed! I have the same problem on certain other Blogger-hosted blogs. A particular comments set-up just doesn’t work for me and my settings, and I haven’t found a workaround. Which can make it look like I’m not following those blogs when I’m actually reading every word.

When I wrote that Fleeming “never had mobs on his tail,” I meant he wasn’t their target the way Mein was. But I didn’t know about the New York report. Thanks for quoting that!