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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Saturday, October 20, 2018

“This day the Sheriff got into the Factory House”

On 20 Oct 1768, 250 years ago today, John Rowe wrote in his diary:
This day the Sheriff got into the Factory House.
That line left out a lot of drama, I have to say.

According to the Boston Whigs, the day began with the royal governor pressing yet another set of officials—this time the men he and his predecessors had appointed as magistrates—into using their authority to find quarters for army regiments:
This morning the justices of the town were called upon to meet the Governor [Francis Bernard], General [Thomas] Gage, and King’s-Attorney [Jonathan Sewall], at the Council Chamber; when met the Governor required of them to provide quarters for the troops in this town, but received for answer, that they apprehended that this application did not then come properly before them.
Out at the Manufactory, the Boston Gazette reported, Sheriff Stephen] Greenleaf was observing the building with a neighbor who supported the royal government, Dr. Silvester Gardiner (shown above). Those men noticed that, as I wrote yesterday, some workers in the Manufactory’s cellar were leaving a window open so they could go out to the courtyard easily.

Sometime after noon, the sheriff made his move. After “one of the workers had just gone out,” Greenleaf hurried over to follow him inside. The young man “turned hastily” and tried to close the window. The sheriff “attempted to get his fingers under the sash.” In the struggle, “a square of glass [was] being bent in.” In a little while Sheriff Greenleaf’s “much superiour strength and formidable appearance,” with “drawn sword, menacing speech and actual violence,” scared the worker away.

The Gazette report went on:
the sheriff returning to the sash, forced it up, and entered feet foremost with sword in hand. Mr. Brown then at some distance in the cellar hearing the scuffle and the glass break, hastened to the window, but a loom intervening, the sheriff had fully forced entry before mr. Brown could oppose him. A small scuffle happened between them, in which neither party received much harm.

Two of the sheriff’s deputies with his servant following, he sent one of the deputies to the officer of the piquet with a written order to come with his guard to the factory immediately. On his arrival the sheriff ordered him to place two centinels at each door, two or more at the gate, and ten in the cellar, then read him a paper, giving him full possession of the yard, charging him to let any one come out of the house, but none go in.

Finding the people gather fast about the gate, he issued orders for another company, the posting of which gave the compleat idea of a formal blockade.
According to Harbottle Dorr, that account came from Dr. Thomas Young. That radical physician might have actually been inside the Manufactory at the time, as he had been the day before.

Gov. Bernard put more blame on the people inside the building:
Upon a third attempt The Sheriff finding a Window open entered: upon which the people gather’d about him & shut him up; he then made a signal to an Officer without, who brought a party of soldiers who took possession of the yard of the building & releived the Sheriff from his Confinement.
On the other hand, the Boston Whigs emphasized the sheriff’s violence:
About noon the inhabitants were greatly alarmed with the news that Mr. Sheriff Greenleaf, accompanied by the soldiery, had forced an entry sword in hand, into one of the cellars in the Manufactory-House; Mr. Brown one of the inhabitants, in attempting to disarm him, received several thrusts in his cloaths, the sheriff’s deputy entered with him; he then gave possession of the cellar to some of the troops:
In a legal complaint dated four days later, the weaver John Brown named the men taking over his rented home as “Stephen Greenleaf of Boston aforesaid, Esq; and Joseph Otis of said Boston, gentleman, together with divers other malefactors and disturbers of the peace of our said Lord the King.” Otis was the keeper of the jail and courthouse. Like Greenleaf, he was appointed, not elected. Unlike Greenleaf, he kept his position after the Revolutionary War began.

The Whig report continued:
A large number of soldiers immediately entered the yard, and were placed as centinels and guards at all the doors of the house, and all persons were forbid from going in and out of the same, or even coming into the yard. The plan of operation being as it is said to terrify or starve the occupants out of their dwellings.—

Great numbers of the inhabitants assembled to be eye witnesses of this attack of the sheriff, upon the rights of citizens, but notwithstanding they were so highly irritated at his conduct, there was no outrageous attempts made upon him or his abettor, the people having had it hinted to them, that our enemies in advising to this step, had flattered themselves with the hopes that some tumults and disorder would arise, which might be improved to our further prejudice.
Gov. Bernard’s version was: “This occasioned a great Mob to assemble with some of the Cheifs of the Faction. They were Very abusive against the Soldiers, but no Mischeif was done.”

And of course there was a legal argument going on in the midst of it all, per the Whigs:
The sheriff refused giving Mr. Brown a copy of his warrant or orders for this doing, and only referred him to the minutes of Council for his justification, a copy of which was also refused him. We now see that the apprehensions of the people respecting an ill improvement of the late vote of Council was not without just grounds.

This night the sheriff procured guards of soldiers to be placed at his house for his protection, a measure that must render him still more ridiculous in the eyes of the people.
All the while, Brown complained, he and his family had been “expelled, amoved, and put out” from their home.

Well, not the whole building. Though that “large number of soldiers” held the cellar, courtyard, and doors, there were still civilians inside the upper floors of the Manufactory, determined to stay. And “Great numbers of the inhabitants” surrounded the soldiers and the site.

TOMORROW: Would this stand-off lead to more violence?

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