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, February 15, 2020

Naming and Shaming the Importers

Last month I related how the “Body of the Trade” in Boston met over several days in January 1770 and wound up reenergizing the non-importation movement.

That meeting ended by naming certain merchants and shopkeepers as “importers” who refused to join the boycott of goods from Britain. Organizers had the resolves of the meeting printed as a broadside, about 14" by 5". Here’s a peek at that broadside.

The bottom of that sheet urged supporters “to paste this up over the Chimney Piece of every public House, and on every other proper Place, in every Town, in this and every other Colony, there to remain as a Monument of the Remembrance of the detestable Names above-mentioned.”

In addition, on 22 January Edes and Gill printed six importers’ names in big type at the top left of the front page of their Boston Gazette. On 12 February they ran an expanded list, as shown above. (For some reason, the first version had left out the locals who were the original focus of that public meeting: Nathaniel Rogers, William Jackson, Theophilus Lillie, and John Taylor.)

On 8 February, as described here, the Boston Whigs found another way to designate an “Importer”: with a sign in the shape of a hand set up outside Jackson’s shop. Schoolboys, let out early on Thursdays, formed a picket line under the Brazen Head, trying to keep customers away.

On 15 February, two and a half centuries ago today, Customs Collector Joseph Harrison’s anonymous informant told him: “Between the 8th & this date, most of the Importers had their Windows broke their Signs defaced, and many other marks of Resentment.” The public demonstration in the street became more elaborate that Thursday:
The Exhibition the same as last week with addition of the Effegies of some of the Importers, and below was wrote, that the Effegies of four Commissioners, five of their understrappers, with some people on the other side the water where [sic] to make their appearance on Liberty Tree the week following—
People “on the other side the water” meant officials in Britain.

There were still two army regiments in town, and that day “four soldiers of the 14th. Regt. attempted to take…down” the display. The informer stated those men were “bear of[f] and one of them much Hurt.” However, I don’t recall any soldier of the 14th Regiment complaining about this incident in the depositions they gave to Loyalist officials later that year. But the conflict was becoming more violent.

TOMORROW: What fueled those confrontations—“Junius” or juniors?

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