History, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.

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.




Saturday, June 27, 2020

Trouble for Henry Barnes, “an Infamous importer”

Yesterday I started to describe how the town of Marlborough started to pressure Henry Barnes (shown here, in a portrait by his former slave Prince Demah) to stop importing goods from Britain.

The men of Marlborough adopted some of the same measures as the non-importation activists in Boston, just a year or more later. They held a town meeting to formally condemn importers. They appointed a committee to inspect goods and customers. They even called a meeting that didn’t have a property requirement so more young men could participate. And some folks started to make their disapproval even clearer by damaging Barnes’s property.

Henry Barnes’s wife Christian heard rumors that this activity was being guided from Boston:
It is said that a young gentleman who has formilly headed the mob in Boston and now resides with us is the perpetrator of all this mischief, but I will not believe it until I have further profe.
Alas, I haven’t found a clue about which young gentleman that might be.

In her letter to her friend Elizabeth Smith, Christian Barnes described how Bostonians themselves had attacked her husband’s property while it was in transport:
The greatest loss we have as yet met with was by a Mob in Boston who a few Nights ago atack’d a wagon load of goods which belongs to us they abused the Driver and cut a Bag of Peppur which contain’d three hundred [pounds?] leting it all into the street then gather’d it up in their Hand’fs & Hatts and caried it off the rest of the load they ordered back into the Publick Store of which the well disposed Commity Keeps the Key

Mr. Barnes has apply’d to the Lefnt. Govener [Thomas Hutchinson] for advice and he advised him to put in a petition to the General Court he then repaired to Mr. [James] Murray [a justice of the peace who was also Smith’s brother] and beg’d his assistance in the drawing of it up he complyed with his request and it is lade before the House next week, as I have entered so largly into the affair I will send you a Coppy of the Petition, we expect no Satisfaction or redress from the General Court but only as it is a legal Method and praparatory (in case of further insults) to the appealing to Higher Powers

You would be pleased to see with what moderation Mr. Barnes behaves in his present distresses at the same time I am well assured his resolution will carry him through all difficultys without swerving from his first principles

The Merchants in Boston are now intirely out of the question in all debates at their Town Meeting, which is caried on by a mob of the lowest sort of people leaded by one [John] Balard and Doct. [Thomas] Young Persons that I never before heard off
Dr. Thomas Young had led a crowd to the McMaster brothers’ store in early June to press them to stop importing. After another crowd carted Patrick McMaster around with a tar barrel on 19 June, John Ballard administered the oath by which the Scotsman swore not to return to Boston. Barnes heard from either Ame or Elizabeth Cumings that “the other two [McMaster] brothers had fled for their lives” as well.

And the people of Marlborough were still ramping up pressure on Henry Barnes. His wife wrote:
on the 10 of June the unqualified Voters had a meeting and enter’d into the same resolves the others had done before and the next day an Effigy was Hung upon a Hill in sight of the House with a paper Pin’d to the Breast, wheron was wrote Henry Barnes an Infamous importer this Hung up all Day and at Night they Burn’d it
In the five years since the Stamp Act, only the society’s worst political enemies had the honor of being hanged and burned in effigy.

COMING UP: Another effigy, this one on horseback.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Meanwhile, out in Marlborough…

One of the Sestecentennial stories I’ve neglected because I don’t have solid dates for all the events is the way the people of Marlborough joined in the non-importation movement by pressuring local businessman Henry Barnes.

Barnes was born in Boston in 1723. His father was a merchant from Britain who helped to administer and set up all three of the Anglican churches in town. In 1746, Henry married Christian Arbuthnot, a daughter of his father’s business partner.

In 1752, Henry Barnes set up a cider distillery in the rural town of Marlborough. That area was apparently a big producer of apples and cider. It also produced people named Barnes, descended from one of the earliest British families to settle there, but Henry Barnes had no connections to that clan.

Over the years, Barnes built up his business to include a pearl ash factory and a general store where he sold goods he imported through Boston to locals. He built a large house, shown above in expanded form before it was taken down to build a fire station. He owned slaves, including a woman named Daphney and her artistically talented son Prince Demah.

