Sunday, February 25, 2018

Episode 033: The Boston Massacre




Despite the ongoing street riots in various colonies during 1768 and 1769, no one had been killed as a result.  In 1770, that would change.

The Death of Christopher Seider

By the end of 1769, merchants began to waver in their resolve of the non-importation agreements.  These were the agreements to to protest the Townshend acts, which had been in place for two years.  The agreements were hurting merchants in Britain, but they were also hurting the colonials.  Some had always cheated, and some loyalist merchants had refused to participate.  As a result, the cheats and loyalists were benefiting at the expense of patriot merchants who upheld the agreements.  Eventually, more and more merchants would have to give up their resolve and resume trade.

Broadside attacking a Boston merchant for
violating the non-importation agreement
(from Mass. Historical Society)
For the radicals, the only answer was to coerce the merchants into continuing the agreements.  Many agreements were due to expire at the end of 1769.  Most merchants opposed an extension.  Samuel Adams and other radicals used public shaming and threats of mob action to compel most of the merchants to remain on board.

Eight prominent Boston merchants, however, refused to sign any extension.  The eight holdouts found themselves named as traitors in a broadside published all over town.  One tactic the Sons of Liberty used was to post signs in front of the stores that had refused, in order to keep customers away.  On February 22, 1770 a group of boys posted a sign in front of one of the holdouts’ store.  Another man, Ebenezer Richardson attempted to run over the sign with a horse and carriage he had borrowed.

Richardson already had a bad reputation.  He had been a customs informer and was now working for the Customs Board.  Many thought he had been the informant on Daniel Malcom that I discussed in Episode 25. Richardson immediately found himself a target as the boys pelted him with rocks and chased him into his house.  They continued to throw rocks, smashing his windows and hitting people inside.  The size of the mob increased as men joined the mob, threatening to kill Richardson.

Richard showed his face several times, threatening the growing mob.  But that only seemed to enrage the mob even more.  At some point, Richardson decided it was a good idea fire a musket full of bird shot into the assembled crowd in front of his home.  His shot, and wounded two young boys.  One of them, Christopher Seider (sometimes reported as Snider), a boy about 11 or 12 years old, died from his wounds later that evening.  Some historians argue that Seider should be considered the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Sketch of Richardson firing from his house into the
crowd, killing Seider (from Boston 1775)
After the shot fire, the crowd stormed his house and captured everyone inside.  Amazingly, the crowd did not kill Richardson.  Some tried to lynch him, but the mob leaders convinced them otherwise.  Instead, they took him to the sheriff’s office, where he was charged with murder.  Several months later, a Boston court convicted him and sentenced him to death.  Richardson languished in jail for a year as London considered a royal pardon.  There really was not much doubt that he would get one, but the bureaucratic delays and the slow pace of transatlantic communications stretched out the proceedings.  Hutchinson announced the pardon only after freeing Richardson and giving him a chance to get out of town before the mob came after him.  Richardson at first fled to Philadelphia where he continued to work for the Customs Board.  Soon though, he appears to have had to leave the colonies altogether.

The death of a child only made the situation worse.  Christopher Seider’s funeral on February 26 drew thousands of mourners.  It soon turned into a rally where Samuel Adams and others spoke to the crowds about British tyranny and the occupation by British Regulars.

Boston Fights with the Soldiers

This may be a good time to address the question, what the heck were the soldiers doing?  Weren’t they supposed to be in Boston to maintain law and order?  Why were mobs of thousands roaming the streets without military opposition?

Although soldiers were in Boston, they did not do law enforcement unless the Governor requested their help.  Like his predecessor, Gov. Hutchinson feared the consequences of calling on the army to do anything.  Even as his two sons, who were tea importers, suffered ruthless harassment throughout 1769, he knew that calling in soldiers would only enrage the people and probably lead to a mob trashing his house again, or perhaps worse.

The soldiers maintained a guard on the customs house.  As we saw with the George Gailer tar and feather incident a couple of weeks ago, the soldiers did not get involved in violence even when it happened right in front of them.

Town of Boston, 1770s (from Wikimedia)
The soldiers had a few other stations around town, including a check point at Boston neck.  At that time, the neck was the only land that allowed people to pass in and out of Boston to the rest of the colony.  The Boston we know today looks very different as engineering projects filled in much of the water and swamp land that surrounded Boston in the colonial era.

The townspeople did their best to make the soldiers feel unwelcome, but typically limited attacks to name calling, or other minor incidences.  There are a few reports of fights between off duty soldiers and locals.  Newspapers exploited every minor incident they could find.  One example from July 19, 1769 when a soldier named John Riley was being taunted by the local butcher.  Riley knocked the man down.  The butcher complained to to commanding officer who said he was glad Riley had taught him a lesson.  The butcher then had Riley arrested, after which he was convicted of assault and fined.  Riley then refused to pay the fine and attacked a constable who tried to arrest him.

Bostonians resented the British occupation for a whole range of reasons I already discussed.  These included having to pay for the soldiers’ living costs and their use in enforcing the hated customs laws.

Beyond those reasons, there were the inevitable disputes related to almost any military occupation.  Within weeks of arriving in Boston, dozens of soldiers deserted their posts and left to start a new life in the colonies.  As a result, a big part of military duties involved posting guards to keep deserters from leaving Boston, and sending search parties into the countryside looking for deserters.

Of course, Bostonians did not like being stopped at military checkpoints all the time.  After dark, drunken Bostonians, at times, assaulted guards at checkpoints.  Similarly, many civilians filed complaints over overzealous guards who threatened or assaulted them.

Boston had its own civilian night watch.  Night watchmen stopped anyone on the streets after dark.  British officers and soldiers took offense at being stopped by civilians to answer their questions.  Military protests that their people were above the law and did not have to answer to civilian law enforcement remained a continuing source of tension at night.  Both night watchmen and soldiers were attacked and beaten on multiple occasions.

Soldiers tend to be young single men, who get into trouble with drinking and womanizing.  Drunk soldiers frequently got into brawls with civilians in taverns.  Soldiers would also hit on local women, or just make lewd comments at them.  This also led to fights as local pounced to defend the honor of their women.  There is one account of drunk officers encouraging slaves to rise up against their masters, telling them that the soldiers were there to bring them freedom if they would only fight for it.  Encouraging slave insurrection, was of course a serious crime.  So this incident got a fair amount of attention at the time.  It’s not so much remembered now as later generations wanted to forget about Massachusetts’ history of slavery.

There were also accounts of soldiers committing petty crimes, burglarizing homes, stealing property at checkpoints, and other minor matters.  Newspapers even reported an attempted rape, although this does not seem to be true.

Even when soldiers were doing their duty properly, they still managed to annoy the locals.  Many complained about interruption of church services on Sunday as soldiers shouted out orders on the streets outside.

At the same time, civilians regularly picked fights with the soldiers, levied numerous complaints about exaggerated or even clearly invented wrongdoing.  Soldiers on or off duty were regularly taunted.  Children would often throw rocks or snowballs at soldiers and then run away.

Col. Dalrymple, commander of British troops in Boston put it this way: “I don’t suppose my Men are without fault, but twenty of them have been knocked down in the Streets and got up and scratched their heads and run to their Barracks and no more has been heard of it whereas if one of the Inhabitants meets with no more than a Kick for an Insult to a Soldier, the Town is immediately in an Alarm and not one word the Soldier says in his justification can gain any credence.

Both sides developed a bunker mentality.  Complaints against soldiers often went ignored or received extremely minor punishment.  Similarly, legal actions in local courts by soldiers against civilians who wronged them, regularly found their cases dismissed, or summary findings for the defendant.  Both sides came to realize that legal remedies were impossible.  Only street justice would provide satisfaction for wrongs.

Workmen though, had yet another reason to dislike the soldiers.  Many of the poorly paid soldiers took odd jobs while off duty.  They were willing to work for lower rates, thus reducing wages for all laborers.  So the competition for jobs increased rivalries and friction between soldiers and civilians.

The same week as Christopher Seider’s funeral on Feb. 22, Boston newspapers reported accounts of the Battle of Golden Hill in New York.  This news only served to increas tensions on both sides.  Everyone remained on edge, looking for a fight.

Rumbles with the Regulars

On March 2, Private Thomas Walker, a British regular walked down the street past John Gray’s Ropewalk, a rope making enterprise.  A rope maker named William Green called out to Walker, asking if he wanted to work.  Walker responded yes, to which Green retorted “then go and clean my shit house.”  The exact wording of the retort is a matter of dispute, but it clearly angered Walker.

