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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Thursday, December 31, 2020

“A determination to discourage a faithful Servant of the Crown”

For acting governor Thomas Hutchinson, the dispute between his Council and the provincial secretary Andrew Oliver was yet one more headache in 1770.

On 28 September, Hutchinson told the departed but still official governor, Sir Francis Bernard: “[Royall] T[yle]r is sowered by that deposition of the Secretarys which was published in England and it has hurt me every way.” (Bernard had been responsible for that publication, at least in part, but Hutchinson didn’t let on that he suspected that.)

Writing to John Pownall, an official in the Colonial Office, two days later, Hutchinson was more careful to avoid suggesting the controversy had hurt his effectiveness:
The Council except a few are…very friendly to me though there is some abatement of their friendship since the deposition of the Secretary taken by my order relative to the Affair of the Troops has been published. These publications & the sufference of the Letters to the Ministry of which a fresh parcel was sent by the last Ship to be made publick do infinite disservice.
Ironically, Hutchinson was just as upset about leaks as the Council—just different leaks.

There was also a private dimension to this dispute. On 10 October, while the Council was in the midst of collecting the depositions I quoted over the past couple of days, the acting governor’s son Thomas, Jr., married Sally Oliver, daughter of the secretary.

The families were already related by marriage. Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver had married sisters. In February 1770, Hutchinson’s daughter Sarah married Dr. Peter Oliver, son of Andrew Oliver’s brother Peter.

All three of those men were royal appointees. Thomas Hutchinson was lieutenant governor, thus acting governor, and also chief justice of Massachusetts. Andrew Oliver was secretary and was supposed to have been the stamp agent. Peter Oliver was a judge. Furthermore, other relatives were in the provincial government. John Cotton, the deputy secretary, was half-brother to the sisters who had married Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver. And Hutchinson had been trying to get his nephew Nathaniel Rogers appointed provincial secretary before the young man died.

Of course, there were family alliances on the other side of the political divide as well. James Bowdoin, the principal author of the complaint against Oliver, was a son-in-law of fellow Councilor John Erving, brother-in-law of fellow Councilor James Pitts, and father-in-law of Customs Commissioner John Temple, whom other royal appointees regarded as a snake.

Eighteenth-century society ran on such familial connections. People expected officials to look out for their relatives, and officials expected their relatives to be loyal assistants in government. Neither side was pure in this regard, and both sides complained about the other using family ties too much.

On 30 October, Hutchinson summed up his view of the controversy over Oliver’s description of the Council meeting in another letter to Pownall:
Unfortunately it has got published. Mr. Tyler denied that he made any mention of the Commissioners. I am sure I heard it from him but could not be certain whether that Day or a day or two before. Three or four Witnesses present swore, they heard it that Day. All the Council say they do not remember it.

They have not however directly charged the Secretary with false swearing but to a long Narrative drawn up by Mr. Bowdoin there is added divers Resolves declaring him guilty of a Breach of trust in taking the Minutes &c. The whole is a weak but malicious injurious performance which they have ordered to be recorded. . . .

I gave them my Opinion that these Resolves would be more resented than any thing which preceeded them as they plainly indicated a determination to discourage a faithful Servant of the Crown from doing his Duty as far as lay in their power.

These proceedings I hope will not pass without censure either in [privy] Council or when the State of the Province comes before the Parliament. Such a censure would mortify the party and being made matter of Record here would remove the reproach which otherwise will be transmitted to posterity upon the Secretarys Character.
In fact, the London government was already preparing to reward Andrew Oliver for his service. When Hutchinson officially became the royal governor, Oliver was promoted into his brother-in-law’s spot as lieutenant governor. And in 1772 Peter Oliver succeeded Hutchinson as chief justice.

(Hutchinson’s 1770 letters will appear in the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s next collection of his correspondence, scheduled to be published in the new year.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

“The breach of a most essential privilege of this Board”

On 12 Oct 1770, eight members of the Massachusetts Council delivered their depositions about what had happened on 6 March, the day after the Boston Massacre.

Harrison Gray, who was also the provincial treasurer, dated his testimony 9 October while the other depositions were all dated on the 12th. Samuel Danforth, the senior Councilor present, and Royall Tyler provided solo accounts. Three men signed one deposition and two another, very similar, which doesn’t really add up to independent evidence.

The focus of controversy was provincial secretary Andrew Oliver’s report that Tyler had said of prominent men in Massachusetts, “they had formed their plan, and that this was a part of it to remove the Troops out of town, and after that the Commissioners.” And the main issues were—

1) Did Tyler really refer to the Customs Commissioners? Witnesses saying he did included Capt. Benjamin Caldwell, R.N.; deputy secretary John Cotton; and clerk Francis Skinner. Lt. Col. William Dalrymple said, “Something of that kind was mentioned by some Gentleman of the Council during the debates; but I cannot say whether it was by Mr. Tyler.” All eight Councilors said they had no recollection of that remark, some said they would definitely have remembered such a thing, and some argued that mentioning the Commissioners made no logical sense.

2) When Tyler spoke of a ”plan,” did he mean a plan formed before the shooting on 5 March or in the twelve to eighteen hours that had elapsed since it? Again, all the Councilors agreed that they didn’t see how anyone would take Tyler’s words to mean the first. To be sure, they had to work through some logical and semantic brambles to get there, as the scholarly Samuel Danforth showed:
whereas the mention made by Mr. Tyler of a plan that had been formed, (considering that the interval of time between those outrages and Mr. Tyler’s narration was scarce sufficient wherein to form such a plan and the knowledge of it to reach Mr. Tyler) may by some be understood to refer to a plan formed before those outrages were committed, this deponent testifies that nothing said by Mr. Tyler, in his hearing, did convey to him any idea of such a plan formed previous to those outrages; and how incautiously and madly so ever some individuals highly incensed, might have expressed themselves, and what apprehensions so ever Mr. Tyler (thro’ misinformation or otherwise) might then have of a plan formed for removing the troops from the town, in any other way than by prevailing with their officers to remove them, this deponent verily believes that no combination had ever been formed, or plan concerted for the purpose of removing the troops, either in the town of Boston or elsewhere; having never heard it suggested by any other person then Mr. Tyler either then or at any time since
On this point, witnesses Cotton and Skinner agreed that Tyler hadn’t appeared to mean a plan made before the Massacre. However, no one disputed that Tyler had spoken of a “plan.” 

3) Was Oliver wrong to send to London a description of the Council meeting that went beyond the official minutes? The secretary declared that he could, and indeed should, provide a full report on the Council to Sir Francis Bernard, still the official royal governor. The Councilors felt Oliver had broken a norm and cast the province in a bad light just like Bernard’s letters to London, exposed the year before.

That bad light was the real issue, of course. Especially since Bernard had Oliver’s account printed (not unlike how the Boston Whigs had published his letters). Massachusetts politicians had been trying to portray Boston as a peaceful, loyal British town unfairly maligned by royal officials and subjected to an unnecessary military presence. That argument was harder to make if the Council—the governor’s top local advisors—had been close to threatening armed rebellion.

