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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Sunday, January 20, 2019

“Drunken Officers attacked the town house watch”?

On 20 Jan 1775, there was a confrontation between the Boston town watch and several British army officers.

I’ve written before about such conflicts, especially during the 1768-70 occupation, and how they reflect differences in class and disagreements about sources of authority. Did British military gentlemen need to defer to working-class Bostonians who had been empowered by local law, especially if those gentlemen were in Boston in the first place because of alleged disrespect for Parliament’s law?

Naturally, there was disagreement about the nature and fault of this fracas, too.

The merchant John Andrews wrote to a relative on 21 January:
Last evening a number of drunken Officers attacked the town house watch between eleven and 12 o’clock, when the assistance of the New [i.e., West] Boston watch was call’d, and a general battle ensued; some wounded on both sides.

A party from the main guard was brought up with their Captain together with another party from the Governor’s [i.e., from Province House]. Had it not been for the prudence of two Officers that were sober, the Captain of the Main Guard would have acted a second Tragedy to the 5th March, as he was much disguis’d with Liquor and would have order’d the guard to fire on the watch had he not been restrain’d.

His name is [John] Gore, being a Captain in the 5th or Earl Peircy’s regiment. He was degraded not long since for some misdemeanour.
On the other side, Lt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment wrote in his diary for the same day:
Last night there was a Riot in King Street in consequence of an Officer having been insulted by the Watchmen, which has frequently happen’d, as those people suppose from their employment that they may do it with impunity; the contrary however they experienc’d last night: a number of Officers as well as Townsmen were assembled, and in consequence of the Watch having brandished their hooks and other Weapons, several Officers drew their Swords and wounds were given on both sides, some Officers slightly; one of the Watch lost a Nose, another a Thumb, besides many others by the points of Swords, but less conspicuous than those above mention’d.
As for Andrews’s statement that Capt. Gore had been “degraded” in rank, Barker had already noted when Gore was “removed from the light Infantry” company of the 5th. That wasn’t for “some misdemeanour” but after “having complained to the Comr. in Chief [Thomas Gage] of the insufficiency of some of the accoutrements of the Company.

Barker added that Gore, Lt. Col. William Walcott, and Col. Percy “have long been upon ill terms.” And going over his regimental commanders’ heads hadn’t helped Gore’s standing.

TOMORROW: Higher authorities step in.

[Let me just note that this Capt. John Gore of the royal army was completely different from the militia captain John Gore who headed the family profiled in The Road to Concord. But colonial Boston being what it was, of course there would have to be two men called Capt. John Gore in a community of only 20,000.]

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