Exactly what happened next is also a matter of dispute.  Walker claims that the workmen then jumped him and beat him up unprovoked.  Green claimed that Walker came over and struck him, resulting in the fight that left Walker badly beaten.  He also claimed Walker dropped a sword during the fight, which he kept.

A short time later Walker returned with 30 or 40 soldiers from his regiment, and called out Green and his fellow rope makers.  Both sides were armed with nothing more than clubs or sticks, but a massive street brawl ensued.  The soldiers quickly became outnumbered as more local workers joined the brawl.  The soldiers eventually retreated. Several of them had to be hospitalized for their wounds.  Fighting continued for the next two days with both soldiers and civilian workers attacking others on site.  Fighting finally seemed to subside on Sunday March 4.  Tension and ill-will between the two groups remained at an all time high.

The Massacre

Monday March 5, 1770 started out with this tense foreboding.  Most of the day passed with little violence.  However, large numbers of Bostonians roamed the streets. Rumors swirled that British soldiers might attempt to burn some buildings that evening.  Both sides expected another street brawl.  Gangs of armed civilians were alert and ready for action, just in case the soldiers decided to make more trouble.

Even after sundown, the frozen streets remained alive with activity.  Boston did not yet have lighting for its streets, so groups of soldiers and civilians either had to carry a candle or make their way through the darkness.

Around 8 PM, Captain John Goldfinch walked down King Street, near the Customs House.  A young wig maker's apprentice named Edward Garrick, commented loudly to his friends that the officer was a deadbeat who had not paid his master for a hair treatment.  His exact words, like much of the evening’s events, are a matter of dispute.

State St., (formerly King St.) Boston, painting from 1801.
The red building on the right is the Customs House, where
the Massacre occurred.  (from Rev. War and Beyond)
Captain Goldfinch had the good sense to ignore the comment and walk away.  Private Hugh White, a British soldier on sentry duty in front of the Customs House, overheard the comments and decided not to ignore it.

He confronted the boy and said something about the officer being an honorable gentleman who paid his debts.  Garrick then made some insulting comment directly at White.  We don't know exactly what he said, but some accounts say it was something like there are no gentlemen in your regiment.

White approached Garrick and said “let me see your face”.  Garrick stood up to him and said “I am not ashamed to show my face.”  White then hit Garrick on the ear with the butt of his rifle, knocking him to the ground.

The boy's screams quickly caused a group of mostly boys and young men in the area to confront the lone sentry.   Within minutes, White found at least a dozen apprentices, mostly teenagers, surrounding his post, calling him names and daring him to come fight them.  Garrick's cries and the boys’ shouts only caused the crowd to grow quickly.  Those roaming bands of civilians moved toward White’s guard house, surrounding him.

After a few more minutes, the crowd grew to over 50 people.  Someone rang the bells in a nearby church (taken as an alarm bell) which drew even more people.  Private White backed up to the top of the stairs in front of the Customs House so that he was elevated and no one could get behind him.  He fixed the bayonet on his musket and loaded it.

There were several customs officials still in the Customs House.  White banged on the door with the butt of his gun to be let in.  No one dared open the locked door for him though.  He remained alone on the stairs facing the mob in the dark.

A local bookseller named Henry Knox, who would go on to bigger things in the revolution, warned White not to fire on the crowd, or they would kill him.  White responded angrily, “if they molest me, I will kill them.”  The crowd began pelting White with snow and ice.  Finally White yelled to “call out the guard.”  The main guard was only about a block away from White and the Customs House.

At the same time, there were several other fights between soldiers and civilians around the town.  The officers were making every effort to get the soldiers into barracks to prevent a fight.  The soldiers were in no mood to retreat and wanted a confrontation.  So getting them into barracks while mobs of men and boys harassed them remained difficult.

At the main guard. Captain Thomas Preston served as officer of the day.  Civilians reported to him about White’s situation and the danger that the mob might carry him off.  Preston delayed doing anything for about a half hour, perhaps hoping the mob would eventually disperse on its own.  Taking more soldiers into the mob might only make things worse.  Eventually he assembled a corporal and six privates to relieve Private White.  The squad’s lieutenant, a twenty year old boy, could have led them, but Cap. Preston decided to lead the squad himself.

Preston marched the soldiers with fixed bayonets and unloaded muskets through the crowd to the Customs House.  He ordered Private White to fall in with the squad and attempted to march everyone back to the main guard.  However, the mob, now numbering in the hundreds by some accounts, pressed around the squad, preventing them from leaving.

The soldiers formed a defensive semi-circle line with Captain Preston in front of them.  The mob continued to yell and throw snowballs, ice, and rocks, daring the soldiers to fire.  Perhaps hoping to intimidate the mob, Preston ordered his men to load their muskets.  This only seemed to enrage the crowd.

The Boston Massacre by Paul Revere, 1770
(from Boston Discovery Guide)
Preston and his men left the main guard only about 15 minutes earlier.  Someone threw a club that hit Private Montgomery in the head, knocking him to the ground.  Angrily, he stood up and fired his weapon.  Seconds later, a member of the mob struck Captain Preston with a club.  The attacker slipped on the ice at the last second, causing the attempted blow to the head to glance off Preston’s arm.

After the first shot, there were several seconds, some witnesses say a minute or two, as some in the crowd attempted to run, while others pressed forward.  The others soldiers also fired their weapons into the crowd.  Preston, having recovered from his fall, angrily asked why they had fired.  They said they thought they had heard him order them to fire.

By this time the entire 29th Regiment was in formation under arms.  They turned out in a defensive formation.  A few hundred soldiers would not fare well against an angry and armed mob of thousands.  Fortunately the mob opted not to wage a full scale attack against the regiment and retreated.

The situation remained tense though, until Gov. Hutchinson arrived on the scene.  He promised that the soldiers responsible would be tried for murder. The soldiers returned to their barracks and the crowd dispersed.  Groups of armed civilians, however, continued to patrol the streets.

The Casualties

As a result of the fire, three men died instantly.  Crispus Attucks, a sailor of African and Native American descent, was in his late 40s and had been at the front of the mob taunting the soldiers.  He had been active with the Sons of Liberty. Samuel Gray, age 52, a rope maker who had been involved the fights with soldiers over the previous few days, also died .  James Caldwell, age 17, served as a sailor.  He had no family in Boston so little is known of his background.

Eight others suffered wounds.  One of them, Samuel Maverick, died the following morning.  A 17 year old carpenter’s apprentice, Maverick had been at the front of the mob daring the soldiers to fire.  The final fatality, Patrick Carr died nine days later.  Carr was a 30 year old Irish immigrant.  He had lived long enough to testify about the incident that night.  Because he said the soldiers had shown great restraint and that he forgave them, the radicals tried to discount his testimony as that of a Papist who did not appreciate liberty.

Next Week: we will discuss the fallout from the Massacre, as well as the long awaited repeal of most of most of the Townshend Duties.

Next Episode 34: Massacre Fallout & Townshend Acts Repealed

Previous Episode 32: The Battle of Golden Hill

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Christopher Seider (aka Snider) murder:
http://www.celebrateboston.com/biography/christopher-snider-murder.htm

More on Christopher Seider (aka Snider):
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2006/05/christopher-seider-shooting-victim.html
(You may want to explore this blog further.  Lots of good articles on Boston just before the Revolution).

A traitor in my family tree (Ebenezer Macintosh) https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2018/02/a-traitor-in-my-family-tree.html

Two good blog articles on the March 2, encounter that led to fighting between the soldiers and citizens of Boston:
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2007/03/brawl-at-grays-ropewalks.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2006/11/colonial-boston-vocabulary-little.html

Scene of the Boston Massacre: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2013/03/charles-bahne-on-scene-of-massacre.html

The Boston Massacre
https://historicaldigression.com/2010/10/26/pvt-hugh-white-and-the-boston-massacre       

To learn more about how Boston expanded its land mass, check out this HUBhistory podcast episode: http://www.hubhistory.com/episodes/episode-61-annexation-making-boston-bigger-150-years

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

A Fair account of the late unhappy disturbance at Boston in New England, London: B. White, 1770 Loyalist account of the Boston Massacre, written in the days following the event.

Boston Registry Dept. Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, Vol.  18, Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1887.

Orations, delivered at the request of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, to commemorate the evening of the fifth of March, 1770, Boston: Wm. T. Clapp, 1807 (collection of annual speeches remembering the Massacre on its Anniversary, 1771-1783)

Bowdoin, James; Warren, Joseph; & Pemberton, Samuel A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, New York: John Doggett, Jr., 1849 (this is a reprint of the original 1770 pamphlet produced in London by Patriot citizens of Boston).