After collecting all the statements, on 16 October the Council named a committee to report on the matter. This consisted of five Councilors not present on 6 March: William Brattle; James Bowdoin (shown above); James Otis, Sr.; John Bradbury; and Stephen Hall.

According to acting governor Thomas Hutchinson, Bowdoin had already revealed his response to Oliver’s account by telling Thomas Flucker, “Why this Deposition of the Secretary has defeated every thing we aimed at by the Narrative & Deposition sent home.”

Sure enough, on 24 October the Council adopted a detailed report, penned by Bowdoin, that went over every disputed detail and ended in four resolutions:
I. RESOLVED unanimously, That Andrew Oliver, Esq; Secretary of this Province, by secretly taking minutes at Council, of what was said by the members of Council, in their debates, also by signing a paper containing those minutes, and further by giving his deposition to the truth of it, has in each and all those instances acted inconsistent with the duty of his office, and thereby is guilty of a breach of trust.

II. RESOLVED unanimously, That the said Andrew Oliver, Esq; inasmuch as such proceedings are destructive of all freedom of debate, is guilty of the breach of a most essential privilege of this Board.

III. WHEREAS the said Andrew Oliver, Esq; has suggested in his said deposition, that because his draft was allowed strictly to express the truth, it would not stand well on the Council records, and was therefore rejected by the Council; RESOLVED unanimously, That by such suggestion he has injured and abused the members composing that Council, and by so doing has reflected great dishonor on this Board.

IV. RESOLVED, That an attested copy of this report, and the petitions and depositions, to which it relates, be sent to Mr. Agent [William] Bollan, in order that he may make the best use of them he can, for the benefit of this Province.
Oliver responded with a letter protesting his honor and repeating that he’d reported the truth. The Council sent back a letter rejecting that claim and had the whole collection of documents printed as Proceedings of His Majesty's Council of the Province on Massachusetts-Bay, Relative to the Deposition of Andrew Oliver, Esq. Just one more dispute between the Massachusetts Whigs and the royal authorities with no resolution, just a feeling of grievance on both sides.

TOMORROW: A family feud?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Massachusetts Council Investigates Itself

Yesterday we left off as provincial secretary Andrew Oliver’s sworn statement about what members of the Massachusetts Council had said on the day after the Boston Massacre made its way back to Massachusetts.

That statement was the final item in A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston, published in London. Capt. James Scott, who worked for John Hancock, carried a copy of that pamphlet to Boston. Edes and Gill printed Oliver’s deposition without comment in the 24 September Boston Gazette.

The Whigs quickly leapt to the conclusion that Oliver’s description of the 6 March Council meeting was the latest move by royal appointees to misrepresent the province as rebellious.

And in a way they were right—the statement and its publication were part of a campaign by high officials. As Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson later wrote (modestly referring to himself in the third person), they wanted to be sure the London government understood what they were dealing with:
he asked the secretary to recollect, as well as he could, what passed in the debate at council, and to commit it to writing, intending to send it to England, to shew in the fullest manner the reasons for the lieutenant governor’s complying with their advice, and not with any intention to set the council in general or any particular member, in an unfavourable light.

The secretary informed him, that, of his own mere motion, and for his private satisfaction, he had done it the evening before, while the debates were fresh in his mind.

After he had transcribed and corrected the minutes, he made oath to them; and they were transmitted at the same time with the copies of the votes or minutes of council, and other papers relative to the transaction, not to the secretary of state, but to governor [Francis] Bernard, who, at that time, continued governor of the province.
Oliver (shown above) made his oath before justice of the peace Foster Hutchinson, the acting governor’s cousin. 

Soon after the pamphlet arrived, the Massachusetts General Court started a new legislative session in Cambridge, with the Council meeting in Harvard’s Philosophy Chamber. On 4 October, the Council took up Oliver’s statement:
ONE of the Members of the Board having acquainted the Board that he had seen a Deposition signed Andrew Oliver, which was published in the Appendix to a Pamphlet lately printed in London; in which Deposition divers Gentlemen of the Council, which consisted of 8 Members then present, therein said to be convened on the 5th Day of March last, are represented as having made such a Declaration to His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, respecting a plan formed by the People to remove the King’s Troops and the Commissioners of the Customs from the Town of Boston, as was likely to be attended with the most pernicious Consequences to this Province—He thereupon moved that the Board would make Enquiry of the Gentlemen of which said Council consisted, what Foundation there was for such a representation—

Which motion being seconded, the Board desired said Gentlemen, namely, Mr. [Samuel] Danforth, Mr. [John] Erving, Mr. [Thomas] Hubbard, Mr. [Harrison] Gray, Mr. [James] Russell, Mr. [Royall] Tyler, Mr. [James] Pitts, and Mr. [Samuel] Dexter, to prepare a true State of the Matter and lay the same before the Board as soon as may be.
Those were the eight Council members present at the 6 March meeting. Oliver had named five of them in his account. (To be exact, he had named three and referred to two more by title, and the London pamphlet had helpfully identified them in footnotes.)

The next day, Oliver asked for a chance to respond and to call witnesses to support his account of the discussion. The Council therefore accepted evidence on 9 October from Capt. Benjamin Caldwell of H.M.S. Rose, Lt. Col. William Dalrymple of the 14th Regiment, deputy secretary John Cotton, and clerk Francis Skinner.

All those witnesses basically agreed with Oliver’s description of what Royall Tyler had said about the town and countryside being angry enough to attack the troops if the governor didn’t remove them, and to drive the Customs Commissioners out of Boston as well. They also agreed that no other members of the Council had objected to Tyler’s statement.

Councilors bore down on Cotton and Skinner about one important detail. When Tyler said of the Whigs, “they had formed their plan, and that this was a part of it to remove the troops out of town, and after that the commissioners,” did he let slip news of a plan predating the Massacre? No, said those provincial employees; they didn’t think Tyler’s mention of a ”plan” on 6 March necessarily referred to any planning more than a day old.

TOMORROW: The Councilors’ contentions.

Monday, December 28, 2020

“To see the minutes made by the secretary”

Here’s another controversy from 1770 that I didn’t note on the exact 250th anniversaries of its notable dates since I had other topics at hand and, frankly, it was drawn out more than it really deserved.

On 6 March, the day after the Boston Massacre, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and his Council met in the Town House (now the Old State House museum, maintained by Revolutionary Spaces).

As I discussed back here, the town of Boston also had a meeting that day to urge the royal authorities into moving the army regiments out of town. Eventually Hutchinson and the army commander, Lt. Col. William Dalrymple, agreed to do that as long as the other took at least an equal share of the blame for conceding.

