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, 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.

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