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 09, 2018

“What do you think of the Patriotism of W.M”?

When Boston businessmen started to lease property to the royal army in late October 1768, word of those deals got around quickly.

Andrew Oliver, secretary of the province and merchant, sent this news to a business associate in London on 28 October:
[The army] is taking up Stores & other Buildings for their accomodation. They first took up Mr. [James] Smiths Sugar House of Mr. [James] Murray; this was well enough; he acted in character and upon Principle, but what do you think of the Patriotism of W.M who used his utmost interest in supporting the People in the Manufactory House in their Opposition to the Troops coming in there; and then made an Offer of the Stores on Wheelwrights Whff. at the modest rate of £400 Sterl. p. Ann:?

The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them at the rate of £300 and you may guess who will finally pay the reckoning.

Or what do you think of the patriotism of J R. to sollicit the Supply of the Troops and in fact letting his Stores for the Use of the Troops?

Or what do you think of J O’s sending a Card to the General & his Family to dine with him? Or of their refusing it? Where is Patriotism or where is Principle?
“J O” was probably James Otis, being polite to Gen. Thomas Gage and “his Family”—in this case meaning his aides. Otis had indeed opposed the Crown’s decision to station troops in Boston, but he was also an upper-class gentleman (even a bit of a snob) and a canny politician. He understood that being personally polite to the king’s general would look better than snubbing him. There was no financial interest in what he did.

In contrast, “J R.” or John Rowe did indeed profit from leasing buildings to the army. We know that he made that deal from his own diary. We also know he was both joining the other selectmen in protesting those troops and socializing with army officers, sometimes on the same day. Rowe’s politics swung with the prevailing winds.

The real surprise was “W.M”—William Molineux. He was one of the Whigs’ most confrontational leaders. Just the month before, Oliver had probably heard Gov. Francis Bernard and Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson discuss a warning that Molineux was prepared to lead 500 men in an attack on the troops. So did the same Molineux really rent buildings to the army?

We know that he did because of a letter from Molineux himself. On 13 Feb 1769 he sent a complaint to Lt. Col. John Pomeroy, at that time the highest-ranking officer in Boston:
By Indentures of Agreement between [Royal Engineers Capt.] John Montresor Esq [shown above] & my Self, the 28th. Octr. Last I Lett him all the Stores on Wheelwrights Warffe, (so Called) at £25 Sterling per month to be paid monthly, which he promisd to Pay Punctually—& also on the 5th. Novemr: Let him a Sugar House for the Artillery Company, which they now Occupy, at £5 per month to be paid in Like manner.
In 1769 Molineux was no longer complaining that the army had barracks near the center of Boston. He was complaining that the army hadn’t given him enough money for those buildings.

TOMORROW: But who really owned that property?

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