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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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mrs. Nathaniel Balch and Family

On 15 July 1758, the young lawyer Robert Treat Paine referred in his diary to Molly Fletcher. On other pages around that time he wrote about Mary, Molly, Miss Fletcher, and “Miss Molly.” He was quite interested.

The editors of Paine’s papers have guessed that he also addressed letters to Mary Fletcher of Boston using the playful pseudonym “Lavinia,” as in this letter from January 1757. The young Paine liked to compose long, detailed metaphors in his letters.

Mary Fletcher was born in 1730, a year before Paine. Her father was a ship’s captain, William Fletcher. When Mary was fifteen, Capt. Fletcher sailed his Boston Packet brigantine northeast as part of the colony’s expedition against Louisburg. In August 1745 he helped to capture a French ship carrying £300,000 in gold and silver, part of a very successful war.

Robert Treat Paine’s last surviving letter to “Lavinia” was in 1760. Three years later, Mary Fletcher married the hatter Nathaniel Balch. She was thirty-three years old and he was twenty-eight. At the time he was establishing his business in Providence, Rhode Island. Their first baby was born there exactly nine months later. In 1765 the family moved back to Boston, where both parents grew up. They had four more children before the new war began.

The first two of those children were boys, Nathaniel, Jr., and William. Both joined the U.S. Army as junior officers after the Revolutionary War, and William died in the Battle of the Wabash or “St. Clair’s Defeat.” Nathaniel mustered out safely and succeeded his father in the hat trade.

In December 1789 the Rev. Samuel Stillman (shown above) presided over a double wedding of his children Mary and Benjamin to Nathaniel Balch, Jr., and his sister Mary. (Mary Balch thus became Mary Stillman, and Mary Stillman became Mary Balch.) During the Quasi-War of 1798, Nathaniel, Jr., received a federal military commission as captain and started to recruit a company, but there was no fighting.

Mary (Fletcher) Balch died in 1797, aged sixty-seven. The 10 October Massachusetts Mercury carried this eulogy:
In her character were combined all that sincerity candor and benevolence, which form the basis of solid friendship; in her social relations she was attentive, kind and affectionate; her friends, however painful the event, have the consolatory reflection, that her release from a destressing existence below, has introduced her to a state of happiness beyond the grave, lasting as her spiritual nature, and ample in its powers of reception.
Her widowed husband lived another eleven years, serving on the Boston board of health, as a trustee of the Humane Society, and even once as a Federalist candidate for the legislature. At the end of September 1808, the New-England Palladium published this notice:
A correspondent has favored us with the following Obituary Notice of the late NATHANIEL BALCH, Esquire, who died the 18th inst. [i.e., of this month] aged 73.

“As a husband, parent and friend, and in the various walks of domestic life, his conduct was exemplary.—He was also a very useful citizen, industrious and liberal, a lover of order and his country’s constitution.—Possessed of an uncommon share of wit and humour, tempered with discretion and improved by good sense, his company was courted by his contemporaries of the first ranks in society.—And, though in younger life he contributed much to social enjoyment, yet he neglected not his more essential avocations; for he was truly a man of business.––In riper years he declared his Christian Faith, and sanctioned it by charitable deeds.—Many are the mourners who feel his loss, and bless his memory.”
The author of those lines was Robert Treat Paine.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Legends of Nathaniel Balch

As I discussed back here, the hatter Nathaniel Balch was well known in post-Revolutionary Boston for his sense of humor and his friendship with Gov. John Hancock.

The Genealogy of the Balch Families in America (1897) shared a family tradition about one of the jokes that Hancock and Balch shared:

Governor Hancock one day said to Balch, ”Come up and see a Savage I have locked in my garret.”

He complied, and found that the Governor was protecting a portrait painter named Savage from arrest for debt. Savage was engaged on a portrait of the Governor, and at the request of Hancock, also made one of Balch.
Edward Savage (1761-1817) was a native of Princeton, Massachusetts. He trained as a goldsmith but by the late 1780s was making copies of Copleys and evidently learning a lot from them. Around 1788 Savage painted a full-length portrait of John and Dorothy Hancock, which I believe is now at the Katzen Art Center of American University. I don’t have any evidence to confirm that Savage was hiding out from creditors at the time.

Savage’s smaller portrait of the hatter, labeled on the back “painted by the artist Savage by order of Governor Hancock of Massachusetts,” descended in the Balch family into this century.

In 1840 the writer E. S. Thomas recalled about Gov. Hancock, “such was the mutual attachment between the governor and Mr. Balch, that if the former was called away, no matter what distance, ’Squire Balch attended him, like his shadow.”

In fact, Balch’s entertaining personality could overshadow the governor. This item in the 31 July 1792 Argus became a little famous for joking about that:

TOMORROW: Mrs. Balch and Mr. Paine.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

EXTRA: Radio Interviews This Week

I’m scheduled to do two radio interviews this week.

In the hour after midnight on Tuesday morning, I’ll speak to Bradley Jay at WBZ, Boston’s 1030 AM. Our topic will be Henry Knox’s expedition to the Lake Champlain fortifications to collect heavy artillery for the Continental lines around Boston.

On Friday morning, 3 January, in the 10:00 hour I’ll represent the Journal of the American Revolution on the “Revolution Road” segment of the Dave Nemo Show on Sirius/XM146. We’ll discuss the events of 1770, which include non-importation, the Seider killing, the Boston Massacre, Boston’s second tar-and-feathering, a General Court session in Cambridge, and the four Boston Massacre trials.

When Balch Came Back

In early October 1775, Nathaniel Balch the hatter left London and sailed back home to America.

On 23 December, the Providence Gazette reported on news from the preceding days:
Captain Gorham is arrived at Nantucket from London, after a Passage of eleven Weeks. With him came passenger Mr. NATHANIEL BALCH, late of Boston.  
Balch was soon on the mainland. On 20 December, the Boston court official and insurance broker Ezekiel Price, taking refuge from the siege in Stoughton, wrote in his diary:
Mr. Bailies, from Taunton, says that Mr. Nathaniel Balch was there last night. He is lately from London, and reports that the great men in England are against us, but that the common people are in our favor.
However, four days later Price wrote that young Benjamin Hichborn had told him:
Mr. Balch says our Boston gentry that lately went to England were, most of them, very desirous of getting back; that the people there in general were against us, and continually threatening to scourge us till they had obliged us to submit.
I don’t trust Hitchborn about anything. But the discrepancy between Price’s entries may simply be due to him using the word “people” to refer to two different groups: ordinary people as opposed to “great men” in his first entry, British gentry as opposed to Loyalist gentry in the second.

Finally, there’s a mention from Isaac Smith, Sr., father of one of the men Balch had sailed and seen some sights in London with. Smith wrote to his niece’s husband, John Adams, on 2 Jan 1776:
Itts likely you may have heard Mr. Balch is returnd from England but came Out the begining Octbr. so cant bring any thing New of a publick Nature tho possibly he may of his One invention.
Balch’s own invention might have meant private information he’d picked up, though, knowing him, it might just as well have been some new funny stories. I haven’t come across any other references to Massachusetts men debriefing the hatter about his trip.

Which means I still have the mystery of why Balch went to Britain at all.

TOMORROW: Post-war legends.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Seeing London with Nathaniel Balch

I’ve long puzzled over why hatter Nathaniel Balch chose to sail to Britain in May 1775, a month after war broke out in Massachusetts.