On 29 March, in the wake of the Boston Massacre, Marlborough held a town meeting on the imperial crisis. The resolutions that the townspeople approved said:
we are astonished to find that a number are at this critical time so sordidly detached from the public interest, and are so selfish and impudent, as to stand out and not comply with the Non-Importation Agreement, or break the same when entered into, and remain obstinate and bid defiance to their country, when entreated by the Committee of Merchants in the most salutary manner to enter into and abide by the same; and as they continue to practice those things that tend to ruining and enslaving their country and posterity…
The men of Marlborough pledged not to buy anything from the merchants that Boston had designated as importers, listing ten names. In practical terms, that meant boycotting Henry Barnes. And more.

Christian Barnes wrote to her friend Elizabeth Smith about that development in a letter she wrote over the month of June and finished on 6 July:
The Spirit of discord and confusion which has prevailed with so much violence in Boston has now begun to spread itself into the country. These Poor deluded People with whome we have lived so long in Peice & harmony have been influenced by the Sons of Rapin to take every method to distress us, at their March meeting they enter’d into resolves similar to those you have often seen in the Boston News Papers

at their next meeting they Chose four inspecters [Hezekiah Maynard, Peter Bent, Robert Baker, Alpheus Woods, and Moses Woods] (Men of the most Violent disposition of any in the Town) to Watch those who should purchas goods at the Store, with intent that their names should be recorded as enimies to their Country this did not deter those from coming who had not voted to the resolves these were cheifly Young People who were not qualified to vote in their Town Meeting

when they saw their measures had not the desired effect and that our custome still encreased they fix’d a paper upon the meeting House impowering and advising these unqualified voters to call a Meeting of their own and enter into the same resolves with the other this was a priviledg they had never enjoy’d and fond of their new goten Power hasten’d to put it in execution summon’d a Meeting chose a Moderater and (by the direction of those who sat them to work) resolves were drawn up but not yet pass’d

while all this was in agitation their was great outrages commited & insults offer’d to the Importers in Boston so that some of them have been compel’d to quit the Town as not only their Property but their lives were in Danger nor are we wholly free from apprehensions of the like treetment for they have already began to commit outrages

the first thing that fell a Sacrifice to their Mallace and reveng was the Coach which caused so much desention between us this they took the cushings out of and put them in the brook, and the next night cut the carriage to pieces. Not long after they broke the windows at the Pearl Ash Works.
Evidently Henry and Christian Barnes had disagreed in some way about buying a coach, and now it was all broken up anyway. I like how such private details surface in the middle of political trouble.

TOMORROW: More trouble for Henry Barnes.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Last of the Boston Chronicle

On 25 June 1770, 250 years ago today, this announcement appeared in the Boston Chronicle:
The Printers of the Boston Chronicle return thanks to the Gentlemen, who have so long favoured them with their Subscriptions, and now inform them that, as the Chronicle, in the present state of affairs, cannot be carried on, either for their entertainment or the emolument of the Printers, it will be discontinued for some time.
Printer John Mein had left for England the previous fall. His partner John Fleeming had carried on publishing the newspaper, still including documents from the Customs office. Each issue started with a list of the leaders of the non-importation committee, formatted like the Boston Gazette’s accusatory list of the remaining importers. But Fleeming no longer carried political essays from local authors, instead reprinting news from Europe and the letters of Junius.

Financial pressure was mounting on Fleeming. John Hancock was still pursuing his lawsuit against Mein as an agent of London creditors, seizing printing equipment and supplies. The only people still advertising in the Boston Chronicle were friends of the royal government. The 21 June issue contained only two ads: one by John Bernard, the departed governor’s son, announcing that he was leaving Massachusetts, and one for an auction in Nova Scotia.

When most of the Customs Commissioners and their administrators moved to Castle William after the 19 June attack on Henry Hulton’s home, that probably deprived Fleeming of another form of financial support.

