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, October 01, 2020

The Big News in Boston 250 Years Ago

On 1 Oct 1770, 250 years ago today, the Boston Gazette ran three major pieces of news.

The first item came from Philadelphia, where on 12 September a group of seventeen merchants had published a public letter saying:
Many of the inhabitants of this City, who sometime since entertained hopes of advantage from a continuation of our Non-Importation Agreement; being now fully convinced, it cannot answer the end proposed; and that the Trade of this City must severely feel the effects of adhering to that measure, while the Colonies around us are enjoying the advantages of our inactivity, are of opinion, it is a proper time to make an alteration in said agreement.
The choices, as this group saw it, were “whether said agreement should continue, or be dissolved, so far as to open the Importation of Goods from Great-Britain as usual, tea, and such other articles, as are or may be subject to duties, for the purpose of raising a revenue in America excepted.”

Ten members of Philadelphia’s non-importation committee responded by calling a public meeting, as described in the city’s initial agreement, to decide what to do. That was the biggest crack yet in the North American colonies’ boycott to protest the Townshend Act. Parliament had repealed all but the tea duty, so many merchants were eager to take that as a win and get back to business as usual.

Edes and Gill also reported on the opening of a new session of the Massachusetts General Court on 26 September. Once again, acting governor Thomas Hutchinson had convened the legislature on the campus of Harvard College in Cambridge, removing it from Boston as his superiors in London had ordered.

Once again, the lawmakers responded by complaining about that venue instead of passing the laws the governor wanted. A house committee led by speaker Thomas Cushing recommended that “it was for the Interest of the Province still to adhere to their former Resolution not to proceed to the public Business.” The General Court didn’t immediately adopt that measure, instead agreeing not to debate it until more far-flung delegates arrived and also to observe a fast day the following week—which produced the same delay.

Most momentously, however, the Boston Gazette reported:
By an Express arriv’d last Evening from Newbury Port, we have the melancholy Account of the Death of that eminent Servant of God, and faithful Minister of Jesus Christ, the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD;———

He was taken the with Asthma Yesterday Morning about 6 o’Clock, and expired almost instantaneously.
Whitefield, born in Gloucester, England, in 1714, had toured the American colonies seven times since 1738, attracting thousands of people to his sermons. He was a spark of the “New Light” revivals that roiled New England congregations in the middle of the century, and he remained immensely popular. Historians estimate that across the British Empire his audiences totaled up to ten million people.

Whitefield’s death on 30 September was not only the biggest news in that issue of the Boston Gazette, but for some people it was the biggest news of 1770—even bigger than the Boston Massacre, the repeal of the Townshend duties, and the new ministry in London under Lord North.

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