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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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Looking for Trouble, Even on the Sabbath

Among the men who brawled at John Gray’s ropewalk on 2 Mar 1770 were a young ropemaker named Samuel Gray (no known relation) and Pvts. William Warren and Mathew Kilroy of the 29th Regiment.

The next day, there were more fights in Boston. Some redcoats from the 29th, including Pvt. John Carroll, went back into Gray’s ropewalk and challenged the men working there, along with sailor James Bailey. Then there was another brawl, with one private reportedly badly injured.

Town watch captain Benjamin Burdick also had a run-in with soldiers on Saturday:
A young man that boarded with me, and was at the Rope-Walks, told me several of them had a spite at him, and that he believed he was in danger. I had seen two soldiers about my house, I saw one of them hearkening at the window, I saw him again near the house, and asked him what he was after;

he said he was pumping ship:
(“Pumping ship” was slang for urinating. This may have been a reference to William Green’s rude joke the day before about cleaning an outhouse. Then again, the soldier might have been urinating.)
Was it not you, says I, that was hearkening at my window last night?

what if it was, he said, I told him to march off, and he damned me, and I beat him till he had enough of it, and he then went off.
That incident made Burdick, and even more so his wife, decide that he should carry a Highland broadsword when he went out on duty.

Sunday was a day of rest in Boston, of course. Yet more military men visited Gray’s ropewalks then, 250 years ago today. But this delegation was at a higher level, as owner John Gray testified:
At Sabbath noon I was surprised at hearing that Col. [Maurice] Carr [of the 29th] and his officers had entered my rope-walk, opened the windows, doors, &c, giving out that they were searching for a dead sergeant of their regiment; this put me upon immediately waiting upon Col. [William] Dalrymple [of the 14th, senior army officer in Boston, pictured above after retirement], to whom I related what I understood had passed at the rope-walk days before.

He replied it was much the same as he had heard from his people; but says he, “your man was the aggressor in affronting one of my people, by asking him if he wanted to work, and then telling him to clean his little-house.”

For this expression I dismissed my journeyman on the Monday morning following; and further said, I would do all in my power to prevent my people’s giving them any affront in future.

He then assured me, he had and should do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in order, and prevent their any more entering my inclosure.

Presently after, Col. Carr came in, and asked Col. Dalrymple what they should do, for they were daily losing their men; that three of his grenadiers passing quietly by the rope-walks were greatly abused, and one of them so much beat that he would die.

He then said he had been searching for a sergeant who had been murdered; upon which, I said, Yes, Colonel, I hear you have been searching for him in my rope-walks; and asked him, whether that sergeant had been in the affray there on the Friday; he replied, no: for he was seen on the Saturday. I then asked him, how he could think of looking for him in my walks; and that had he applied to me, I would have waited on him, and opened every apartment I had for his satisfaction.
These gentlemen in the military and in business were trying to keep the peace, but also sought to protect the interests of their operations.

The 12 March Boston Gazette added detail, perhaps even reliable, to the story of the missing sergeant:
Divers stories were propagated among the soldiery that served to agitate their spirits; particularly on the Sabbath that one Chambers, a sergeant, represented as a sober man, had been missing the preceding day and must therefore have been murdered by the townsmen. An officer of distinction so far credited this report that he entered Mr. Gray’s rope-walk that Sabbath; and when required of by that gentleman as soon as he could meet him, the occasion of his so doing, the officer replied that it was to look if the sergeant said to be murdered had not been hid there.

This sober sergeant was found on the Monday unhurt in a house of pleasure.
On the day of rest there were no more brawls, but rumors flew among the townspeople that soldiers were plotting revenge on Monday. Oddly enough, rumors spread among the soldiers that townspeople were plotting revenge on Monday.

COMING UP: Another glimpse of Sergeant Chambers. But first…

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