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, June 13, 2018

“Volleys of Stones, Brickbats, Sticks or anything else that came to hand”

Yesterday we left Customs Collector Joseph Harrison just after he confiscated the sloop Liberty from John Hancock. He thought he had escaped retaliation from the waterfront crowd. He thought wrong.

As laid out on this website titled “Collectors of Customs,” Harrison was then fifty-nine years old. He and his younger brother Peter, the architect, had been born in Yorkshire and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1740s. Joseph was a merchant, doing well enough to woo a genteel wife from Britain. But he wanted a royal government job with a steady income. By lobbying family connections, in 1760 he joined the Customs service in the port of New Haven, Connecticut.

Four years later, Harrison sailed to London to seek a more lucrative posting. (He traveled with Jared Ingersoll, who on that trip got to see Parliament enact the Stamp Act.) Harrison won the attention of the Marquess of Rockingham a few months before Rockingham became First Lord of the Treasury—score! In July 1766 Harrison was named Collector in the busy port of Boston, earning £100 in salary plus a share of fees, seizures, and bribes, whichever he preferred (though it appears the service was becoming stricter about bribery in that decade). He arrived in Boston and took office in October 1766.

Harrison confiscated the Liberty late on the afternoon of 10 June 1768. He was walking away with his colleague the Comptroller and his eighteen-year-old son, Richard Acklom Harrison. In his own words:
But we had scarce got into the Street before we were pursued by the Mob which by this time was increased to a great Multitude. The onset was begun by throwing Dirt at me, which was presently succeeded by Volleys of Stones, Brickbats, Sticks or anything else that came to hand:

In this manner I ran the Gauntlet near 200 Yards, my poor Son following behind endeavouring to shelter his father by receiving the strokes of many of the Stones thrown at him till at length he became equally an Object of their Resentment, was knocked down and then laid hold of by the Legs, Arms and Hair of his Head, and in that manner dragged along the Kennel [canal, probably the drain down the middle of a street] in a most barbarous and cruel manner till a few compassionate people happening to see him in that Distress, formed a Resolution of attempting to rescue him out of the Hands of the Mob; which with much difficulty they effected, and got him into a House; tho’ this pulling and hauling between Friends and Enemies had like to have been fatal to him.

About this time I received a violent Blow on the Breast which had like to have brought me to the Ground, and I verily believe if I had fallen, I should never have got up again, the People to all appearance being determined on Blood and Murder. But luckily just at that critical moment a friendly Man came up and supported me; and observed that now was the time for my Escape as the whole Attention of the Mob was engaged in the Scuffle about my Son who he assured me would be taken out of their Hands by some Persons of his Acquaintance.

He then bid me to follow him, which I accordingly did, and by suddainly turning the corner of a Street, was presently out of Sight of the Crowd, and soon after got to a Friends House where I was kindly received and on whom I could depend for Safety and Protection: And in about an Hours time I had the satisfaction of hearing my Son was in Safety, and had been conducted home, by the Persons who rescued him from the Mob; but in a miserable Condition being much bruised and Wounded, tho’ not dangerously, and I hope will soon get well again.

With regard to my friend the Comptroller he was a little Distance behind when the Assault first began and on his attempting to protect my Son, was himself beset in the same Manner, and would certainly have been murdered by the Mob, if some Persons had not rescued him out of their Hands: however he was very much hurt, having received two Contusions on his Cheek and the Back of his Head.
Comptroller Benjamin Hallowell, Jr. (shown above, courtesy of Colby College), had been one of the targets of the anti-Stamp mob of 26 Aug 1765, though he had nothing to do with the Stamp Act, and one of the principal figures in the 1766 stand-off outside Daniel Malcom’s house. Unlike Harrison, he was a native of Boston, son of a well known merchant captain. I sometimes wonder if Hallowell was especially unpopular with the local crowd because he was a local himself, and thus seen as betraying the community.

But enough of such musings—the Liberty riot had only just started!

TOMORROW: Property damage after dark.

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