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, October 17, 2011

“I have often wished the dissolution of the present Town House”

During yesterday’s ceremony at Old South, I got into a discussion about the spectators’ gallery added to the House chamber in the Town House (now the Old State House) in the 1760s. For the first time the Massachusetts public had a formally designated area for watching their elected representatives at work.

I mentioned a letter about that subject which is now at Harvard’s Houghton Library, written by Dr. Thomas Young to John Wendell on 23 Nov 1766. That was soon after Young, originally from the Albany region, had moved to Boston. He told Wendell, “My Family arrived safe last week all well and I am settled perhaps for life if the people please me.”

Wendell apparently sent Young a report or drawing of the gallery in the legislative chamber. Young replied:
The Gallery so much drew my attention that I have often wished the dissolution of the present Town House on condition we might (at a very considerable expence) have a Structure equal to the most finished playhouse for the conveniency of all that chose to attend the Debates of the house. . . tho’ they cou’d not thunder from the Rostrum [they] wou’d inform [?] and instruct from the Press whence such light might frequently arise as shou’d cause the path of many an honest Senator to appear plain, who might otherwise grope in darkness on many critical subjects hastily controverted in the wisest Assembly.
Why, that’s practically democratic!

Young was clearly an outsider in colonial Boston, to write so highly of a “most finished playhouse.” Not to mention doing anything “at a very considerable expence.”


Charles Bahne said...

And it's a historic photo of the Old State House accompanying this post, showing the Boston Massacre marker at its former location on the traffic island.

Daud said...

Thanks for posting this letter! I get inordinately excited when I see something I haven't seen before that mentions the Old State House- and especially a bit of minutia like the viewing gallery.

The fact is, there's still a lot I'd like to know about that gallery, including what it looked like. If Wendel's letter and the drawing ever turn up, I will truly flip out.

Tyson Frantz said...

Totally agree with Daud. This is a great little tidbit on everyone's favorite historic Boston building. (Or at least it's my favorite building!)