The provincial Secretary, Andrew Oliver, wanted the authorities in London to understand the pressures that Hutchinson—his friend, relative, and political ally—was under. So in his first draft of the official records of that Council meeting, Oliver wrote:
Divers gentlemen of the council informed his honour the lieutenant-governor, They were of opinion, that it was the determination of the people to have the troops removed from the town; and that this was not the sense of the inhabitants of the town of Boston only, but of other towns in the neighbourhood, who stood ready to come in, in order to effect this purpose, be the consequence of it what it may; unless they shall be withdrawn by the commanding officers, which, in their opinion, was the only method to prevent the effusion of blood, and, in all probability, the destruction of his Majesty’s troops, who must be overpowered by numbers, which would not be less than ten to one.
The next morning, however, the Council met again and asked “to see the minutes made by the secretary of this day’s proceedings set in order.” They thought Oliver’s summary sounded like a threat of rebellion and violence. The Councilors adopted new language instead:
That the people of this, and some of the neighbouring towns, were so exasperated and incensed, on account of the inhuman and barbarous destruction of a number of the inhabitants by the troops, that they apprehended imminent danger of further bloodshed, unless the troops were forthwith removed from the body of the town, which, in their opinion, was the only method to prevent it.
That text went into the official minutes.

But a week later, on 13 March, Oliver wrote out a more detailed description of what Councilors had told the governor. This time he named names, quoting one seasoned politician at length:
Mr. [Royall] Tyler had said, “That it was not such people as had formerly pulled down the lieutenant-governor’s house which conducted the present measures, but that they were people of the best character among us—men of estates, and men of religion: That they had formed their plan, and that this was a part of it to remove the troops out of town, and after that the commissioners: That it was impossible the troops should remain in town; that the people would come in from the neighbouring towns, and that there would be 10,000 men to effect the removal of the troops, and that they would probably be destroyed by the people—should it be called rebellion—should it incur the loss of our charter, or be the consequence what it would.”

Divers other gentlemen adopted what Mr. Tyler had said, by referring expressly to it, and thereupon excusing themselves from enlarging. Mr. [James] Russell of Charlestown and Mr. [Samuel] Dexter of Dedham, confirmed what he said respecting the present temper and disposition of the neighbouring towns; every gentlemen spoke of the occasion, and unanimously expressed their sense of the necessity of the immediate removal of the troops from the town, and advised his honour to pray that colonel Dalrymple would order the troops down to Castle William;

one gentlemen [Harrison Gray], to enforce it, said, ”That the lieutenant-governor had asked the advice of the council, and they had unanimously advised him to a measure; which advice, in his opinion, laid the lieutenant-governor under an obligation to act agreeably thereto.” Another gentlemen [John Erving] pressed his compliance with greater earnestness, and told him, “That if after this any mischief should ensue, by means of his declining to join with them, the whole blame must fall upon him; but that if he joined with them, and colonel Dalrymple, after that, should refuse to remove the troops, the blame would then lie at his door.”
Oliver swore to the truth of that account and put it on the next ship to London. There it was printed along with depositions about local hostility to the king’s soldiers in A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England. And then that pamphlet came back to Boston.

TOMORROW: More pamphlets.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Hagist on Looting by the Hessians

At the first Battle of Trenton in December 1776, Gen. George Washington’s army surprised the king’s troops and took over 900 prisoners, as later detailed on this government document.

The three infantry regiments those men came from were designated by the names of their commanders, not by numbers in the British army. And those names were German, as the prisoners were.

According to Don Hagist’s new book, Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution, those “Hessians” were already gaining a poor reputation for looting, even among their own allies. Don writes:
…by late 1776, the army in America was no longer all British. Needing more professional, campaign-ready troops than could be spared from Britain or raised and trained rapidly, the British government augmented the army with regiments from German states. Collectively called Hessians even though regiments came not only from Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Hanau but also Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Anspach-Bayreuth, Waldeck, and other states, these troops also had an appetite for plunder—and it was on them that many British officers laid the bulk of the blame.

Major Stephen Kemble, an American-born officer serving as deputy adjutant general, confided several complaints to his journal in 1776. “The Ravages committed by the Hessians, and all Ranks of the Army, on the poor Inhabitants of the Country, make their case deplorable; the Hessians destroy all the fruits of the Earth without regard to Loyalists or Rebels, the property of both being equally a prey to them, in which our Troops are too ready to follow their Example, and are but too much Licensed in it,” he wrote on October 3. A month later, he repeated the lament: “The Country all this time unmercifully Pillaged by our Troops, Hessians in particular, no wonder if the Country People refuse to join us.” . . .

The Germans, with no sense of attachment to America as their nation’s colony, behaved as European troops normally did in an enemy country, despite receiving the same orders and admonitions as their British allies.
Don Hagist’s book has a lot more to say about the men who made up the British army, and how they differed both from the Hessians and from common conceptions of them. For a taste, check out his recent online talk for the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Virtual Visits to Trenton on the Battle Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the first and more famous Battle of Trenton. This year, in lieu of a reenactment and other in-person events, the Old Barracks Museum is hosting a series of online presentations.

This means that those of us from outside the area can make a virtual visit to Trenton while still enjoying our holiday weekend at home. And we don’t have to brave the cold, either.

The museum schedule includes these afternoon events:
  • 12:00 noon: “The Trouble with Trenton Virtual Puppet Show!” Register here.
  • 1:00 P.M.: “Hogmanay,” a traditional Scottish celebration of the New Year, presented by the Trent House Museum with the Practitioners of Musick. Suggested donation $10. Register here.
  • 2:00: “The Real Story of the Battle of Trenton” followed by live questions and answers with Asher Lurie, Chief of Historical Interpretation. Register here.
  • 3:00: “Blacks at the Battles of Trenton,” a talk by Algernon Ward, Jr., of Trenton. Register online.
  • 4:00: “The Gentler Conflict: Dancing in 18th-Century America” with Sue Dupre and Early Music Princeton. Register here.
At 5:00, William (Larry) Kidder will speak online about Revolutionary Princeton, 1774-1783: The Biography of an American Town in the Heart of a Civil War. His new book details the lives of Princetonians who lived through the Revolutionary War, building on his previous work in Crossroads of the Revolution: Trenton 1774-1783 and Ten Crucial Days: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds. Register for the talk here.

Finally, at 7:00, Don Hagist will discuss his new book Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution, which brings life to the redcoats, describing their training, experiences, and outcomes. Drawing on military records and other primary sources in British, American, and Canadian archives, and the writings of dozens of officers and soldiers, Noble Volunteers shows how a peacetime army responded to the onset of war, how professional soldiers adapted quickly to become tactically dominant, and what became of the thousands of career soldiers once the war was over. Register for that talk here.

All of these events are free, but in signing up there’s an opportunity to donate to the museum to keep its programs going. You can also order books by Kidder and Hagist through the museum’s online store.

Friday, December 25, 2020

A “very Cheerfull” Christmas at the Rowes’

The merchant John Rowe was one of Boston’s leading Anglicans, so he celebrated Christmas while his Congregationalist neighbors generally ignored the holiday.

Here’s how Rowe described 25 Dec 1770 in his published diary, 250 years ago today:
Christmas Day — I dined at home with Capt. John Linzee Mr. John Lane, Dr. Miller Joseph Golthwait Mr. Inman, Mrs. Rowe, Miss Lucy Flucker & Sucky Inman — The same Company staid & spent the afternoon & evening & wee were very Cheerfull.
That’s a lot of different surnames, but I can map close relations among many of those people. “Mrs. Rowe” was the diarist’s wife, of course, the former Hannah Speakman.

