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, October 19, 2019

“Mr. Otis made a Trip (as they call it) at Mr. Robinson”

In the 25 Sept 1769 Boston Gazette, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill ran two more eyewitness accounts of the fight between James Otis, Jr., and John Robinson.

One came from Thomas Brett, a merchant from Ireland. He said that on 5 September he was “in a Shop almost opposite the British Coffee-House” when he heard “an unusual Noise” that made him go look to see what was happening.

When I entered the Coffee-Room I perceiv’d two Gentlemen fighting with each other, the rest of the Company round them. I perceived several people rush upon Mr. Otis but in particular when Mr. Otis made a Trip (as they call it) at Mr. Robinson, which I believe would have brought him to the ground if he had not been supported by many people, who held him up.
Brett described John Gridley’s attempt to intervene, how “several people with Sticks struck” at him, and how he was shoved out of the building. Otis was shoved out at the same time, Brett said—a detail not in Gridley’s recollection.

And I don’t recall Gridley mentioning this moment, either:
Mr. Gridley in a short Time made his Appearance the second Time with his Arm (if I don’t mistake) tied up, and his Face very much disfigured with Blood, who said they were all a Pack of cowardly Rascals to take such an Advantage of a single Man, and told them altho’ one of his Arms were disabled, he would fight any cowardly Rascal of them all:
The Irish merchant also remarked on another man in the coffee-house, not previously mentioned:
I heard Mr. John Mein say that he was very glad if Mr. Otis had got much more; but said he was sorry for Mr. Gridley, as he believed he was an honest Fellow. I heard him say to some other Man he lost some Wine about it, but should pay it with the greatest Pleasure.
Mein, a Scottish bookseller and printer, had been carrying on a feud with Otis, Edes, and Gill since early 1768. That, too, had turned violent (Mein clubbed Gill because Edes had refused to confirm that a particular newspaper attack on Mein had come from Otis). So just as Mein was pleased to see Otis get beat up, Edes and Gill were probably happy to drag Mein into that affair.

“Upon the whole, as I was a Stander-by,” Brett concluded his affidavit; “in my Opinion there was foul Play shewn to Mr. Otis.” He signed that document on 21 September in front of justices Richard Dana and Samuel Pemberton, respectable officials who were always sympathetic to the Whig party line.

TOMORROW: Another witness, another accusation.

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