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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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Mr. Josiah Quincy junior then rose”

On this anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, I’m looking at the question of what Josiah Quincy, Jr., said in the Old South Meeting-House during the meeting that led up to that event.

First up, a report to the British government written by someone inside the meetinghouse, evidently there to observe the proceedings and take note of any criminal activity. It appears this report was drafted just a couple of days after the tea was destroyed.

This report described Quincy speaking on 14 December or the morning of the 16th. The meeting was pressing Francis Rotch to order his ship Dartmouth to leave Boston harbor still loaded with tea, as ships’ masters had done in other American ports. Rotch feared the Royal Navy and Customs service would seize the ship for violating a law against leaving port without unloading. (I’ve long wondered what the reason for that law was.) Losing the ship would be a big financial hit for Rotch and his family, so he asked the Boston merchants to buy the ship so they would all run the risk together.

The informer wrote:
Mr. Josiah Quincy junior then rose and said that he thought Mr. Rotch had offered very fair to submit the Vessel to the Appraisement of Merchants and to be a Sharer in the Loss—that it was cruel to put him in the Front of the Battle—that the People ought to be be Sharers with him in the Loss of the Vessel since this was a Business of public Concern—that he himself would give fifty Guineas towards purchasing and sending her back—that he had ever held Humanity as a first Rate Virtue and that Patriotism without Humanity was not true Patriotism etc. with many other Expressions to the like Effect.

As soon as he had finished, one in the Gallery cried out, “You speak Sir very finely, but you don’t shew your Money”—

on which Mr. Quincy replied that whoever suggested that he was bribed, was a Scoundrel, and he averred that he had not directly taken any Money of Mr. Rotch to say thus, which Mr. Rotch also attested, adding that he was much surprized that no Merchant or other of his Fellow Citizens (who might be innocently ensnared as he was) had till then shewn the Generosity to espouse his Cause and offered to share in the Damage he might sustain.
Being written so soon after the event by someone without an obvious bias for or against Quincy, this seems like a highly reliable source. It depicts Quincy as speaking up for someone others perceived as cooperating with the tea tax, and being heckled on that account from the gallery. Even though Quincy was arguing on the basis of what would make the Whigs look fair and humane, he was proposing some sort of compromise, and some people in the hall didn’t want to hear that.

TOMORROW: Quincy’s own words.


Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum said...

Join us tonight as we reenact this iconic moment in American History! The "Body of the People" meeting begins at 6:30pm at Old South Meeting House, then we get into the parade at 7:30 and march down to the waterfront at Atlantic Wharf for the "Destruction of the Tea" at 8:00pm! FREE and open to the public!

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhhhhh.. So jealous! Did anyone go? If so, how was it?

Anonymous said...

...and (I have no idea if this is true, I am only speculating) I think it was illegal for them to leave port without unloading because England wanted its money, and it wanted it from the colonies (because at this point, it was not just about taxes, but submission from the colonies as well), not the ship owners. I think it was illegal merely for extra motivation for ship owners to unload, because if they knew if they didn't, then they would be "footing the bill" on behalf of the colonies themselves...which brings us right back around to your article and Rotch wanting the merchants to split the cost.

Side note:

Has anyone listened to the We The People podcast from the National Constitution Center? It is pretty interesting.

J. L. Bell said...

The British Customs rule against leaving a port without unloading was established well before 1773, when it assumed new importance during the Boston tea crisis. It's hard to see what interest the government would have in making ships unload if the owners of the ships and cargo don't want to. But there would be an interest in the local Customs office, where income depended on traffic and seizures.

J. L. Bell said...

Here's a collection of photographs from this year's Tea Party reenactment for those if us who couldn't be there.

Dan Cornette said...

I think the purpose of the law requiring ships to unlade all goods on board was to curtail smuggling. Unlike modern shipping, trans-Atlantic carriers did not have freight remaining on board (FROB). So all British goods, including the East India Company's tea consignment, shipped into the port of Boston was destined for the New England market. The reason why the tea ships in New York and Philadelphia were allowed to leave with their shipments intact was that they vessels were never entered, i.e., the captain never reached the customhouses to file their paperwork. That filing was the triggering event that started the 20-day clock for entering (and paying duties on) the tea.

J. L. Bell said...

How did that rule curtail smuggling? I suppose that emptying a ship's hold allowed Customs staffers to see that it really was empty, and there were no undeclared goods. But if a ship was carrying undeclared goods, didn't unload them, and then set off for another port, what would be the benefit to a smuggler? There would be Customs officers at the next port, too.

Dan Cornette said...

The law was intended to ensure that all goods on a ship were off loaded before the ship set sail for its next destination. Yes, the next port would have Customs officers to make sure the undeclared goods were properly entered and duties paid, but that could be too late. By the time the ship reached it's next port of destination the ship's captain could have secretly transferred the goods to a smuggler waiting just outside the port. Although tide waiters were routinely stationed on board a ship to prevent smuggling while the ship was in port, there were no customs officers on board once the ship left the port.

It's interesting that John Adams provided legal counsel to Francis Rotch. I have not found any record of what advice Adams may have provided but I suspect he may have advised Rotch that if the shipowner was not perceived to be cooperating with the Sons of Liberty in the destruction of the tea the government would have not basis to seize his ship. And in fact Rotch filed a protests against the proceedings at the town meetings leading up to the Tea Party which could demonstrate he wasn't cooperating. Also, when he went to make his final plea for a clearance from Gov. Hutchinson, Rotch never gave any hint that he knew what was planned for the tea. Although Rotch may have lost payment for carriage of the tea from London to Boston (I don't think the bills of lading were not signed by the consignees which would have entitled him to payment) he didn't lose his ship.