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, December 09, 2020

Paying for the Defense in the Massacre Trials

On 12 Nov 1770, after receiving word that Capt. Thomas Preston had been found innocent of the Boston Massacre, Gen. Thomas Gage wrote to him from New York.

Gage was pleased Preston was no longer “oppressed by the most malicious Prosecution” and able to help the enlisted men to go on trial next. “I readily Consent to your going home when all is over,” he wrote. He also addressed Preston’s expenses:
I Flatter myself that Government will readily comply with an Application in your Behalf, to reimburse the unavoidable Expence you have been put to. A Packet sails tomorrow, and I shall write to Lord Barrington on the Subject, In the mean time send me an Account of the Expences the Prosecution has cost you, and have a Copy Ready to produce when you arrive in England. . . .

If you are in want of Money I shall with the greatest Pleasure assist you, with any Sum my private Purse will afford, and will answer your Draught.
Gage expected Preston and, apparently, himself to have to dip into personal funds. There was no budget line for defending soldiers against criminal charges.

Preston sailed from Boston on 7 December, the day after the verdict in the men’s trials. (He thus didn’t wait around for the sentencing and punishment of Pvts. Mathew Kilroy and Edward Montgomery.)

Lt. Col. William Dalrymple of the 14th Regiment (shown above later, during his political career) sent Gen. Gage a list of expenses on 17 December:
To a retaining fee to C: Prestons Lawyers – £10.10
To Do: to the mens D[itt]o: – £10.10
To a fee for pleading at the tryal to C: Prestons Lawyers – £63
To Do: to the Mens Do: – £42
To an Attorney to assist at their tryal – £10.10
To an Attorney for taking some affidavits – £3.12
To certain people employed to enquire about town and collect Affidavits and Evidences [witnesses] – £25.10
To Summons’s and serving them on 93 Evidences – £13.19
To Evidences for the time they waited in Court before examin:n – £5.19
To Joalers fees – £15
To Turnkeys fees and Civility money – £21
To a Clerk at several times – £15.7.6
To small presents to particular people in Boston – £21
To postage of Letters – £2.5
[subtotal] £260.2.6
To extra: expences in coming express from Portsmouth to London with Governour [Thomas] Hutchinsons and Comodore [James] Gambiers dispatchs to Government – £4.4.6
[total] £264.7
The four defense lawyers involved in the two cases thus split more than £140.

On 5 Mar 1771, exactly one year after the shooting on King Street, Secretary of War Barrington assured Gage that “Captain Preston has had all his expences paid and a Pension of £200 a Year bestowed upon him.” In fact, the pension didn’t become official for another year, perhaps time to let Preston sell his commission.

Isaac Smith, Jr., a young cousin of Abigail Adams, was in London that spring, and he wrote to John Adams: “It is said that Capt. Preston will be reimbursed in the expences of his prosecution and meet with some further compensation for his confinement.”

Adams replied: “If Preston is to be reimbursed his Expences, I wish his Expences, at least to his Council, had been greater.” In other words, if Adams had known that he was working for the Crown government, and not just an army officer paying out of pocket, he would have charged more.

There’s no way to know how much of the legal fees came to Adams. However, it’s very hard to reconcile the figures from 1770 with what Adams wrote in his autobiography decades later:
[James] Forrest offered me a single Guinea [worth £1.1] as a retaining fee and I readily accepted it. From first to last I never said a Word about fees, in any of those Cases, and I should have said nothing about them here, if Calumnies and Insinuations had not been propagated that I was tempted by great fees and enormous sums of Money. Before or after the Tryal, Preston sent me ten Guineas and at the Tryal of the Soldiers afterwards Eight Guineas more, which were all the fees I ever received or were offered to me, and I should not have said any thing on the subject to my Clients if they had never offered me any Thing.

This was all the pecuniary Reward I ever had for fourteen or fifteen days labour, in the most exhausting and fatiguing Causes I ever tried: for hazarding a Popularity very general and very hardly earned: and for incurring a Clamour and popular Suspicions and prejudices, which are not yet worn out and never will be forgotten as long as History of this Period is read.
This is of course another of John Adams’s stories about doing the right thing and not being appreciated for it.

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