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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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“The whole was a Scene of perversion”

On 17 Oct 1768, 250 years ago today, Gov. Francis Bernard and Gen. Thomas Gage teamed up in the Town House to force the issue of where the king’s troops in Boston would live.

The governor later sent this report on their effort to the Secretary of State in London, Lord Hillsborough:
On Monday I called a Council in the Morning & introduced the General. He told them that He was resolved to quarter the two regiments now here in the Town & demanded quarters; and that he should reserve the barracks at the Castle for the Irish Regiments or such part of them as they would contain…
There were two more regiments on their way from Ireland. Bostonians called those units the “Irish Regiments,” but legally they were no different from other regiments of the British army. Most of their soldiers probably were ethnically Irish, but so were most of the soldiers and officers of the 29th Regiment, already in town.
After the General left the board I sat at it untill 8 o’clock at night, 2 hours at dinner time excepted. The whole was a Scene of perversion, to avoid their doing any thing towards quartering the troops, unworthy of such a body.

In the Course of the questions I put to them, they denied that they knew of any building belonging to the province in the Town of Boston that was proper to be fitted up for Barracks; and they denied that the Manufactory-House was such a building. This was so notoriously contrary to truth, that some Gentlemen expressed their concern that it should remain upon the minutes. And to induce me to consent to its being expunged, a Motion was made in writing that the Governor be desired to order the Manufactory-house to be cleared of its present inhabitants that it might be fitted up for the reception of such part of the two Irish Regiments as could not be accommodated in the Castle Barracks. This was Violently Opposed but was carried in the affirmative by 6 to 5: upon this I allowed the former Answers to be expunged.

This Resolution amounting to an Assignment of the Castle Barracks for the Irish Regiments effectually put an End to the Objection before made that no Quarters were due in Town untill the Castle Barracks were filled.
The Council thus narrowly agreed to the governor’s demands to turn over the Manufactory to the army. Its members were under pressure of several sorts:
  • The demand to support the troops with barracks was coming not just from Bernard but from Gen. Gage, commander-in-chief for North America.
  • The 14th Regiment had taken over the Town House and Faneuil Hall and, despite promises, showed no signs of leaving.
  • Winter was approaching, making the 29th Regiment’s tents on the Common less tenable.
  • Boston would soon be required to house four regiments plus a couple of additional companies.
Legally the Manufactory belonged to the province of Massachusetts. Legally the governor and Council together controlled that property (with the lower house of the legislature, which the governor had conveniently sent home back in June), so they had the aurhority to turn it into barracks.

But just because those men said the army could go into the Manufactory didn’t mean that everyone in Boston agreed.

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