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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Monday, December 21, 2020

“I believe they are a smuggling”

With less than two weeks left in 2020, there are still some significant events in 1770 that I missed discussing on their Sestercentennials, so I’m trying to catch up.

The first of those events took place on 18 May and centered on Owen Richards, a Customs service tide waiter. I traced Richards’s arrival in Boston from Wales, work as a ship’s rigger and auctioneer, and entrance into the Customs service in this post.

That set the stage for his role in the tussle over John Hancock’s ships Lydia and Liberty in 1768. Bostonians didn’t forget Customs men whom they perceived as having overstepped their authority.

On 7 Apr 1770, Richards had to put up a £100 bond to be released from magistrates’ custody. That was the same day that Edward Manwaring, John Munro, and Hammond Green put up much larger bonds after being indicted for participating in the Boston Massacre. I don’t know if the cases were linked, but many locals saw all Customs men as conspiring against the town.

Here is Richards’s own description of what happened on 18 May, from a collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library. At about 1:00 P.M., Richards and another Customs man named John Woart were standing on the deck of the schooner Success, making sure nothing was secretly unloaded from it.
John Woart being on Deck,…he did say to me, Richards look over to Greens Wharf, there is a Schooner hoisting out goods: I believe they are a smuggling;

I desired that we would go over, and see what they are about: he answered I will go over, come along with me. I followed him, stepping over the two Vessels that lay in the dosk, which brought us on Greens Wharf—
The Customs men moved from one ship to another by walking across other ships moored between them. That was how close the wharves were in that central area near Long Wharf, and how many ships were in the harbor at the height of the year.

Woart had turned thirty the year before while Richards was probably in his late forties and didn’t move so fast. According to Woart, he reached the schooner being unloaded and asked for the master. A man “sitting on a Sparr by a Store alongside the Vessel” stood up and said, “I suppose you are a Custom house Officer.” This was the captain, Silvanus Higgins.

Back to Richards:
John Woart was alongside the schooner before me, and Inquired where they came from, and if they had a permit to unload:

the master answered, that he came from New London, and that he had a permit.

Woart desired to see it, the master said Gentlemen, Walk down to the Cabbin, and I will shew it to you—

We went into his Cabbin, and read the permit, found her the schooner Martin, from New London, loaded with Corn Wheat Pork, Pottashes &c. and one barrell of Sugar

I said to the master, [“]Sir, I believe you have more goods onboard your Vessel than are mentioned in your permit”

he answered Sir, only a triffle, that was put onboard without my Knowledge; he then called for some Water, to make Punch, and said “pray don’t ruin me, I will give you any thing your shall ask:[”]

I answered, I was under oath, and Could not over look it.

he then said Two or three half Joannes [£4-6] will make all things Easy—

I said, it was not in my power to take anything, from him; that I must do my Duty.

I then with Mr. Woart went down into the Hold and found the fore Hold full of Hogsheads, Tierces, & barrells, of brown Sugar

TOMORROW: Crowd action.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

I originally wrote that this incident started at 1:00 A.M., but it looks like the sources fit together better for the land waiters spotting the Martin being unloaded at 1:00 P.M., and I revised accordingly.