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, October 19, 2018

“His honour the Lieut. Governor, condescended to come”

And speaking of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, on 19 Oct 1768—250 years ago today—he entered the conflict over the Manufactory House in Boston.

Even before the regiments arrived, some army officers had scouted that big, province-owned building for use as barracks. On the 14th Regiment’s first night in town, they had gathered outside it before moving to Faneuil Hall. Later, the young printer John Boyle pegged the news “The 29th. Regt. have laid Seige to the Manufactory-House for several days” to 12 October, though he may have set those words down years later and inaccurately.

Everyone knew the army wanted that building, and the royal authorities wanted them to have it. Everyone knew that the people inside, supported by local radicals, wanted to keep possession.

The Boston Whigs wrote in their “Journal of Occurrences” about 19 October:
The people dwelling in the Manufactory House, again secured themselves with bolts and bars. His honour the Lieut. Governor, condescended to come with Sheriff [Stephen] Greenleaf, and to use many arguments and devices in order to effect their removal; but he was plainly told, that it was their opinion and that of others, that they could not be legally turned out of doors in consequence, of the vote of Council, which was not an act of the General Court, and that it surely could not be intended that they should be ousted in any other way; to which his honour replied, that the remaining part of Government had given the order.
The 24 Oct 1768 Boston Gazette reported that this conversation took place with Brown and other people leaning out of the building’s hall windows and calling down to the royal officials. The sheriff also rapped on the east door of the building but got no answer.

In lieu of a warrant, Sheriff Greenleaf read out the minutes of the relevant Council meeting. Brown asked for a copy of that document. The sheriff said he would have to obtain one from the province secretary, Andrew Oliver. But that of course would mean Brown would have to leave the building.

In 1770 the Whigs brought up Hutchinson’s actions on that day, and he replied with a more detailed description of what he did and why:
The governor had for some days been endeavouring to prevail on the council to join with him in providing quarters for the troops: at length, the council advised that a house belonging to the province should be cleared, in part whereof one Mr. [Elisha or John] Brown remained a tenant at sufferance, and into other parts whereof, certain persons, some of them of bad fame, had intruded. The governor had been informed that these people had been instigated to keep possession of the house by force, notwithstanding the advice of council.

On Wednesday the 19th of October, he desired me to go to the house and acquaint the people with the vote or advice of council, and to warn them of the consequences of their refusal to conform to it; and he said he thought it probable they might be prevailed on to remove, and all further trouble would be prevented. The sheriff was directed to attend me.

I went and acquainted Mr. Brown with the determination of the governor and council, and told him that, in my opinion, they had the authority of government, in the recess of the general court, to direct in what manner the house should be improved, and advised and required him to remove without giving any further trouble.

He replied, that without a vote of the whole general court, he would not quit the house.

I told him he made himself liable for the damage which must be caused by his refusal, and he and his abettors must answer for the consequences.

I remember that two persons were in the house, and, whilst I was speaking to Mr. Brown, came into the yard. One of these persons, whose name I afterwards found to be Young, inserting himself in the business, I asked him what concern he had in the affair. His reply was, that he came there as a witness. Nothing material passed further, nor was anything said of my appearing as chief justice.

I returned to the governor, and informed him of the refusal of the people to quit the house; and upon his asking my opinion what was the next proper step, I acquainted him that the superior court was to be held at Cambridge, the Tuesday following, and that I thought it advisable to let the affair rest, and I would then consult with the other justices of the court upon it. I supposed it would rest accordingly, and went the same day to my house in the country [i.e., Milton]…
The man named Young was Dr. Thomas Young, one of the most radical of the Boston Whigs. He had come to Boston from the Albany region in the fall of 1766, attracted by the bigger, more politically active community. According to Harbottle Dorr, he wrote the Boston Gazette’s description of this day. In the next several months Young would rise to the top echelon of the Whigs, one of the two gentlemen seen as closely linked to the crowds in the streets.

It’s striking how the dispute over the Manufactory building was still hinging on a minute point of constitutional law: When the lower house of the General Court was not in session (because the governor had closed it early), could the governor and Council speak for the whole provincial government?

Brown the weaver said no; according to the Gazette, he stated that “his counsel were of the ablest in the province, and he should adhere to their advice be the consequences what they would.” Hutchinson the chief justice (though not a lawyer) said yes, but even then he planned to “consult with the other justices of the court” on how to proceed.

Meanwhile, the Gazette stated, Brown “kept his doors and windows shut.” However, some of the men who worked in the Manufactory cellar decided to “keep one of the lower [window] sashes moveable, to pass from the cellar to the yard.” Perhaps they needed to get to the outhouse.

TOMORROW: The sheriff returns.

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