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, May 09, 2020

“Strict adherance to the design of the Townˇ

At 3:00 P.M. on 8 May 1770, after their midday dinners, the white, propertied men of Boston returned to Faneuil Hall to resume their town meeting.

Having elected their representatives to the Massachusetts General Court, they named a committee to write instructions for those gentlemen. Such instructions had become a useful way for the Whigs to make political statements about the big issues of the day.

The first man named to that committee was Richard Dana. Traditionally that made him the committee head and the principal author of its report. Dana was a magistrate respected for his legal knowledge, suggesting that the meeting expected such issues to arise in the upcoming legislature.

The other committee members were attorney Josiah Quincy, Jr.Dr. Joseph Warren; selectman Joshua Henshaw; and attorney Benjamin Kent. It’s notable that Quincy had just represented Ebenezer Richardson at his murder trial, yet the town still felt he was worthy of the public trust.

Another item on the agenda involved the Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. The committee who had written that report on the Boston Massacre, including newly returned representative James Bowdoin and Dr. Warren, “presented an Appendix to said Narrative.” That was the collection of depositions the authors had used as evidence, starting here.

The town meeting officially “accepted” that appendix. Which avoided hassle because those depositions had already printed with the report and sent off to sympathetic figures in Britain, and William Molineux had mailed a copy to special prosecutor Robert Treat Paine.

The men then voted “that the Thanks of the Town be and hereby are given to said Committee for their strict adherance to the design of the Town in their appointment; and for their perfecting the Business in so correct and masterly a manner.”

The meeting also discussed two property issues. Several inhabitants had asked “that the Selectmen may be empowered to make sale of several pieces of unimproved Land.” And Jacob Emmons asked “that the Town would make him satisfaction for the damage he has or may sustain by the taking away of his Lands in Paddys Alley for the enlarging of a Street.”

The voters took different approaches to these problems. On the first, they named a committee to handle the matter, as usual. On the second, they decided Emmons hadn’t followed proper procedure and gave him “leave to withdraw his Petition”—meaning a definite no.

TOMORROW: The schoolmasters’ salaries.

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