Balch may have been planning the trip for a while for business or personal reasons and just didn’t want to cancel, even in wartime.

But John Andrews’s letter (quoted yesterday) suggests that the price of the passage was unusually high. Passengers paid Capt. John Callahan extra to sail the Minerva across the Atlantic without a full cargo.

Like a lot of Bostonians, Balch had good reason to get out of the besieged town before it came under attack. But he didn’t take his wife and five children with him. He also still owned real estate in Providence, so he probably could have found refuge for the whole family in America.

Balch doesn’t appear to have been so deeply involved in politics that he would need to go to London to lobby for a patronage job, like his fellow traveler Samuel Quincy, or to talk with British opposition politicians on behalf of the Boston Whigs, as his friend Josiah Quincy had just done.

I know of no documents from Balch explaining his motives for the voyage—no letters, diary, business accounts, memoir.

We have a few glances of what Balch actually did in London after arriving on that ship full of Loyalists. They come from the diary of Samuel Curwen, a Loyalist from Salem who had crossed the ocean after a visit to Philadelphia. On 31 July, Curwen wrote:
Went in company with Messrs. I[saac]. Smith, N. Balch, J[oseph]. Greene Esq. and Berry [or was this John Barrell?], Colburn Barrell, a Mr. Peacock, a Glass Dealer in Fleetmarket Street, our Guide and young Oliver, to the [word?] Flintglass house over blackfryar’s bridge where we saw a drinking glass formed, completely made, ink bottles and smelling bottles, from which place returning we proceeded through a paved ally so called on this Side the Bridge to a glass grinder and polisher, whom we saw work. Dined at Kingshead Jury Lane, the glass grinder worked in a loft up 50 or 60 stairs. From dinner we repaired to St. Paul’s…
(A rumor was going around London that day that Lord North had shot himself. It was false.)

Three of those men and one more got together on 22 August:
Went to Bow with Nathaniel Balch, lying beyond White Chappell, from whence we took Coach, 2 Miles in order to see the China Manufacture, but the clerk received and dismissed us very cavalierly, with an abrupt answer, that he should not show it to us.

We met J. Berry and Mr. Silsbee at the door having trudged it afoot, returned by Bromley, stopping at Mile End, we took a bowl of punch and some bread and cheese, and from thence walked together to the Exchange, where J.B. and Mr. S. departed together.

Mr. B. and myself entered Lamp Chop House in Bartholomew Lane, took each a porringer of broth, and after taking a Survey of different rooms in the Bank, departed each for his lodgings, I being weary and lame.
Those expeditions might indicate that Balch was studying English manufactures. Then again, that might just have been a sort of sightseeing that businessmen from the provinces did.

On 24 August, Curwen, Balch, Silsbee, Isaac Smith, “John Berry and his Brother,” and “Capt. Martin” took a boat up the river to Barnes, then hiked through Kew Gardens and Richmond to Hampton Court Palace. Curwen thought the royal family should get out there more often. “Out of hatred to his grandfather the last excellent Geo. 2, the present King seems to make it a point to hate every object of his worthy grandfather’s approbation,” he wrote. The next day the men took a coach on to Windsor Castle as well.

Finally, on 28 August Balch called on Curwen “to go to Mr. Gilbert Harrison’s to dine from whence we went to puddledock.” Curwen visited the “Herald’s office” to inquire about his coat of arms, and there the men had tea.

The diary of former governor Thomas Hutchinson shows that in those same months he often saw people that Balch had sailed with, but he never mentioned meeting Balch. That might indicate a political gap between them, or perhaps just a social gap between a hatter and a governor.

The genial hatter’s reason to be in London that summer remains a mystery.

TOMORROW: Home again.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Voyage of Nathaniel Balch

Earlier this year I introduced the figure of Nathaniel Balch, a hatter who was prominent in Boston society before and after the Revolutionary War.

Balch was close to Revolutionary leaders, particularly John Hancock. In August 1769, Balch entertained at the Sons of Liberty banquet. So I assume he was a Whig.

When the war broke out in April 1775, Balch was inside Boston. Many people who opposed the royal government spent the next few weeks working to get out to the countryside, a safe distance behind the provincial lines. Balch had other plans.

On 6 May, merchant John Andrews wrote to his relative William Barrell:
Your uncle Joe has engag’d a passage for London, at the expence of one hundred Guineas for himself and wife, to expedite her sailing without waiting for freight. Balch, brother Joe and his wife, Jno. Amory, &ca., &ca., go in her. . . . You must know, that no person who leaves the town is allow’d to return again.
That same day the young merchant David Greene sent the same news to a relative in Demerara:
I am going to London with Captain Callahan, and expect to have for fellow-passengers Mr. J[oseph]. Green and wife, of School Street; Mr. J. Barrell and lady, Mr. John Amory and lady, Mrs. Callahan, Mr. Balch, Mr. S[amuel]. Quincey, D[avid]. Sears, &c. As I have long entertained thoughts of making this voyage, as it will be impossible to do any business here, and as I may find something to do in England, I doubt not you will approve of my intention.
John Callahan sailed regularly between Boston and London in the 1770s. His name often appeared in the newspapers attached to the latest news or goods from London. When Gov. Thomas Hutchinson left Massachusetts in the spring of 1774, he traveled on Capt. Callahan’s Minerva.

The 22 May 1862 Boston Evening Transcript offered more information, tagged to Viscount Lyndhurst, the eminent British attorney who had been born in Boston as the oldest son of John Singleton and Susanna Copley:
If it is of sufficient importance to know the exact time that Lord Lyndhurst left this country for England, allow me to state that he was a passenger on board the ship Minerva, Capt. Callahan, which sailed from Marblehead May 27, 1775, with fourteen other cabin passengers; thirty-nine souls in all on board.

The cabin passengers were Mrs. Callahan, Joseph Green, Esq., and lady, Mr. John Amory and lady, Mrs. Copley and three children, Mrs. Jackson, Samuel Quincy, Esq., Lieut. Wm. Aug. Merrick, of the Royal Navy, Mr. David Green, Mr. David Sears, Mr. Nath. Balch, Mr. Isaac Smith, Jr., besides servants, and six steerage passengers.

The above is from the diary of a fellow passenger, who landed at Dover 24th June, and arrived in London 6 P. M. next day. Lord Lyndhurst was born 21st May, 1772—of course, was just 3 years and six days old.

At first I doubted that the Minerva really sailed from Marblehead, thinking that was a legal fiction that the Customs service allowed because the port of Boston was still legally closed. But the 31 May Massachusetts Spy reported, “Captain Callahan is to sail this week for London from Salem.”

Balch, therefore, along with the many Loyalists in that party, got a pass to leave besieged Boston, crossed into territory held by the provincial army, and then got onto a ship to sail to Britain itself. He must really have wanted to go.

TOMORROW: Reasons for leaving.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

“On Christmas-Day” in Fredericksburg

Sometime between 1745 and 1747, just a few years after the Gentleman’s Magazine published Elizabeth Teft’s poem “On Christmas-Day” (quoted yesterday), a teenager in Virginia copied it into a notebook.

That teenager was George Washington, and his copybook has of course become a precious national artifact.

Most of that volume was devoted to the texts of legal and business forms. After the one poem came a recipe for ink and the famous “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour,” also copied from a British source.