Before Hannah’s sister Susannah died in 1761, she had married Ralph Inman (1713-1788, shown above courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums). The Inmans’ daughter “Sucky” or Susannah (1754-1792) lived in Boston with her aunt and uncle Rowe, and her father had come in from Cambridge for this holiday.

John Linzee (1743-1798) was a captain in the Royal Navy who would spend increasing time at the Rowes’ house in 1772. Finally that summer he married Susannah Inman, then eighteen years old. Later he participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill and some other naval actions during the siege of Boston.

Lucy Flucker (1756-1824) was probably at this party as a teen-aged friend of Sucky Inman. She spotted Henry Knox in a militia parade in 1773 and married him the next year. She thus got to see the war from the other side.

Joseph Goldthwait (1730-1779) was a former major in the provincial army who became commissary to the royal troops in 1768 and filled other posts in military administration afterward. He died of illness in New York during the war.

John Lane was a London merchant and “Old Friend” of Rowe’s. Depending on what “Old Friend” meant, they may have met as young men when Rowe was still in England or recently when “John Lane, jun.” visited Boston and New York in 1764-65. Lane came back to Boston in August 1769 “in the Nassau very unexpected,” Rowe wrote, and he stayed until July 1771, regularly appearing in Rowe’s diary. In March 1771, for example, Rowe came home to find Lane and another man singing and playing his niece’s spinet.

Lane’s family firm, called Lane, Son & Fraser in this period, did a lot of business with Rowe and other New England merchants. They even owned ships together, including the Eleanor, one of the vessels at risk in the Boston Tea Party. After Capt. Linzee married Sucky Inman, Rowe wrote: “I gave Capt. Linzee a Letter with Orders to draw on me every New Years Day Twenty Pounds Sterling, taking the money of Messrs. Lane Son & Fraser for my acct.”

In 1786 John Lane came back to Boston with his son, apparently planning to settle permanently. In 1790 Lane, “now resident at Boston,” filed a lawsuit to seize a vessel that Lane, Son & Fraser had invested in. But the next mention of the firm in the Boston newspapers, in the 14 June 1793 Argus, said the firm had gone bankrupt in London.

Dan Byrnes has striven to collect and parse information about Lane, Son & Fraser because of an Australian connection, as this webpage shows, but it doesn’t make anything clearer for me. It’s likely there were two or three generations of men named John Lane (Jr.) who have to be sorted out.

That leaves only Dr. Miller to be accounted for. That name doesn’t appear among the local physicians of this period. It’s possible he was a surgeon attached to the Royal Navy or even the 14th Regiment of Foot, stationed at the Castle.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Press Coverage of the Owen Richards Riot

On 21 May 1770, Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy reported:
Last Friday Night Owen Richards, one of the Tidesmen belonging to the Custom-House, was Tarred, Feathered and Carted thro’ the Town for several hours, for having as ’tis said, given Information against a Connecticut Sloop which was Seized.
In contrast, the same day’s Boston Gazette from Edes and Gill said:
Last Friday Night one Richards, a Tide-Waiter, having ’tis said informed against a Connecticut Sloop, was tarred, feathered and carted thro’ the Town for two or three Hours.
No full name for the victim, no acknowledgement that the ship had actually been judged to be smuggling, and an ordeal of “two or three Hours” instead of “several.” 

Here are three more items from the newspapers reporting on different legal fallout from the 18 May 1770 attack on Richards.

In the Boston Post-Boy, 28 May:
At a Council held at the Council-Chamber on Monday last, His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor [Thomas Hutchinson], with the Advice of His Majesty’s Council, sent for His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace of in the Town of Boston, and enjoined them to meet, and make strict Examination into the Affair of taring, feathering & carting Owen Richards, as mentioned in our last, and to bind over such Persons, as shall appear to have been active in it, to answer the same in due Course of Law; and that in all Respects they pursue the Steps of the Law, in order to bring the Offenders to Justice.

The Same Day and the Day following His Majesty’s Justices met at the County Court-House, and sent for several Persons as Evidences, but could obtain no Intellgence of any one that was concerned.
In the Boston Post-Boy, 11 June:
Court of Vice-Admiralty
at Boston, June 2, 1770.

ALL Persons claiming Property in the Schooner Martin, and 17 Hogsheads, 4 Tierces and 2 Barrels of Brown Sugar, seized for Breach of the Acts of Trade, are hereby notified to appear at a Court of Vice-Admiralty to be held at Boston, on the 13th Day of June instant, at Ten o’Clock beforenoon, to shew cause, (if any they have) why the said Schooner and Sugar should not be decreed to remain forfeit pursuant to an Information filed in said Court for that purpose.

By Order of Court, Ezekiel Price, D. Reg’r.
That was the ship Richards had seized for the Customs office.

Finally, the Boston Gazette on 24 December (250 years ago today):
One Owen Richards, a petty Officer in the Customs, who was tarred and feather’d some Months ago, we hear has commenced an Action of Damage for Three Hundred Pounds lawful Money, against a young Gentleman of this Town, whose family Connections are among the better sort of folks, the friends of Government.

This Lad was taken by a single Writ and held to Bail—Upon his application to several of his near relations who are persons of fortune, to become sureties for him, we are told, they absolutely refus’d. But others had compassion upon him; for two Gentlemen were bound for his Appearance at Court.
I haven’t yet figured out who this young man might be. It’s striking how Edes and Gill criticized his relations for not bailing him out for an assault they presumably disapproved of on both personal and political grounds.

COMING UP: The court cases.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

“Found me in the Hold of the Vessel where I had hid”

As recounted yesterday, shortly after nine o’clock on the evening of 18 May 1770, a crowd seized Customs land waiter Owen Richards as he was returning to a schooner he had seized for smuggling that afternoon.

The attackers ripped off Richards’s hat, wig, and at least most of his clothing and covered him with tar and feathers. The Customs man’s report continued:
in this barborous, Cruel & Inhuman manner they carted me thro’ all the Streets in Boston. they also fix’d a paper on my breast, with Capital Letters thereon, but cannot Recollect what it contained—

so after, so much cruel usage. and being so Long naked, it being to the best of my Knowledge, from 10 OClock in the Evening, till Two in the Morning. I gott away at last by the Help of some friends, from my merciless, and bitter Enemies, which happned before Capt. John Homers door, at Bartons point; whilst that another party of the same mob were contending what they should with John Woart; whom they had, in a Riotous manner, brought there, in order to serve him as I had been served as I had been served—

in fine [i.e., finally] I gott to my house, by the Assistance of God, and some friends, where my Wife and Children with unspeakable Grief, and astonishment, beheld me in that Horrible Condition—
Again, Richards later described this attack with more dire details. A court filing in January 1771 stated he “lost his Cloaths, Money, and Papers to the Amount of near £20 st[erling]. And in order to satiate their abandoned Brutality, they set fire to the Feathers as they stuck in the Tar, upon his naked back.”

Richards’s petition to the Loyalists Commission in 1782 said the crowd “set the Feathers on Fire on his Back, and fixed a Rope round his Neck. In this Position they Exposed him around the Town for seven Hours untill he was just expiring.” Back in the month it happened, he estimated the ordeal as four hours long.

