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, November 02, 2018

“Compleat Quarters were provided for all the troops”

Yesterday we left Gov. Francis Bernard stymied by both Boston’s justices of the peace and the Massachusetts Council in his effort to secure barracks for the king’s troops in Boston closer than Castle William.

By his own account, Bernard told his Councilors:
I said that I was now at the End of my tether: for as they had declared before, that they would adhere to the Act of parliament, and had refused to act in that liberal Way which I thought was their duty when the King’s Necessary Service was obstructed, I could propose nothing farther to them.

For I foresaw that if I proposed to hire [i.e., rent] & fit up houses &c for the troops, they would answer that did not become their business till the public houses were full. But if any Gentleman thought it was to Any purpose to put such a question I was ready to do it: this was declined by Silence.
According to the Boston Whigs, Bernard
recommended their appointing one or more persons, to join with General [Thomas] Gage, in hiring barracks for the troops in this town; the G——r apprehending it best that those who it is likely will finally be saddled with the expence, should be assisting or at least advising in this matter. The Council were utterly against this proposal, as the barracks at Castle-Island still remained empty, and it would have countenanced the quartering of troops in this town; and as the barrack-masters had before taken upon themselves to hire barracks at their own direction and risque.
Would any local citizen take the financial risk of paying for those barracks and waiting to be reimbursed? If providing barracks was the colony’s responsibility, as the Quartering Act said, then the Massachusetts General Court would have to authorize that expenditure. And leaders of that legislature had already warned that they were in no hurry to do that.

But Gov. Bernard was taking a different path: the army would put up the initial money to rent barracks. He wrote:
I then informed them that by reason of this general refusal of quarters the General found himself obliged to hire & fit up houses at the expence of the Crown for the reception of the troops, who now (Oct 26) especially they who were encamped, began to feel the Want of Warm quarters; and as he thought the Expence would ultimately fall upon the province; He desired that I would appoint a Commissary to join with & assist his officers in providing such houses, especially with regard to the Œconomy of the Expences. I therefore desired their Advice & Assistance in making such appointment.

This after a long debate was refused, they saying that if they should join in such appointment, it would be admitting that the province ought to be charged with the Expence; and I could appoint Auditors to examine the Accounts without them.

I thereupon put an End to this Business, having been employed in it from Sep 19 to Oct 26 in all 38 days, without any prospect of doing Any thing to purpose, but under an Obligation of trying evry Effort, before I gave it up.
The army was already implementing Gen. Gage’s plan. According to Bernard, “the General, who foresaw how this Negotiation would end, had employed his Officers to hire & fit up houses for the Troops: so that by the time I had received the definitive refusal, Compleat Quarters were provided for all the troops.”

The question of who would ultimately pay those rents was unresolved. There was also the issue of how the Quartering Act required colonies to supply certain provisions for the barracks, such as firewood. The Council had ordered Massachusetts’s commissary to supply the barracks at Castle William, but not any buildings in the center of town. Bernard concluded, “therefore it is not done, nor like to be done.”

But at least by the end of October all the troops had somewhere in town to sleep.

COMING UP: The regiments’ new landlords.

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