Monday, February 27, 2017

"Lobster Son of a B----": A Loyalist Rebuke of the Boston Massacre

One of the compelling reasons many Loyalists remained faithful to the crown was the dislike of mob violence and a belief in public order and safety. Most loyalists detested the mob rule of Boston and New York City and abhorred the lack of order that resulted. As tensions grew between the colonies and England, many colonists attempted to remain neutral. However, by the eve of the American Revolution, neutrality became almost impossible.

For example, Dr. William Paine gave up his neutrality and declared himself a loyalist after he experienced "too many abuses" and "insults" from Patriots. Samuel Curwen, Judge of Admiralty, complained Whig “tempers get more and more soured and malevolent against all moderate men, whom they see fit to reproach as enemies of their country by the name of Tories, among whom I am unhappily (although unjustly) ranked.” The Reverend Samuel Seabury of Westchester, New York, lashed out at the patriot mobs who routinely and illegally entered and searched loyalist homes.

In 1776, Loyalist and former Boston resident James Chalmers authored the pamphlet Plain Truth. Written under the name "Candidus," the document was an all-out assault on Thomas Paine's work, Common Sense. One of the areas Chalmers addressed was the violent behavior of Boston mobs in the years before the American Revolution. 

He argued local citizens "demonstrated their commitment to mob violence, and their willingness to be led down the path to destruction by a few evil men." Chalmers even went a step further and accused Bostonians of being "committed to anarchy against the Crown."

Plain Truth contained a rare Loyalist account of the Boston Massacre.  According to Chalmers, "The soldiers fired in self-defense into an angry mob led by a few men trying to inspire a rebellion in the colonies. We have found that there were several events that occurred prior to the actual firing. On this day there were several isolated attacks on innocent British soldiers, provocation's to fight and various insults attacking the character of British Officers. Captain Goldfinch was viciously accused on not paying his debts and Private White defended his Captain's honor. Soldiers, at their duty posts, minding their own business and acting non-confrontational, were verbally assaulted by Bostonian men with epitaphs of "bloody back", "lousy rascal", "dammed rascally scoundrel", and "lobster son of a b---- ". Physical violence was done to the soldiers, unprovoked, by the mob pelting the soldiers with snowballs, icicles, and pieces of wood. These actions were continuously perpetrated on the soldiers throughout the day. John Gillespie has testified that he saw 50 men in roving patrols armed with clubs and sticks with the express purpose of attacking the soldiers. Sergeant Major Davies observed men with clubs shouting, "Now for the bloody-back rascals", "Murder", and "Kill the dogs". This was so startling to him that he changed out of his red uniform for civilian clothes. To add to the clamor of events, someone started ringing the fire bells. When these bells are rung the citizens are trained to come out of their houses to fight a fire. There was no fire but the citizens were lured out in the streets and were then incited to participate in the mob activities. All of these actions led to the tragedy of the day.

As many soldiers as possible were recalled to their barracks by Captain Thomas Preston to help defuse the mob excitement and prevent and potential violence. He then heard that a lone sentry was being assaulted outside the Custom House. Captain Preston marched a detachment of soldiers to the Custom House and ordered the soldiers to load their muskets and fix bayonets. According to Captain Preston, under an officer's code of honesty, there was never an intention to actually fire. A soldier was assaulted and knocked to the ground. It was clear that the soldiers need to protect themselves from the aggressive mob and the shots were fired in self-defense with no actual order to fire. It is clear upon knowing the facts that innocent lives of citizens were lost due to the unscrupulous actions of the mob inciters. These deaths will likely be enshrined in patriot mythology when they were, in reality unsuspecting victims of the mob inciters."