Meanwhile, Richards’s original statement said, parts of the crowd went after his partner in the Customs service the same way. John Woart stated:
Soon after Dark Seven or Eight People with Clubs came alongside the Schooner & enquired for Mr. Richards & me, they were told by the Master & mate that Mr. Richards was dismist from that Vessel, & put on board another & that I was not on board, they went away, & about half an hour after, about a Dozen came, & made the same Enquiry, they were told as before, that Mr. Richards was dismist from that Vessel soon after Dinner, & that I was not on board

about 12 or 1 oClock, there came a great number of People & demanded me from on board, the Captain still telling them I was not there, they swore I was on board & were determined to have me, Mr. Richards (they said) having told them that I was on board & durst not leave the Vessel; they immediately got a Candle & came on board to search for me, & found me in the Hold of the Vessel where I had hid myself.

They then took me & carried me up to New Boston where there was a Cart with Mr. Richards in it. they asked Mr. Richards if I was the Man, he told that I was his Partner, & a Partner concerned, they were then going to hoist me into the Cart, but by my strugling & the Assistance of some of the Standers by I got away from them, & went to my own house & received no further Molestation
Barton’s Point, as shown in the map detail above, was a sparsely populated part of the Boston peninsula in West (or New) Boston that stuck out into the Charles River. It didn’t have the political significance as Liberty Tree or the government buildings near the center of town. That seclusion, plus the interference of passersby, suggests that this mob wasn’t exercising as much popular will as some other mobs had.

Two other Customs men were back on the confiscated schooner Martin, Josiah King and Joshua Dutton. They reported the same story to their superiors. This is Dutton’s wording:
I was ordered by Mr. [William] Sheaffe on board the Schooner Martin Silvanus Higgins Master from New London & continued walking on Deck of said Vessel untill 11 oClock at Night when a great number of People came on board said Schooner.

Capt. Higgins on seeing the People collecting, advised Mr. King and myself to go down into the Cabbin, and as we apprehended it not safe for us to tarry there, We accordingly went down accompanied by him soon after we got down, the Companion Doors was shutt by the People above, & we heard a great noise of People on the Deck, Knocking with Sticks, or Clubs.

We tarried shutt up in the Cabbin untill about three oClock in the morning when the Noise in some measure ceased & several People came in the Cabbin & satt Drinking there for about half an hour when they went away & all was quiet.
Back in 1768, Customs employee Thomas Kirk testified that a captain and crew locked him below decks and then emptied out their ship. That doesn’t seem to have happened with the Martin, however. It’s possible the Customs office had already hauled its undeclared sugar away.

TOMORROW: The legal fallout.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

“I also Seized the schooner, and her appertunances”

As recounted yesterday, on the afternoon of 18 May 1770, Customs service land waiters Owen Richards and John Woart spotted a schooner being unloaded on Greene’s Wharf. They went over to that ship, the Martin, and found Capt. Silvanus Higgins in charge.

Inviting the Customs men into his cabin, Higgins showed them his official papers. Richards, the more experienced of the Customs men, said he suspected the ship was carrying more cargo than that. Higgins offered punch and a friendly bribe. Refusing, Richards and Woart searched the forehold and discovered many containers of undeclared sugar.

“Mr. Richards then asked me for a piece of Chalk,” Woart stated. Richards started marking the barrels and kegs with an upward-pointing arrow—the sign of royal property. “I seized as many Casks as I could come att,” he wrote; “then we both went on Deck, and I also Seized the schooner, and her appertunances, for a breach of the Acts of Trade.”

Leaving Woart on board, Richards reported everything to William Sheaffe, Deputy Collector of the Port of Boston. Sheaffe went through the legal ritual of seizing the Martin again, then “ordered Mr. Woart to go to the tide Surveyor, and desire him to send Two more tidesmen onboard.” Josiah King and Joshua Dutton arrived. That evening, between 6:00 and 7:00, “the schooner was transported to Mr. [James] Pitts Wharf at the town dock.”

The Customs office now had the Martin both legally and physically. Capt. Higgins and his crew were about to lose all their goods and their vessel. Those men hailed from New London, Connecticut, but they turned out to have support on the Boston waterfront—particularly now that there were no soldiers patrolling the town.

Richards described what happened next:
between seven & Eight OClock I went to my house to bring my great Coat—a little after Nine as I was Returning onboard, near the draw Bridge I was Violently assaulted in the Street by a great Number of disorderly men & Boys & Negroes, also, with Clubs & Sticks, Crying out, and Informer, an Informer; Repeating the word Informer continually.
That was the same term Bostonians used for Ebenezer Richardson, convicted the month before of murdering a child. Richardson had actually started out as a secret informer, but Richards had been working openly for the royal government.

I must note that thirteen years later, when applying for compensation from the Loyalists Commission, Richards testified that “a Tumultuous Mob of near 2000…came to your Petitioners House, Broke his Windows, and distroyed his Furniture.” That wasn’t how he described the attack immediately afterwards—but the British government was compensating Loyalists for lost property, and it was easier to put a money figure on that than on suffering.

Richards’s 1770 account continued:
they set upon me furiously, and I defended myself, as long as I could, with my Stick, but being at last overpower’d, by numbers of murdering Villains, they beat me out of measure, and Halled and Dragged me thro’ the Streets, and being intirely overcome, and faint, thro’ loss of blood, and my Sense quite gone, I could make no more resistance.

they then gott a Cart and dragged me into it, in a barbarous manner, and Carried me into King’s Street, and there right against the Custom House, in a Most Cruel & Violent manner, they Robb’d me of my Hatt, Wigg & Coat, waistcoat & Shirt, and stripped me naked down to my breeches, they poured Tarr on my head, and tarr’d my body all over, and then putt feathers thereon, repeating an Informer:
This was the second tar-and-feathers attack in Boston, following the October 1769 assault on George Gailer, another man who worked for the Customs service. And it wasn’t over yet.

TOMORROW: Coming for the rest.

Monday, December 21, 2020

“I believe they are a smuggling”

With less than two weeks left in 2020, there are still some significant events in 1770 that I missed discussing on their Sestercentennials, so I’m trying to catch up.

The first of those events took place on 18 May and centered on Owen Richards, a Customs service tide waiter. I traced Richards’s arrival in Boston from Wales, work as a ship’s rigger and auctioneer, and entrance into the Customs service in this post.

That set the stage for his role in the tussle over John Hancock’s ships Lydia and Liberty in 1768. Bostonians didn’t forget Customs men whom they perceived as having overstepped their authority.

On 7 Apr 1770, Richards had to put up a £100 bond to be released from magistrates’ custody. That was the same day that Edward Manwaring, John Munro, and Hammond Green put up much larger bonds after being indicted for participating in the Boston Massacre. I don’t know if the cases were linked, but many locals saw all Customs men as conspiring against the town.