Chandler, Peleg W. American criminal trials, Vol. 1, Boston: Charles Little & James Brown, 1844 (Boston Massacre Trials).

Cushing, Harry (ed) The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 2, New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1906.

Hosmer, James Samuel Adams, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1913.

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, John (ed) The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774,  London: John Murray 1828 (This book was edited and published using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, Peter Orlando (ed) The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1884 (Editor is Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Kidder, Frederic History of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770, Albany: Joel Munsell, 1870.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Archer, Richard As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, Oxford: Oxford  Univserity Press 2010.

Fowler, William The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1980.

Galvin, John Three Men of Boston, Potomac Books, 1976.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Zobel, Hiller The Boston Massacre, New York: WW Norton & Co. 1970.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links). 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Episode 032: The Battle of Golden Hill




Boston seemed to be the hotbed for colonial resistance in the years leading up to war.  In and around Boston is where most of the major conflicts occurred and where the shooting war eventually began.  But radical sentiment spread beyond New England.

I continue to call the movement opposing British Tax laws “radicals” because at the time, they probably were a relatively small radical faction within the colonial population.  The term the people used at the time to describe themselves was usually “whig.” Later, the term “patriot” comes into fashion to describe these people.  But that term does not seem to be used to describe those opposing British tax policies until around 1773.

New York Politics

Some colonies had more radicals than others, but there were Sons of Liberty chapters in all the colonies.  New York colony had a pretty conservative government, but also had a large radical faction, primarily in New York City.

New York also had to deal with a British troop presence.  Although troops had been in New York much longer, clashes between the local Sons of Liberty and the soldiers grew increasingly violent.  North American Military Commander Thomas Gage had moved several regiments of regulars to New York from Canada a few years earlier, greatly increasing the number of soldiers in the colony.  New Yorkers did not want them around, and certainly did not want to pay for their upkeep.  You may recall back in Episode 25, I discussed New York’s refusal in 1766 to authorize tax funds for the soldiers, leading to Parliament’s attempt to suspend legislative authority for New York’s assembly until it raised the money.  New York had come up with the money since them, but it was always contentious.  In late 1769, the fight over British regulars quartered in New York increased in intensity.

In December 1769, the assembly authorized a new tax to pay for the soldiers which upset both sides.  The British military thought the funds insufficient to support the troops.  Most New Yorkers were upset about having to pay more money to support a presence they did not want in the first place.

Since I haven’t discussed New York politics much so far, I thought now might be a good time to introduce some of the key players.

Cadwallader Colden

Cadwallader Colden was an old man by the time period I’ll be talking about today.  Born in 1688, he was in his eighties during his stint as acting Governor of New York from 1769-1770.  He had been born in Ireland to Scottish parents and went to Edinborough to study to become a minister.  By the time he finished, his interest had turned to science and medicine which he studied in London.  He then moved to Philadelphia to start a medical practice, but after a few years, moved to New York where he would spend the rest of his life.

Cadwalader Colden
(from Wikimedia)
Colden must have had good political connections in New York since he received an appointment as Surveyor General and joined the Provincial Council the first year he was there.  He spent a life active with many interests, including a correspondence with Benjamin Franklin on scientific issues, and writing a book on the Iroquois Confederacy after serving as the colony’s representative to the Five Nations.

In 1760 on the death of James DeLancey, father of the man I’m going to discuss next, Colden received an appointment at Lieutenant Governor.  He would serve as acting governor on at least three different occasions.  As a representative of the Crown, Colden was not always popular.  Stamp Act protesters had carried an effigy of him during a protest march on November 1, 1765, the day the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect.  Protesters also stole his coach and burned it.  Colden had most recently incurred the wrath of the Sons of Liberty by demanding the colonial assembly pay for funds required under the Quartering Act to support regulars stationed in the colony.

James DeLancey

James DeLancey (sometimes spelled De Lancey) came from one of New York’s most prominent families.  His father, of the same name, had been Lieutenant Governor, and for several years, acting Governor of New York.  James was born in New York City but spent many of his formative years in England going to boarding school.  He studied law at Cambridge before returning to New York as an adult.

James De Lancey
(from americanrevolution.org)
Just about the same time he returned to the colonies, the French and Indian War broke out.  DeLancey served as a militia captain, seeing combat on several occasions.  He resigned his commission and returned home in 1760, after the death of his father.  DeLancey then became one of the wealthiest men in the colony, running his family’s merchant trading company and also engaged in land speculation.

His father’s political influence left DeLancey with control of a powerful political party that controlled the colony.  His main rival was the Livingston family.  DeLancey was a conservative, but as with just about everyone else in the colonies, he strongly opposed the Stamp Act, leading New York’s opposition.  Like most wealthy merchants, he objected to the rioting and destruction of property, but his support of protests and non-importation agreements maintained his popularity with most New Yorkers.

Despite his opposition to British taxes, though, he was a moderate and a wealthy member of the establishment.  When the British made clear that New York would have to pay costs under the Quartering Act, and Gov. Coldon called on the New York Assembly to act, DeLancey led the fight in the Assembly to implement a tax that would cover the costs of quartering British regulars.  This drew the wrath of some of the more radical elements of New York politics.  Even so, most people saw DeLancey as a supporter of colonial rights before the outbreak of war.  That would change over time as DeLancy would eventually have to flee New York for his loyalist sentiments.

Isaac Sears

Isaac Sears was born in Massachusetts and raised in Connecticut.  At the age of 16, he took a job on a ship and within a few years was serving as captain of merchant vessel.  He commanded a privateer vessel during the French and Indian War but lost his ship in 1761.  After the war, he settled in New York City, running a fairly successful merchant trading company.  He lived in a mansion on Broadway and settled into a comfortable life.  Over time, he became involved in political issues, particularly those involving trade.

In some ways, Sears became the Samuel Adams of New York.  After the Stamp Act, he helped found the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty, joined in Committees of Correspondence, and helped organize the New York protests against British taxes.  As a respected and prosperous merchant, he could socialize with other elite merchants and city leaders, but was also comfortable in working class circles, allowing him influence over much of the city’s working population.  Politically, at least at this time, he had aligned himself with DeLancey.  That said, the two men had disagreed and fought over the Quartering Act funding in 1769.

Alexander Mcdougall

Another important Son of Liberty was Alexander McDougall (sometimes spelled MacDougall).  He came to New York as a child when his family moved from Scotland.  His family came as part of a large group that had planned to settle in upstate New York.  The guy who organized the immigration, however, tried to force all of the members of the group to become tenant farmers on his land.  These immigrants did not sell everything to escape being tenant farmers in Scotland to become tenant farmers in America.  They wanted to be land owners. The whole land scheme is an interesting topic in itself, but not one I can cover here.  Several aristocrats attempted to recreate the tenant farming system that greatly profited the aristocracy in Europe.  But land in America was simply too available and cheap to force commoners into such an exploitative position.  The whole scheme fell apart.  McDougall’s father ended up abandoning that plan and began work delivering milk for a dairy farmer on Manhattan.

Alexander McDougall
(from findagrave)
At age 14, McDougall signed onto a merchant vessel and began a life a sea.  He captained two small privateer vessels during the French and Indian War.  He amassed a small fortune through these efforts.  When his wife died in 1763, he gave up his life at sea to raise his three children.  He began working as a merchant in New  York, and began to get involved in politics.  Having some property gave McDougall entry into politics, but he was uneducated and had the manners of a commoner, which would keep him out of any elite circles.

He joined the Sons of liberty and was active in New York protests.  In December 1769, McDougall wrote a broadside entitled To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York, which attacked the colonial assembly and De Lancey specifically for caving on providing Quartering Act funds to house British soldiers in the colony.  Eventually, MaDougall would go to jail for this publication, convicted of seditious libel.  This would only greatly increase his reputation among the radicals in the colonies.  Some called him the Wilkes of America.  His controversial writing was circulating among New Yorkers, and MacDougall was still free and walking the streets as the incidents below unfolded in January 1770.

The Liberty Pole

During this era, many towns in the colonies had erected liberty poles to celebrate victories in the protection of their rights.  Many say the practice of a liberty pole dates back to Roman times when the assassins of Caesar erected a small pole with the cap of a freed slave on it to symbolize how they had freed Rome from the tyranny of slavery.  The poles also bear a similarity to victory columns that many European cities and towns installed after winning great military victories, or some other memorable event.

