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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Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Town Meeting and the “Carrier of the Dispatches”

On Thursday, 22 Mar 1770, 250 years ago today, Boston began a new town meeting.

It had been only three days since the end of the last meeting, which had spread over several days as inhabitants chose men for town offices and discussed how to respond to the Boston Massacre. In fact, legally that meeting was still going on, in adjournment until Monday.

One of the decisions at that meeting, as described here, was for the town to hire a ship “as a Packet to carry home their Dispatches” about the shooting. Those “Dispatches” included the town’s report on the shooting, which James Bowdoin, Dr. Joseph Warren, and Samuel Pemberton were busy revising.

The town had appointed a committee—John Bradford, William Molineux, and John Barrett—and they had “hired a Schooner of Capt. [Andrew] Gardner for One hundred Pounds and twenty Pounds Sterling.” So suddenly Boston was about to spend real money.

But the idea of renting a ship to sail to London hadn’t been listed as an agenda item for that previous meeting. Opponents could therefore object that that vote wasn’t legal. And I suspect that some men in the town leadership were also worried about the practical outcome of the previous session’s decisions.

The selectmen therefore issued a call for this new town meeting to address the same proposals. The town quickly “Voted unanimously, that—John Barrett Esq. Mr. William Mollineux Capt. John Bradford be and hereby are appointed a Committee to take up for the Town a suitable Vessel as a Packet.” That was the same committee as before, just listed in a different order.

Then Gardner, the captain those men had already hired, came into Faneuil Hall to report on how he was preparing the Betsy to sail:
he had got a Mate for his Schooner, upon whom he could depend, also a Hand extraordinary; and that if it be the mind of the Town; he would endeavor to secure a Landing upon the first English Ground he might make, and then immediately proceed to London in order to deliver with his own hand the Packets he may be intrusted with, to the Gentlemen to whom they shall be directed.
So far, just like before. But then the town voted not to “employ any Person beside the Captain of the Packet to be the Carrier of the Dispatches.”

Earlier in the week, a merchant captain named Samuel Dashwood had offered to take the report to London as long as the town paid his expenses, and the Monday meeting had agreed. Dashwood was a strong supporter of non-importation. In fact, he had led the merchants’ violent confrontation with printer John Mein in October 1769. He had threatened to break importer Theophilus Lillie’s neck in January.

The Thursday town meeting decided it was best not to send Capt. Dashwood to London. Perhaps the voters didn’t want the extra expense since Capt. Gardner was offering to do the same job. Perhaps they didn’t trust Dashwood to represent Boston at its best. But their thinking didn’t go into the official record. The town just voted thanks to Dashwood for his “generous offer” and moved on.

The last item for that 22 March meeting was to empower town treasurer David Jeffries “to borrow upon Interest the Sum of One hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling” to pay for Gardner’s ship and expenses.

The committee had earlier reported that the Betsy “would be ready for sayling by to Morrow.” But it didn’t embark that quickly. Because suddenly the Short Narrative report had to be revised and expanded.

TOMORROW: Back to the French boy.

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