A Summary of the Persecutions and Distresses undergone by the Commissioners of the Customs in America [367]



    September 24th. The Commissioners of the Customs sailed from Gravesend in the Ship Thames, and arrived in Boston Harbour in the Evening of the 4th of November. The next day they landed, and immediately were exhibited in Effegy round the town, along with the Effegies of the Pope, Pretender and Devil, all which were cast into the bonfire at night.

    Before the arrival of the Commissioners the heads of the faction in opposition to Government at Boston had a meeting to consult in what manner they should treat the Commissioners on their arrival. At this meeting it was proposed to assassinate them on their first coming on shore, and this proposal was overruled by one voice only.


    Early in the Spring there were frequent Mobs in the Evenings, and alarms about the Commissioners’ houses, which occasioned a great deal of family dread and distress. The Commissioners represented to Governour Bernard the danger they apprehended to their persons, but he told them he could give them no protection, and his Council affected not to credit the representations made to the Governour by the Commissioners. [371]

    The Commissioners[,] finding they could have no protection from the Government of the Province, acquainted Commodore Hood at Halifax of their situation, who sent the Schooner Hope immediately to Boston and in the Month of May ordered the Romney Man of War of fifty Guns to Boston Harbour.

    The People persisted in their practises of Smug[g]ling in Cargos of Goods, in open violation of the Law, threatening vengance to any Officer who should dare to make a seizure.

    In the month of June the Collector and Comptroller made Seizure of a Vessell from which a Cargo of Wines had been run on shore, which occasioned a great Riot, and violent persecution of the Revenue Officers. The Collector and some other Officers were bruised, and very ill[-]treated by the Mob. The Commissioners fled from their dwellings, and took shelter in different houses that night, and the ferment continuing the following days, they first took refuge on board the Romney Man of War, and some days afterwards retired into Castle William, where they were obliged to remain the whole summer.

    The latter end of October some Regiments arrived at Boston for the support of the Laws, and protection of the Servants of Government; and early in the next month the Commissioners came up to Boston from the Castle, and resumed the exercise of their Commission in Town. [372]

    Some time after the Commissioners had retired to the Castle, General Gage came to Boston from New York, when fifteen Members of the Council presented an Address to him, in which they passed severe and unjust reflections on the conduct of the Commissioners; and they sent petitions to both Houses of Parliament, to the same purport.

    But notwithstanding all their pretentions they fomented a Spirit of revolt in the people, from the authority of the British Government, and at the time of the arrival of the troops, there was actually a convention from several Counties assembled at Boston, in defiance of the Governor’s authority; and with the declared intention to take upon themselves the powers of Government; but upon the landing of the troops these Deputies immediately dispersed.

    Mr Hulton’s family arrived from London at Boston, but five days before they were obliged to fly from the Town; and on their return from the Castle no one would rent Mr. H. an house, and he was obliged to pay half a pound a Week for poor illfurnished Lodgings in a house that rented for only 18£ per Annum, and not being able to get proper accommodations in town, he was in a manner under the necessity of purchasing an house in the Country. [373]


    The People had now entered into resolutions not to Import any Goods from Great Britain, and violent persecutions were stir[r]ed up against all those who did not comply with the popular resolves. The Revenue Officers were threatened and intimidated; and if they attempted to do their duty, they were tarred and feathered, which punishment, with many aggravating circumstances, was inflicted on many of them in different parts.

    The newspapers were filled with scurrilous and inflammatory publications against the servants of the Crown, and the Commissioners were personally abused, and pointed out as objects of the people’s resentment.

    There had been four Regiments in Boston during the Winter of 1768, under the command of General Mackay: and Commodore Hood came from Hallifax in the fall of that year, and remained at Boston during part of the next. The General found a great deal of difficulty and embarrassment from the insolence of the people towards the troops, and the want of support from the civil Magistrates, or their partiality towards the towns people, in every matter of dispute between them and the soldiery, for the former were forever seeking cause to provoke, and distress the latter.

