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, December 29, 2017

Extracts of Letters from Boston?

On 29 Dec 1774, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer ran the following items:
Extract of a letter from Boston.

“Every thing is at present quiet here, and the governor takes all possible precautions to keep things so. The people are continually tampering with the soldiers to desert; a corporal of the 38th regiment was last Monday addressed by one of their Agents, he pretended to consent to go off with him, upon which the fellow took him to a house, gave him a suit of plain cloathes and put his regimentals into the saddle-bags, he then put the corporal upon his horse and got up behind; they rode on together till they came to the Fusileers barrack, into which the corporal turned, the fellow instantly jumped off and made his escape, leaving the horse, saddle-bags and clothes, all of which have been given to the corporal as a reward for his wit and spirit.[”]

A Gentleman in Boston, writes to his friend here, of the 12th instant;—

Two ships of the line, viz. the Asia and Boyne, are arrived here, and the Somerset is now firing guns in the offing. The day before yesterday it was moved in Provincial Congress, that arms be immediately taken up against the King’s Troops; but one of the members got up and told them such a move was infamous, when at the same time the Members knew, that neither Connecticut nor any of the southern colonies meant to oppose his Majesty’s arms, on which account the Congress immediately dissolved, and a new one is to be chosen, to meet the tenth of next month.

At Plymouth they are now beating up for volunteers to attack the troops; the parties sent for a parson to pray for them, who refused to comply; but he was obliged to attend on being sent for a second time, on penalty of being shot.
James Rivington was then a strong supporter of the Crown, on his way to being put out of business by a Patriot mob and then sponsored by the royal government in occupied New York through the war.

On 1 Jan 1774, Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks reprinted the entire article in their Boston Post-Boy. In the preceding May they had taken over from Green and Russell and turned the Post-Boy into a strongly pro-government paper.

On 5 January, Isaiah Thomas printed the part about plans to attack soldiers instead of to suborn them in the Patriot Massachusetts Spy, crediting “the New-York Gazette,” but he added at the bottom:
[A d——d lie.]
And indeed there’s no evidence supporting the article’s claims about the congress. If Rivington had actually seen a letter from Boston with that story, he fell for an alarmist rumor—and it’s quite possible he just made it up.

Even so, the letter from “A Gentleman in Boston” was reprinted in several British magazines in early 1775, helping to shape public opinion there.

[ADDENDUM: Follow-up from Don Hagist.]

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