Here is Richards’s own description of what happened on 18 May, from a collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library. At about 1:00 P.M., Richards and another Customs man named John Woart were standing on the deck of the schooner Success, making sure nothing was secretly unloaded from it.
John Woart being on Deck,…he did say to me, Richards look over to Greens Wharf, there is a Schooner hoisting out goods: I believe they are a smuggling;

I desired that we would go over, and see what they are about: he answered I will go over, come along with me. I followed him, stepping over the two Vessels that lay in the dosk, which brought us on Greens Wharf—
The Customs men moved from one ship to another by walking across other ships moored between them. That was how close the wharves were in that central area near Long Wharf, and how many ships were in the harbor at the height of the year.

Woart had turned thirty the year before while Richards was probably in his late forties and didn’t move so fast. According to Woart, he reached the schooner being unloaded and asked for the master. A man “sitting on a Sparr by a Store alongside the Vessel” stood up and said, “I suppose you are a Custom house Officer.” This was the captain, Silvanus Higgins.

Back to Richards:
John Woart was alongside the schooner before me, and Inquired where they came from, and if they had a permit to unload:

the master answered, that he came from New London, and that he had a permit.

Woart desired to see it, the master said Gentlemen, Walk down to the Cabbin, and I will shew it to you—

We went into his Cabbin, and read the permit, found her the schooner Martin, from New London, loaded with Corn Wheat Pork, Pottashes &c. and one barrell of Sugar

I said to the master, [“]Sir, I believe you have more goods onboard your Vessel than are mentioned in your permit”

he answered Sir, only a triffle, that was put onboard without my Knowledge; he then called for some Water, to make Punch, and said “pray don’t ruin me, I will give you any thing your shall ask:[”]

I answered, I was under oath, and Could not over look it.

he then said Two or three half Joannes [£4-6] will make all things Easy—

I said, it was not in my power to take anything, from him; that I must do my Duty.

I then with Mr. Woart went down into the Hold and found the fore Hold full of Hogsheads, Tierces, & barrells, of brown Sugar

TOMORROW: Crowd action.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Digital Databases to Stay Home For

Here are four digital resources that caught my attention over the past few months.

The British Library has digitized George III’s Topographical Library and put the scans on Flickr, each linked back to its own catalogue for full information. There are 17,908 images in this album, many appearing to come from Germany. As I clicked through, I saw maps, landscape prints, pages from books, gravestone rubbings, printed maps, elevations of fortifications and other buildings, garden plans, bird’s-eye views of towns, architectural drawings, harbor charts, elevation of canals, hand-drawn maps, maps, and maps. Finding specific items may mean starting from the British Library catalogue and then running a search for a title on Flickr.

The American Philosophical Society transcribed three ledgers from Benjamin and Deborah Franklin’s Philadelphia print shop in Philadelphia in the 1730s and ’40s. Alongside images of those financial records, researchers can now find the data in spreadsheets totaling over 15,000 rows, ready to download and study. The transcribers also handled the task of linking people entered into the books with different spellings of their names. These transcriptions expand an earlier project on Franklin’s post office records. Learn more here.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University and the Center for Digital Editing at the University of Virginia announced the publication of the Jefferson Weather & Climate Records. For nearly fifty years, starting when he was in the exotic city of Philadelphia at the Continental Congress, Jefferson recorded observations about the weather. These included temperature and general conditions, sometimes barometric pressure, moisture, wind direction and force, and precipitation. Occasionally he mentioned the appearance of particular birds or the first harvest of peas. Visitors to the website can view images of Jefferson’s meteorological manuscripts, drawn from the collections of five different repositories, alongside the transcriptions.

Finally, if you’re frustrated that the Leventhal Center’s handsome Atlascope site overlaying maps of Boston goes back only to 1868, check out Bill Warner’s Mapjunction. Its images go back to 1769, plus more recent renderings of the town as far back at 1630. Of course, some of those have to be stretched a bit as cartography has become more exact. Atlascope works like Superman’s X-ray vision while MapJunction has a nifty slider interface.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

“See the Junto Cheat the deluded People with the Shew of Liberty”

As Thomas Hutchinson expected, no one claimed the province’s £100 reward for information on who left a handbill on the Town House lambasting the judges in the Boston Massacre trials.

However, the friends of the royal government still had a way to counterattack: vicious parody!

The 24 Dec 1770 Boston Evening-Post followed up on the texts of the handbill and its theatrical source with “The Hand Bill parodiz’d”:
To see the Leaders of of my Fellow-townsmen
And own myself a Whig;—To see the Junto
Cheat the deluded People with the Shew
Of Liberty;—Draw them like Straws
On Lethe’s sleepy Pool, while no wise Herald
Warns them of their Danger;—All that bear
This are Fools; and Fools are We, not to rise up
At the great Call of Government, and from
Th’immerging Prow, dash th’unskilful Pilots.
And the 1 Jan 1771 Boston News-Letter offered another parody and called out “VINDEX or some Brother-Incendiary” for supposedly posting the bill:
To see what Dupes they make my Fellow Citizens,
And own myself a Man: To see our Demegogues
Cheat the deluded People with A Shew
Of Patriotism, which they ne’er could taste of,
Yet when they please, they rob, defame and spoil [?];
Bring whom they please to lawless Rage and Riot;
Drive us like Wrecks with more than brutal Pow’r,
While no Hold’s left to save us from Destruction;
All that do this are Villains, and I one
Not to rouse up at the loud Call of Justice,
And check the Growth of those domestic Tyrants,
Who call us Slaves, and fain would be our Masters.
Samuel Adams was then publishing a long series of newspaper essays signed “Vindex” going over all the evidence from the Massacre inquiries in great detail. But I doubt his political opponents really thought he’d posted that handbill. After all, Adams could find a much wider readership in the newspapers.

Judge Peter Oliver’s memoir shows that he suspected someone else:
One of the Councellors Sons posted up a Bill on the Door of the House of Assembly, calling upon the People to Assasinate the Judges of the supreme Court. For Forms sake, a Proclamation was issued by the Governor and Council, offering a Reward to discover the Author; but this was not the Time to punish any of the Faction, & it was buried in Silence.
Whom did Oliver have in mind? The suspect must have been a son of a member of the 1770-71 Council, not yet prominent in his own right, and living in Boston.

Unfortunately, there were twenty-five men on the Council, families were large, and young men came to Boston to make their fortune, so the list of possibilities is long. Was it Lendell Pitts, son of James Pitts and later a captain of the Tea Party? John Steele Tyler, teen-aged son of Royall Tyler and future manager of the Federal Street Theatre? Or someone whom I don’t know?

For Oliver, the main point was probably that the culprit’s father was part of the body that had solemnly advised acting governor Hutchinson to proclaim a reward for information.

Friday, December 18, 2020

“See the Court cheat the injurd people With a Shew of Justice”

It should be no surprise that Bostonians continued to wrangle over the Boston Massacre trials even after they ended with two manslaughter convictions and eleven acquittals.

