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, September 08, 2022

The Missing Boston Whig

In guessing at the authenticity and possible source of that letter printed in a New York newspaper naming Boston’s top political troublemakers in August 1774, another clue is that list itself.

Which men did the person who wrote the letter finger as the leaders of the resistance? All the familiar Whig political leaders are there—except one. There are also three names that aren’t usually included in discussions of the Boston chiefs.

For review, here’s the list again:
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.—
Who’s missing? It’s easy to see why some prominent pre-war figures weren’t included. By 1774 James Otis, Jr., was out of the picture for good, disabled by mental illness. John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Joseph Hawley, and other attorneys were living outside Boston. This list also focused on the social elite, so middling-class leaders like Paul Revere, Thomas Crafts, and Robert Pierpont didn’t make the cut.

But where is Dr. Joseph Warren? By 1774 he had:
  • written pseudonymous newspaper essays fervent enough to prompt a confrontation with the royal government in 1768.
  • served on Boston’s three-person committee to prepare the Short Narrative report on the Boston Massacre in 1770.
  • delivered the Massacre memorial oration in 1772.
  • was the third man named to Boston’s committee of correspondence on 2 Nov 1772, right after Otis and Samuel Adams.
Furthermore, in the same month this item appeared, Dr. Warren was drafting the resolutions of the Suffolk County convention. But he didn’t make this list.

I think the absence of Dr. Warren’s name might reflect his relative youth. He was only thirty-three years old in 1774. He hadn’t yet held elected office. In public events, he deferred to older leaders; though Warren was central to gathering Boston’s Whigs to respond to the “Powder Alarm” on 2 September, he didn’t deliver any speeches to the crowd in Cambridge as older Boston colleagues did.

(That said, Josiah Quincy, Jr., was a couple of years younger than Warren, and he did make the list.)

And then there are names you probably haven’t read a lot about.

TOMORROW: Bradford and Barber and Denning?

1 comment:

G/ Lovely said...

Hmmm...perhaps like all "Top Ten" lists (or in this case top fifteen) we each just have personal picks for which heads should roll first.