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, December 24, 2020

Press Coverage of the Owen Richards Riot

On 21 May 1770, Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy reported:
Last Friday Night Owen Richards, one of the Tidesmen belonging to the Custom-House, was Tarred, Feathered and Carted thro’ the Town for several hours, for having as ’tis said, given Information against a Connecticut Sloop which was Seized.
In contrast, the same day’s Boston Gazette from Edes and Gill said:
Last Friday Night one Richards, a Tide-Waiter, having ’tis said informed against a Connecticut Sloop, was tarred, feathered and carted thro’ the Town for two or three Hours.
No full name for the victim, no acknowledgement that the ship had actually been judged to be smuggling, and an ordeal of “two or three Hours” instead of “several.” 

Here are three more items from the newspapers reporting on different legal fallout from the 18 May 1770 attack on Richards.

In the Boston Post-Boy, 28 May:
At a Council held at the Council-Chamber on Monday last, His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor [Thomas Hutchinson], with the Advice of His Majesty’s Council, sent for His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace of in the Town of Boston, and enjoined them to meet, and make strict Examination into the Affair of taring, feathering & carting Owen Richards, as mentioned in our last, and to bind over such Persons, as shall appear to have been active in it, to answer the same in due Course of Law; and that in all Respects they pursue the Steps of the Law, in order to bring the Offenders to Justice.

The Same Day and the Day following His Majesty’s Justices met at the County Court-House, and sent for several Persons as Evidences, but could obtain no Intellgence of any one that was concerned.
In the Boston Post-Boy, 11 June:
Court of Vice-Admiralty
at Boston, June 2, 1770.

ALL Persons claiming Property in the Schooner Martin, and 17 Hogsheads, 4 Tierces and 2 Barrels of Brown Sugar, seized for Breach of the Acts of Trade, are hereby notified to appear at a Court of Vice-Admiralty to be held at Boston, on the 13th Day of June instant, at Ten o’Clock beforenoon, to shew cause, (if any they have) why the said Schooner and Sugar should not be decreed to remain forfeit pursuant to an Information filed in said Court for that purpose.

By Order of Court, Ezekiel Price, D. Reg’r.
That was the ship Richards had seized for the Customs office.

Finally, the Boston Gazette on 24 December (250 years ago today):
One Owen Richards, a petty Officer in the Customs, who was tarred and feather’d some Months ago, we hear has commenced an Action of Damage for Three Hundred Pounds lawful Money, against a young Gentleman of this Town, whose family Connections are among the better sort of folks, the friends of Government.

This Lad was taken by a single Writ and held to Bail—Upon his application to several of his near relations who are persons of fortune, to become sureties for him, we are told, they absolutely refus’d. But others had compassion upon him; for two Gentlemen were bound for his Appearance at Court.
I haven’t yet figured out who this young man might be. It’s striking how Edes and Gill criticized his relations for not bailing him out for an assault they presumably disapproved of on both personal and political grounds.

COMING UP: The court cases.

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