In this blog post and his book George Washington: A Life in Books, Kevin J. Hayes strives mightily to find significance in how the young teen copied this poem. Unlike the way it appeared in the magazine, George capitalized all the nouns, which “reveals Washington’s fastidiousness”—or perhaps his tutor’s insistence.

As for the content, Hayes concludes the young man was “confident in his religious beliefs but pleased to have another confirm them.” Or perhaps someone told him to copy that poem.

At the time, George Washington was living at his late father’s slave-labor plantation called Ferry Farm, across the river from Fredericksburg, Virginia. The minister at St. George’s parish in that town was the Rev. James Marye, who had actually been born in France and educated for the Catholic priesthood before converting to the Church of England. Did he assign that poem as a handwriting exercise (and theological reminder) to the young planter’s son?

The Rev. Mr. Marye died in 1767, after Washington had grown up and moved away to Mount Vernon. The new rector at St. George’s parish was the old minister’s son, also the Rev. James Marye (1731-1780). According to David DeSimone of Colonial Williamsburg, he thought enough of “On Christmas-Day” to set Teft’s words to music sometime in the early 1770s.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

“And with officious joy the scene attend!”

In February 1743, the Gentlemen’s Magazine published this religious poem:

ASSist me, muse divine! to sing the morn,
On which the saviour of mankind was born;
But oh! what numbers to the theme can rise?
Unless kind Angels aid me from the skies!
Methinks, I see the tuneful host descend,
And with officious joy the scene attend!
Hark, by their hymns directed on the road
The gladsome shepherds find the nascent god!
And view the infant conscious of his birth,
Smiling, bespeak salvation to the earth!

For when th’ important Aera first drew near
In which the great Messiah should appear;
And to accomplish his redeeming love,
Resign awhile his glorious throne above;
Beneath our form should every woe sustain,
And by triumphant suffering fix his reign!
Should for lost man in tortures yield his breath,
Dying, to save us from eternal death!
Oh mystick Union!—salutary grace!
Incarnate God our nature should embrace!
That deity should stoop to our disguise,
That man recover’d should regain the skies!
Dejected Adam! from thy grave ascend,
And view the serpent’s deadly malice end,
Adoring bless th’ Almighty’s boundless grace
That gave his son a ransom for thy race!
Oh never let my soul this day forget,
But pay in grateful praise her annual debt
To him, whom ’tis my trust, I shall adore,
When time, and sin, and death, shall be no more!
Those lines were credited to “Orinthia.” That pen name reappeared four years later in the collection Orinthia’s Miscellanies, credited to “Elizabeth Teft of Lincoln,” born in 1723. At least one poem from that volume had previously appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine, and there are stylistic similarities between Test’s work and this Christmas hymn. She’s probably the author, even if she didn’t include it in her collection.

TOMORROW: Across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Presents Fit for Princes and Princesses

A couple of years ago, Robert Paulett at the George Papers Programme shared a list of what the future George III and his siblings received in the Christmas season of 1750-51.

Prince George was then twelve years old. He had one older sister and six younger siblings, the last less than a year old. (A final sister would come the next year.)

Paulett wrote:
Young George and his six siblings received a very modest haul indeed in the year 1750, receiving courtesy of toymaker Michael Dassonville only “a Red trunk” “a fine Landau [toy carriage] & 6 horses” “2 Chairs… with Dolls in them” and “4 whirligigs.” These all arrived right on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.
But there were “a few modest packages” arriving the next twelve days.

And then, on the morning after Twelfth Night, there was a whole ’nother load of presents!
2 large Carts
A Long Gunn
A Bureau
A Bird Cage on Bellows
A small Bird Cage on bellows
A musical Castle
2 fine Pewter Potts
A Pigeon house in a Boxe
An Armey on Cariadge
2 large Brass Canons
2 ivory tea totums
A Aarons Bells
A Dutch tauper
A Boxe of household furnitures
A Dulcimer
A fencing Master
A Set of Gild Penns
A Charm
A large Barril
The two sizes of “Bird Cage on Bellows” refer to singing bird automata, discussed here. A teetotum was a type of top with a string, though it could also have sides with numbers like a dreidel. An “Aarons Bells” is the wooden and ribbon toy that today we usually call a Jacob’s Ladder. I’m guessing a “Dutch tauper” was a figure of a Dutchman with a drink.

(The picture above shows Prince George about age nine.)

Monday, December 23, 2019

A “Publick Notice” about Christmas and Its Real Source

This image gets a lot of circulation this time of year, supposedly illustrating Puritan New England’s laws against celebrating Christmas. Often it’s attached to the year 1660.

It’s been featured on Mass Moments and other websites. And it’s always looked suspect to me, Donna Seger at Streets of Salem, Lee Wright at The History List, and other folks I’ve talked to.

To begin with, the typography is suspicious, indicating a modern compositor trying to replicate antique style without really knowing how. The long s is usually rendered as an f with the crossbar all the way across, but that long s is missing altogether in “similar.” There are no ligatures. The elevated C in the first line would be almost impossible to produce with hand type held in place by leading.

The “folds” are awfully conveniently placed so as not to really impede reading the message. We can see lines of text on the other side of the paper, which doesn’t usually happen in real seventeenth-century printing.

Furthermore, as Snopes found, that isn’t actually the text of the Massachusetts ban on Christmas. As enacted in 1651, Chapter 50, Section 2, of the colonial laws said:
For preventing disorders arising in several places within this Jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such Festivals, as were Superstitiously kept in other Countries, to the great dishonour of God and offence of others:

It is therefore Ordered by this Court and the Authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing labour, feasting, or any other way upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending, shall pay for every such offence five shillings as a fine to the county.
Here’s a reprint of the 1672 edition of Massachusetts’s laws. Taking off work and feasting were concerns for the Puritans, but “the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings” wasn’t yet the center of Christmas in America.

Snopes also discovered an item in the 2 Nov 1963 Freeport Journal-Standard crediting this exact text—including every out-of-place f—to “the Atlantic Monthly magazine.” The 27 Dec 1969 Baton Rouge Advocate was even more specific, citing “a subscription renewal advertisement” in the magazine.

Looking at Atlantic Monthly volumes on Google Books, I found the image above with the misused letters and the artificial folds in the magazine as early as 1969 and as late as 1982. Indeed, it was part of a subscription promotion. I suspect a more thorough search of printed volumes would pinpoint just when that ad started to run and thus when this visual myth entered American culture.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Amos Lincoln during and after the War

I’ve been discussing the story of nineteen-year-old Amos Lincoln at the Boston Tea Party.

That wasn’t the end of Lincoln’s participation in the American Revolution. He was at the prime age for military service when the war began, and the lore about him says that his master, carpenter Thomas Crafts, Sr., “released him from his obligation as an apprentice, in consequence of his ardent desire to enter the army of his country.”

According to the Annals of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, Lincoln “was in the battle of Bunker-Hill, attached to General [John] Stark’s regiment.” That raises questions since Stark commanded men from New Hampshire. With family in Hingham, Lincoln would most likely have gone to the southern side of the siege lines and served under Gen. John Thomas. It’s possible the young man simply “attached” himself to the most convenient unit, or it’s possible later storytellers did the attaching for him.

The M.C.M.A. Annals also stated that Lincoln “was in the actions at Bennington [16 Aug 1777], Brandywine [11 Sept 1777], and Monmouth [28 June 1778].” That claim makes no sense, and not just because that would put him in two different armies during the same season.

