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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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Richard Palmes Gives More Testimony—and This Time It’s Personal

After providing testimony for an inquest on 6 Mar 1770, apothecary Richard Palmes testified four more times about the Boston Massacre:
  • He provided a deposition for Boston’s official report on the event, titled A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.
  • A polished version of Palmes’s inquest testimony, written in the week after the shootings, appeared in A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston, printed in London in response to the Short Narrative. Palmes’s original text was broken up into sentences with standardized punctuation, but only one small detail was added.
  • Palmes was a (probably reluctant) defense witness at Capt. Thomas Preston’s trial.
  • He was a prosecution witness in the soldiers’ trial.
Furthermore, we have three versions of Palmes’s testimony at Preston’s trial:
Palmes formatted his account in question-and-answer form, like the recently published transcript of the soldiers’ trial, but that text also broke off for the note “as per Narrative,” referring to the Boston report. Thus, it’s unclear whether those questions and answers were really based on contemporaneous records or if Palmes wrote out what he remembered (or wanted to remember) months later. He didn’t present his whole testimony, just the portion about whether Preston might have ordered his men to shoot into the crowd.

As for the soldiers’s trial, the situation is even more complicated. Palmes’s testimony survives in four forms:
  • brief notes from the same report to London mentioned above.
  • trial notes from defense attorney John Adams.
  • the transcript of the proceedings by shorthand expert John Hodgson, published by John Fleeming.
  • Palmes’s own version, published in the 25 Mar 1771 Boston Gazette, with specific complaints about Hodgson’s accuracy.
There’s an old saying that a person with one watch always knows what time it is, and a person with two watches never does. A historian with one source can report what people said; a historian with two sources can’t.

TOMORROW: The points Palmes wanted to emphasize.

1 comment:

Pacificus said...

It's interesting you mention Neil L. York and his book in this post. He was my professor at BYU for my American Revolution history class, and he's actually the person who introduced me to your blog.