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.

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