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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Sunday, October 21, 2018

“The siege of the Manufactory House still continues”

Yesterday we left the Manufactory building (shown above in its role as the Massachusetts Bank in the 1790s) under siege by British troops, who themselves were surrounded by townspeople. The crisis over where those soldiers would spend the winter had come down to that one big building beside the Common.

Dr. Thomas Young’s dispatch for the Boston Gazette reported:
Friday morning bread and butter were denied, and no person allowed to speak to them for several hours. The sick were denied the visits of their physicians, and Dr. [Benjamin] Church’s apprentice in the afternoon had several pushes with a bayonet as he was attempting to convey them medicines.
For outside consumption the Boston Whigs described the next moves:
The siege of the Manufactory House still continues, and notwithstanding one of their bastions has been carried by assault; the besieged yet shew a firmness peculiar to British Americans:

The children at the windows crying for bread this morning, when the baker was prevented supplying them by the guards, was an affecting sight. Some provision and succours were however afterwards thrown into the Castle with the loss of blood, but no lives.
Back to Dr. Young in the Gazette:
Some gentlemen deploring the imminent ruin of their country, & fearing some ill consequences from the resentment of the people, who had been insulted by the guards, kept with them to moderate ’em, while others laid before the members of his Majesty’s council the distress & danger they conceived the people subjected to by the unprecedented actions of the sheriff.
The Whigs provided this account of the Council meeting:
The Council met in the forenoon at the G——rs, those of them who were in the late vote greatly disturbed, that such an illegal method should be taken by the G——r to carry it into execution, they were still more disturbed at the treatment received. Council met in the afternoon at their own chamber, and are to meet again on the morrow. The C——l have been really in a most uncomfortable situation for some time past, tho’ very frequently called together by the G——r, it is rather to give a colour and countenance to what he had done or is projecting, than to receive their information and advice.
Dr. Young:
The council assembled, and after some deliberations waited on his Excellency, and signified that their advice to clear the factory intended no more than to clear it by law. His Excellency said it appeared to him to empower him to clear it as he most conveniently cou’d:
Gov. Francis Bernard described that discussion this way: “some of the Council declaring that it was not intended to use Force, altho’ they knew that it could not be done without.”

Evidently the Council’s majority now said that they had authorized the governor to evict the Brown family and others from the Manufactory by law, taking them to court if necessary, but not by physical force. Of course, that would hardly have solved the army’s immediate need for housing. But it cast a little more doubt on the legality of the sheriff’s and army’s actions the previous afternoon.

So the royal government eased back a little. Dr. Young reported, “it seems the consequence of this meeting was a recall of the troops about 7 that evening, leaving only a small guard in the cellar, and one or two at the window.” The Whigs claimed: “In the evening terms of accomodation were proposed to Mr. [John] Brown of the Manufactory, but rejected with disdain.” The siege continued, just less intensely.

Meanwhile, “Col. [William] Dalrymple was required by the Selectmen to remove from Faneuil-Hall this day or on the morrow, agreeable to his word of honour, the troops which have occupied it for too long a time already.”

TOMORROW: But where could all those troops go?

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