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 22, 2018

“The Soldiers were withdrawn”

On 22 Oct 1768, 250 years ago today, the Boston Whigs had a surprise to report:
This morning we are told that the sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf], whom to carry on the allusion we will call the General, has raised the siege of the Manufactory, with the trifling loss of all his honour and reputation—the troops were withdrawn under cover of the night, and it is hoped as the season is now advanced, that they will be soon ordered into winter quarters at Castle Island; sufficient supplies have however been sent into the Manufactory to serve in case the attack should be renewed
Gov. Francis Bernard explained the action in a report to the Secretary of State in London. First he blamed his Council, but then he acknowledged:
…the building not being immediately wanted, The Soldiers were withdrawn on the Evning of the Second day. Thus this building belonging to the Government & assigned by the Governor & Council for his Majesty’s Use, is kept filled with the Outcast of the Workhouse & the Scum of Town to prevent it’s being used for the Accommodation of the Kings Troops[.]
Thus the big confrontation over the Manufactory came to an end.

To be sure, army sentries remained in the cellar of the building, causing some difficulty for the Brown family of weavers. Those soldiers would not be pulled out until 4 November. John Brown filed his lawsuit against Sheriff Greenleaf on 24 October, and that would linger in the courts for the rest of the year. But the threat to the families inside the Manufactory was over.

Bostonians had stood up against the royal officials’ demands. Those officials shied from going beyond the widely accepted bounds of British law and from provoking violence. The result was that the local Whigs felt they had won a round. So of course they felt encouraged to do it again.

The town retained the memory of that confrontation—in a way. In August 1785, a former overseer of the Manufactory died at the age of sixty-five. The Massachusetts Centinel called him “An honest man—the noblest work of God.” The 15 September Independent Chronicle went on at length about his virtues. And his gravestone in the Granary Burying Ground read:
ELISHA BROWN
of BOSTON.
who in Octr 1769, during 17 days
inspired with
a generous Zeal for the Laws
bravely and successfully
opposed a whole British Regt.
in their violent attempt
to FORCE him from his
legal Habitation.
Happy Citizen when call’d singley
to be a Barrier to the Liberties
of a Continent.
That was, of course, the wrong date for the Manufactory siege.

(Elisha Brown’s gravestone above photographed by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr.)

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