    Commodore Hood was about to return to Halifax, and was desirous to carry back the two Regiments with him that came [374] from thence; and the General, no doubt, was pleased to have the Command divided, so that there needed be no occasion for his remaining at Boston: where he was subject to insult and injustice, and to see the authority of his Country trampled upon, without being able to enforce the execution of its Laws. No doubt these Gentlemen thought that two Regiments would be sufficient to keep the town in awe, so, as that the people would not venture on any outragious acts. General Mackay went to England, and Commodore Hood returned to Halifax, with two Regiments.

    The Magistrates had long shrunk from their duty, or had joined in opposing the Laws. Government was now prostrate at the feet of the popular Demagogues. Whatever they asserted in their harangues at the town meetings, or published in the Weekly newspapers, became doctrine and Law to the people. They were intirely at the devotion of these Leaders, of whom every one stood in awe, and it was living in a dreadful state of thraldom, to be forever under the apprehension of being the victim of their vengeance.


    The people grew more violent in their insults and abuses of the Servants of Government, and all those who would not adopt the popular resolves were objects of persecution. There were frequent assaults on the soldiery, and even the Centries were attacked upon their Posts in the Streets of Boston. [375]

    On the 5th March in the Evening (the People being prepared for a general rising) a Mob gathered about the Custom house, and assaulted the Centry, who after suffering much abuse, called to the Main Guard. A party came speedily to his relief, but they were likewise grossly assaulted, and abused; till at length they were compelled to fire in their own defence, and killed and wounded several of the people. This occasioned a most violent ferment in the town; the Commissioners and Officers of the Customs were obliged to flee out of it, and several of them took shelter in Mr. H[ulton’]s house at Brooklyn.

    The next day it was agreed in order to pacify the People, that the two Regiments in Boston should withdraw to Castle William; and they accordingly left the place, leaving the Captain of the Guard, and the Soldiers who fired on the Mob, prisoners in Goal; and all the Servants of Government at the mercy of the People.

    Depositions were now taken to prove that a person fired out of the Custom house windows, at the time the soldiers fired on the people; and that the Commissioners were the abettors of the Murders that had been committed; and some of their Officers were accused and committed to goal, as parties therein.

    Immediately a violent spirit of resentment appeared against the Commissioners, and they were for a considerable Time in dreadful alarm and apprehension in the Country, not daring to go [376] to Boston.

    Copies of the Letters and Memorials which the Commissioners had sent home on the subject of the former riots in Boston had been sent back to the people; and the Grand Jury had found bills of Indictment against them, for the misrepresentations alledged to be therein. They were now accused as Enemies to the Province, and abettors of murder, and it was resolved to prosecute them in the provincial Courts of Justice.

    The Superior Court met the latter end of March. Mr. Robinson, one of the Commissioners, went to England; two others (Mr. Burch and Mr. Hulton) thought it most prudent to retire for some time out of the Province, and took shelter in Piscataqua, leaving their families at Brooklyn. They remained in New Hampshire for several Weeks in safety, but were told that if they should attempt to establish their Board there, or if Mr. Paxton (another Member) should come there, that the Governor could not answer for their protection. The latter end of April they returned to Brooklyn, but they soon found that they could not remain there in security, nor venture into Boston; and they continued for some time in constant dread and alarm.

    About the middle of May Mr. H. went to Rhode Island, thinking it best to keep out of the way for some time. He returned from thence about the middle June. Three days after at midnight [377] he was assaulted in his house at Brooklyn by a Mob from Boston, who in an instant broke all the lower windows, and with many violent imprecations swore they would have him dead or alive, but they retired without entering the house. As soon as they went off, he took shelter in a neighbouring house till day brake; then he fled to another’s about three miles off, where he remained for two days, making a representation to the Governour of the assault upon his house and person. This being laid before the Council, produced no other effect, than the remarks of some of the Members, that he had hired some people to break his own windows, in order to bring a reproach on the Province.

    The Commissioners now found there was no security for them in the Country, and retired a second time to Castle William; where they remained till November following.

    Commodore Gambier arrived at Boston Harbour in the month of October, and about that time the non[-]importation agreement was broke up, and the passions of the people seemed to have subsided. The Captain and soldiers who had been in confinement since the 5th of March were tried and acquit[t]ed, and there seemed to be a disposition to keep order in the town, so that the Commissioners ventured to return, and carry on business again in Boston. [378]


    The Commissioners had continued to carry on for a considerable time their business unmolested, but at the meeting of the General Court the latter end of May, a great ferment arose in Boston, on account of Governour Hutchinson’s letters, which had been written by him to some friends in England; and now were returned back, and communicated to the Members of the General Court.

