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, October 01, 2018

“All the Troops Landed under cover of the Cannon”

On the morning on 1 Oct 1768, 250 years ago today, Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf and a deputy started “pressing carts, &c. for the use of the troops.” Boston Whigs indignantly reported that detail to sympathetic newspaper readers in other North American ports.

The Whigs surmised that Greenleaf was borrowing equipment to help the soldiers land from the Royal Navy ships in the harbor. Indeed, that move started in the early afternoon, as described by Deacon John Tudor:
At aboute 1 O’clock Satterday all the Troops Landed under cover of the Cannon of the Ships of War; The Troops drew up in King Street and marched off in a Short time into the Common with Muskets charged, Bayonets fixed (perhaps Expecting to have met with resestance as the Soldiers afterwards told the inhabitants) their Colours flying, Drums beating & museck playing, In short they made a gallant appearance, makeing with the Train of Artillery aboute 800 Men. 
Col. Dalrymple told the Boston selectmen that the troops under his command actually numbered about 1,200. He had heard warnings that the locals might resist their landing with force. As a careful commander, he not only had his men ready with their bayonets but asked the warships to train their artillery on the town. Fortunately, there was no violence.

The 29th Regiment of Foot marched to Boston Common and camped there. The Whigs complained that this was “in hopes of intimidating the magistrates to find them quarters, which they cannot force until the barracks are filled, without flying in the face of a plain act of Parliament.” The selectmen continued to insist that the barracks on Castle William fulfilled the letter of the law even if the London government had been explicit about stationing at least one regiment inside Boston.

The 14th Regiment “had not a sufficient number of Tents,” Col. William Dalrymple told the selectmen. According to the Whigs:
In the afternoon it is said an officer [Lt. David Cooper] from the Col. went to the Manufactory House, with an order from the Governor, and requested Mr. Brown and the other occupiers to remove within two hours, that the troops might take possession; instead of a compliance the doors were barr’d and bolted against them. 
Elisha Brown was a weaver who leased part of the big Manufactory building from the province. He and his family lived inside amongst their looms and spinning wheels. With support from local elected officials, the Browns were determined the stay.

Part of the 59th Regiment of Foot had also come from Halifax, and it found quarters “at Robt. Gordons Stores,” according to merchant John Rowe. That businessman probably leased his property to the army for hard cash. A contingent of the Royal Artillery arrived as well, but it was small enough that no one noted where they bunked.

Late in the afternoon Col. Dalrymple went to the selectmen and “entreated of them as a favor the use of Faneuil Hall for one Regiment to lodge in till Monday following, promissing upon his honor to quit said Hall at that time.” According to Tudor, “about SunSett the 14 Regemt Marched from the Common down to Faneuil Hall.”

But Faneuil Hall was the center of democracy in Boston. It was the site of town meetings and of the town clerk’s and selectmen’s offices. It was the storage place of “a large number of stands of the towns arms” for militia use. Would the selectmen give up that space? Politically, could they?

For about two hours the 14th Regiment stood in the center of town as the night grew cooler. Finally two factors swayed the selectmen:
  • “The next day being the Sabbath, on which all confusion should be avoided”
  • “the hardship of the Troops must be exposed to while remaining in the open air”
At nine o’clock the troops were allowed into Faneuil Hall to bed down. 

In their newspaper dispatches the Whigs made claimed a moral victory: “Thus the humanity of the city magistrates permitted them a temporary shelter, which no menaces could have procured.”

TOMORROW: Remembering that history this week.

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