This Saturday the annual reenactment of the Boston Massacre will take place.  In preparation for this event, Historical Nerdery will post over the next few days additional Loyalist and British accounts of the events leading up to the March 5, 1770 confrontation.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"A Soldier Received a Bad Cut on the Shoulder" - The Battle of Golden Hill

In 1767 England was in the midst of a financial crisis. Charles Townshend, the impetuous Chancellor of the Exchequer, of whom it was said, “his mouth often outran his mind”, suddenly announced that he knew how to increase revenue via taxation of the American colonies. As a result, Parliament enacted a series of laws directed at raising revenue. The Townshend Acts, as they became known, provided for an American import tax on paper, painter’s lead, glass and tea. The acts also tightened custom policies and revived the vice-admiralty courts. Although a minority within the House of Commons opposed the measure, the majority rationalized it would raise colonial revenue, punish the colonists for their ill-behavior during the Stamp Act crisis, and exercise the rights to which Parliament laid claim to in the Declaratory Act.

Boston and New York City stood at the forefront of opposition to the Townshend Acts. Boston, residents quickly resorted to violence. By comparison, New York initially took a more cautious approach to the Townshend Acts and implemented a widespread boycott of goods. Specifically, on September 5, 1768, New York City merchants and tradesmen resolved

Image result for the battle of golden hill

Reflecting on the salutary [beneficial/curative] Measures entered into by the People of Boston and this City to restrict the Importation of Goods from Great Britain until the Acts of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. were repealed; and being animated with a Spirit of Liberty and thinking it our Duty to exert ourselves by all lawful Means to maintain and obtain our just Rights and Privileges, which we claim under our most excellent Constitution as Englishmen, not to be taxed but by our own Consent or that of our Representatives; and in order to support and strengthen our Neighbors, the Merchants of this City, we the Subscribers [signers], uniting in the common Cause, do agree to and with each other, as follows:

First, That we will not ourselves purchase or take any Goods or Merchandise imported from Europe by any Merchant directly or indirectly, contrary to the true Intent and Meaning of an Agreement of the Merchants of this City, on the twenty-seventh of August last.

Secondly, That we will not ourselves, or by any other Means, buy any Kind of Goods from any Merchant, Storekeeper, or Retailer (if any such there be) who shall refuse to join with their Brethren in signing the said Agreement; but that we will use every lawful Means in our Power to prevent our Acquaintance from dealing with them.

Thirdly, That if any Merchant, in or from Europe, should import any Goods in order to sell them in this Province contrary to the above Agreement, that we ourselves will by no Means deal with such Importers; and as far as we can, by all lawful Means, endeavor to discourage the Sale of such Goods.

Fourthly, That we will endeavor to fall upon some Expedient to make known such Importers or Retailers as shall refuse to unite in maintaining and obtaining the Liberties of their Country.

Fifthly, That we, his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, Inhabitants of the City of New York, being filled with Love and Gratitude to our present most gracious Sovereign, and the highest Veneration for the British Constitution, which we unite to plead as our Birth Right; and are always willing to unite to support and maintain, give it as our Opinion, and are determined to deem that Persons who shall refuse to unite in the Common Cause, as acting the Part of an Enemy to the true Interest of Great Britain and her Colonies, and consequently not deserving the Patronage of Merchants or Mechanics.

Unfortunately, by 1769 New York colony entered into an economic depression as a direct result of the boycott. Tensions rose and in 1770, New York succumbed to violence.

On January 19, 1770, New York merchant Isaac Sears and others attempted to stop a group of British soldiers from passing out handbills criticizing local citizens. The pamphlets chastised the local citizenry over a failed attempt by regulars to destroy a liberty pole erected on Golden Hill, New York City. Sears detained some of the soldiers and marched his captives towards the mayor's office, while the rest of the British regulars retreated to their barracks to sound an alarm.

A crowd of townsfolk soon arrived along with a score of soldiers. “In the mean Time, a considerable Number of People collected opposite to the Mayor’s. Shortly after, about twenty Soldiers with Cutlasses and Bayonets from the lower Barracks made their Appearance” The soldiers, who were greatly outnumbered, were quickly surrounded. Nevertheless, the soldiers attempted to rescue their fellow soldiers held captive in the mayor’s office. “When the Soldiers came opposite to his House, they halted. Many of them drew their Swords and Bayonets; some say they all drew. But all that were present agree that many did, and faced about to the Door and demanded the Soldiers in Custody. Some of them attempted to get into the House to rescue them. Capt. Richardson and others at the Door prevented them, and desired them to put up their Arms and go to their Barracks, that the Soldiers were before the Mayor who would do them Justice. The Soldiers within likewise desired them to go away to their Barracks and leave them to the Determination of the Mayor.”

