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, September 14, 2022

“Charming black Eyes indeed!”

When Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks took over the Boston Post-Boy in 1773, they tried to make their shop the favored printer of the Customs office.

They also turned that newspaper, which had a sort of lukewarm Whig profile in previous years, into an organ supporting the royal government, a little more scrappy than Richard and Margaret Draper’s establishment Boston News-Letter.

On 27 June 1774, the Boston Post-Boy ran an item that began:
Messieurs PRINTERS,

THE following is a List of the Committee of Correspondence, so called, for this Town: “The Eyes of the Province and of the whole Continent,” as they have vainly stiled themselves. Charming black Eyes indeed! It is published for the Information of the Committees of Correspondence in the other Provinces, and of the other Towns in this Province, many of whom, it is believed, have not heard their Names.

It must be candidly acknowledge that there are some worthy Characters on the List; these, perhaps ashamed of their Company, have in a Manner seperated themselves from their Brethren, and have not ever joined in their Correspondence or their Counsels. By this Conduct they have partly saved their Reputation, had they publicly declared off at first, they would be quite free from the the Imputation which many may now lay on them, of giving Countenance, by their Silence, to Measures, some of which have been of the most wicked and pernicious Tendency.

In a short Time, Portraits of the Characters of several of the most active of them will be given to the Public. The Author, not copying the base and scandalous Example of the Committee, will advance nothing but the most incontestable Facts, which if requested shall be clearly avouched.
The newspaper then ran the names of the Boston committee of correspondence, from James Otis and Samuel Adams at the top to William Molineux and Robert Peirpoint at the end.

So far as I know, none of the threatened “Portraits of the Characters” ever saw print. I mention this newspaper item because it shows that Loyalists in Boston were circulating the committee’s names with the avowed goal of making them more known, and also distinguishing which were “the most active.”

The 8 September list of Boston activists printed in New York named only nine of the twenty-one men on the committee, mostly grouped together. That list added:
Those changes indicate that whoever created the list had some knowledge of the town’s real Whig leadership. With the exception of Dr. Joseph Warren, the September list does seem to point to the most fervent and active Whigs.

At the same time, it might have been possible to pick up that knowledge from reading Boston’s newspapers or talking with Bostonians, either while one traveled to the Bay Colony or while they traveled to, say, New York.

TOMORROW: Back to the origin question.

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