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, February 07, 2012

Thomas Marshall, Tailor and Town Officer

Yesterday I tripped across this webpage from the National Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C., highlighting a portrait from its collection.

The subject is Thomas Marshall (1719-1800), a Boston tailor. That profession included very poor men and rather rich ones. Marshall was on the rich side, as the mere existence of this portrait shows. He served as colonel of the Boston militia regiment and a selectman.

Marshall shows up at a number of notable moments in the town’s Revolutionary history:

  • When angry merchants confronted pistol-wielding printer John Mein during the non-importation arguments of October 1769, Marshall swung at Mein’s back with a handy shovel.
  • Marshall testified about the night of the Boston Massacre in 1770, saying he saw fights between soldiers and locals, and insisting there were no more than 100 people in King Street during the shooting.
  • As a selectmen Marshall stayed in Boston through the siege; at the end, he was one of the officials who helped to convey an unofficial message from Gen. William Howe to Gen. George Washington in March 1776.
The painter was John Singleton Copley, early in his career. His technique hadn’t fully developed, but already he was conveying a sense of individual character.


Daud said...

Another place Mr. Marshall appears is on Paul Revere's crime scene drawing, where his King Street home is labeled next door to the custom house.

I find it amusing that he asserts there were "not more than 100" on the street that night. He seems to suggest that a crowd of 100 is not a large crowd!

J. L. Bell said...

The pattern I've noticed in Whig/Patriot depositions about the Massacre, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and other incidents is that they're usually accurate as far as they go, but they can leave out or downplay unflattering information. They're the truth and nothing but the truth, but they're not always the whole truth.

Unknown said...

So spin is nothing new. No big revelation, but worth remembering. After all, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams did some of their own spin. Five people, a massacre?

Todd Gardner said...

When the massacre took place the population in Boston was approximately 20,000. Five people shot and killed is a massacre and would be completely alarming to such a small and close knit town as Boston.

G. Lovely said...

5 people out of a population of 20,000 would be equivalent to over 150 people today, surely a number that contemporary reporters would call a massacre. Besides, the definition of massacre is "an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people", and the incident on March 5, 1770 could reasonably be called that.

J. L. Bell said...

Way back in the first month of this blog, I calculated that proportional to recorded population the Boston Massacre death toll was on the same scale as the Oklahoma City bombing.

Daud said...

I'm not sure that I agree about people being subject to inflation.

By that argument, modern Bostonians wouldn't be much alarmed if 30 people were killed- since that's the equivalent of only 1 in 1770.

Sure, any violence and loss of life is more deeply felt in a small tightly-knit community- I'll give you that- but trying to assign a mathematical equivalent is going a bit far.

J. L. Bell said...

I landed on the proportionality figure as a way to explain the issue DebbieLynne raised: how five deaths could become a “massacre” that helped to inflame a continent. True, it's not an exact correlation.

Would such a calculation also be useful in communicating how devastating an epidemic might be? Of course, people were much more used to "early" death from disease in that period, so it again wouldn’t be a simple door into the eighteenth-century mindset.