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, April 25, 2016

An “infernal Scheme” in Natick?

British officers and royal officials weren’t the only folks fearing a treacherous plot by their enemies as the Revolutionary War began. The provincials outside of Boston had plenty of suspicions as well.

The 3 Mar 1775 Connecticut Gazette, published in New London, reported:
On Thursday the 23d Instant [i.e., of this month], one Thomas Nichols, a Molatto, was taken at Natick (in the County of Middlesex) and brought under Examination, before a Justice, for being concerned in enticing divers Servants to desert the Service of their Masters—causing the Minds of the said Servants to be inimical towards their Masters Persons and Property—Endeavouring to form an unlawful Combination against their Masters, and other Injuries contrary to Law & the Peace—and for want of Sureties for good Behaviour was commited.
In other words, Nichols was locked up since he couldn’t make bail.

This item appeared two down from a breathless statement that “We are told that some Blacksmiths in Town [Boston] are employed in making a great Number of Iron SHACKLES, but for whom design’d we know not, certainly not for Boston Folks!” I’m not convinced that there was such ironwork, but there was certainly irony.

Six days later another Connecticut newspaper, the Norwich Packet, printed more rumors from Natick:
By a Gentleman arrived here from Boston, we are informed, that last Week a free Negro was apprehended at Natick, in Massachusetts-Bay Government, and, after Examination, committed to Concord Goal. It appeared that said Fellow has for some Time past been employed in forming a Plot to destroy the white People; for that Purpose he had enlisted Numbers of his own Complexion, as Associates, and they only waited until some Disturbance should happen that might occasion the Militia to turn out, and in their Absence it was proposed to Murder the defenceless Inhabitants.

The same Gentleman also informs us, that, last Monday Evening, another African, in the Vicinity of Natick, was discovered to have been deeply concerned in the above-mentioned infernal Scheme; and that his Master had delivered him up to Justice.
This supposed plot was thus the mirror image of the British officers’ worry that Bostonians were conspiring to murder them after a military alarm or a party.

TOMORROW: What was behind that fear?

[Eighteenth-century shackles above courtesy of the excellent website London Lives.]

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