New Yorkers had erected the first Liberty Pole on June 4, 1766 in honor of the King’s birthday and also to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.  It was not meant to be a symbol of rebellion.  Rather, it was a celebration of the fact that the government in London had acted to protect colonial liberties.  The pole bore the inscription: “King, Pitt, and Liberty.”  But the pole became a focal point for radical whigs to hold rallies.  When New York refused to come up with money to house British soldiers under the Quartering Act that year, soldiers in the city cut down the pole in August.

New Yorkers erected a second pole within days, and again soldiers almost immediately cut it down. The acts of destruction, on top of raw feelings over the Quartering Act dispute, raised tensions.  But the Governor permitted New Yorkers to erect a third pole in September, and gave strict instructions to the soldiers not to mess with it.  That one lasted about six months.

NYC Liberty Pole, 1770 (from Wikipedia)
In March 1767, colonists gathered at the pole to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Following the celebration, the soldiers once again cut down the pole overnight.  The Sons of Liberty erected a fourth pole the following day.  This one had iron bands around the lower part of the pole to prevent anyone from cutting through the wood.  Soldiers attempted to destroy this pole as well, but the iron bands along with the vigilance of the Sons of Liberty to protect it, prevented any more successful vandalism.  The pole remained in place for nearly three years.

In December 1769, New York allocated a mere £1800 for the quartering of troops, far too little for adequate housing.  Once again angry soldiers decided to take out their frustrations on the pole.

On January 13, 1770, a group of soldiers attempted to tear down the Liberty Pole in New York.  This was actually the fourth Liberty Pole in New York.  Because the iron bands prevented them from cutting the pole, the soldiers drilled a hole, filled it with gunpowder and attempted to blow it up.  A passerby saw the soldiers messing with the pole and alerted others in nearby Montayne’s Tavern, which served as the unofficial NY headquarters of the Sons of Liberty.  Men from the tavern ran to the pole and confronted the soldiers.

One soldier held them at bayonet point as the others attempted to finish their attempt to destroy the pole.  The explosion did not work.  The fuse did not ignite the powder they had put inside the pole. The frustrated soldiers then invaded the Tavern. They held everyone at bayonet point as they destroyed the tavern and beat up a waiter.

Defense of Liberty Pole, 1770 (artist's conception 1879)
(from Richland Source)
On the night of January 16-17, a group succeeded destroying the pole.  They managed to ignite the powder in the pole, explode it, and knock it down.  Then they chopped up the pole, leaving the pieces in front of Montayne’s Tavern.  In response, the New York Sons of Liberty issued two resolves.  The first said that no soldier would be hired for any work in the city.  The second said that any armed soldiers found armed after dark and not on duty would be treated as criminals.

Soldiers, who were poorly paid, often did odd jobs around town to earn extra cash.  Essentially the sons were calling for a boycott on hiring any soldiers in order to make them feel more unwelcome.  The treatment of armed soldiers as criminals would almost certainly lead to violence.  Remember, the NYPD did not exist in 1770.  Civilians helped to make arrests when the Sheriff needed help.  A civilian could forcibly take a criminal to authorities for arrest.  Civilians attempting to subdue armed soldiers at night seems like a recipe for violence.

The Battle

A few days later, on January 19, the soldiers began posting handbills denying responsibility for the destruction of the pole, but also mocking the Sons of Liberty. Isaac Sears, and a group of men grabbed two of the soldiers while they were posting the bills.  The mob dragged the soldiers the Mayor’s House to lodge a complaint.  Other soldiers with them rushed to get reinforcements.

Twenty armed soldiers soon arrived on the scene, but were still far outnumbered by the growing mob.  Sears had already gotten the two soldiers taken into custody into the Mayor’s house. Their comrades threatened to storm the home and remove them force.  They had swords drawn and bayonets fixed, clearly ready for a fight. A militia Captain named Richardson ordered them to stop and to return to their barracks.  He told them the matter would be resolved peacefully by the Mayor.

Battle of Golden Hill (artist conception 1920)
(from Journal of the American Revolution)
After a short confrontation, the soldiers began marching back to their barracks.  Much of the mob followed them.  At some point another group of soldiers joined with those retreating, thus increasing their numbers.  Yet another group of soldiers moved behind the mob, effectively surrounding them.

As the soldiers reached the top of Golden Hill, they decided they had sufficient numbers and had taken enough abuse.  With swords drawn and bayonets fixed, they attempted to force their way back through the mob, wounding dozens of people.  Many in the mob fought back, wounding several of the soldiers.  Accounts of the fighting differ greatly depending on who was doing the writing.  The Sons of Liberty portrayed the fight as out of control officers slashing at civilians, even those just standing around and not part of the mob.  The Loyalist press painted a picture of soldiers defending themselves against a riotous mob.  Later, people referred to the fight as the battle of Golden Hill.

Golden Hill was a location in what is today lower Manhattan, around the corner of John and William Streets.  If you happen to be familiar with the area, you might note there is no hill there.  It is pretty flat.  That is because in the 19th Century, New York flattened out most of the area, leveling hills and filling in gullies, to make the city flatter and easier to travel.  So while there is no hill there now, it was there in 1770.

The fight resulted in quite a few injuries but no one was killed.  One newspaper reported a death a few days later, but this appears to be an error.  If anyone had died, the Sons of Liberty would have held him up as a martyr to the cause.  Several people though, did suffer serious bayonet and sword wounds.

Battle of Golden Hill, 1770
drawn 1884 (from Wikimedia)
British officers arrived, forcing the soldiers to stand down, while civilian leaders were able to contain the civilian mob. Over the next few days, fighting broke out several more times between soldiers and civilians, resulting in a few more injuries.

There do not seem to have been any trials or other legal consequences resulting from the battle, which probably involved around 100 soldiers and a mob of about 3000 civilians.  Newspapers hyped the story over the next few weeks, and word of the incident spread across the continent.

The Sons of LIberty attempted to erect a fifth Liberty Pole on the same site.  They Mayor, however, denied them a permit.  Instead they erected the new pole on private property nearby, which Sears owned.  The new one was even bigger, 80 feet tall, with metal bands covering the lower two-thirds of the pole.  The new pole would remain in place until British troops invaded the city in 1776.  Unlike the first pole, which celebrated the King, this one simply said “Liberty and Property.”

Next Week, another deadlier clash between civilians and soldiers takes place in what becomes known as the Boston Massacre.

Next Episode 33: The Boston Massacre

Previous Episode 31: Wilkes and Liberty & Tar and Feathers

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Cadwallader Colden: http://www.nndb.com/people/322/000163830

Isaac Sears: https://www.geni.com/people/Capt-Isaac-Sears/6000000025122525762

Alexander MacDougall: http://www.ileach.co.uk/glasgow-islay/connections/liberty.html

Minty, Christopher F. The Importance of Partisanship in New York City, ca. 1769–1775: https://earlyamericanists.com/2015/06/05/partisanship_nyc_minty

Collins, Charles Fredrick “The Artisans' Battle Against Political Subordination in Colonial New York City” UCLA Historical Journal, 1981 (PDF): https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1sc776n5

The Liberty Pole Struggle and Riot 1766-1776: http://thehistorybox.com/ny_city/riots/riots_article6a.htm

Ruppert, Bob “The Battle of Golden Hill - Six Weeks Before The Boston Massacre” Journal of the American Revolution, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/10/the-battle-of-golden-hill-six-weeks-before-the-boston-massacre

The Lost Plaque of the Battle of Golden Hill: https://untappedcities.com/2013/07/04/daily-what-lost-plaque-first-battle-american-revolution

Bell, J.L. “The Non-Fatal Battle of Golden Hill” Boston 1775 Blog, 2013: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-non-fatal-battle-of-golden-hill.html

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Keys, Alice Mapelsden Cadwallader Colden; a representative eighteenth century official, New York: Columbia Press, 1906.

Dawson, Henry B. The Sons of Liberty in New York, Poughkeepsie: Platt & Schram, 1859

Stevens, John Austin Colonial New York; sketches biographical and historical, 1768-1784, New York: John F. Trow & Co., 1867

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Champagne, Roger J. Alexander McDougall and the American Revolution in New York, Union College Press, 1975.

Ketchum, Richard M. Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2002

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Macdougall, William American Revolutionary: A Biography of General Alexander McDougall, Westport: Praeger, 1977.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1976.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Episode 031: Wilkes and Liberty & Tar and Feathers





Last week, we discussed the growing crisis in Boston.  But that was not the only issue on London’s agenda.