One response was recounted by Thomas Hutchinson in the last volume of his history of Massachusetts, published decades after his death:
A few days after the trials, while the court continued to sit, an incendiary paper was posted up, in the night, upon the door of the town house, complaining of the court for cheating the injured people with a shew of justice, and calling upon them to rise and free the world from such domestick tyrants. It was taken down in the morning, and carried to the court, who were much disturbed, and applied to the lieutenant-governor [i.e., Hutchinson himself], who laid it before the council
The text of the “incendiary paper” as eventually published:
To See the Sufferings of my fellow
Townsmen and own my self a man, to
See the Court cheat the injurd people
With a Shew of Justice which yet we
never can taste of, drive us like wrecks
down the rough tide of power while
no hold is left to save us from destructi-
on. All that Bear this are slaves, and we are
such, not to rise up at the great Call of
Nature and free the world from such Domestic
The Council advised acting governor Hutchinson to issue “a proclamation with a reward for discovering the offender.” He did so on 13 December, offering £100 to anyone who could identify the person who posted the notice. The historian Hutchinson later wrote, “there was no room to suppose [that] would have any effect.”

The 17 December Boston Gazette responded:
A very abusive Paper, which was said to be posted upon the Door of a public Building a few Mornings ago, we are told was taken verbatim from a Play called Venice Preserved; and that Mr. Otway was actually the Author. He and his Accomplices have been dead long ago, and can never be punished for it in this Life, unless the Doctrine of Transmigration is true.

The impertinant Man who posted it up, deserves all the Punishment which the Law can inflict, for so heinous a Crime—We will not dive into the Heart of this imprudent Man; but if he really intended, as some say, to reflect upon the Powers that be, and to inflame the Minds of the People against them, he has missed his Aim; and always will, while every one so clearly sees, that they are, if we may be allow’d to quote the Scripture Language, “Terrors to Evil Doers, and a Praise to THEM that do WELL.” It will be the Wisdom of this People, as it is their Duty, to have a Guard upon their Passions, and be peaceable.
Thomas Otway’s 1682 play Venice Preserv’d was quite popular among the British, its setting long interpreted as a stand-in for their own country. Of course, local law prevented the drama from being performed publicly in Massachusetts, but people read it. Hannah Quincy discussed it with young John Adams. Josiah Quincy, Jr., alluded to it in a letter.

In fact, enough people knew Venice Preserv’d to take issue with the claim in Edes and Gill’s newspaper that the handbill on the Town House was merely a “verbatim” quotation from it. On 20 December Richard Draper of the Boston News-Letter printed “a Copy of that that was posted up, and also the Lines from Otway, whereby our Readers may judge for themselves.”

Otway’s original lines were:
To see the Sufferings of my Fellow-creatures,
And own myself a Man; to see our Senators
Cheat the deluded People with a Shew
Of Liberty, which yet they ne’re must taste of.
They say, by them our Hands are free from Fetters,
Yet whom they please, they lay in basest Bonds;
Bring whom they please to Infamy and Sorrow;
Drive us like Wrecks down the rough Tide of Power,
Whilst no Hold is left to save us from Destruction.
All that bear this are Villains: and I one,
Not to rouze up at the greatest Call of Nature,
And check the Growth of these domestic Spoilers,
That make us Slaves, and tell us ’tis our Charter.
The News-Letter thus displayed the complaint about the Massacre trials to many more people than saw it when it hung on the Town House for a few dark hours.

TOMORROW: Responses, legal and literary.

[The picture above shows David Garrick and Susannah Cibber performing Venice Preserv’d, as painted by Johan Zoffany.]

Thursday, December 17, 2020

When John Piemont Set Up Shop in Danvers

At the website of the Danvers Archival Center, part of the town’s public library, Richard B. Trask shared his essay “Discovering Paul Revere in the Dried Prunes Box,” also published decades ago in Family Heritage.

It involves the engraved billhead shown here.
It was the summer of 1969, and I was working for the local Historical Commission as a summer cataloguer and researcher, trying to put into order the thousands of town records. Most of the loose, individual town papers were enclosed in nailed wooden boxes as a result of a W.P.A. project in the 1930s when the records were roughly sorted into various departmental categories. The boxes had originally been used in food relief during the depression and were clearly, and to my eyes humorously, marked, “Dried Prunes–For Relief–Not to be Sold.” Unfortunately, the boxes were not good for storing manuscripts, and many of them had become nesting areas for all sorts of vermin. . . .

Among these handwritten slips of paper, I noticed a very handsome item containing a fine engraving of the shoulders and head of a turbaned and mustachioed man with banners about him proclaiming, “John Piemont. Turk’s Head, Danvers.” The item was a trade bill of John Piemont’s eighteenth-century Turk’s Head Tavern, which was located on the old post road near what is now the junction of Pine and Sylvan Streets in Danvers.

Subsequent to discovering the identity of the trade bill’s printer, I learned from Dr. Richard P. Zollo, who wrote an interesting study on the life of John Piemont titled, “Patriot in Exile,” that Piemont was a Frenchman who settled in Boston in about 1759 and took up the trade of peruke [wig] maker. While residing in Boston, Piemont apparently became enmeshed in the patriot cause. He was a member of St. Andrew’s Lodge of Masons and was actively involved in the events leading up to the Boston Massacre of 1770. In 1773, partly as a result of losing Tory patronage at his wig shop, Piemont moved to Danvers and took on the management of a tavern.
To be exact, apprentices from the shop Piemont shared with another barber and wigmaker were involved in the first violence on King Street on the evening of 5 Mar 1770. One of those teens, Edward Garrick, criticized a passing army officer, and Pvt. Hugh White called the boy over and clonked him on the head.

There’s also a complaint from Pvt. John Timmins about Piemont and some other barbers clonking him on the head, as I quoted way back here. I still can’t make sense of this unmotivated attack, especially since Piemont’s business catered to royal officials and army officers. He even employed a moonlighting private, Pvt. Patrick Dines. I suspect Timmins came up with the complaint after the Massacre when he knew his superiors were eager for complaints about the locals whose names had come up in that dispute.

As Trask writes, Piemont later left Boston and opened a tavern in Danvers. When the war broke out in 1775, some locals “called him a Tory,” and the local committee of correspondence had to vouch for him. But back to the essay.
Months later, while browsing in a local book store I was looking through a book titled Paul Revere’s Engravings by Clarence S. Brigham. A plate in the chapter on trade cards caught my eye. A bill from Joshua Brackett’s “O. Cromwell’s Head” tavern on School Street in Boston, was reproduced. The design, format and size of this Revere engraving was almost identical to the Piemont bill that I had found.

I quickly looked in the index for “Piemont” and was referred to page 175, which stated that Paul Revere’s day book included many charges for engraving advertising cards and bill heads, but that no specimen remains of many of them. In June 1774 Revere made two hundred prints for a charge of 8 shillings to Mr. John Piemont.
Check out Trask’s essay to see the clue that confirmed his suspicion that Paul Revere had engraved this image for the former barber from Boston.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Some Say the Tea Will End in Fire

Today’s the 247th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, which is impressive, though not quite at Sestercentennial level.

Earlier this month a student working on a History Day project asked me why the Sons of Liberty tossed the East India Company tea overboard instead of burning it.

