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, November 10, 2018

Wheelwright to Apthorp to Molineux

Yesterday I quoted a letter from William Molineux stating that in October 1768 he had agreed to rent buildings near the center of Boston to the royal army, despite being one of the Whig activists most opposed to having troops in town. Was that rank hypocrisy?

When the historian John Richard Alden published that letter for the first time in the New England Quarterly in 1944, he wrote:
It is possible that Molineux acted merely as an agent in these transactions, but it is most likely that he rented his own properties to the British army, in full knowledge that they would be used as quarters for the redcoats.
But a 28 Oct 1768 letter from provincial secretary Andrew Oliver, while also portraying Molineux as a money-grubbing hypocrite, shows that the man was indeed acting as an agent for the real property-owner.

As I quoted yesterday, Oliver wrote that Molineux
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.   
The final price, per Molineux’s letter, was indeed £25 per month or £300 per year—the price “Mr. Apthorp” had arranged.

“Mr. Apthorp” was Charles Ward Apthorp, oldest son of Boston’s richest merchant and military contractor of the previous generation, Charles Apthorp. The younger man had migrated to New York City with the army command. There he built a successful mercantile career and served on the governor’s council.

After Charles Ward Apthorp dissolved his Boston partnership with his brother-in-law Nathaniel Wheelwright, that led to a frightening wave of bankruptcies in early 1765. Apthorp ended up owning most of Wheelwright’s property. And to manage that property, Apthorp made William Molineux his Boston agent.

Thus, when Molineux wrote that he leased “all the Stores on Wheelwrights Warffe, (so Called)” to the army, he was leasing Apthorp’s property. The 1769 map of Boston even relabeled that wharf as “Apthorp’s” (shown above in the lower left, next to John Rowe’s Wharf).

Oliver’s statement that “The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them” indicates that Gen. Thomas Gage had made a deal with Apthorp before he even left New York. The owner of those buildings wanted the army to have them. Molineux wasn’t acting on his own.

But that doesn’t mean Molineux was above blame. He always had a hard time distinguishing the public good from what was good for himself. In this case, he first offered the Wheelwright’s Wharf buildings for £400 per year. Did he think that would be a prohibitive price that would keep the army out, or did he just want the extra £100? Did Apthorp require him to rent the sugar-distilling house as well, or did Molineux decide to do that on his own?

It’s pertinent that Molineux wasn’t just forwarding the proceeds of these deals to Apthorp with a little commission retained. He was apparently living off the Apthorp properties, tallying up revenue and expenses for some future settlement. In late 1774 that would catch up with him—but that’s a story for another time.

What mattered on 10 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, was that as the first transport ships carrying soldiers of the 64th and 65th Regiments arrived from Cork, Ireland, the army had secured quarters inside Boston for them.

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