We know from Massachusetts records that Amos Lincoln served mostly close to home. He joined the state artillery regiment commanded by his master’s son, Thomas Crafts, Jr. On 10 May 1776, Col. Crafts submitted a list of officers to the state government, and Amos Lincoln was made a captain-lieutenant. He was promoted to captain in January 1778 and remained at that rank as command of the regiment passed to Lt. Col. Paul Revere in 1779.

Boston tour guide Ben Edwards displays a return of a company of matrosses (artillery privates) that Capt. Lincoln filed with the state on 1 Jan 1781, while he was helping to guard Boston harbor. In lore this became that he was “at one time in charge of the castle,” and that he “commanded the company at Fort Independence which fired the salute at the first celebration of Independence Day in Boston, July 4, 1777.”

In 1873, T. C. Amory told this story about one of Capt. Lincoln’s campaigns:
while reconnoitring on one occasion with Lafayette, the latter suggested the importance of an earthwork at an advantageous point near by, and requested him to have it forthwith constructed. The work was already approaching completion when Colonel [John] Crane,—his immediate superior, who was also of the tea-party, and indeed seriously injured in the affair by the fall of a chest upon him,—rode by, and expressed his surprise and displeasure, inquiring by whose order he had acted. Lincoln replied that it was in obedience simply to the colonel’s master and his own, and soon made his peace by giving the colonel’s name to the fort.
This may refer to the abortive campaign against the British in Rhode Island in late 1778. Crane and Lafayette were there. But I don’t see any mention in Massachusetts records of Capt. Lincoln being assigned to that campaign.

The early profiles of Lincoln state that after the war he participated in putting down the Shays Rebellion. He worked as a master carpenter in the building of the new Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill. He was also a member of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons starting in 1777.

Amos Lincoln married Deborah Revere, daughter of his regimental commander, in January 1781. They had nine children, and Deborah died in January 1797. In May 1797, Amos married his sister-in-law Elizabeth Revere, and they had five more children, the first arriving at the end of December. Elizabeth died in April 1805, and in July Amos married the widow Martha Robb, and they had three more children.

Amos’s older brother Levi went into the law and was eventually U.S. Attorney General under Thomas Jefferson, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts under James Sullivan, and briefly acting governor. Levi’s sons Levi, Jr., and Enoch became governors of Massachusetts and Maine, respectively. One of Amos’s grandsons, Frederic W. Lincoln, was mayor of Boston for several years. Amos Lincoln’s obituary said he was “an undeviating disciple of Washington,” thus most likely a Federalist.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Amos Lincoln and His Prayerful Master

When Amos Lincoln died in 1829, the Columbian Centinel newspaper described him as “one of the intrepid band who consigned the Tea to the ocean, in 1773.” But it took another couple of decades before details of Lincoln’s story got into print.

The earliest version I’ve seen is in the Annals of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, compiled by printer Joseph T. Buckingham and published in 1853. It said:
AMOS LINCOLN was born in Hingham, March 18, 1754. At fourteen, he was apprenticed to a Mr. Crafts, of Boston, with whom he remained about six years. He was present at the destruction of the Tea in Boston harbor in 1773, (being then about nineteen years old,) and assisted in the execution of that intrepid act. It is related that his master, apprehending that he might be out on some perilous enterprize, prayed most earnestly that he might be protected and prospered, and was pleasantly disappointed the next morning when he returned in safety.
That’s not how I’d used the word “disappointed,” but I see what they’re getting at.

The Massachusetts Historical Society published a longer version of the tale in 1873 as it was observing the centenary of the Tea Party. Its Proceedings volume reported:
Mr. T. C. Amory expressed his wish to place on the honored roll two other names well known in our community, associated with the event which we this evening celebrate; namely, those of Amos Lincoln and James Swan. The former was born March 17, 1753, at Hingham. . . .

Lincoln…was apprenticed to Mr. Crafts, of Boston, who resided at the north part of the town, and still serving his time with him when the event occurred which is now commemorated. Mr. Crafts, possibly not wishing that his other apprentices should incur the consequences of so bold a proceeding, though not averse to Amos taking part in it, secretly procured an Indian disguise for him, and dressed him in his own chamber, darkening his face to the required tint.

As we find that “Thomas Crafts” joined, in 1762, St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons, which met at the Green Dragon Tavern, where, as well as at Edes & Gill’s printing-office, the arrangements for the night’s work were made, there is little doubt that he and Amos’s master was one and the same person.
(Actually, that was an error.)
Exemplary in his habits of devotion, he prayed long and fervently that the young man might be protected and prospered in his enterprise; and after some hours his anxieties were relieved by his safe return. That there was some solemn pledge among them not to reveal who were their associates, is evident from the reticence of all concerned; for, though Mr. Lincoln later acknowledged his own participation, he would not mention the particulars or betray the names of his companions.
Then came the profile of Amos Lincoln in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves of 1884:
Born in Hingham, Mass., March 17, 1753, died at Quincy, Mass., January 15, 1829. He was apprenticed to a Mr. Crafts, at the North End, who, on the evening of December 16, 1773, secretly procured for him an Indian disguise, dressed him in his own chamber,—darkening his face to the required tint,—and then, dropping on his knees, prayed most fervently that he might be protected in the enterprise in which he was engaged. 
You’ll notice a discrepancy in these profiles about Lincoln’s birthdate. In fact, they’re all wrong. Hingham vital records state that Amos was born on 18 Mar 1753.

Finally, Edward G. Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston from 1886:
Captain Amos Lincoln…came from Hingham to Boston and engaged in house-building, being subsequently employed as carpenter for the new State House. Amos participated in the tea party of Dec. 16, 1773, obtaining his Mohawk disguise through the assistance of his master, Crafts, who, it is said, at family devotions prayed “for the young man out on a perilous errand” that night.
Who was Lincoln’s master? His name was Crafts, he lived “at the North End,” and he was a house carpenter. That must have been Thomas Crafts, Sr.

The Thomas Crafts who joined the St. Andrew’s Lodge was that carpenter’s son, Thomas Crafts, Jr. He was a japanner, or decorative painter, and he lived in the South End. He was deeply involved in Boston’s political resistance, from the first protests of the “Loyall Nine” in 1765 to the public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Despite Thomas Crafts, Jr.’s prominence as a Patriot, he wasn’t listed as a participant in the Tea Party until his family published a family history in 1893. I suspect he might have become too well known to actually set foot on the tea ships.

The Crafts Family credited Amos Lincoln’s grandson, “Frederic W. Lincoln [1817-1898, shown above] (Mayor of Boston from 1857 to 1860 and from 1862 to 1866,)” with passing on the story of how the older Crafts had prepared him for the Tea Party and prayed for him. It’s possible that Frederic Lincoln was the source of all the published lore going back to 1853, or it’s possible that he collected at least some of that lore from printed sources and passed it on.

TOMORROW: Amos Lincoln’s crowd.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Amos Lincoln at the Tea Party

Back in 2006, I posted the first list of men who participated in the Boston Tea Party, published at the back of Traits of the Tea Party in 1835, followed by my best guess about who came up with that list.

I posited that those names came from Benjamin Russell (shown here), a Boston newspaper publisher and politician who came of age during the Revolution.

A lot of the names on that first list were members of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, which Russell headed. Items in his newspapers in the early 1830s showed someone in those offices was keeping track of Tea Party veterans as they died out.

