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, July 26, 2020

More Mild Mayhem in Marlborough

All right, now that I’ve calmed down from spotting William Benson staying out of the political dispute/gang brawl in Marlborough on 17 July 1770, I can move on to the people who were actually involved.

The “Honest Ploughjogger” letter published in the 6 August Boston Gazette continued its finger-pointing at Henry Barnes’s political enemies:
…the said mob alias sons of liberty knowing their cause to be bad, and their best man not coming, they dare not move forward in a body, but sent out a scout of about five in number well arm’d to reconnoitre the street, among which was Waldo Woods, the young fellow said to be wounded, as ill-bred a fellow as ever existed, who came foremost armed with a tomhawk [sic] and his mouth full of oaths, imprecations and curses, and assaulted John Gott Brigham, and swore he would split out his brains, and would bring 200 people in half an hour, upon which said Brigham told him he had better go home and be peaceable or he would flog him.
As we recall, in the previous month the Boston Evening-Post had published a letter characterizing the wounded person as a “young lad.” John Waldo Woods, son of Alpheus Woods, was actually eighteen years old. Eighteenth-century society still classified him as a boy, but that’s certainly older than the first newspaper account led me to believe.

Furthermore, by this account young Waldo wasn’t just practicing “to learn to drum” before being enticed away by four men from the gathering at Simon Howe’s house. Instead, he went out looking for trouble with a tomahawk and accosted John Gott Brigham.

As for Brigham, he was nineteen years old. So we have two older teen-aged boys, each feeling politically justified, with possible local feuds, drinking, and sharp weapons added to the mix. Oh, this will end well.
Then said Woods drew out a sharp pointed knife, and swore he would stab him to the heart, and made a pass at his belly, upon which Brigham seized him by the arm, and took the knife out of his hand and thereby saved his own life; but it seems in the scuffle of taking away the knife, Woods bro’t the point of it against his own shoulder, and made a scratch equal to the scratch of a pin, not one drop of blood lost, and then he cry’d murder and run home with wet breeches, and no other person than Brigham offered to meddle with him: and neither Brigham nor any other person who was at said Simon How’s that night, had any sort of weapon, either wood or iron with them, nor did any of them attempt to meddle with or molest any Person that pass’d the street that evening.
The previous letter claimed that Brigham and a companion had dragged young Woods back to Howe’s party, where the host said “he tho’t they had carried matters a little too far.” Then there was a discussion of legal liability with more threats and promises. The “Ploughjogger” letter didn’t mention any of that, even to deny it. Which makes me think something like that happened.

Looking at court records from the next term might reveal whether either side did proceed to filing suit for assault. In addition, the “Honest Ploughjogger” closed his letter suggesting that Alpheus Woods would be hauled up for threatening Henry Barnes:
It has been surmiz’d that A——s W—ds was the author of that villainous letter threatning of Mr. Barnes that he would murder him and destroy all his substance by fire. There is now such sufficient proof, that it is thot’ the villain will soon be bro’t to the bar to receive sentence; and if justice does but take place, there is no doubt but it will prevent his further proceeding in his wickedness.
In fact, tensions eased with the collapse of the strict non-importation movement that summer. But eventually this local rivalry came to a head, and one family had to leave town.

TOMORROW: Visitors to Marlborough in 1775.

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