In 1768 France invaded the island of Corsica, which had been part of Genoa.  The people of Corsica rose up to resist and requested help from Britain.  Prime Minister Grafton, more focused on the American colonies, failed to act decisively, allowing France to take control.  This failure earned Grafton criticism at home for being too weak and encouraging France to become more aggressive.  Though they had no reason to know it at the time, the failure to keep Corsica independent of France would have great consequences a generation later.  The next year, in 1769, a Corsican couple, Carlo and Maria Bonaparte would give birth to their son Napoleon as a French citizen.

John Wilkes Returns

There was also a domestic uproar in England.  You may recall back in Episode 16, I discussed the radical Whig John Wilkes.  He had to flee to France in 1763 after attacking the King’s speech.  Wilkes returned from France in 1768, mostly to escape debts that he had run up in that country.  On his return, he ran for Parliament again.  He also had to face the consequences of being convicted in absentia for seditious libel.

John Wilkes
(from Wikimedia)
Wilkes both won his election and went to prison.  Wilkes remained incredibly popular in his district, among commoners nationwide, and also in the colonies.  One place he was not popular though, was in Parliament itself. During its 1768-69 session, Parliament expelled Wilkes three times, only to see him re-elected each time.  In the third election, in February 1769, Wilkes, still in prison, won with over 80% of the vote.  This time, Parliament decided to seat his opponent.  Members reasoned that the losing candidate had the most votes of any “qualified” candidate.  Opponents asked, what’s the point of holding elections if you can simply seat the loser because you don’t like the winner?

The fact that the King and the government hated Wilkes only seemed to make him more popular with the people.  An estimated 15,000 supporters demonstrated in the fields outside Wilkes’ prison, demanding that authorities free him.  The protesters posted a demand on the prison wall.  The text of the note does not survive, but one reader said it “talked about liberty” and another called it “the raving of some patriotic bedlamite.”  As an interesting aside, the term “patriot” in England at the time referred to someone who disrupted government activities.  It was an epithet, not a compliment.

When authorities tore down the document, the crowd turned violent and began throwing rocks.  Officials read them the riot act and called out a troop of grenadiers.  The soldiers fired on the crowd, killing six and wounding another fifteen. Protesters called it the St. George’s Fields Massacre.

Wilkes served nearly two years on prison, making his case a major political  issue for most of 1768 and 1769.  While still in prison, voters elected him an alderman of London.  Upon his release in March 1770, they elected him sheriff of London.

Whigs in the colonies made out Wilkes to be a hero of almost mythical proportions.  A popular Whig toast at the time was “Wilkes and Liberty.”  He became the personification of the fight for basic liberties for which the colonies were also fighting. While in prison, he corresponded with colonial groups, including several Sons of Liberty organizations.  Several colonies sent him gifts to make his imprisonment more comfortable, or to assist with his legal challenges.

In 1769 the South Carolina Assembly borrowed £1500 from the treasury to donate to a charity supporting Wilkes.  When they later attempted to appropriate money to repay the loan, the crown-appointed council vetoed the appropriation.  This led to a stand-off that prevented the colony from appropriating any taxes after 1769.  The fight broadened in 1771 at which time they could pass no laws at all.  This standoff lasted until the Colony created a new provincial Congress in 1775.

London Refuses to Back Down

While distracted by affairs in Europe and the political firestorm over Wilkes, the ministry still had to focus on the effect the colonial non-importation agreements were having on the British economy. That, and other colonial resistance from rioters and political organizing that bordered on treason definitely required attention.

Grafton’s government could not agree on how to deal with the colonies.  A sizable group, apparently including Grafton himself, favored a full repeal of the Townshend Acts.  They argued a return to the status quo would return trade and end the protests over what was almost nothing in taxes.  The Cabinet held an informal vote in May 1769.  They narrowly rejected a full repeal.  Had this close vote gone the other way, it is likely that the dispute with the colonies might have ended, or at least been delayed for decades.  But it did not, and the rift continued to grow.

Everyone in the ministry agreed, though, that something had to be done.  The more hardline members of the Cabinet rejected full repeal.  They thought, probably correctly, that backing down a second time after the Stamp Act reversal, would only make the colonies demand even more policy changes.

The majority was willing to remove duties on the manufactured goods.  After all, they wanted to encourage export of British manufactured goods to the colonies.  At the same time, they wanted to retain the tea tax.  This would make clear that Parliament had the authority to impose such duties, and that the colonies would have to respect that.  Even so, they would not implement any of these changes until the following year.

Drawing and Quartering of
Thomas Armstrong for
Treason, 1683.  Use of this
punishment was rare, but did
happen as late as the 1780s.
 (from Wikimedia)
The Administration then tried a little carrot and stick diplomacy.  Officials leaked the discussions of repeal to London merchants, knowing that word would quickly reach the colonies via informal lines of communication. They also let it be known that they planned to apply the Treason Act to colonists who persisted in opposing the authority of Parliament.

The Treason Act dated from the reign of Henry VIII and was definitely old school.  An accused traitor could be brought to London and thrown in the Tower.  If found guilty at trial, all of his family’s properties would be forfeited to the King.  The traitor would be hanged by the neck, then cut down while still alive.  Next, he would be disemboweled using metal hooks, again while still alive.  Finally, he would be beheaded, then his body chopped into quarters and made available to the King for use as he saw fit.

This only seemed to increase colonial protests.  Virginia and others drafted petitions condemning the removal of accused traitors to England for trial.  That was a violation of their liberties. Indications that the government might back down on the Townshend Acts the following year, only encouraged the colonies to hang in there with non-importation agreements.

Lord North becomes Prime Minister

Grafton’s ministry could not reach a consensus on how to resolve the colonial problems.  If his own ministry was divided, Parliament generally showed even less interest in doing anything to mollify the colonists.  In January 1770 Parliament rejected Grafton’s requests for an inquiry to consider the ongoing complaints of the colonies.  Seeing that his conciliatory approach was going nowhere, Prime Minister Grafton resigned his office on January 28, 1770.  Lord North, leader of the hardliners, succeeded him as Prime Minister.

Lord North
(from Wikimedia)
North became only the second Tory to serve as Prime Minister, the first being the Earl of Bute.  Although politics was not strictly partisan at this time, North clearly brought a more autocratic and heavy handed colonial policy than did his predecessors.  Prior to his appointment, North had not been particularly outspoken on the colonies.  He had voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act and in Grafton’s ministry had opposed a repeal of the Townshend Acts.  With North in charge of the government and Hillsborough in charge of colonial affairs, Britain moved toward a much more confrontational policy toward the recalcitrant colonies.

I introduced Lord North a couple of episodes back, and will certainly have more to say about him and future episodes.  But this would prove to end any chance of a compromise acceptable to the colonists. 

Tar and Feathers

I want to turn my attention back to America.  I’ve been discussing mob activity for the last few episodes, but have not had a chance to discuss the practice of tarring and feathering.  The practice, long associated with the Revolution, needs some explanation.  Between 1768 and 1770, it became common tactic against customs informers.

The practice of tarring and feathering goes back to the middle ages.  Typically, this was not a government punishment.  It was something that a group of commoners did to one of their own in order to punish and humiliate them, not kill them.  Many instances therefore, may not be documented.  However, the colonists did not seem to be familiar with the practice until the 1760s.

Typically, the tar used was sap from pine trees.  When heated over about 140 degrees F, the sap becomes liquid.  Ship makers and sailors used hot pine tar to waterproof ships, sails, and ropes, so it was a common commodity in seaports.

Feathers were also readily available.  Birds slaughtered for food had their feathers removed.  These normally would be used for pillows and cushions.

Sometimes attackers would strip the victim, applying the tar directly to his skin.  This would cause painful blistering and would be extremely difficult and painful to remove, but not deadly.  Sometimes they would apply the tar over the clothing, making it less painful and easier to remove, but still humiliating.

With the tar still hot, the mob would roll the victim in a pile of feathers or simply dump a bag of feathers over him.  The drying tar would hold the feathers all over his body.  Frequently, they would then carry the victim around town and subject him to public ridicule. People would often jeer, spit, throw rotten eggs, or otherwise express their derision as the tormentors put the tarred and feathered victim on public display.

The first known victim of tarring and feathering in the colonies was a ship captain named William Smith in Norfolk, Virginia.   In 1766, a Norfolk merchant and ship-owner named John Gilchrist came to believe that Smith had reported contraband aboard one of his ships, the Vigilant.