I wrote back about the radicals’ goal to keep the tea from being brought on shore because then the tea tax could be legally collected, but also their need to preserve all property besides the tea from harm. Fire was too risky an element to add to the event.

That exchange got me thinking about whether the destruction of the tea by water in Boston harbor and the detailed press coverage of it established a template for when other groups of radicals wanted to destroy tea. People also threw tea into the ocean at:
  • Boston in March 1774.
  • New York in April 1774, as recounted starting here.
  • Chestertown, Maryland, in May 1774.
  • Charleston, South Carolina, in November 1774.
In Charleston, the initial shipment of East India Company tea in December 1773 had been confiscated and warehoused under an agreement between the local Whigs and government authorities. But the radicals destroyed a second shipment by water. Did they have the same practical reasons for doing that as the Bostonians, or were they consciously imitating that Bostonians?

Back in 1765, the Loyall Nine, the Boston crowds, and the Boston printers established the way to protest the Stamp Act: effigies with signage to ensure their message was clear, a procession, a bit of house-mobbing, and a bonfire after dark—followed by a detailed report in the newspaper. That’s what happened in Boston on 14 August, and then with local variations in Newport, in New Haven, in Halifax, in Virginia’s Westmoreland County, on St. Kitts, in New York City, and so on.

We can see the same pattern emerge with Liberty Poles. At New York, a very tall pole flying a British flag had become a bone of contention between British soldiers and locals who put up that banner in a show of being more committed to the British constitution than whoever was running Parliament. In 1774 that model inspired New England towns to erect their own flagpole, and then to compete in the newspapers over who put up the tallest poles or adorned their flags with more stirring mottos.

Those specific forms of protest were memes—a coinage I’m using in its original and more interesting sense, as an idea or cultural practice that spreads from one person or group to another like a gene or an germ. Was tossing tea into the nearest deep water that sort of idea? Certainly the image of that action has become an emblem of the American Revolution since the 1830s, commemorated and adapted for other causes.

Flames also destroyed tea, though, as that student had noted. Three days before the Boston Tea Party, the people of Lexington burned tea on their town common. They weren’t trying to prevent the new East India Company tea from being landed; they were promoting a wider tea boycott. They also had a much smaller amount of tea and more open space than the Bostonians, so fire made more sense than tossing the tea into Vine Brook.

Even after the destruction of the tea in Boston harbor was widely reported, smaller New England towns continued to follow the Lexington model—or to build the bonfire simply because it was easier. I can think of public or semi-public tea burnings at:
  • Marshfield on 19 Dec 1773.
  • Princeton, New Jersey, in January 1774.
  • Provincetown in January 1774, along with men disguised as Indians in “black face.”
  • Lyme, Connecticut, on 16 Mar 1774. 
  • Salem, sometime in 1774.
  • Greenwich, New Jersey, on 22 Dec 1774.
In Annapolis, Maryland, a ship and its cargo of tea were burned together on 19 Oct 1774, as shown above, combining fire and water. And in September 1774, people in York, Maine, disguised as Indians took away some tea but apparently returned it after that symbolic destruction was complete and it was safe to go back to drinking it.

Thus, I conclude that while tossing tea into the water became a meme in pre-Revolutionary America, people didn’t feel the need to follow that model in every detail. If a harbor was handy, they used that to destroy the tea. If they needed to hide their identities, they adopted Indian disguises—whether or not they actually destroyed tea. But if a bonfire was legally safe and easy, flames it was.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

What Happened to the Boston Massacre Defendants?

After being acquitted of murder at the Boston Massacre on 5 Dec 1770, Cpl. William Wemys and five private soldiers “went their Way thro’ the Streets,” the Boston Gazette reported. They probably boarded a boat to Castle William, where the 14th Regiment of Foot was stationed.

Nine days later, fellow defendants Edward Montgomery and Mathew Kilroy joined them, each with one hand bandaged after branding.

Lt. Col. William Dalrymple of the 14th had already decided how he would send those men back to the 29th Regiment, which had been moved to New Jersey. The commander wrote:
A bad disposition appearing in the Soldiers who were confined I shall send them round by sea, we have but too much reason to suspect their ententions to desert they are not at all to be depended on.
“I do not chuse to trust them any other way,” he added on 17 December. It would be great to know why Dalrymple was suspicious, but we don’t.

Until recently, the story of those eight British enlisted men stopped there. But Don Hagist has been doing thorough research on British troops during the War for Independence, culminating in the new book Noble Volunteers. Don found more information on some of those soldiers in the muster rolls and Chelsea pensioner records, which he generously let me publish here. I’ve added information on others over the years. So here’s what happened to all the defendants.

By May 1771, William Wemys was promoted to sergeant. He was still a sergeant when the company was stationed at Chatham, England, on 29 July 1775. His company’s muster rolls end there, so we lose track of him.

In the grenadier company, John Carroll and William Macauley were both made corporals. William Warren, despite being the tallest of the defendants, transferred out of the grenadiers to another company in the 29th.

As I related in this posting from 2006, Pvt. James Hartigan died on 4 Nov 1771 at the 29th’s next assignment in St. Augustine, Florida.

The regiment was in England when the war began, and army commanders decided to send it back to North America. That could have exposed Pvts. Montgomery and Kilroy to being captured by the American rebels, their hands still bearing the brand of the Massacre. On 22 Feb 1776 those two men appeared before a board of examiners for military pensions administered by Chelsea Hospital. Montgomery, age forty-one, was deemed “Worn Out,” and Kilroy, only twenty-eight, was found to have “a Lame Knee.” The board discharged both men from the army with pensions.

The rest of the 29th Regiment sailed to Canada, where different fates awaited different companies. Pvt. Warren and Pvt. Hugh White, the sentry, spent the American war at separate stations in Canada. White was finally discharged from the army on 10 Nov 1789, then aged forty-nine.

John Carroll, promoted to sergeant by February 1777, and Cpl. Macauley were still with the 29th’s grenadier company, which was assigned to Gen. John Burgoyne’s invasion force. Those two men might therefore have become part of the “Convention Army” of prisoners of war marched from Saratoga to Cambridge at the end of that year. But there’s no record of anyone in Massachusetts recognizing those two soldiers from the Massacre trial.

I discussed the evidence about Capt. Thomas Preston’s retirement here. He started to receive an annual £200 royal pension in 1772, and it continued until at least 1790. In the 1780s Preston was living in Dublin.

Of the defendants in the third trial, I profiled Hammond Green in this posting. He evacuated Boston in 1776 as a Customs employee, and his wife and children followed the next year. The royal government gave Green a Customs job at his new home of Halifax, and he was still working there in 1807.

Thomas Greenwood was working for the Customs service in 1770 but wasn’t listed among the employees who evacuated in 1776. I don’t know anything more solid about him.

Edward Manwaring retained the post of chief Customs officer on the Gaspé peninsula until 1785 when he was succeeded by his neighbor Felix O’Hara.

John Munro carried on his business as a notary “at his Office South Side of the Town House.” The 12 Jan 1775 issue of the Massachusetts Spy reported that he had died the previous Tuesday at the age of thirty-nine after a “tedious illness.” He was buried out of Christ Church on 13 January.