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, March 13, 2017

Pvt. Malone at the Thayers

On the evening of Sunday, 4 Mar 1770, a private soldier in the 29th Regiment of Foot knocked on the door of Amos Thayer.

Thayer was twenty-four years old, 5'7", a native of Braintree. He was a carpenter, as stated in town records from 1775 when he joined an augmented town watch, or housewright, as stated in a 1769 deed from his father.

Thayer didn’t open the door. Instead, his apprentice Asa Copeland did. According to Asa, the soldier
asked for the young man that lived in the house. I asked him what young man he meant; he said, the young man a carpenter. I supposing he meant my master, told him he was up stairs. He then asked me to go and call him, and said he wanted to speak with him:

I then went up and told my master that Malone was below and wanted to speak with him. My master told me to tell him he was engaged and could not go down, and said if he had any thing to say he must say it to his sister Miss Mary Thayer.
Mary Thayer, two years older than her brother, confirmed what the “young lad” Asa described: her brother “refused to come down or have any thing to say to” this visitor. But she was “going down on other occasion,” so she “said she would hear what the soldier had to say.”

Malone told Mary Thayer, “your brother as you call him is a man I have a very great regard for, and came here to desire him to keep in the house and not be out, for there would be a great deal of disturbance and blood between that time and Tuesday night at 12 o’clock.”

By this time Asa was back downstairs, and he and a second woman named Mary Brailsford later said that they heard the same warning.

Malone went on to say that “he had a greater regard for Mr. Thayer than any one in Boston, and on that account came to desire him to keep in the house, which if he did there would be no danger.” He repeated that advice, went to the door, and then turned around again. “My name is Charles Malone,” the soldier declared; “your brother knows me well.” According to Asa, Malone added that he “had drank with” Amos Thayer.

The following evening, other soldiers of the 29th Regiment fired into a violent crowd on King Street—what we now call the Boston Massacre. Twelve days later, Asa Copeland, Mary Thayer, and Mary Brailsford all testified about that conversation before magistrates. (In addition, Mary Brailsford’s husband John described hearing another soldier of the 29th Regiment provide another warning on the 5th.)

For the Boston officials assembling the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, such encounters were evidence that the soldiers had been planning to attack townspeople. The shooting on King Street was not self-defense or a brawl that got out of hand, they argued, but a concerted attack.

However, such stories are also evidence of friendly relations between individual soldiers, like Charles Malone, and individual Bostonians, like Amos Thayer. Or at least good enough that Malone stuck his neck out a bit to warn the young carpenter about possible violence (more likely thinking of brawls than shooting).

Though there’s a lot of mystery in Malone and Thayer’s behavior. The soldier evidently knew where that “young man a carpenter” lived, but not his name. No one else in the Thayer family recognized Malone, so he couldn’t have been a regular coworker. And Thayer, for whatever reason, really didn’t want to speak to the private that night. We could come up with all sorts of scenarios, but the secrets remain buried.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Asa Copeland?

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

Don Hagist generously sent an answer to the question of whatever happened to Pvt. Charles Malone.

“Charles Malone continued in the 29th Regiment until 1775, when he was discharged. He appeared before the examination board at Chelsea on 21 November, and they recorded that he was 35 years old and had served 14 years, was born at Athlone, Ireland, was a labourer, and was disabled in the left leg.”