According to Smith, a group of men assaulted him, covered his body with tar, threw feathers all over him.  They then carted him through the city streets of Norfolk to face the jeering crowds who threw stones at him.  Finally they threw him into the ocean where he claims he would have drowned if not rescued by a passing ship.  Smith also specifically named the Mayor of Norfolk as participating in the actions against him.

Use of Tar and Feathers in Boston 
(from Journal of the American Revolution)
In 1768, the New England Sons of Liberty decided to use the technique to punish informants who cooperated with the Customs Board.  Some of the details seem to be a little hazy.  In the summer of 1768, an unidentified group tarred and feathered an unnamed informant in Salem, Massachusetts.  In September, in two separate incidences, John Row and Robert Wood received a tar and feathering. An account of Robert Wood’s punishment says he was stripped naked, tarred and feathered, then forced to sit on a hogshead under the Tree of Liberty in the town commons.  Again, both took place in Salem, allegedly for reporting customs violations to the authorities.

On September 10, Patriots in Newburyport, Massachusetts tarred and feathered Joshua Vickery and Francis Magno.  Again, the accused allegedly informed authorities about customs violations.  According to one account, men placed Vickery in the village stocks for two hours.  Next they carried him through town in a cart so that people could pelt him with rocks and eggs.  His captors held him overnight.  In the morning they tore out his hair.  They then forced him to pull a horse cart through town, again subjecting him to public attacks.  He and Magno, who was also stripped naked and tarred and feathered, were then taken to jail where they were prosecuted for breach of the peace.

The arrival of soldiers in Boston in October 1768 seemed to eliminate more overt mob activities.  The only other incident I could find for nearly a year, happened in Providence, Rhode Island on May 29, 1769.  Jesse Saville was accused of providing information to the customs house.  Rather than an open attack, it seems a group grabbed Saville in secret at night, covered him with turpentine and feathers, then beat him severely.  I’ve also read accounts of a “Jesse Savil” being tarred and feathered in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1770.  It’s not clear if this is the same event with confused facts, or a second attack, possibly on the same person.  Some records indicate that Saville was a customs officer, and therefore might have been a target of multiple attacks.

In September 1769. Nathan Smith of New Haven, Connecticut informed customs officials that a prominent merchant had been smuggling rum.  A few weeks later, Smith found himself in the hands of a mob.  They put him in a cart, carried him through town and forced him to announce to the public that he was “a liar, an informer, and a pest to society.”  After this, they covered him in tar and feathers, after which they allowed him to return home.

In October in New York City, several men, one name Mitchner, another named Kelly, and possibly one or two more, informed authorities about some illegally imported wine.  A few days later, a mob caught up with them, applied tar and feathers and carted them through town.  Eventually authorities were able to break up the mob and release the men.

That same month Philadelphia mobs tarred and feathered another alleged informer, whose identity is not known.  Local accounts say the accused was ducked, placed in a pillory, then tarred, feathered, and paraded through the streets for about two hours.

On October 28, 1769, Boston held its first tar and feather event.  George Gailer had been a sailor aboard the HMS Liberty, now working to catch smugglers.  After radicals sank the Liberty, Gailer got a job on another merchant vessel, which authorities raided for smuggling.  Patriots believed Gailer had informed on his own ship

A mob grabbed Gailer, stripped him, applied the tar and feathers, then carried him around town for around three hours.  The mob, estimated at between 1000 and 1500 forced Gailer to hold a lantern as they paraded him around town at night.  The mob also demanded that all residents put a candle in their window to show support.  Just in case you thought this was voluntary, any darkened windows received a barrage of rocks.

As they carted him around town, beating Gailer with sticks and stones, they also attacked the homes of several other Tories.  They even paraded Gailer past the customs house, where an armed sentry stood guard. The threw stones through the windows of the customs house and threatened to hoist the guard onto the cart alongside Gailer.  In the end though, they left the frightened guard at his post.  Eventually, the mob led Gailer to the Liberty Tree where they forced him to take an oath promising never to inform again and thanking the mob for its leniency in not killing him.  Eventually, they released him, returned his clothes and allowed him to return home.

Gailer tried to bring charges against several of the assailants whom he recognized.  According to some accounts, there was a criminal trial at which they were found not guilty, though it probably did not get to trial because a Boston Grand Jury would never indict. Gailer also brought a civil suit against seven of his attackers.  He sued for damages of £2000, but the case never appears to have made it to trial.

Some historians report another event in Boston in November, where a mob tarred and feathered a man for “causing a woman to be harassed by soldiers.”  I have not been able to find any more details on this event.  If anyone knows any more about this, please let me know.

In May 1770, after the army pulled out of Boston, Owen Richards, who worked for the Customs Board, refused a bribe and tried to seize the schooner Martin.  While a group of men tarred and feathered Richards, another group unloaded the Martin and spirited away the contraband. Richards was held for more than six hours, probably the time it took to unload the Martin, during which time the men carted him around town.  Eventually, the mob set his feathers on fire, causing more serious harm.  Richards survived and filed a civil suit for £1000, again I have not been able to determine the outcome of that suit.

The Sons of Liberty took up another tactic: tarring and feathering buildings.  Merchants and others who violated the non-importation agreements in 1770 often found the outside of their shops covered in tar and feathers.  This was a lesser form of attack, more vandalism than assault.  But it also served as a warning to the victim that worse punishments could come if they did not change their ways.  Sometimes, instead of tar and feathers, they would decorate the houses with excrement.

As tensions began to subside in late 1770, we see a drop in the use of tar and feathering.  However, it will make comeback in 1773 and 1774 after the Boston Tea Party ratchets up tensions again.  The practice continued throughout the war, usually against Tories, or others who somehow objected to the Patriot movement.  There are also cases well into the 1800's and even the 1900's of its use against people who drew public condemnation for various behaviors.

During this time period though, it was never used against high ranking officials, only informants or very low level customs officials who were seen as snitches.  While painful and humiliating, it was not fatal.

I will mention future tar and feathering events as they arise in our timeline.  But I thought it a good idea to give this background now, as we enter the 1770’s.

Next Week, New Yorkers fight with British regulars at the battle of Golden Hill.

Next Episode 32: The Battle of Golden Hill

Previous Episode 30: The Occupation of Boston

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web Sites

French Conquest of Corsica, http://medditerrahistory.blogspot.com/2015/06/french-conquest-of-corsica.html

John Wilkes: http://spartacus-educational.com/PRwilkes.htm

St. George's Fields Massacre: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/petition-of-the-month/the-massacre-of-st-georges-fields-and-the-petition-of-william-allen-the-elder

South Carolina Colony standoff over Wilkes donation:  http://www.carolana.com/SC/Royal_Colony/Wilkes_Fund_Controversy_1769.html

Lord North biography: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/biographies/lord-north

Bell, J.L. "5 Myths of Tarring and Feathering" Journal of the American Revolution, 2013:  https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/12/5-myths-tarring-feathering

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Babson, John History of the town of Gloucester, Gloucester, MA: Proctor Bros. 1860.

Bleackley, Horace Life of John Wilkes, Edinburgh: Ballantyne Press, 1917.

Cushing, Harry (ed) The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 1, New York GP Putnam's Sons 1904).

Hosmer, James Samuel Adams, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1913.

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, John (ed) The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774,  London: John Murray 1828 (This book was edited and published using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, Peter Orlando (ed) The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1884 (Editor is Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Ridpath, John Clark James Otis, the Pre-revolutionist, Chicago: The University Assn. 1898.

Treloar, Sir William Wilkes and the City, London: John Murray, 1917.

Watson, J.S. Biographies of John Wilkes and William Cobbett, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1870.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Archer, Richard As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, Oxford: Oxford  University Press 2010.

Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Zobel, Hiller The Boston Massacre, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1970.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).
 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Episode 030: Occupation of Boston




Last week, I discussed the growing tension in Boston after London placed the new Customs Board there.  Bostonians resisted the Board and all other efforts to enforce customs laws and trade regulations in the colony.  The Liberty riot following the seizure of John Hancock’s ship Liberty, was only one of many instances that convinced officials in London that they needed stronger enforcement measures to teach the colonists who was in charge.

Hillsborough Sends Soldiers To Boston

Even before the Liberty riot, ever increasingly frantic letters from Governor Bernard and Customs Commissioners informed London that they could not enforce the law without some muscle.  The naval vessels in Boston Harbor could control shipping, but the Boston mobs controlled the land.

