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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Saturday, September 29, 2018

“To sit till the troops come”

There’s practically no record of discussions at the Massachusetts Convention of 1768. The gathering issued formal documents in the first couple of days and at the end, but no internal proceedings survive.

The closest we come is a 27 Sept 1768 letter from the Rev. Andrew Eliot to an English supporter of Massachusetts, Thomas Hollis. Eliot wrote:
Their chairman (Mr. [Thomas] Cushing) assures me their determinations will be moderate, and their session short; and that they will not attempt any acts of government. But if the troops arrive before they break up, I will not be bound for their moderation. The people have, at present, great confidence in them.

A gentleman well acquainted with the secrets of the times, just now informed me, that there were three parties in the convention. One, who were fearful of the legality of their proceedings, and would gladly break up without doing any thing. Another party would willingly leave the people to themselves, and not lay any restraints upon them. A third desire to sit till the troops come, and to take the direction of affairs into their own hands. Which party will prevail is uncertain.

I just returned from a journey into the country. I find the people through this Province, are ripe for almost any thing. But how it is with other Provinces, I cannot say. They write well, but do nothing.

I fear we must stand the brunt of ministerial vengeance, unless there is some great change at home. What can we do! Tamely to give up our rights, and to suffer ourselves to be taxed at the will of persons at such a distance, and to be under military government, is to consent to be slaves, and to bring upon us the curses of all posterity; and yet how unable to cope with Great Britain! How dreadful the thought of a contest with the parent country, in whose calamities we have always borne a part, and in whose peace we have enjoyed peace.

Whatever distresses come, we shall not suffer alone; whatever evils come on the Colonies, Great Britain will sensibly feel; and our increase is so great, that time will be, when we shall be free. How impolitic to precipitate a disunion!
The possibility of a severe breach between Massachusetts and Britain was high enough that London stock market suffered a decline. However, like Eliot, the leaders of the Convention thought such a “disunion” would be a calamity, and they worked to make sure that didn’t happen, issuing firm verbal protests to keep the situation from turning violent.

On 28 September, troop transports started to arrive in Boston’s outer harbor. The merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary:
This forenoon came to anchor in Nantasket Roads six sail of Men of War supposed to have the 14th Regmt. & 29th Regmt. on board.
The next day, or 250 years ago today, Deacon John Tudor wrote that the ships were closer:
The Fleet came to Anchor near Castle Willm.
The next issue of the Boston Gazette, dated 3 October, included this one-sentence item of local news:
Thursday last [i.e., 29 September] the Convention, having finish’d their Business, dispersed.
The Massachusetts Convention thus came to a close. You can read its final formal complaint here.

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