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, January 23, 2020

“The whole Body consisting of about 1000 Men”

On 16 Jan 1770, the Boston Whigs circulated handbills for a new public meeting about non-importation. In Faneuil Hall, no less.

The town’s merchants had launched the non-importation boycott back in 1768, as a response to the Townshend duties, and kept it going all through 1769. However, this meeting wasn’t confined to the merchants—i.e., the men who traded with other ports.

Instead, the gathering on 17 January was open to “the Body of the Trade,” or everyone doing business in Boston. The Whigs’ Boston Gazette said the merchants needed to be “properly supported in their generous, self-denying and patriotic agreement,” so the meeting included “all others who were concerned in or connected with trade.”

The wealthy merchants were now well outnumbered by shopkeepers and craftsmen. A Crown informant attended and reported “the meeting was very numerous, but consisted chiefly of the lower sett of people.” Basically, this event was a town meeting without the name or official sanction—and with double the normal attendance because of public interest.

Business proceeded as in a town meeting. The first act was to elect a moderator: William Phillips, a respected merchant, deacon, and staunch Whig.

The meeting then heard from the “Committee of Inspection” set up to police the boycott. Those men reported that five merchants “had open’d and sold a part of their Goods which they had agree’d to keep in their Stores till the general importation should take place”: John Taylor, Theophilus Lillie, William Jackson, Nathaniel Cary, and Nathaniel Rogers. All five importers declined invitations to join the gathering.

If those men wouldn’t come to the meeting, the body decided, the meeting would go to them. According to the informant, whose report is now among the Sparks Manuscripts at Harvard:
[William] M[olineu]x was chose the person to speak in behalf of the whole. . . . the whole Body consisting of about 1000 Men of the very refuse of the town march’d from Faniuel Hall up King Street to the Shop of Mr. Jackson—they were headed by their chairman Phillips, Jonathan Mason & H[enderson]. Inches both select men, Wm. Dennie & Wm. M—x—

Jackson had previously shut his doors but spoke to them from an upper window. M—x demanded that he should open his doors and admit him and som other Genl. to take possession of his Goods, which he said they had an undoubted right to—

Jackson answer’d that he would not open his door at present nor give up his Goods.

M—x then spoke to him as follows, Sir, do you know that I am at the head of 2000 Men, and that it is beneath the dignity of this committee to be parlied with in the street; and then turn’d about and march’d in the same procession with his retinue to Faniuel Hall as he came from it.
Well, that was productive. I should mention that William Jackson was calling out a window above his hardware shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head.

Meanwhile, back in Faneuil Hall a committee was dealing with good news from acting governor Thomas Hutchinson’s sons, Thomas, Jr., and Elisha, who imported tea:
Capt. [Nathaniel] Greenwood a mast maker at the Northend came into the meeting and told them that he was just come from Mr. Hutchinsons who had authoriz’d him to tell them that they were ready to deliver up what Tea remain’d in their Store, and the cash for what was sold—a committee was immediately order’d to wait on them and take their answer in writing—
The Whigs were excited about the Hutchinsons’ cooperation, “it being universally believ’d that if they stood out [i.e., stopped defying the non-importation movement] all the others would follow their example.”

The Crown informant identified the main speakers at this meeting as “M—x their general, Dr. [Thomas] Young, [Samuel] Adams & two or three others”—radical Whigs rather than merchants. (Molineux had been a merchant, but these days he was making his money mostly by managing properties for Charles Ward Apthorp of New York while running a publicly subsidized spinning and weaving enterprise.)

The informant concluded, “The Sons of Liberty were this evening in high spirits at the victory gain’d over the Hutchinsons.” But “it is said Jackson, Lillie & Taylor sent a message to the Hutchinsons finding fault with their promising to submit to the committee, and at the same time acquainting them that they were determined to stand out.”

TOMORROW: Confrontation in the North End.

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