Despite years of rioting and lawlessness Gen. Gage, military commander of North America, had not sent soldiers to Boston.  He had sent them to New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, but not Boston.  Gage’s orders prevented him from marching or quartering troops in a colony unless the Colonial Governor asked for them.  Otherwise, he could only do so on direct orders from London.

Massachusetts Gov. Bernard refused to ask for soldiers.  He knew full well that any request for troops would completely poison his ability to work with the legislature.  There was also a good chance it would result in an angry mob destroying his home.  Even if he did put in such a request, he believed that it would require the approval of the Governor’s Council, an elected body in the colony that would never give approval during the ongoing disputes.

Boston Harbor, 1768 by Paul Revere
(from Boston Public Library)
After the Liberty riot, the Customs Board simply could not do its job.  Members of Board, and several other top customs officials, along with their families, lived in protective custody out at Castle William, a military fort on an island at mouth of Boston Harbor.  None of them dared show their face in Boston.  On a rumor, a mob marched out to Roxbury where they believed customs official John Robinson might be hiding.  They did not find him there, but destroyed the gardens around his home anyway.  John Williams, the Customs Inspector, had been out of town until July. When he returned, the Sons of Liberty sent him a demand to appear before the Liberty Tree and resign his position.  He refused to do so, but had to face down several threatening mobs.

With the colonial legislature suspended, the Boston Town Council, led by men like Hancock, Adams, Otis, and Warren, passed and published a series of resolutions against the military presence.  They also sent petitions to the Governor, calling on him to resist the customs establishment, protest the use of the navy in customs enforcement, insist on compliance with the ban on impressment of sailors, and investigate if any officials had requested soldiers be sent to Boston because “every such Person who shall solicite or promote the importation of Troops at this time is an Enemy to this Town and Province, and a disturber of the peace and good order of both.

Still taking shelter at Castle William, the Commissioners sent Benjamin Hallowell, at the time Comptroller of the port of Boston, back to London. Hallowell had been at Malcom’s house the day a mob prevented officials from searching it (see, Episode 25). He had also worked with Joseph Harrison to seize Hancock’s ship Liberty and as a result had taken a beating during the Liberty riots that I discussed last week.  Hallowell departed for London, carrying with him letters from the Commissioners outlining the need for the army in Boston.

Around the same time, Gen. Gage, tried to push Gov. Bernard into requesting troops.  He sent the Governor a letter requesting troops from Halifax.  All Bernard had to do was sign it to get the soldiers.  At the same time, Gage wrote directly to Lt. Col. Dalrymple in Halifax, requesting that he be prepared to move as soon as he got the order.  Dalrymple prepared his troops to move, but never got the order from Bernard.

Bernard had been sending letters for years indicating the chaos and mob rule in Boston.  He documented numerous threats and acts of violence against people and property who were only trying to enforce the law.  Yet he refused to make an explicit request for troops.  He even ended some of his letters to London officials by saying that they should not take his comments about the chaos in Boston as a request for troops.  Clearly he wanted them, but was afraid to ask.

Hillsborough, however, was not afraid to do what needed to be done.  He sent direct orders to Gage to deploy regulars to Boston in order to restore order.  Hillsborough believed the King’s policy had to induce “a due obedience to the law.”  Although he wrote the orders in June 1768, even before the Liberty riot, Gage did not receive the orders until early September.

Gage ordered two regiments of British regulars from Halifax, to deploy to Boston, a little over 700 soldiers.  Dalrymple had already prepared and assembled most of the Fourteenth and Twenty-ninth Regiments and an artillery company with five guns.  They would be in Boston in a matter of weeks.  Following Hallowell’s arrival in London and hearing his reports on the Liberty riot, and other events, Hillsborough ordered another two regiments to ship to Boston, the Sixty-Fourth and Sixty-Fifth from Ireland, totaling about 1000.  They would arrive in November.

Massachusetts Convention of Towns

Already aware in September that the troops were on the way, a Boston town meeting responded by emphasizing an existing law that required every household to have a musket and ammunition ready in order to defend their rights.  To avoid treason charges, they claimed the measure was in case another war should break out with France.  But everybody knew the likely targets of those guns were getting ready to board ships in Halifax bound for Boston.

Faneuil Hall, site of the Convention of Towns
(from Wikimedia)
Since Gov. Bernard had suspended the colonial Assembly, the Boston Town meeting issued a resolution creating an independent committee to work with other towns at a colonial convention.  This would essentially be an extra-legal convention beyond the control of the Governor or anyone else.  Radical leaders, James Otis, Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock sat on the new committee.

The Convention of Towns met in Boston on September 22.  Representatives from nearly 100 towns attended.  They ignored Gov. Bernard’s order that they were an illegal assembly and should disperse.

In fact, Bernard should have been happy that the delegates ignored him.  The Boston radicals did not say outright, but it appears their purpose was to unite the colony in a decision to use arms to repulse the British Army as it attempted to land in Boston.  No one wanted to say that explicitly and in public since doing so was treason.  While Boston radicals may have been ready to start shooting, the rural delegates were nowhere near ready to fire on British regulars.  They had a calming effect on the convention.

The delegates argued for a week.  Unfortunately, there are few records of the debate.  But the end result was that the colony would not meet British regulars with armed resistance.  On September 29, the delegates learned that British transports were about to enter Boston Harbor.  The delegates simply returned home and waited to see what would happen.

Soldiers Arrive

On October 1, 1768, the first two regiments of regulars disembarked in Boston Harbor.  Col. Dalrymple was prepared for resistance as his soldiers marched through the streets with their arms at the ready.  They met no immediate resistance, though the people of Boston did what they could to make them feel unwelcome.

Since Bernard had already suspended the colonial legislature, there was no way to appropriate funds for the troops under the Quartering Act.  Of course, even if he had called a session, leaders made clear there was no way he was getting money.  Colonial leaders argued the soldiers could be quartered at Castle William on an island at the mouth of the harbor.

British Soldiers Arrive in Boston
(from Wikipedia - artist's conception from 20th Cent.)
The military considered the fort too far away to be useful, which is exactly why Bostonians wanted them there.  So, the soldiers ended up pitching tents on Boston common, not a fun way to spend a winter in Boston. Gov. Bernard approved an army takeover of the Boston poorhouse.  Doing this required that army evict the poor and sick living there.  They spent a few days trying to do this, while the residents resisted.  This led to terrible publicity for the army as they tried to toss widows and orphans out into the cold. Eventually they gave up and received permission to occupy some empty warehouses.

I’m going to discuss the soldier-civilian interactions in an episode coming soon as part of the build up to the Boston Massacre.  But throughout 1769 the occupation remained tense, with lots of street fights and lawsuits.

The arrival of the soldiers did have the intended effect however, of allowing the Customs Board to return from hiding in Castle William. They had remained there since Liberty riot four months earlier.  Now, they could finally get back to work in Boston, as long as they remained under military protection.  John Robinson traveled to Newport Rhode Island on customs business.  A mob surrounded the tavern where he was staying.  He was able to slip out and flee back to Boston.  But it served as a reminder that the military presence was the only thing keeping the mobs at bay.

Michael Corbett Resists Impressment

The naval presence in New England, though not as quite as controversial as standing armies, brought its own controversies.  Common naval practice allowed for impressment of local sailors.  Impressment was essentially a legal form of kidnapping.  Press gangs would capture a merchant sailor and take him by force onto the ship.  A ship’s officer then informed the civilian that he was now a sailor in the royal navy, subject to discipline for any disobedience and to execution for attempted desertion.

Impressment was legal throughout much of the Empire and often important.  Death and desertion meant that a ships crew could become depleted over time.  Ships out in colonial ports had a hard time recruiting volunteers given the low pay and harsh conditions.  As a matter of military necessity, they used impressment to keep their ships properly manned.  However, a 60 year old law prohibited impressment of sailors in America.  Despite this law, perhaps ignorant of it, the Romney tried to impress new sailors into its crew.

On June 9, 1768, the day before the Liberty riot, a press gang from the Romney had boarded a ship in Boston Harbor and impressed a sailor named Thomas Furlong.  Furlong convinced them to let him go ashore to collect his pay and property.  They sent him under guard, to make sure he would return.  A mob quickly formed and attacked the three men who accompanied Furlong to his ship.  He was able to get free of the press gang and flee.

HMS Romney (from Wikimedia)
After the Liberty riot, Capt. Corner, of the HMS Romney agreed that his fleet would not to impress Massachusetts sailors, unless they were already deserters from the British Navy.  He made no such promises for foreign sailors in colonial ports.  They remained fair game.

