Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"These Sons of Violence" - Ann Hulton's View of Mob Violence in Pre-Revolutionary War Boston

Ann Hulton was a Loyalist who resided in Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1760s and 1770s. She was also the brother of Royal Custom Officer Henry Hulton. According to J.L. Bell , the Hulton siblings resided in Brookline and as a result, were often outside the protective range of British soldiers stationed in Boston. Despite being removed from the town, Ann Hulton was still able to provide vivid accounts of the lawless behavior of many Boston residents on the eve of the Boston Massacre.

In a letter written on June 30, 1768, Hulton recounted the conduct of a familiar group she named the "Sons of Violence":

"The Mobs here are very different from those in England… here they act from principle and under countenance, no person daring or willing to suppress their outrages or to punish the most notorious offenders for any crimes whatever…These Sons of Violence, after attacking houses, breaking windows, beating, stoning and bruising several gentlemen belonging to the Customs, the Collector mortally, and burning his boat… All was ended with a speech from one of the leaders, concluding thus: ‘We will defend our Liberties and property, by the Strength of our Arm and the help of our God’…From the inherent republican and levelling principles, there is no subordination in the society. Government is exterminated and it is quite a state of anarchy. There are some sensible and good people that are greatly alarmed… the infant colonies are advancing toward a state of independency."

The following year, Hulton revealed just how dependent upon government soldiers Loyalists had become for protection from "lawless mobs". According to Hulton,

“I hope we shall be in no more dangers or alarms from lawless mobs… it is certain that our safety & quiet depends on the army and navy being here… the tyranny of the Multitude is the most arbitrary and oppressive… many persons awed by the people, are obliged to court popularity for their own security, this is only to be done by opposing [the British] government at home…Several persons were threatened for no other reason than visiting us at the Castle… it would certainly have been done with a deal more mischief, had not the troops arrived seasonably for our protection, as well as that of every person of property. Yet there are very few to be met with that will allow the right of taxation to the British Parliament, therefore we avoid [discussing] politics."

It is interesting to note that in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre trial, Hulton, like many Loyalists, mistakenly believed that mob violence would subside. From her perspective, due process and an "impartial trial" would persuade the general populace from engaging in riotous conduct.

"The impartial trial and honorable acquital of Capt: Preston and the soldiers, has the most happy effect, it has exposed the conduct of the Faction and opened the eyes of the people, in general convinced them that they had been deceived by the false opinions and false representations of Facts. . .These trials together with that of the Custom House Officers charged with Firing out of the C:H and the suborning of false witnesses which appeared on the trial, and the witnesses since commited the Perjury."

Unfortunately for Hulton and countless other Loyalists, she was wrong.   


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