Finally, Fleeming faced physical threats. He had been with Mein when angry merchants confronted him back in October. And then there’s this item from the 8 Jan 1770 Newport Mercury, also reprinted in some other American newspapers:
From Boston we hear, that on the Evening of the 29th Ult. [i.e., December 1769] Mr. —— Fleeming, Printer of the Boston Chronicle, was attacked in one of the Streets of that Town, by a Number of Ruffians, who abused him very much; and, ’tis thought, he would have died of his Wounds on the Spot, had not a humane Negro, who knew him, taken him up and helped him to his Home.
Boston 1775 reader John Navin set me on the path to this article through Facebook. As far as I can tell, the news was never printed in Boston, not even in Fleeming’s own paper.

E. J. Witek quoted Fleeming as telling Lord North in 1773 that his “life was threatened and finding the power of Government too weak to protect him against the fury of a lawless mob, he fled to Castle William.” Witek dated the time of Fleeming’s move to the Castle to the end of June 1770, just after closing the Chronicle.

So I might have been wrong when I wrote back in 2011 that, unlike Mein, Fleeming “never had mobs on his tail.” I’m still not certain whether he was actually attacked or merely threatened. The Newport news item came from someone who didn’t even know Fleeming’s given name and thus might not have heard all the facts straight, and his own petition doesn’t appear to have mentioned an actual assault. But he had reason to flee.

Whatever the exact circumstance, Fleeming shut down the Boston Chronicle two and a half centuries ago today, silencing Boston’s most aggressive newspaper support for the royal government.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Swett’s Collection of Bunker Hill Documents

Last year I wrote about three volumes of recollections about the Battle of Bunker Hill taken down in 1825 that went missing in the late nineteenth century.

Samuel Swett (1782-1866, shown here) consulted that collection, but he also assembled a file of his own documents as he wrote his “Historical and Topographical Sketch of Bunker Hill Battle,” published in 1818. In that essay he wrote (referring to himself in the third person):
The materials lay scattered among newspapers, magazines, records and files of Congress, the scattered surviving veterans of the day, and others. He was compelled by circumstances to commence his researches in July, and finish his sketch in August; but he reminded himself that our fathers fought for us in the same oppressive season, and spared no effort to render the work complete. Not a single fact is stated of which he has not the most satisfactory evidence. That the public however may judge for themselves, he has deposited his documents and proofs for their use at the Boston Athaeneum [sic].
However, in a letter published in the Boston Daily Advertiser on 20 Dec 1825, Swett reported:
…the original documents which were collected in the defence of General [Israel] Putnam, and which I was permitted to use in preparing my sketch of the battle, were deposited in the Athen?um, and for some years have been lost, and not the slightest trace of them can be found.
Fortunately, Swett said, he’d kept separate two documents he sent to that newspaper—the two I quoted last week.

At just about the same time, Swett published his “Notes to the Sketch of Bunker-Hill Battle,” quoting from his sources. On the first page of that appendix a footnote stated: “This, and every other statement referred to by the author, were taken down in writing at the time; any person who pleases may have copies taken of any documents in his possession.” Of course, the “documents in his possession” didn’t include those lost at the Athen?um.

Some people had transcribed parts of that collection, Swett explained on the next page (now using the second person plural): “As the original documents have long been lost from the Boston Athen?um, we can only say, the copies in the [Columbian] Centinel and N[orth]. A[merican]. Review are known to have been made by two gentlemen of as high honour and integrity as our country ever produced.”

On page 10 Swett switched to “statements taken down in writing by Gen. [William] Sullivan and other Directors of the Bunker Hill monument” in June 1825—the documents in that three-volume collection.

When Richard Frothingham, Jr., wrote his History of the Siege of Boston, first published in 1849, he wrote: “I am indebted to Colonel Samuel Swett for permission to take copies of his manuscripts.” Again, those might not have included the papers deposited at the Athen?um.

However, according to an item published in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register in 1920, at some point in the nineteenth century Swett’s original collection resurfaced. Artemas Ward of New York, descendant of the general of the same name, wrote that several people noted the recovery in their copies of Swett’s “Notes to the Sketch of Bunker-Hill Battle.” (I haven’t seen such a note.)