On April 22, 1769, the Massachusetts brig Pitt Packet sailed toward Boston with a six man crew.  The British Frigate Rose approached the ship in open waters and demanded to come aboard.  Two of the crew were Massachusetts men, but the other four were Irish.  The Irish hid in the ship’s bulkhead.

The press gang attempted to extract them.  In the ensuing fight, in which the press gang shot and wounded one of the sailors, John Ryan, in the arm.  The press gang shot another of the Irish sailors, a man named Michael Corbett, in the face.  Corbett’s wound proved minor. He took a harpoon and struck it into the throat of Lt. Panton, who was in charge of the gang.  Panton died within minutes.

Despite the resistance, the navy press gang was able to overcome the crew and arrested all six of them for murder.  In Boston, authorities quickly released the two Massachusetts sailors as they played no role.  Corbett and the other three stood trial before a special twelve member Admiralty Court, made up of various military, customs, and colonial government officials.

John Adams and James Otis agreed to represent the men, and demanded a jury trial.  The court denied them a jury and ordered them to proceed.  After a contentious trial, the court found the men not guilty under the defense of justifiable homicide.  The court held that the press gang was operating illegally without a warrant of impressment.  It avoided the question of whether any impressment in the colonies was legal.  It only said this particular attempt was illegal.  Since there was no warrant in this case, the sailors had a right to defend themselves against the illegal use of force.

The decision meant that the incident came to very little.  It might have been quite another story if the sailors had been found guilty.  A mob may have freed them by force.  Similarly, if a jury trial had found the men not guilty, it might have been more reason in London to attack the jury trial system in the colonies.  But because the Admiralty Court decided to find them not guilty, both sides backed off from what could have been a dangerous flash point.

Following the trial, three of the four Irish sailors, including Corbett, left the colony by getting work on an outbound merchant ship.  The fourth, John Ryan, sued the sailor who had shot him in the arm.  John Adams represented Ryan again at this trial.  The navy settled with Ryan and got the case dismissed.

Gov. Bernard Goes Home 

As Gov. Bernard predicted, radicals blamed him for the military occupation.  As I said, Bernard had not explicitly requested troops.  However, his letters indicating the growing lawlessness and inability to implement policy strongly implied the need for soldiers.  For months, Bernard refused demands to make public his official correspondence.  Despite his refusal, a colonial agent in London, William Bollan, obtained copies of some of his letters to Lord Germain and others and sent them to the Boston Sons of Liberty.  Their publication in the newspaper in April 1769 led to renewed demands for his recall.

The letters did not prove that Bernard had asked for troops.  They did however, call for changes in the colonial council to make it more accountable to the Governor and less so to the people.  The letters also, according to the radicals, portrayed in bad light those challenging the taxes and other actions taken in London.

Francis Bernard
(from Bernard Papers)
London did finally recall Bernard in August 1769, leaving Lt. Gov. Hutchinson as the new acting governor.  Bernard had already expressed a desire to leave the Colonies.  He was as sick of the fighting as everyone else.  Still, while sitting on a ship in harbor for several days in August, waiting for a fair wind to set out to sea, it must have been hard to listen to the chiming bells and cannon fire as the people of Boston celebrated his departure.

Bernard would receive a hearing when he returned to London, at which time he cleared his name.  In 1770, the Privy Council would declare all charges against him to be "groundless, vexatious, and scandalous."  Even so, radicals in Massachusetts tried to sue him for slander based on his letters.  The cases never went anywhere.  He finally resigned the Governorship in 1771, receiving a Baronetcy and a pension for his years of service.  He would also continue to serve as an adviser to the ministry on matters concerning the colonies in the years leading up to the war.

James Otis Loses It

James Otis, was a member of the committee that released Gov. Bernard’s letters.  Otis seemed to become increasingly paranoid and erratic around this time. The paranoia that he might be charged with treason and shipped to England was not necessarily a mark of insanity.  Hutchinson, in fact, acted on orders to gather evidence that might be used against Otis and others at a future trial. Otis realized from the stolen correspondence that Bernard and others were painting him as a traitor to officials back in London.

James Otis
(from Wikimedia)
In September 1769, Otis published an article protesting that members of the Customs Board were attacking his character and conspiring against him.  A few days later, Otis confronted Customs Commissioner John Robinson in a coffee house.  The two men came to blows, which erupted into a full fledged bar brawl. Unfortunately for Otis, this was a Tory Coffeehouse and most of the patrons sided with Robinson.  Robinson used his cane to give Otis a serious head wound.  Otis later sued Robinson and won an award of £2000.  After Robinson issued a public apology, Otis ceased attempts to collect his damages.

Historians dispute whether the attack brought on his mental illness, or merely worsened a pre-existing deterioration of his mental faculties.  In either case, after this even his friends noted a marked change in Otis.  Earlier in life, everyone considered Otis a learned man and an effective lawyer and advocate, even if they did not always agree with him.  After the blow to his head, he began to have had fits of emotional outbursts, and started giving long rambling speeches that never quite got to the point.

Despite these changes, Otis continued to win reelection to the Assembly, but Samuel Adams took the leadership role in the legislature in early 1770.  Otis would eventually retire from the Assembly in 1771, at the age of 45.  He lived to see independence, but sank further into insanity.  Family and friend kept him relatively isolated in a home out in the countryside, away from people.  He died suddenly in 1783 after stepping outside to view a thunderstorm and was struck by lightning.

Next Week: We take a look at issues in London, dominated by the return of John Wilkes, and also the colonial punishment of tar and feathers.

Next Episode 31: Wilkes and Liberty & Tar and Feathers

Previous Episode 29: The Liberty Riot

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com).

Further Reading:

Web Sites

C-span video, Univ. of MD Prof. Richard Bell discusses British occupation of Boston (2012): https://www.c-span.org/video/?308041-1/1768-british-occupation-colonial-boston

Resolutions of the Boston Town Meeting; September 13, 1768:
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/res_boston_1768.asp

A good detailed summary of the attempt to impress Michael Corbett and his murder trial:
https://www.masshist.org/publications/apde2/view?id=ADMS-05-02-02-0008-0002-0001

Detailed paper on the Corbett trial: http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/tempus/archives_files/xi1_03.pdf

HMS Romneyhttps://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=618

HMS Rose: https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=6258

John Adams 1st of three Legal Victories (Corbett Trial): https://www.walkbostonhistory.com/history-blog/john-adams-1st-of-three-legal-victories-a-murder-on-the-hms-rose-316-days-before-the-boston-massacre

Letter from John Adams to Jedidiah Morse, 20 January 1816 describing Corbett trial: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-6572

Brown, Richard D. "Massachusetts Convention of Towns, 1768" The William and Mary Quarterly
Jan., 1969), pp. 94-104 ((free to read online with registration - discusses attendance at the Convention) http://www.jstor.org/stable/1922295

Nicolson, Colin “Governor Francis Bernard, the Massachusetts Friends of Government, and the Advent of the Revolution” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1991, pp. 24-113 (free to read online with registration): http://www.jstor.org/stable/25081034

Walett, Francis G. “Governor Bernard's Undoing: An Earlier Hutchinson Letters Affair” The New England Quarterly, 1965, pp. 217-226 (free to read online with registration): http://www.jstor.org/stable/363591

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Boston Registry Dept. Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, Vol. 16, Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1886.

Castle Island 350, 1980 (a short pamphlet describing Castle Island).

Barrington, William; Bernard, Francis; Channing, Edward (ed); Coolidge, Archibald Cary (ed) The Barrington-Bernard correspondence, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912.

Chandler, Peleg W. American criminal trials, Vol. 1, Boston: Charles Little & James Brown, 1844 (includes trial of Corbett & crew of Pitt Packett).

Cushing, Harry (ed) The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 1, New York GP Putnam's Sons 1904).

Hosmer, James Samuel Adams, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1913.

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, John (ed) The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774,  London: John Murray 1828 (This book was edited and published using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, Peter Orlando (ed) The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1884 (Editor is Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Miller, Marion Mills (ed) Great Debates in American History, Vol. 1, New York: Current Literature Publishing Co. 1913.

Ridpath, John Clark James Otis, the Pre-revolutionist, Chicago: The University Assn. 1898.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Archer, Richard As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, Oxford: Oxford  Univserity Press 2010.

Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fowler, William The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1980.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Reid, William Castle Island and Fort Independence, Boston: Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston (1995)

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Zobel, Hiller The Boston Massacre, New York: WW Norton & Co. 1970.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).