Upon seeing the soldiers draw their weapons; the townsmen quickly retreated and armed themselves. Despite attempts by local officials and officers to defuse the situation, a full scale brawl, later called the “Battle of Golden Hill”, erupted. By the end of the fight, several of the soldiers were badly bruised while one “soldier received a bad cut on the shoulder.” One Citizen was wounded in the Face and had two of his Teeth broke by a Stroke of a Bayonet. Another was stabbed and later died of his wounds.

Monday, February 6, 2017

"We do voluntarily Inlist ourselves" - The Independent Massachusetts Militia Companies of 1775

Over the past year, Historical Nerdery has been collecting data on the militia and minute companies of Massachusetts. As we progressed with our research, we unexpectedly uncovered references to several "independent" militia and minute companies in the colony. Admittedly, it was our belief that Massachusetts independent militia companies were more of a 19th century phenomenon. Traditionally, these units received no public assistance, were armed and equipped with private funds and usually composed of men from the higher social and economic echelons of Massachusetts society.

Although not as widespread as their 19th century counterparts, it appears that at least four independent units existed in Massachusetts on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Research suggests these units were very similar to their 19th century counterparts and operated as minute companies on April 19, 1775.

It should be noted we excluded the Boston Corps of Cadet's from our "independent" militia company grouping because the unit was not operational in late 1774 and early 1775.

The first independent company we encountered was the Ipswich Minute Company. Unlike other Massachusetts towns, the Ipswich minutemen were organized pursuant to a private covenant not a town resolution. Members of the unit were responsible for arming and equipping themselves and dues were charged to the membership. The January 14, 1775 covenant states “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice. And we hereby Promise & engage, that we will immediately, each of us, provide for & equip himself, with an effective arm, Bayonet, Pouch, Knapsack, & Thirty rounds of Cartridges ready made. And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military, at least twice every week.”

The West Brookfield Minute Company drafted a similar covenant. “We the subscribers, soldiers inlisted from the several Militia companies within this town, and organized into a company called the Minute Company, do solemnly covenant that we will as soon as possible be provided and equipt with an effective firearm, cartouch box (or bullet pouch), 30 rounds of powder and bullets, and knapsack. That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military. That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and hazard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts — should any attempt be made between this time and the first of July next.”

Another company was Captain James Brickett's Company of Haverhill. Brickett’s Company was originally formed as an artillery unit. When its members were unable to procure an artillery piece, it reorganized itself into an “independent corps”. On the eve of the American Revolution, Brickett’s Company was essentially operating as a minute company. The company passed several resolutions regarding preparations for war. “That we will meet together (on the first and third Mondays of September, October and November following, and on the first and third Mondays of the six Summer months annually till the Company shall agree - to dissolve the same) for the exercise of Arms and Evolutions, And that the role shall be called two hours before Sunset, and the Company shall be dismissed at Sunset N. B. If it be fowl weather tho Day appointed, the Company shall meet the next fair Day.” Shortly thereafter, the men voted to adopt “the exercise as ordered by His Majesty in the year 1764.” Two months later, Brickett’s “independent corps” voted “that we hire Mr George Marsdin for 4 days at 12s a day, & that he be paid out of the fines.” As discussed in a previous posting, Brickett's Company even passed a resolution to have uniforms made.

The last independent company we encountered (so far) was the Newburyport Independent Marine Company. Organized by the Newburyport Marine Society, the unit was composed of merchants, sea captains and ship builders. According to the Essex Journal the "independent military society " assembled for a drill on September 21, 1774. “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition: After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions ; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society ; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

Of course, we will explore this phenomenon further and would love to hear from our readers whether they are aware of other "independent" Massachusetts companies that operated in 1775.