In May 1883, the New York book dealer Charles L. Woodward offered “Col. Swett’s Collection of Affidavits” for sale. This lot was said to include “nearly two hundred papers,” and the asking price was $200. Alas, there’s no information about where Woodward obtained that collection and where he sold it.

That makes two collections of documents about Bunker Hill collected within the lifetimes of the men who fought that battle which disappeared in the late 1800s. Any information about them would, of course, be appreciated.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

New Publications from the Journal of the American Revolution

I came across the 1818 recollections of the Battle of Bunker Hill that I shared last week while writing a new article for the Journal of the American Revolution website: “Who Said, ‘Don’t Fire Till You See the Whites of Their Eyes’?”

Way back in 2007, I wrote a Boston 1775 posting with that title, a lead-in to a discussion of how Thomas Carlyle alerted American historians to Prussian leaders using a similar phrase in the mid-1700s. Blogger tells me that posting has received more pageviews than any other on this site—which is a bit embarrassing since a few years later I decided that was just a side issue.

In 2014 I came across early publications of the “whites of their eyes” quotation that trace back to Israel Putnam. That led to further postings about that phrase appearing in British military sources before the first American publication and even before 1775.

For the new J.A.R. article I combined all the Boston 1775 postings about the famous quotation with some new material. I hope it’s an enjoyable read.

In more Journal of the American Revolution news, an early copy of the latest annual volume of articles collected from the website arrived here at headquarters.

It contains my article on stories about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Which anecdotes can be traced back to men in the room where that happened, and which are totally unreliable?

In preparing that article for the print publication, I found an earlier source of the anecdote about John Adams and Stephen Hopkins at the signing. That prompted me to explore if Philadelphia Public Ledger editor Russell Jarvis was the anonymous journalist who first put that story into print. That possibility is still speculative enough to belong in a footnote, but it’s a long, substantial footnote, and it’s found only in the printed volume.

Monday, June 22, 2020

“Enraged upon reading Capt. Preston’s Narrative”

The publication of Capt. Thomas Preston’s “Case” in Boston in June 1770 heightened the danger that had prompted the captain to write to the British government in the first place: the possibility that he would be killed for the Boston Massacre.

One threat was that a Massachusetts jury would convict Preston of murder and the local authorities would quickly carry out a death sentence. The 21 June Boston News-Letter reported that the government in London had anticipated that possibility:
The Ministers expect, That if Captain Preston, and the soldiers, who committed the late murders at Boston, are condemned, That the Lieutenant Governor (Hutchinson) will respite them during the King’s pleasure [i.e., put off executions until the London government had a chance to pardon them], which may occasion another Porteu’s affair)
John Porteous was a captain of the Edinburgh City Guard in 1736. After he and soldiers under his command killed people while putting down a riot, he was convicted of murder. Rumors said he might be reprieved, so on the night before his scheduled execution a crowd took him out of the jail (shown above) and hanged him themselves.

Thus, the second danger that Preston and the ministry feared was that Bostonians would lynch him.

On 22 June, 250 years ago today, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage in New York:
I ever supposed it would be necessary for me, at all events if Capt. Preston & the Soldiers should be found Guilty and Sentence be passed to grant a Reprieve until His Majesty’s pleasure should be known. I am now under stronger Obligation to do it than before having received His Majestys express commands so to do.

I am much less concerned from an apprehension of the rage of the people against me than I am from the danger in our present dissolute state of Government, of the people’s taking upon themselves to put the Sentence into execution. I do not believe I have one Magistrate who would be willing to run any risque in endeavouring to prevent it. If Troops were in the Town I don’t know that a Magistrate would employ them on such an occasion but I think they might notwithstanding be the means of preventing it.
Hutchinson sent that letter from Boston and then went to his country house in Milton. As evening approached, he received a message from Lt. Col. William Dalrymple, commander of the 14th Regiment stationed on Castle William. Dalrymple enclosed “a Letter he had received from Capt. Preston expressing his great fears that the people were so enraged as to force the Gaol that night and make him a sacrifice, several of his friends having informed him this was their intention.”

