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, August 05, 2020

How Salem Welcomed William Molineux

Yesterday I described how on 31 July 1770 the “Body of the Trade and Inhabitants” of Boston authorized a committee of five men to go to Salem and other towns in Essex County to urge their business communities to stick to the non-importation agreement.

The committee—or, as it turned out, four of the five—traveled north the next day. On 7 August those men were back at the public meeting in Boston, reporting that their discussions had gone very well.

But that wasn’t the full story. On 20 August the Boston Gazette ran a dispatch from Salem that indicated there had been some anxious moments:
…four respectable Gentlemen; being Part of the Boston Standing Committee, came to this Town on the 1st Instant [i.e., of this month], and put up at the King’s Arms.

Late in the Evening, William Luscomb, of this Place, entered the House, and enquired for Mr. [William] Molineux, &c. and being told that the Gentlemen had retired to Bed, he searched for and found their Apartment, and being admitted, represented to them, in hideous Colours, 30 or 40 People were assembled at the Long-Wharf, had agreed to beset them at one o’Clock, tar and feather them, &c. unless they immediately departed the Town.—

After this Information, Luscomb went away: Directly after a Letter was found in the Entry, conceived in the following base and insolent Terms, viz.——

“General Molineaux

Understanding yt. You are come into this Town (who are at present in a peaceable State) to Raise a Spirit of Sedition; As a Friend to Mankind in general, I would Advise you immediately to depart this Place, with all those that have enlisted under your Piraticle Banners, otherwise. Be assurd You will suffer the like Fate, with the poor Mc.Masters whom you treated with such Unparrallell’d Barbarity

Two hours are only allow’d You to Consider of this matter, and You are Surrounded with Spys to know the Effect.


P S, Removing Your Logings can’t possibley secreet You

Salem 12 oClock”

As the Gentlemen were Strangers in the Town, they sent, as well for their own Satisfaction, as to quiet the Family where they put up, to a Gentleman near by, who was one of the Committee for this Town, to know whether he could account for this odd Adventure: He came, and assured them, as his Opinion, that there was no Foundation for what had been told them, and that they and the Family might rest perfectly easy.—

The Gentlemen having the next Day conferred with our Committee on the Business they came upon, and receiving Satisfaction, went out of Town, well assured, we doubt not, that this Town will steadily adhere to the Measures now pursuing for the common Good of America.

The Selectmen of the Town have preferred repeated Complaints to one or more Justices of the Peace against the said William Luscomb, praying that a Warrant might be issued for apprehending him, that he may answer for this Conduct as the law directs; but their Endeavours, it is said, has not yet proved successful. Mr. [William] Goodhue, Keeper of the King’s-Arms Tavern, has also exhibited a Complaint for the same Purpose.
In his copy of the Boston Gazette, Harbottle Dorr noted that the four Bostonians who made the trip to Salem were Molineux, William Phillips, William Cooper, and William Greenleaf. The innkeeper and the man apparently making threats were also named William. I hold out hope that the Salem committee-man had the same first name.

I’ve found out little about William Luscomb. There was a line of craftsmen in Salem with that name. This one was probably the housewright (1717-1783), which would make him fifty-three years old in 1770. But it’s possible he was that man’s namesake son (1747-1827), a housewright and later painter, or a cousin of that line.

Both William Luscombs, father and son, contributed to the building of a new Congregationalist meetinghouse in 1772, so they weren’t Anglican. There’s no evidence they were importers and wanted to break up the boycott for business reasons.

This William Luscomb had obviously heard about how a Boston crowd had attacked Patrick McMaster and threatened to tar and feather him in June. He blamed Molineux, known for leading the Boston crowds but not publicly implicated in that incident. But there’s no sign of any close tie between the Luscombs and the McMaster brothers.

So it’s possible that this William Luscomb just didn’t like the thought of a Boston merchant coming north and leaning on locals with his big-town ways. Ironically, the people of Essex County had used tar and feathers to punish Customs officers a couple of years before the practice came to Boston.

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