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, December 19, 2020

“See the Junto Cheat the deluded People with the Shew of Liberty”

As Thomas Hutchinson expected, no one claimed the province’s £100 reward for information on who left a handbill on the Town House lambasting the judges in the Boston Massacre trials.

However, the friends of the royal government still had a way to counterattack: vicious parody!

The 24 Dec 1770 Boston Evening-Post followed up on the texts of the handbill and its theatrical source with “The Hand Bill parodiz’d”:
To see the Leaders of of my Fellow-townsmen
And own myself a Whig;—To see the Junto
Cheat the deluded People with the Shew
Of Liberty;—Draw them like Straws
On Lethe’s sleepy Pool, while no wise Herald
Warns them of their Danger;—All that bear
This are Fools; and Fools are We, not to rise up
At the great Call of Government, and from
Th’immerging Prow, dash th’unskilful Pilots.
And the 1 Jan 1771 Boston News-Letter offered another parody and called out “VINDEX or some Brother-Incendiary” for supposedly posting the bill:
To see what Dupes they make my Fellow Citizens,
And own myself a Man: To see our Demegogues
Cheat the deluded People with A Shew
Of Patriotism, which they ne’er could taste of,
Yet when they please, they rob, defame and spoil [?];
Bring whom they please to lawless Rage and Riot;
Drive us like Wrecks with more than brutal Pow’r,
While no Hold’s left to save us from Destruction;
All that do this are Villains, and I one
Not to rouse up at the loud Call of Justice,
And check the Growth of those domestic Tyrants,
Who call us Slaves, and fain would be our Masters.
Samuel Adams was then publishing a long series of newspaper essays signed “Vindex” going over all the evidence from the Massacre inquiries in great detail. But I doubt his political opponents really thought he’d posted that handbill. After all, Adams could find a much wider readership in the newspapers.

Judge Peter Oliver’s memoir shows that he suspected someone else:
One of the Councellors Sons posted up a Bill on the Door of the House of Assembly, calling upon the People to Assasinate the Judges of the supreme Court. For Forms sake, a Proclamation was issued by the Governor and Council, offering a Reward to discover the Author; but this was not the Time to punish any of the Faction, & it was buried in Silence.
Whom did Oliver have in mind? The suspect must have been a son of a member of the 1770-71 Council, not yet prominent in his own right, and living in Boston.

Unfortunately, there were twenty-five men on the Council, families were large, and young men came to Boston to make their fortune, so the list of possibilities is long. Was it Lendell Pitts, son of James Pitts and later a captain of the Tea Party? John Steele Tyler, teen-aged son of Royall Tyler and future manager of the Federal Street Theatre? Or someone whom I don’t know?

For Oliver, the main point was probably that the culprit’s father was part of the body that had solemnly advised acting governor Hutchinson to proclaim a reward for information.

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