The acting governor dashed off a note for Preston which said in its entirety:
Dear Sir

I will take every precaution which is in my power which I wish was greater than it is and am Yours sincerely

Hutchinson told Gage the next day what other steps he took:
I sent immediately proper Orders to the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] & I directed to every precaution I could think of but, being extremely uneasy, I went to Town. I found the people were enraged upon reading Capt. Preston’s Narrative which I wish had not been published in England.

I sat up until midnight and until the Scouts which had been sent to different quarters made return that all was quiet and I find that where Capt. Prestons fears have come to the knowledge of the Liberty People they have generally remarked that what ever danger there may be after Trial it would be the heighth of madness to think of any such thing before.

I shall however continue all the caution I have in my power.
Hutchinson thought Preston’s trial for murder would come in “ten or twelve weeks,” or sometime in September. Both the royal authorities and Boston’s political leaders had to keep him and the soldiers alive until then.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Alarming News from Across the Atlantic

On 21 June 1770, 250 years ago today, the Boston News-Letter reported startling news from London. So startling that Richard Draper added a two-page “Extraordinary” sheet to his newspaper.

On Monday the 18th, Capt. James Hall had arrived from England with copies of the London Public Advertiser describing how the imperial capital had reacted to receiving news of the Boston Massacre back on 5 March.

The first word had reached London on 22 April. The next day, the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for North America, summoned Sir Francis Bernard, still officially the royal governor of Massachusetts, for consultation.

That evening the London newspapers published the Boston Gazette’s account of the killing, a statement from the Boston town meeting, and a letter from the Whigs to former governor Thomas Pownall. All of those sources of course blamed the royal authorities.

On 23 April, a Sunday night, there was a “Cabinet Council” about the news. The next day, Lord Hillsborough met with colonial governors and agents in a “grand levée at his house.” Those meetings gave rise to several rumors about what the government might do next: appoint Sir Jeffery Amherst commander-in-chief in North America, send more troops to Boston, repeal the tea tax before resigning? The tea tax was the last of the Townshend duties, and ending it would have been a total victory for the non-importation movement. (None of those things happened.)

Parliament met on 26 April. Member Barlow Trecothick, also a London alderman with close links to the Boston business community, formally asked the ministry to share all communications about Boston. Reportedly Hillsborough and Lord North had promised him a formal vote would not be necessary, but he “did not chuse to trust their assurances.” The ensuing debate included Edmund Burke, Isaac Barré, George Grenville, and others. It ended with agreement that the government would share the information with names redacted.

As part of that discussion, the London newspapers (still dashing out most names because it wasn’t clearly legal yet to report parliamentary debates) quoted Viscount Barrington, Secretary of War, as saying that Boston magistrates didn’t support the troops, and:
That the Government is a Democracy, and all civil Officers chosen by the People,—that the Council is a democratical Part of that Democracy,—that in his Opinion a Royal Council is necessary for a more proper Division of Powers of Government.
Such a Council appointed in London would be part of the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774.

Then on 28 April more documents arrived from Boston. Some were in the same vein as before. A letter from Lt. Col. William Dalrymple reportedly said Bostonians “had absolutely DETERMINED to risk their lives in an Attack upon the Military; in order to revenge the cruel and wanton Massacre of their Countrymen”—which is not what that army colonel would have ever written.

But the bombshell printed in the 28 April Public Advertiser, and reprinted in the 21 June Boston News-Letter after it went back across the Atlantic, was the “Case of Capt. Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment.” This 2,000-word account of the Massacre started with complaints of Bostonians being mean the soldiers, proceeded through a detailed account of the shooting on King Street that blamed the violent crowd, and concluded with warnings of the slanted local press. (The London newspapers, and thus the News-Letter, omitted Preston’s final paragraphs asking for a pardon.)

The Boston Whigs were upset because back in March Preston had sent the Boston Gazette a short letter thanking the town and praising its justice system. Even as he did so, those politicians realized, the captain must have been preparing this very different message for Customs Commissioner John Robinson to carry to London.

