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, October 10, 2020

“The Solicitation and Expectation of such Reward”

I left William Story on his way to London in late 1771 bearing letters of reference from three major political players in Boston—from royal governor Thomas Hutchinson, speaker of the house Thomas Cushing, and house clerk Samuel Adams.

Hutchinson had recommended Story, a former deputy register of the Vice Admiralty Court, to the Secretary of State for the colonies, Lord Hillsborough, and to Sir Francis Bernard, the former governor.

On the other side of the political aisle, Cushing had written a letter to Benjamin Franklin, the house’s agent, and Adams one to Arthur Lee, the house’s alternate agent. Story and Adams had been part of Boston’s political caucus back in the early 1760s.

But then, unbeknownst to Story, Adams had sent a second letter to Lee, warning that since Story might not be trustworthy since he’d also sought a favor from Hutchinson. That could have been a big problem for Story except that Lee viewed Franklin as a rival and never told him about Adams’s warning. 

Story’s patron in Massachusetts, John Temple, was also in London. He’d been a Customs official in Boston but instead of working closely with the royal governors and the other Customs Commissioners he’d allied himself with the local merchants and Whigs, marrying James Bowdoin’s daughter. In late 1770 Temple sailed for London to bolster his position, only to lose his post as Commissioner for being absent. Sometime in 1771, however, Temple secured the position of Surveyor General of Customs in England.  

In sum, everyone was maneuvering around everyone else. In particular, Story and Temple were trying to maintain a foot in both political camps.

Still ignorant of Adams’s suspicions, Franklin happily “introduc’d Mr. Story to a Secretary of the Treasury,” as he told Cushing in a letter on 13 Jan 1772. That connection helped Story with one of his problems: being pressured to pay Massachusetts the value of a worthless note from the late bankrupt Nathaniel Wheelwright, which he had accepted to gratify Temple. 

But Story didn’t just want to escape that debt. Back in 1765, mobs had attacked his house on the same riotous night when they damaged the homes of Hutchinson and Benjamin Hallowell. The Massachusetts legislature had grudgingly recompensed all three men for part of their losses along with Andrew Oliver, attacked earlier. But Hutchinson, Oliver, and Hallowell had also received promotions within the royal bureaucracy. Story, in contrast, had lost his post in the Vice Admiralty Court, possibly for being too close to Temple. 

Now Story wanted “some Appointment in consideration of his Sufferings from the Mob,” in Franklin’s words. Franklin wasn’t optimistic about the chances: “I doubt whether it may be worth his while to attend here the Solicitation and Expectation of such Reward, those Attendances being often drawn out into an inconceivable Length, and the Expence of course enormous.” 

It looks like some officials in London told Story that he had a better chance of landing a royal salary through Hutchinson. So that spring he sailed home. Traveling with him was a Massachusetts-born protégé of Franklin named Edward Bancroft, who made only a short visit in Boston before heading back to London. 

(During the war, Bancroft served as Franklin’s secretary in Paris. But he was really a spy for the British. In 1777, Arthur Lee, by then another American diplomat in Paris, accused Bancroft of corresponding with the enemy. But since by this time no one trusted Lee, Franklin continued to rely on Bancroft. His spying didn’t become public until 1891.) 

After landing in Boston in June 1772, William Story went to Gov. Hutchinson and told him he wanted an appointment, preferably a lucrative one. Hutchinson declined to offer any position. According to the governor, Story then “let me know that he hoped he should not be obliged to make publick the substance…of some writings of mine he had seen in London.” 

As I said, everyone was maneuvering around everyone else.

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