Amos Lincoln, however, tests that hypothesis. He died on 15 Jan 1829, and two days later this notice appeared in Russell’s Columbian Centinel:

In Quincy, on Wednesday, Capt. AMOS LINCOLN, aged 75, formerly of Boston, and uncle of the Governors of Massachusetts and Maine,—a patriot and a soldier of the Revolution, he was one of the intrepid band who consigned the Tea to the ocean, in 1773,—commanded a company of Artillery during the first years of the Revolution, and sustained through life the character of an undeviating disciple of Washington, and that of an honest, useful man. His funeral will be this afternoon at 3 o’clock, from the residence of Mr. Nathan Josselyn, in Quincy.

Mr. Ezra Lincoln, aged 72, brother of the above, died suddenly at Hingham, on the preceding Sabbath.
Lincoln had also been a member of the Mechanic Association before moving out of Boston and letting his dues drop. The chronicler of that organization, Joseph T. Buckingham, even stated that Russell and Lincoln were friends.

Yet Lincoln does not appear on that first list of Tea Party members in 1835. Whoever compiled it must have missed or forgotten his Centinel obituary. Does that suggest Russell was not the source of that first list? Perhaps, although he could just as easily have forgotten the name of a man no longer living in town as anybody else.

In any event, Amos Lincoln was publicly identified as someone who helped to destroy the tea in 1829, when people who witnessed the furor of 1773 were still around. That recognition seems quite reliable.

It wasn’t until decades later that the more dramatic details of the Amos Lincoln story came out.

TOMORROW: The master carpenter’s prayer.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Joseph Lovering Out Late

Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves (1884) is our source for Joseph M. Lovering’s tale of the Boston Tea Party—as passed on by admiring neighbors.

Lovering was born in 1758, so he was still in his early teens in 1773. He lived near the corner of what became Hollis and Tremont Streets. Among his neighbors was the house carpenter John Crane, whose house is shown here.

Joseph’s father, also named Joseph Lovering, appears on that list of the first men to volunteer to patrol the docks and ensure no tea was landed.

Tea Leaves says:
Respecting Mr. Lovering’s connection with the Tea Party, Mr. George W. Allan, of West Canton Street, Boston, now eighty-two years of age, relates that about the year 1835, he frequently conversed with that gentlemen, who told him that on the evening of December 16, 1773, when he was fifteen years of age, he held the light in Crane’s carpenter’s shop, while he and others, fifteen in number, disguised themselves preparatory to throwing the tea into Boston harbor. He also said that some two hundred persons joined them on their way to the wharf, where the tea-ships lay.

Mr. George H. Allan, the son of George W. Allan, received a similar statement from Mr. Lovering, a short time before the latter’s death, which occurred June 13, 1848, at the age of eighty-nine years and nine months.

Mr. Lovering appears to have been the youngest person connected with this affair, of whom we have any knowledge. His boyish curiosity led him to accompany the party to the scene of operations at Griffin’s wharf, and on the following morning he was closely questioned and severely reprimanded by his parents, for being out after nine o’clock at night, as they were strict in their requirement that he should be in bed at that hour.
Other authors echo Drake in designating Lovering as the youngest participant in the Boston Tea Party. Of course, he didn’t claim to have destroyed any tea, only to have held that lantern and then watched the operation.

As an adult, Lovering followed his father into the spermaceti candle and perfume business, becoming quite successful. He was a Boston selectman and alderman and then a representative to the Massachusetts General Court. He was an active member of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, serving alongside Benjamin Russell, and of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. In sum, he had the social status in nineteenth-century Boston to be believed.

One of Drake’s informants for Lovering’s story, George H. Allan, also told him about Crane, his great-grandfather, and supplied a silhouette of tea ship owner Francis Rotch.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

John Crane “knocked down by a chest of tea”

The story of John Crane at the Boston Tea Party comes to us through the Drake brothers.

Samuel Adams Drake (1833-1905) and Francis S. Drake (1828-1885, shown here) were sons of a Boston antiquarian, and they followed his path in writing multiple books about the past. Francis liked the biographical approach while Samuel organized a lot of his books geographically.

As the hundredth anniversary of the Tea Party came around, both brothers wrote about Crane. I think Samuel was first, in his Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston (1873):
John Crane, another of the party, while busily employed in the hold of one of the ships, was knocked down by a chest of tea, falling from the deck upon him. He was taken up for dead, and concealed in a neighboring carpenter’s shop under a pile of shavings. After the party had finished they returned, and found Crane living. . . .

Here [on the corner of Hollis and Tremont Streets] was the dwelling and carpenter-shop of Colonel John Crane, who came so near meeting his death in the hold of the tea-ship. The shop is still used by mechanics of the same craft. Crane, after the construction of the fortifications on the Neck, commanded that post, being then major of a regiment of artillery, of which the Boston company formed the nucleus. He became an expert marksman, and was considered the most skilful in the regiment. It is related that one day, as he sighted a gun bearing upon Boston, he intended to hit the house of Dr. [Mather] Byles, a tory neighbor of his, who lived next door. The shot, however, passed over the doctor’s house, and tore away his own ridgepole.

Crane was wounded in New York in 1776; he was in [Gen. John] Sullivan’s expedition to Rhode Island in 1778, and succeeded [Henry] Knox in the command of the Massachusetts artillery. His services were highly valued by the commander-in-chief, who retained him near his headquarters. Colonel Crane was a Bostonian by birth.
At the end of that year, the January 1874 issue of Old and New magazine came out, carrying Francis S. Drake’s article on “The Boston Tea Party.” It said:
Col. John Crane, by trade a housewright, became a skilful artillerist, and commanded the regiment of Massachusetts artillery with distinction throughout the Revolution. So keen was his sight that he could see the course of the ball after its discharge from a cannon. Crane, while engaged in the hold of one of the tea ships, was knocked senseless by the fall of a derrick or a chest of tea upon his head. Some of his companions, supposing him dead, secreted the body under a pile of shavings in a carpenter’s shop adjoining the wharf; but he soon recovered, having sustained no permanent injury. 
Alas, neither brother mentioned the source of the information they set down.

Francis S. Drake repeated the story about Crane in his 1878 history of Roxbury and again in his 1884 book Tea Leaves, which aimed to profile every person involved in destroying the tea without, evidently, weighing the credibility of those stories.

The long Tea Leaves entry on Crane does state some sources, but not specifically about the Tea Party tale:
One of the famous tea party, his career came near being permanently ended by the fall of a derrick, used in hoisting out the tea, which, falling upon him, knocked him senseless. His comrades, supposing him killed, bore him to a neighboring carpenter’s shop, and secreted the body under a pile of shavings. They afterwards took him to his home, where good nursing and a strong constitution, soon brought him round. The late Colonel Joseph Lovering, who lived opposite to Crane, used to relate that he held the light on that memorable evening, while Crane, and other young men, his neighbors, disguised themselves for the occasion. . . .