TOMORROW: The anger of the people.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

“The affair of breaking Mr. Hulton’s Windows at Brookline”

Yesterday we left Henry Hulton under attack in his home in Brookline.

Hulton, one of the five Commissioners of Customs for North America appointed in London, had been woken on the night of 19 June 1770 by a man claiming to have a letter for him. He wrote later that he “slipt on my breeches and waistcoat,” grabbed his sword, and went to a window.

After a brief exchange, Hulton slammed down the window on the man’s hand. Then that man and others stationed all around the house beat in the first-floor windows with clubs.

Hulton wrote:
The family immediately rose in the greatest consternation, and Mrs. H opening the Window shutter in her room had a large stone thrown at her which happily missed her. Imagining the people would break into the house, and seek to murther me I ran to the Servants’ room at the head of the back Stairs with my sword in my hand, leaving two Servant Men at the bottom.
The commissioner’s servants included both white and black people, the latter almost certainly enslaved. And those were his ground-floor defense against the mob. Also in the household were Hulton’s wife Elizabeth; their two children, Thomas and Henry, Jr., both under the age of three; and his sister Ann.

Ann Hulton wrote the next month:
I could imagine nothing less than that the House was beating down, after many violent blows on the Walls and windows, most hideous Shouting, dreadful imprecations, and threats ensued. Struck with terror and astonishment, what to do I knew not, but got on some Clothes, and went to Mrs. H.’s room, where I found the Family collected, a Stone thrown in at her window narrowly missed her head. When the Ruffians were retreating with loud huzzas and one cryd he will fire—no says another, he darn’t fire, we will come again says a third—Mr. and Mrs H. left their House immediately and have not lodged a night since in it.
Her brother recalled the men outside “swearing, ‘dead or alive, we will have him.’” Eventually, though, that crowd left, and Henry and Elizabeth Hulton “retired to a Neighbour’s house till daylight, and passed the following day at Mr. John Apthorp’s at little Cambridge,” now Brighton. (That house may have survived into the early 1900s as one of the houses on the John Duncklee estate.)

Ann wrote:
The next day we were looking up all the Pockit Pistols in the house, some of which were put by, that nobody could find ’em and ignorant of any being charged, Kitty was very near shooting her Mistress, inadvertently lets it off. The bullets missed her within an inch and fixed in a Chest of Drawers.
A fellow Customs Commissioner, William Burch, learned of the attack and moved with his wife to Castle William (shown above). After hearing about that, Henry “came home the following morning, and carried the Children and part of the family from Brooklyn to the Castle,” arriving on 21 June. They squeezed into the quarters reserved for the governor with the other commissioners, lower Customs officers, and their relatives and servants.

Back in Brookline, locals discussed who had carried out the attack. Ann Hulton reported:
And for the honour of the Township we lived in, I must say, the principal People, have of their own accord taken up the affair very warmly, exerting their endeavors to find out the Authors, or perpetrators of the Villainy.

They have produced above twenty witnesses, Men in the Neighborhood who were out a Fishing that night, that prove they met upon the Road from Boston towards my Brother’s House, Parties of Men that appeared disguised, their faces blacked, with white Night caps and white Stockens on, one of ’em with Ruffles on and all, with great clubs in their hands. They did not know any of ’em, but one Fisherman spoke to ’em, to be satisfied whether they were Negroes or no, and found by their Speech they were not, and they answered him very insolently. Another person who mett them declares, that one of ’em asked him the way to Mr. H’s house, and another of ’em said he knew the way very well.

After all, you may judge how much any further discovery is likely to be made, or justice to be obtained in this Country, when I tell you that the persons who were thus active to bring the dark deed to light, were immediately stop’d and silenced, being given to understand (as I’m well informed) that if they made any further stir about the matter, they might expect to be treated in the same manner as Mr H. was. However, so much is proved as to clear Mr H. from the charge of doing himself the mischief, one would think.
On 21 June, acting governor Thomas Hutchinson issued a proclamation describing the assault on the Hultons’ house and offering a £50 reward for identifying the perpetrators. The 25 June Boston Post-Boy and 28 June Boston News-Letter printed that proclamation in full. The 25 June Boston Evening-Post reported on it. The Boston Gazette ran one sentence saying that Hulton’s windows had been “broke by Persons unknown” with no mention of the reward.

