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, September 05, 2022

“It is just that they should be the first victims”

September 1774 was a very busy time around Boston. On the first day of the month, Gen. Thomas Gage’s troops seized gunpowder from Middlesex County.

The next day, thousands of militia men streamed into Cambridge and demanded all royal officials, up to Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, resign or apologize.

Relations deteriorated from there.

In The Road to Concord, I wrote about one critical development of that month, what I call an “arms race” to secure every artillery piece the Patriot leaders or royal army could get their hands on in and around Boston.

The conflict was heating up on other levels, too. Jurors were refusing the serve. Eastern Massachusetts was catching up to the west on county conventions. Towns held meetings without the governor’s approval to send delegates to the official Massachusetts General Court or unofficial Provincial Congress, whichever came first.

On 8 September, James Rivington (shown above) printed in his New-York Gazetteer this item in a column headed “BOSTON.,” in among news that Boston papers had printed in the first week of the month:
The following is an authentic Copy of a Letter, which was thrown into both the Camps, on Monday Night last, directed, “To the Officers and Soldiers of his Majesty’s Troops at Boston:

It being more than probable that the King’s standard will soon be erected, from rebellion breaking out in this province, its proper that you soldiers, should be acquainted with the authors thereof, and of all the Misfortunes brought upon the province, the following is a list of them, viz.

Mess. Samuel Adams, James Bowdoin, Dr. Thomas Young, Dr. Benjamin Church, Capt. John Bradford, Josiah Quincey, Major Nathaniel Barber, William Mollineux, John Hancock, Wm. Cooper, Dr. [Charles] Chancy, Dr. [Samuel] Cooper, Thomas Cushing, Joseph Greenleaf, and William Denning.—

The friends of your King and Country, and of America, hope and expect it from you soldiers, the instant rebellion happens, that you will put the above persons immediately to the sword, destroy their houses, and plunder their effects; it is just that they should be the first victims to the mischiefs they have brought upon us.

A Friend to Great Britain and America.

N. B. Don’t forget those trumpeters of sedition, the printers [Benjamin] Edes and [John] Gill, and [Isaiah] Thomas.”
I presumed Rivington reprinted that letter from a Boston newspaper and went looking for its first appearance. But I can’t find it in any such paper from late August to early September. (When Hezekiah Niles reprinted this text in the mid-1800s, he credited “the Boston Gazette, 1774.” But again, I can’t find it there.)

In fact, on 19 September the Boston Evening-Post reprinted most of the text from New York, adding some typos and abbreviating several words, as you can read here in the Harbottle Dorr newspaper collection. If the letter had already appeared in the Boston press, why would the Fleet brothers find it newsworthy enough to reprint then?

TOMORROW: Questions of authenticity.

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