Colonel Crane, in 1767, married Mehitabel Wheeler, believed to have been a sister of Captain Josiah Wheeler, a member of the tea party.
Wheeler’s name appears right under Crane’s on the list of men patrolling that docks that I showed yesterday.
His three daughters married three sons of Colonel John Allan, who, with his Indian allies, rendered valuable service to the patriot cause in protecting throughout the Revolutionary war, the exposed north-eastern frontier. William Allan, who married Alice Crane, was the grandfather of George H. Allan, of Boston, from whom many of the above facts have been derived, and who has made extensive collections relative to the Allan and Crane families.
Another possible source for the Tea Party anecdote was Catharine P. Perkins, wife of Richard Perkins. She stated that her father-in-law had married a grand-niece of John Crane, and in 1893 she gave the Bostonian Society a “China Tea-caddy, with tea found in the pocket and boots of John Crane, one of the Boston Tea Party, when taken injured to his home, Dec. 16, 1773.”

We can see some overlap between the Crane story and other well publicized lore about the Tea Party. The family of Thomas Melvill also preserved and displayed a vial of the loose tea that he inadvertently brought home, as I discussed last year. With the rise of the legend of the Bradlee brothers, authors noted they lived at the same intersection as Crane and often told those two stories together.

TOMORROW: The Lovering version.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

John Crane at the Tea Party

As shown yesterday, the Boston Whigs played down the crowd violence against Richard Clarke and other tea consignees in early November 1773.

That effort became easier when those merchants decided it was safer to be out of town, either in the countryside like Edward Winslow or at Castle William.

When the tea ships started to arrive late that month, town leaders deployed force to ensure no one could unload the tea. But that force was the most disciplined, quasi-official force possible: eventually the town’s militia companies took turns patrolling the dock at night. That system also guarded against unauthorized riots.

The destruction of the tea itself on 16 December was an authorized riot, carried off with a minimum of violence. Of course, there was always an implicit threat in numbers. The Customs officers and mariners on those ships knew the men pushing their way on board, some in disguise, could beat them up if they resisted. So no one did.

As a result, the only person actually kicked around that night was one of the tea destroyers: Charles Conner, detected stealing some of the tea for his own use. The Whig press proudly reported that the only property to be damaged besides East India Company tea was a lock on one ship’s hold, and that was promptly and anonymously replaced the next day.

However, people feared that a man died that night—at least according to a story that surfaced decades later. That man was the carpenter John Crane (1744-1805).

Now I’m skeptical about stories, especially good stories full of emotion and detail, that surface on paper only generations after the major events they describe. At best they’ve been passed from one narrator to another, risking distortion along the way. At worst they’re late bids for historic importance.

In the case of John Crane, we have good early evidence that he was involved in the Tea Party:
  • On the hastily handwritten list of the first set of men who volunteered to patrol the docks on 29 November, one name has been traditionally transcribed as “John Crowe.” I’ve copied that portion of the page above. It could just as well say “John Crane,” especially when I can’t find any other reference to a John Crowe in Revolutionary Boston.
  • Crane was a sergeant in the militia train of artillery before the war. According to Ebenezer Stevens, that company was on patrol at the dock on 16 December when the tea was destroyed.
  • Crane’s name appears on the earliest and most reliable list of men who helped to destroy the tea, published in 1835 when survivors and their children were still around. 
Now it’s true that Stevens’s memoir of the event didn’t mention Crane even though they were both housewrights, they both moved to Providence shortly afterward, and they returned to Massachusetts together as Rhode Island artillery officers in 1775.  However, Stevens had a falling-out with Crane over command during the war, so he might not have cared to remember his old companion by name.

Thus, it seems safe to say that John Crane participated in the Boston Tea Party. As to the specific story about him, we’ll assess that on its details.

TOMORROW: He gets knocked down.

Monday, December 16, 2019

How Newspapers Covered the Fight at the Clarke House

The fight at the Clarke house on School Street on the night of 17 Nov 1773 offers a good test case of colonial Boston’s highly politicized press.

The next morning, Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, a Whig newspaper, put all the blame for the violence on the Clarkes:
Last evening a number of people assembled before the house of Richard Clarke, Esq; one of the Tea Commissioners, and huzzaed, upon which a musket was fired from his house among the populace, which so enraged them that they broke his windows, &c.
In contrast, Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter, friendly to the royal government, blamed the crowd and said nothing about a gunshot:
Last Evening a Number of Persons assembled in School-Street, they broke the Windows and did other considerable Damage by throwing large Stones into the House of the late Middlecot Cook, Esq; near King’s Chappel, now belonging to Dr. Saltonstall of Haverhill, and occupied by Richard Clarke, Esq;
Eight days later, the News-Letter published a much longer account, quoted here. That one did mention the pistol shot, but as a response to the violent crowd and in the context of detail about damage to the house. That report clearly came from someone inside the house.

Three newspapers came out on Monday, 22 November. I already quoted the emotional account from the Clarke family that appeared in Mills and Hicks’s Boston Post-Boy.

The Fleet brothersBoston Evening-Post, which tried to stick to the political center in the Whig town, stated:
Last Wednesday Evening a number of People assembled before the House of Richard Clarke, Esq; in School-Street, and being irritated by a Musket or Pistol being fired at them out of the House, they broke the Windows, and did other Damage.
And finally there was the Boston Gazette. Its printers, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, worked closely with the town’s government and the radical Whigs. The 22 November Boston Gazette report on the fight at the Clarkes was:
Edes and Gill devoted almost all their space for local news to publishing about the town meetings against the tea that the consignees declined to attend. They wanted to portray the town as united, orderly, and not given to violence.

Only after the Boston News-Letter published its report from inside the Clarke house did the Boston Gazette mention that fight. In the 29 November issue the Whig paper ran one short paragraph at the bottom of a page:
We have not Room this Week to publish the Answer to an Account inserted in Draper’s last Paper respecting the Transactions at Mr. Clarke’s the 17th Instant [i.e., this month]; but we can assure our Readers from a Gentleman of Veracity who was a Spectator, That that Account was false in almost every Sentence, and that Mr. Draper himself knew it to be so.
The next issue of the Gazette contained no such “Answer.” Like other cries of “fake news” presented without any actual evidence of misreporting, this claim couldn’t convince anyone whose mind wasn’t already made up.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

“At length the Gentleman fired a Pistol”

Richard Draper published an issue of the Boston News-Letter on Friday, 26 Nov 1773.

That in itself was notable. The News-Letter normally appeared on Thursdays. The one-week change might reflect a flood of news during the tea crisis, or just some difficulty at the print shop.

On item appeared on page 2, prefaced with this notice: “As we had not Time last Thursday to collect the Particulars of the Transactions at Mr. [Richard] Clarke’s House the Evening before, the following Facts are sent for Publication, at this Time:——”

The report that followed was less sentimental and more detailed than what the Boston Post-Boy had published earlier in the week, quoted here. This account appears to come from one of the young men involved in arguing with the crowd outside the Clarke house:
In the midst of their innocent Festivity, they were suddenly alarmed with the sounding of Horns, whistling and shouting, and a violent Beating at the Doors: They were at no Loss to judge what Kind of Visitors they were;—having had repeated Intimations from their Friends that they might soon expect an Assault of this Kind—they accordingly prepared themselves properly for the Occasion; and tho’ this was the worst Time in the World they could have called—yet the Gentlemen far from being dismayed, betook themselves to their Defense, having first put the Ladies, who were thrown into a violent Panic on the Occasion, into the safest Part of the House——The Doors and Windows of the lower Part of the House were secured as well as it was possible—

