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, January 11, 2020

When Boston Cracked Down on Drivers

On 11 Jan 1775, the selectmen of Boston sent an order to the Constables of the Town Watch to do what they could to curb “the driving of Slays thro’ the Town, with beat of Drum & other Noises at unseasonable times of the Night.”

That same meeting produced this order:
The following Advertisement was sent to Mr. [Isaiah] Thomas for a place in their Paper — vizt. —

Complaints have been made to the Selectmen that numbers of the Inhabitants have been greatly disturbed by the driving of Slays thro’ the Town, with the beat of Drums & other noises, at unseasonable Times of the Night; To prevent such Disorders for the future, Orders have been given the Constables of the Town Watch to stop such offenders and make Report of their Names, that they may be dealt with as the Law directs.

By Order of the Selectmen
William Cooper Town Clerk
Boston Jany. 11. 1775.
I don’t think that first line is an example of “their” taking a singular antecedent. Rather, Cooper was used to writing such orders for Edes and Gill, who had been the town’s preferred printers for many years. But in these months they were giving business to Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy.

So far as I can tell, the selectmen’s notice didn’t appear in the Spy. Instead, on 12 January Thomas reprinted the town’s traffic by-laws, as Edes and Gill had already done in the 9 January Boston Gazette. Here’s the text of those laws, as confirmed in 1757:
4. And it is further Ordered that henceforth no Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, drawn by either Horse or Horses, Horse & Oxen shall be suffered to pass through any of the Streets and Lanes of this Town but with a sufficient Driver, who shall during such Passage keep with his said Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, and carefully observe & attend such Methods as may best Serve to keep said Horse or Horses or Oxen under Command, and shall have the Thill-horse by the head; and whatsoever Carter or others undertaking to drive any Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, shall during such passing through the Streets and Lanes as aforesaid either ride in said Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, or otherwise neglect to observe and attend the Rules prescribed in this Order, such Carter Driver or Owner of such Cart Dray Trucks or Sled shall forfeit and pay the Sum of eight shillings for every such Offence.

5. And it is further Ordered that no Slay shall be drove in the Streets of this Town without Bells fastned to the Horses that draw the same, and whoever shall offend herein shall forfeit the Sum of ten shillings for every Offence. Great Dangers arising oftentimes from Coaches Slays Chairs and other Carriages on the Lord’s days as the People are going to or coming from the several Churches in this Town, being driven with great Rapidity, and the Public Worship being oftentimes much disturbed by such Carriages driving by the sides of the Churches with great force in time thereof.

6. It is therefore Voted and Ordered that no Coach Slay Chair Chaise or other Carriage shall at such time be driven at a greater rate than a foot pace, on Penalty of the Sum of ten shillings, to be paid by the Person driving, or if he be a Servant or Slave by his master or Mistress. . . .

9. And it is further Ordered that no Person whatsoever shall at any time hereafter Ride or drive a Gallop or other swift Pace within any of the Streets Lanes or Alleys of this Town, on Penalty of forfeiting the Sum of five shillings for every such Offence.
Was all this interest in traffic a response to the sailors’ procession with a plow on 6 January? Or perhaps the target was rowdy British army officers riding in and out of town. Either way, the “beat of Drum” shows that the selectmen saw a different type of nuisance from what their predecessors had dealt with.

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