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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Friday, January 30, 2015

Cyrus Baldwin Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Chris Hurley continues the story of Woburn’s own Baldwin brothers and their unsellable tea.

The story to date: Three weeks after the dumping of the tea in Boston harbor, Cyrus Baldwin, merchant of Boston, and his brother Loammi, gentleman farmer of Woburn, tried to smuggle safely transport tea through Charlestown. A shady “Committee of Suspicion” confiscated and destroyed the tea. In a letter now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Cyrus sought redress from the Charlestown Committee of Correspondence.

His letter wasn’t the only one. Four of the five members of Woburn’s Committee of Correspondence also wrote to their counterpart committee in Charlestown, all on behalf of their fifth member—Loammi Baldwin (shown here). After a bit of circumlocution framed in patriotic rhetoric, their letter starts to get specific:

Som* violent measures we know have been rendered necessary, in order to make a proper Stand against those incroachments that have been made upon our Liberties—But the measures that we would now draw your attention to, we look upon as violent, unjust, & cruel.
The Woburn writers then relate the attack on Loammi Baldwin’s ox-cart and teamster, and the confiscation of Cyrus Baldwin’s tea, but pointedly omit Cyrus Baldwin’s name and sibling relationship to Loammi. In fact, they attempt to distance Loammi, themselves, and Woburn as a whole from the tea itself.
[Loammi Baldwin’s] Team was stopped on the King’s highway, in sd Town; his Teamster abused—his Cart robed of several articles, belonging to him, And at the same time about 26 lbs of Tea, not belonging to him, nor any man in this Town—but only to be conveyed for a Gentleman, by his favour, to some distant place.
Ah, so the tea may not have been bound for Woburn after all. It could have been going anywhere. The letter tries to play off the privileged status of the gentility as exempt from interference by commoners. The Woburn letter ends framing their desire for compensation to the Baldwin’s as being one with the cause of liberty, declaring:
We Trust you will by no means encourage or connive at such Conduct as this, which is so dishonorary and predudicial to the Cause in which we are engaged—but will use your influence to detect & punish the aggressors—and will indeavour that proper compensation be made to the Sufferers.
Charlestown replied—first to the Woburn committee, then to Cyrus—with polite “get lost” letters. Here are excerpts from the Charlestown committee’s copies of those two letters:
We conceive, when the Town appointed us to this honorable Trust, they expected that we should attend to such Grievances of a publick Nature only as there was no legal Remedy for. . . . We can no Means suppose ourselves authorized to interfere in private Matters, where the legal Remedy is plainly pointed out. As to the Fact refer’d to in your letter, this is the first authentick Intelligence we have had of it, a Rumour has prevailed, that something of that kind had taken Place.
They then cast doubt on the honesty of Loammi’s teamster and chided Loammi:
It is generaly doubted whether the Teamster was ever assaulted or not. Nay if he was assaulted there is no reason to suppose any of the Inhabitants of this Town were concerned in it.

But this we dare affirm, that either the Teamster Who relates the Matter, or the Persons who are said to have attacked him, were guilty of an infamous Falsehood, in declaring that they were employed in this Business by Charlestown. . . . We are extremly sorry, that Mr. Baldwin at this trying Time after the Body of the People at Boston had resolved “that the Use of Tea was improper & pernicious” should become a Carrier of that detested Article.
Concluding with:
We can take no Notice of this Matter. Whenever the Committee of Correspondence for the Town of Woburn have any thing to communicate to us, which falls within our Province, we will chearfully attend to it. ———— And with sincere Attachement to the Cause of Liberty, your humble Servants
And be sure not to let the door hit you on the way out, Woburn.

What about that asterisk in Woburn’s letter, shown in the first quoted passage above? It led to a footnote which read simply, “Ed. Andrus.” Edmund Andros had been deposed as governor of the Dominion of New England in a popular rebellion in 1689. Interesting that Woburn went back as far as that as an illustration of necessary “violent measures.” I take that as a signal that in early 1774 the town was ready to support another insurrection, if called for. But obviously the Charlestown committee thought that destroying a barrel of tea was acceptable as well.

TOMORROW: More woes for Cyrus Baldwin.

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