The front Yard was soon filled with the Multitude, and by their Manner of besetting and assaulting the House, it was thought their Intention was to have entered it—One of the Gentlemen looked out of a Chamber Window and repeatedly warned them to disperse, or he would fire upon them—Some were prudent enough to withdraw, but the Majority continued, pelting of Stones and threatning—

at length the Gentleman fired a Pistol, which, as it is suppos’d, did no hurt—This occasioned a Lull for some Time—but soon gathering fresh Spirits, they renewed the Onset, with Showers of Stones and Brickbats, and soon beat in all the lower Windows; did considerable Damage to the Furniture, and slightly hurt one or two of the Besieged.—

The Gentlemen having sustained the Attack for about three Quarters of an Hour, at length received a Reinforcement of a Number of their Friends, which gave them fresh Spirits, and determined them to defend themselves to the last.—

The Rabble finding their Attacks ineffectual, at length consented to reduce the Affair to a Treaty—Accordingly a worthy Gentleman of the Town, who had laboured ineffectually at the Beginning to quiet and disperse them, was desired to acquaint the Gentlemen in the Name of the People, that, if they, the Consignees, would engage to appear the next Day at the Town-Meeting, they would disperse.—The Gentleman executed his Commission with great Discretion, and with that Zeal, which a Love of Peace had inspired.—

But the Gentlemen who had once taken a Resolution, had Spirit to maintain it—They protested against the Propriety of conferring with such People on any Terms—People who were so riotously assembled, and had just committed such a violent Outrage against the Peace of the Community—they therefore declared against entering into any Engagement with them—and rather than do it, they would put the Affair to the most fatal issue.—

This Message was carried back, and soon after the Assembly dispersed without doing any further Mischief.—Thus ended the Transactions of this Night.
This confrontation appears to have ended with more damage than the fight at the Clarkes’ warehouse two weeks earlier. The Clarkes’ response was also more dangerous, with a member of the family firing a gun. But no one died, and no one reported a serious injury. The two sides were still willing “to reduce the Affair to a Treaty.”

TOMORROW: Press coverage of this fight.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

“The Multitude began their Salutation with missive Weapons”

As I wrote back here, Jonathan Clarke (1744-1827) happened to be in London when Parliament enacted the Tea Act of 1773. He took advantage of established commercial ties to secure for his family’s firm, Richard Clarke and Sons, a contract to import the East India Company’s tea into Massachusetts.

On 17 Nov 1773, Jonathan Clarke wrote back to the chairman of that company from Boston:
After a long detention in the English channel, and a pretty long passage, I arrived here this morning from England, and there being a vessel to sail for London within a few hours, gives me an opportunity of writing you a few lines on the subject of the consignment of tea, made to our house by the Hon’ble East India Company, in which I had your friendly assistance, and of which I shall always retain a grateful sense.

I find that this measure is an unpopular one,…
That was an understatement. As discussed yesterday, the Clarkes and other Massachusetts tea importers had been summoned to Liberty Tree on 3 November. When they refused, a crowd burst into the Clarkes’ warehouse on King Street and tried to shove their way into the counting-house.

The tea consignees managed to hold off public demands for two weeks by saying they hadn’t yet received solid word from London about what was happening. Once Jonathan Clarke arrived, that excuse no longer held water. Furthermore, the captain he had sailed with, James Scott of the Hancock fleet, reported that four ships carrying tea were on their way.

The Boston crowd made their displeasure known that evening. The Clarkes were at their house next to King’s Chapel on School Street, originally owned by Elisha Cooke and rented from Dr. Nathaniel Saltonstall. On 22 November, the Boston Post-Boy—now firmly favoring the royal government under new owners Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks—published a letter describing what happened:
on the Evening of the same Day, his Brothers and Sisters, being on the joyful Occasion of his arrival, collected at his Father’s House, in School-street, in the perfect Enjoyment of that Harmony and Soul and Sentiment, which subsists in a well united and affectionate Family, about 8 o’Clock their Ears were suddenly assailed by a violent Knocking at the Door, and at the same Instant a tremendous Sound of Horns, Whistles, and other Noises of a Multitude; which caused, in those of the tender Sex a Distress, that is more readily conceived than described.

The Care and Safety of these took up the Attention of their Parent; the Sons immediately had Recourse to Weapons of Defense, and throwing open the Chamber Window commanded those who were endeavouring to force the Door to retire, threatening them with immediately firing upon them unless they withdrew; this somewhat raised their Fears, but the most hardy remaining and continuing the Violence, a Pistol was fired from the House, but not taking Place, the Multitude began their Salutation with missive Weapons, Stones, Brickbats and Clubs, and surrounding the House, they demolished the Windows, Window-Frames, and all that was frangiable, within their Power; and in this Manner they continued with Threats and outrageous Attempts for the Space of two Hours, after which they dispersed, leaving a virtuous and distressed Family, to seek Shelter and Lodging with their friendly and compassionate Neighbours.
Obviously, that letter reflected the Clarkes’ perspective. Furthermore, it appears to have come from patriarch Richard Clarke—the “Parent”—or one of the women in the family, not from one of the younger men on the front lines of the confrontation.

TOMORROW: Details from one of the gentlemen yelling out the window.

Friday, December 13, 2019

“All possible exertions to stem the current of the mob”

Richard Clarke and Sons weren’t the only merchants tapped by the East India Company to import tea into Boston in 1773. The others were:
  • Business partners Benjamin Faneuil, Jr. (1730-1787) and Joshua Winslow (1737-1775).
  • Thomas Hutchinson, Jr. (1740-1811), and his brother Elisha (1745-1824). They were sons of royal governor Thomas Hutchinson, who had invested about £1,000 in their business—what some of us today would call a conflict of interest. 
Those firms didn’t treat each other as competitors. In fact, Richard Clarke was Joshua Winslow’s uncle by marriage. Winslow and the Hutchinsons were third cousins. Everyone was in close contact with the governor.

When all three firms received the unwelcome invitation to Liberty Tree on 3 Nov 1773 that I quoted yesterday, they agreed to act in concert. The Clarkes later wrote:
The gentlemen who are supposed the designed factors for the East India Compy, viz: Mr. Thos. Hutchinson, Mr. Faneuil, Mr. Winslow & Messrs. Clarke, met in the forenoon of the 3rd instant, at the latter’s warehouse, the lower end of King Street. Mr. Elisha Hutchinson was not present, owing to a misunderstanding of our intended plan of conduct, but his brother engaged to act in his behalf.

You may well judge that none of us ever entertained the least thoughts of obeying the summons sent us to attend at Liberty Tree. After a consultation amongst ourselves and friends, we judged it best to continue together, and to endeavour, with the assistance of a few friends, to oppose the designs of the mob, if they should come to offer us any insult or injury. And on this occasion, we were so happy as to be supported by a number of gentlemen of the first rank.
There appear to have been over a dozen friends and supporters in the Clarkes’ warehouse, in addition to the family and the other importers.
About one o’clock, a large body of people appeared at the head of King Street, and came down to the end, and halted opposite to our warehouse. Nine persons came from them up into our countingroom, viz: Mr. [William] Molineux, Mr. Wm. Dennie, Doctor [Joseph] Warren, Dr. [Benjamin] Church, Major [Nathaniel] Barber, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Gabriel Johonnot, Mr. [Edward] Proctor, and Mr. Ezekiel Cheever.
Caleb H. Snow’s 1825 History of Boston didn’t list anyone named Henderson on this impromptu committee. Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves identified this man as Henderson Inches, and Bernhard Knollenberg’s Growth of the American Revolution, 1766-1775 guessed he was tax collector Benjamin Henderson.

