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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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Assault on a “young lad” in Marlborough

Now to get back to events in Marlborough in July 1770.

Back here I quoted a letter published in the Boston Gazette on 30 July 1770, describing an effigy of local merchant Henry Barnes on horseback. And here I quoted the part of that article discussing the threatening letter Barnes received in the middle of the month.

I now know that letter was first published in the Fleet brothers’ 23 July Boston Evening-Post, 250 years ago today.

That anonymous correspondent didn’t end with comparing Barnes to Don Quixote. He (or she) went on to this alarming tale, naming names all the way:
proclamation is made of liquor to be given away to all that were for Barns, whereupon there assembled on the 17th of july current a great number———Capt. Nathan Brigham jun’r, Solomon Newton and Joshua Newton all of Southboro’, Joseph Parker, John Richards, Alexander Boyd, Luke How, Thomas Swann, (all Barn’s workmen) John Gat Brigham, Joshua Lamb, Simon How, Peter Wood, Joel Barnard, Joseph Lewis, Solomon Brigham and Moses Barns, and others.

In the evening they would some of them sally out with clubs &c. and collar those that passed by in the street. A young lad in the neighbourhood had beat a drum that evening, as he had sundry evenings before, in order to learn to drum, and there came to him John Richards, and inticed him to go with him, promising no harm should befall him, & after he had got him some way from home he was assaulted by Alex. Boyd, Joseph Hale and John Gat Brigham.—

One struck him with his fist,——but two others made several passes at his throat with edged weapons, and stab’d him in his shoulder thro’ his shirt; he then cried out murder and said they had stab’d him; whereupon others came running to his relief from being murdered outright on the spot; he pleaded with them to let him go home: but Hale and Brigham would not let him and hall’d him along by Barn’s to Simon How’s, the man that had kept open doors & dealt out the liquor that evening.

Mr. How expressed himself very sorry and said he tho’t they had carried matters a little too far.—Two of them said they would detain him and lick him to death if he would not promise not to prosecute them, and Thomas Swann said he would pay the fine. Some of their company not being much liquor’d procured his liberty to go home.

The young lad is like to recover, though his life has been in imminent danger. And his father is prosecuting the affair, and it is hoped that the civil authority will prevent the repetition of such a horrid Tragedy as that of the 5th of March in Boston.
The Boston Gazette typesetters wrote of the Massacre as a “Tradegy.”

By the time Edes and Gill had published that letter, there was another, contradictory report on its way to them.

TOMORROW: “an infamous, scandalous libel.”

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