On 4 October, the News-Letter said, a sea captain returned from London with word that news of the violence on 19 June—the carting of Patrick McMaster and the mobbing of the Hulton house—“Causes great Uneasiness among our Friends at Home.” With the Boston Massacre trials coming up, the Massachusetts Whigs were under pressure to prove that their society was law-abiding. At the time, the Hultons were still living at the Castle for their own safety.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Attack on the Hulton House

On 19 June 1770, 250 years ago today, political violence broke out again in greater Boston.

With the 14th Regiment off at Castle William, royal officials were already feeling exposed. Acting governor Thomas Hutchinson had moved the Massachusetts General Court to Cambridge, and he and many Customs officers were staying out of town.

Meanwhile, the non-importation movement was facing its own challenge. Since Parliament had repealed most of the Townshend duties (retaining only the most lucrative, on tea), popular support for their boycott was waning. Why couldn’t the American Whigs accept a partial victory?

One reason was that their ideology said any compromise with oppression would lead to political slavery. Another was that no large town wanted to be seen as the first to return to normal trade. The merchants of New York and Philadelphia held large meetings and issued broadsides. Boston’s Whig leaders kept up the pressure on the few local merchants already identified as importing goods.

On 1 June, Dr. Thomas Young led supporters to the shop of the McMaster brothers, merchants from Scotland doing business in Boston and Portsmouth. On the 19th, a crowd returned and seized Patrick McMaster, threatening to tar and feather him. I wrote about that event back here with help from an article by Prof. Colin Nicholson.

Here’s Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton’s later description of what happened to McMaster, as published by Neil Longley York and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts:
On the 19th June one Mr. McMaster, a Scotch Merchant and Importer, was taken out of his room, placed in a Cart and made to expect the same treatment that [Owen] Richards had experienced; but fainting away from an apprehension of what was to befall him, they spared him this ignimony, and contented themselves with leading him through the town in the Cart to Roxbury, where they turned him out, spiting upon him, and otherwise contemptuously and rudely treating him.
This is a rare documented pre-Revolutionary example of New Englanders tarring and feathering someone not employed by the Customs Service. McMaster was probably also genteel while most early victims of those attacks were working-class. But since he was a newcomer to Boston and a Scotsman besides, the crowd could conceive of tarring him—until he fainted.

Hulton himself had rented an estate in rural Brookline (shown above, courtesy of Digital Commonwealth) for his family, including his sister Ann. On 25 July she wrote to a friend about what the Hultons experienced later that same night, possibly from the same crowd:
I have often thought of what you said, that surely we did not live in a lone House. It’s true we have long been in a dangerous situation, from the State of Government. The want of protection, the perversion of the Laws, and the spirit of the People inflamed by designing men.

Yet our house in the Country has been a place of retreat for many from the disturbances of the Town, and though they were become very alarming, yet we did not apprehend an immediate attack on our House, or that a Mob out of Boston should come so far, before we had notice of it, and were fully persuaded there are Persons more obnoxious than my Brother, that he had no personal Enemy, and confident of the good will of our Neighbours (in the Township we live in) towards him, so that we had no suspicion of what happened the night of June the 19th—we have reason to believe it was not the sudden outrage of a frantic Mob, but a plot artfully contrived to decoy My Brother into the hands of assassins. At Midnight when the Family was asleep, had not a merciful Providence prevented their designs, we had been a distressd Family indeed.

Between 12 and 10’Clock he was wakened by a knocking at the Door. He got up, enquired the person’s name and business, who said he had a letter to deliver to him, which came Express from New York. My Brother puts on his Cloaths, takes his drawn Sword in one hand, and opened the Parlor window with the other. The Man asked for a Lodging—said he, I’ll not open my door, but give me the letter. The man then put his hand, attempting to push up the window, upon which my Brother hastily clapped it down.