This man was almost certainly Joseph Henderson, who this same week signed a letter asking the selectmen to call an urgent town meeting about the tea tax. On that document his name appears right below those of Samuel Adams, Church, and Proctor. Henderson was then a merchant and proprietor of Long Wharf; later he became commissary of prisoners and sheriff of Suffolk County. (Interestingly, John Rowe wrote that in July 1771 a crowd “Routed the Whores” at a waterfront house that Henderson owned.)

Henry Pelham estimated the crowd behind that committee of nine as “about 300 People.” A similar crowd, including most of the town’s top elected officials, were waiting behind at Liberty Tree. The Clarkes’ report goes on:
Mr. Molineux, as speaker of the above Comtte., addressed himself to us, and the other gentlemen present, the supposed factors to the East India Comy. and told us that we had committed an high insult on the people, in refusing to give them that most reasonable satisfaction which had been demanded in the summons or notice which had been sent us, then read a paper proposed by him, to be subscribed by the factors, importing that they solemnly promise that they would not land or pay any duty on any tea that should be sent by the East I. Comy, but that they would send back the tea to England in the same bottom, which extravagant demand being firmly refused, and treated with a proper contempt by all of us, Mr. Molineux then said that since we had refused their most reasonable demands, we must expect to feel, on our first appearance, the utmost weight of the people’s resentment, upon which he and the rest of the Comtte. left our countingroom and warehouse, and went to and mixed with the multitude that continued before our warehouse.

Soon after this, the mob having made one or two reverse motions to some distance, we perceived them hastening their pace towards the store, on which we ordered our servant to shut the outward door; but this he could not effect although assisted by some other persons, amongst whom was Nathaniel Hatch, Esqr. one of the Justices of the inferior Court for this country, and a Justice of the Peace for the county.
Nathaniel Hatch (1723-1784) was born in Dorchester and graduated from Harvard in 1742. He became a bureaucrat, accumulating royal appointments: clerk of the Massachusetts Superior Court, comptroller of the Customs office, justice of the peace and of the quorum, member of a commission to wind down the Land Bank. In 1771 he was seated on the Suffolk County court of common pleas, and at the end of 1772 Thomas Hutchinson, Jr., joined him on that bench.

Hatch also had a family tie to at least one tea agent. In 1768 his stepdaughter Elizabeth Lloyd had married Joshua Loring, Jr., whose sister was the wife of Joshua Winslow.
This genm. made all possible exertions to stem the current of the mob, not only by declaring repeatedly, and with a loud voice, that he was a magistrate, and commanded the people, by virtue of his office, and in his Majesty’s name, to desist from all riotous proceedings, and to disperse [i.e., he read the Riot Act], but also by assisting in person; but the people not only made him a return of insulting & reproachful words, but prevented his endeavors, by force and blows, to get our doors shut, upon which Mr. Hatch, with some other of our friends, retreated to our counting-room.

Soon after this, the outward doors of the store were taken off their hinges by the mob, and carried to some distance; immediately a number of the mob rushed into the warehouse, and endeavored to force into the counting-room, but as this was in another story, and the stair-case leading to it narrow, we, with our friends—about twenty in number—by some vigorous efforts, prevented their accomplishing their design.

The mob appeared in a short time to be dispersed, and after a few more faint attacks, they contented themselves with blocking us up in the store for the space of about an hour and a half, at which time, perceiving that much the greatest part of them were drawn off, and those that remained not formidable, we, with our friends, left the warehouse, walked up the length of King Street together, and then went to our respective houses, without any molestation, saving some insulting behavior from a few despicable persons.
Thus ended the first physical confrontation of the tea crisis in Boston. According to Gov. Hutchinson, “This seems to have been intended only as an intimation to the consignees, of what they had to expect.”

TOMORROW: Shooting on School Street.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

“Expected that you personally appear at Liberty Tree”

Richard Clarke (1711-1795, shown here in a detail from a family portrait by his son-in-law John Singleton Copley) was one of Boston’s leading tea merchants.

Clarke’s son Jonathan happened to be in London when Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773. That law mandated the East India Company to designate exclusive agents, or wholesalers, for tea in the major North American ports. Jonathan Clarke secured one of those valuable slots for the family firm, Richard Clarke & Sons.

News soon got back to Boston. Politicians immediately began to organize resistance to the new law. The idea that “taxation without representation is tyranny” was firmly established in people’s minds, and people knew that the tea tax would go toward salaries for Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, royally appointed judges, and the Customs service.

In the middle of November 1773, the Clarkes sent a long letter to their London contact, Abraham Dupuis, describing the pressure on them not to import tea. One part of the letter said:
in the morning of the 2nd instant [i.e., of this month], about one o’clock, we were roused out of our sleep by a violent knocking at the door of our house, and on looking out of the window we saw (for the moon shone very bright) two men in the courtyard. One of them said he had brought us a letter from the country. A servant took the letter of him at the door, the contents of which were as follows:
Boston, 1st Nov., 1773.

Richard Clarke & Son:

The Freemen of this Province understand, from good authority, that there is a quantity of tea consigned to your house by the East India Company, which is destructive to the happiness of every well-wisher to his country. It is therefore expected that you personally appear at Liberty Tree, on Wednesday next, at twelve o’clock at noon day, to make a public resignation of your commission, agreeable to a notification of this day for that purpose.

Fail not upon your peril. O. C.
Two letters of the same tenor were sent in the same manner to the other factors [i.e., wholesalers].

On going abroad we found a number of printed notifications posted up in various parts of the town, of which the following is a copy:
To the Freemen of this and the other Towns in the Province.


You are desired to meet at Liberty Tree, next Wednesday, at twelve o’clock at noon day, then and there to hear the persons to whom the tea, shipped by the East India Company, is consigned, make a public resignation of their office as consignees, upon oath. And also swear that they will reship any teas that may be consigned to them by the said Company, by the first vessel failing for London.

Boston, Novr. 1st, 1773. O. C., Secrey.
In this you may observe a delusory design to create a public belief that the factors had consented to resign their trust on Wednesday, the 3d inst., on which day we were summoned by the above-mentioned letter to appear at Liberty Tree, at 11 o’clock, A.M.

All the bells of the meetinghouses for public worship were set a-ringing and continued ringing till twelve; the town cryer went thro’ the town summoning the people to assemble at Liberty Tree.

By these methods, and some more secret ones made use of by the authors of this design, a number of people, supposed by some to be about 500, and by others more, were collected at the time and place mentioned in the printed notification. They consisted chiefly of people of the lowest rank, very few reputable tradesmen, as we are informed, appeared amongst them. There were indeed two merchants, reputed rich, and the selectmen of the town, but these last say they went to prevent disorder.
Summoning a royal appointee to publicly resign was an act that hearkened back to the anti-Stamp Act protests of 1765, when the great elm in the South End was first dubbed Liberty Tree. Since some of those protests had ended in property-damaging riots, the invitation carried a clear threat of violence.

Another ominous historical allusion in these notes appears in the initials at the bottom: “O. C.” seems to refer to Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader who overthrew Charles I in the 1640s. Most of the British Empire had come to see that revolution as having gone too far. New England was one of the few parts of the empire that still admired Cromwell and what he stood for.

TOMORROW: The tea agents’ response to this summons.