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, 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.

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