Instantly with a bludgeon several violent blows were struck which broke the Sash, Glass and frame to pieces. The first blow aimed at my Brother’s Head, he Providentialy escaped, by its resting on the middle frame, being double, at same time (though before then, no noise or appearance of more Persons than one) the lower windows, all round the House (excepting two) were broke in like manner. My Brother stood in amazement for a Minute or 2, and having no doubt that a number of Men had broke in on several sides of the House, he retired Upstairs.

You will believe the whole Family was soon alarmed, but the horrible Noises from without, and the terrible shrieks within the House from Mrs. H. and Servants, which struck my Ears on awaking, I can’t describe, and shall never forget.
Ann Hulton’s letter is also available from the Colonial Society and was first published in 1927 in Letters of a Loyalist Lady.

TOMORROW: Aftermath in Brookline.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Another Recovered Source on Bunker Hill

In late 1825 the historian Samuel Swett sent the Boston Daily Advertiser two accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill sworn to before a Newburyport magistrate in 1818. I shared one yesterday.

The other was undoubtedly published in the Boston Daily Advertiser sometime from 21 to 25 December, but those issues aren’t included in the database I can access from home. The New-York Daily Advertiser for 26 December reprinted that second affidavit, crediting the Boston paper. So I’m taking this text from New York, quirky quotation marks and all.

The source was Philip Johnson, a native of Newburyport. His recollection was:
Mr. Johnson states that he was a private in Capt. Benjamin Perkin’s company, and about 19 years of age, at the time of Bunker Hill Battle. The company proceeded as stated by Colonel [Joseph] Whitmore, till they came to within gunshot of the frigate Lively, [actually the Glasgow] which lay in the stream, and threw her shot across the neck—

As the company were proceeding, a shot from the frigate struck in the rear of them, and appeared to startle some of the men. Some cried out, “it is a shell.” Lieut. (now Colonel) Whitmore, immediately jumped over the fence, where it struck, took the ball and showed it to the company, and observed, ‘it was only a ball.’

When they crossed the neck, Capt. Perkins ordered the men to go in single file six feet apart. They reached Bunker Hill without any loss. The company were principally scattered, and the men took their places where they could find them. Mr. Johnson passed the redoubt and went to the left to the rail fence; he went back again and went into the redoubt. He was soon crowded out of the redoubt, and he and a Mr. [Jacob] Knapp of the company went again to the rail fence. All this was before the battle commenced.

While he was at the rail fence, and just before the battle commenced, he saw Gen. [Israel] Putnam on horseback very near him, and distinctly heard him say, “Men, you know you are all marksmen; you can take a squirrel from the tallest tree; don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes.’

Immediately after the first retreat of the British, Gen. Putnam rode up and said, ‘Men, you have done well, but next time you will do better, aim at the officers.’

The third time the British came up to the redoubt, they entered without much firing, and the retreat commenced.

Just as Mr. Johnson left his place at the rail fence, which was about half a gunshot from the redoubt, Gen. Putnam rode up, his horse covered with foam, and said something, he does not distinctly know what, and rode off. The balls were flying as thick as peas.

The particular manner in which the British came up the hill, and their several evolutions, Mr. Johnson does not recollect with sufficient accuracy to state. He heard no cheering by the Americans, till after the first retreat of the British. There were fifteen or sixteen killed and wounded in his company.

Mr. Johnson will excuse our preserving the very expressions he used, as the statement is so much more valuable for being a literal copy, though it was not intended for publication. He received in the engagement a slight wound in the hand.
In his history of the battle, Samuel Swett quoted (imperfectly) only the portion of Johnson’s statement from “was at the rail fence” to “thick as peas.” Still, that one paragraph contained the most echoed phrase from the whole battle: “don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes.” Earlier sources quoted Putnam saying nearly the same thing, but Johnson’s affidavit supplied the wording that became famous.

In a footnote, Swett also cited Johnson for this detail, not mentioned in the letter: “His Capt. Perkins, finding it waxed warm when they arrived at the neck, threw away his wig, and led his men over at single file, the mode generally adopted.” Alas, “threw away his wig” never became as iconic a phrase as “whites of their eyes.”
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