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.

Follow by Email


Thursday, January 30, 2020

An Order from the Governor: “seperate and disperse”

At ten o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, 23 Jan 1770, Boston’s “Body of the Trade” resumed meeting in Faneuil Hall. William Phillips was once again in the moderator’s chair.

The painter George Mason was present, not because he supported non-importation but because he was reporting on developments for Customs Collector Joseph Harrison. Mason wrote that the meeting
began with reading a long Letter from Philadelphia address’d to Mr. [John] Hancock, the purport of it was, that they generally adher’d to the non-importation Scheme. Extracts from this Letter has since been Publish’d in Edes & Gills Paper, but they have thought proper to omit the most material part, this was a proposal for a General Congress from all the Committees on the Continent
That would have been something like the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. It never happened. Instead, men in Faneuil Hall voted unanimously to have other parts of the letter published.

The gathering then took up the business of how to condemn four merchants who still refused to cooperate with the boycott: William Jackson, Theophilus Lillie, John Taylor, and Nathaniel Rogers. According to Mason, the proposed language went so far as to say, “those Gentlemen had commited hostilities against their Country, and were no aliens to the Commonwealth”—i.e., they were traitors.

In the midst of that pleasant discussion, Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf arrived with messages from Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson (shown above in his youth). The previous week, Hutchinson had surprised Phillips by saying that he would tell his sons to cooperate with the non-importation committee. Once he could no longer be accused of trying to protect his own kin, the acting governor felt he had more freedom to exercise his authority. So how was he bringing the hammer down?

First, Hutchinson told Phillips, “I send you a Paper herewith, and I expect from you that you forthwith cause it to be read.” Instead of obeying that instruction, the meeting “appointed a Committee of three Gentlemen, to peruse the Paper.” Only after that committee deemed the acting governor’s message worthwhile did Phillips read it to the whole crowd, exhibiting little deference to the authority of the Crown.

Hutchinson had written:
To the PEOPLE assembled at Faneuil-Hall.

I should be culpable if I should any longer omit to signify to you my Sentiments upon your Proceedings. Your assembling together for the Purposes for which you profess to be assembled, cannot be justified by any Authority or Colour of Law. Your going from House to House and making demands of the delivery of Property, must strike the People with Terror from your great Numbers, (even if it be admitted that it is not done in a tumultuous Manner) and is of very dangerous Tendency.

Such of you as are Persons of Character, Reputation and Property, expose yourselves to the Consequences of the irregular Actions of any of your Numbers who have been assembled together, altho’ you may not approve of them, and altho’ it may be out of your Power to restrain them.

Therefore as the Representative of his Majesty, who is the Father of his People, I must from a tender Regard to your Interest caution you: And as cloathed with Authority derived from his Majesty, I must enjoin and require you without Delay, to seperate and disperse, and to forbear all such unlawful Assemblies for the future, as you would avoid those Evils to which you may otherwise expose yourselves and your Country.
The governor of Massachusetts thus declared this gathering illegal and ordered the men inside Faneuil Hall to disperse. At the time there were still two regiments of the British army patrolling the town, answerable to Crown officials.

TOMORROW: The meeting’s response.

No comments: