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, November 05, 2019

“Grosly threatning to Hoist him up in the Cart”

The 28 Oct 1769 tarring and feathering of sailor George Gailer was a public event in Boston. The mob meant to humiliate Gailer for giving information to the Customs service and to intimidate anyone else who might consider becoming a whistleblower. Today we’d call that obstruction of justice.

We know how much noise the procession made from the way gentlemen wrote about it. Province secretary Andrew Oliver described “a great noise of halloing & huzzaing by people who I could easily perceive shifted their Stations, by the Noise coming from different quarters successively.” He called the event a “tumultuous affair.”

Merchant John Rowe wrote:
In the evening a large Mob Assembled & got hold of one George Greyer an informer who they stript naked & painted him all over with Tar & then covered him with Feathers & put him in a Cart & carried him thro’ all the main Streets of the Town huzzaring &c and at nine dismissed him—this matter occasioned much terror &c in some fearfull People among the Inhabitants—When this happened I was with the Possee.
All that occurred in a town that contained about 800 soldiers who had been sent there specifically to protect the Customs officers. So how did the military react to that disturbance?

We know the army and navy were helpful in hiding printer John Mein from both the mob and the civic authorities who hunted him late that same afternoon. But the army doesn’t appear to have made any move to save Gailer.

Here’s the account of Cpl. Thomas Burgess of the 29th Regiment, taken down by a justice in Amboy, New Jersey, in the summer of 1770:
A numerous Mobb assembled in King Street Boston, who proceeded up to the Main Guard, in pursuit of one Mr. Mein A Printer insisting that said Mein had taken refuge there and wanted to get him out.

That dureing the time of the said Mobb being at the Main Guard the relief was ordered out to go Sentry, the Mobb being very numerous would not fall back in order that said Relief (of which this Deponent was one) might form According to Military Discipline, upon which the Officer of the Guard Lieutinant [James] Basset ordered said relief off to their respective posts and not to Offend any one.

That said Deponant was planted at his Majesties Custom House, and shortly after heard A Mobb in some part of King Street who Directed their way towards the Custom House with an uncommon Noise and stoped at his post, haveing a Naked Man in A Cart who they called an Informer.

That said Mobb left his Post at that time, but soon returned again makeing a full Stop as before, haveing the above mentioned Man in the Cart all over Tared and Feathered.

That the said Mobb gave three Shouts, and kept closeing on this Deponant, whereupon he this Deponent desired them to Desist and keep off his Post, the Mobb then directed their way though Royal Exchange Lane and some of them Broke some Windows in the Custom House where upon this Deponant desired a second time that the[y] would desist upon which the Mobb surrounded said Deponant who thinking himselfe in danger began to load his Firelock thinking to fright the Mobb away but to no Effect for they closed him up and struck at and abused him most grosly threatning to Hoist him up in the Cart and use him as the did the Man they had tared and Feathered
So the presence of armed sentries throughout Boston certainly didn’t deter this mob. Burgess saw the crowd carting Gailer around without his shirt and then saw the procession return after the sailor had been “all over Tared and Feathered.” According to the corporal, people even threatened him with the same treatment.

In 1773 the 29th Regiment listed Lt. James Bassett as twenty-three years old with eleven years of service. That means in 1769 he was as young as nineteen, though he had been in the army (at least nominally) since the age of twelve. Bassett was officer of the day again on 5 Mar 1770, when there was more trouble between the crowd and the sentry at the Custom house.

TOMORROW: Pope Night in 1769.

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