    Violent were the threats against the Governor and the Crown Officers on this occasion.

    At the meeting of the General Court it was usual to have a public Dinner. To this Entertainment the Commissioners were invited by the Governor, which was the first time that any compliment of the kind had been paid to them. On the Company’s going away after dinner, a Mob was assembled at the Door, who assaulted the Commissioners in the grossest manner, throwing stones, dirt, and brickbats at them, all the way through the streets to their houses, and abusing and cursing the Governor for having dared to invite them to dinner. The Cadet Company in their uniforms, were under Arms before the door at the time, and two of that Corps left their Arms, and were the foremost in the abuse of the Commissioners. [379]

    In the fall of the year the minds of the people were greatly agitated on the report of some Cargoes of Tea, subject to duty, being expected for sale, on account of the East India Company. On the arrivals of these Vessels, the people assembled for several days, and called in the Country Delegates, to advise with on the alarming occasion. They had several meetings at the Old South Meetinghouse, being too numerous for Faneuil Hall. At the first of these meetings the Governor sent a Message to them, by the high Sheriff, requireing them to disperse immediately. This they treated with the greatest contempt, and threatened the Governor and the Commissioners with their utmost resentment.

    The Commissioners foreseeing the storm, had already thought it prudent to retreat, and on the 30th of November retired for the third time to Castle William. The town of Boston was in one continued ferment till the middle of December; when after a general meeting at the Old South, on the evening of the 16th they went on board the several Vessels in which the Tea was laden, and destroyed the whole by throwing it into the water.

    After they had gratified their rage on the immediate object of their resentment, the violence of the people’s passion subsided by degrees; and the Commissioners ventured to return to Boston during the Christmas holy days. [380]

    The Tea Consignees were likewise obliged to take Shelter in Castle William, and were ever after held in so obnoxious a light by the Townsmen that they dared not appear again in Boston till it was in the possession of His Majesty’s Troops.

    Great was the anxiety and family dread undergone for a course of years; being subjected to continual alarms from an enraged multitude; from whose fury there was no shelter, or protection to be found in the Country; and no relief or redress to be hoped for, or obtained, after having suffered the weight of their vengance.

    Many were the inconveniences expressed, many the losses sustained, and distresses endured; and heavy the expences attending these frequent alarms, flights, and removals.


    In consequence of the outrage committed by the people of Boston at the close of the last year, the Boston Port Act was passed, and a Bill for altering the Constitution of the Province, the Council of which was now appointed by the Crown.

    General Gage arrived as Governor in the spring of the year, and some Regiments of foot to support the authority of the Laws.

    The Port of Boston being shut up, the Commissioners and their Officers were removed to Salem, and the General resided in the neighbourhood of that place. [381]

    On the first meeting of the new Council, a violent ferment spread through the Country, and every means was used to intimidate the Members, and several of them immediately resigned their appointment, or declined taking their seats at the Board.

    County Meetings were now held to prevent the execution of the Laws, and concert measures for resistance to the authority of Great Britain. Every one was busy in providing Arms and Ammunition, and training for action.

    The General having notice of a quantity of powder being in the Magazine at Medford, thought proper ro have it secured and removed to Boston. The next day the whole Country in the Neighbourhood assembled at Cambridge, and surprised the Lieut. Governour, and some of the Counsellors, whom they compelled to resign their Offices.

    Whilst the People were in the midst of this business, who should pass through Cambridge (in their way from Salem to their Country houses in the neighbourhood of Boston) but the Commissioners of the Customs, in seperate Chaises. The people suffered Mr. Burch and Mr. Hulton to pass on unmolested; but Mr. Hallowell having spoke to some of them, and he being more known, and obnoxious, was pursued by several of them, who cried out “he [382] had killed a man” finding himself pursued, he quitted his Chaise, and mounted his servant’s horse, galloping as fast as he could with a pistol in each hand. The pursuers encreasing from every house till he came to Roxbury Street, and he with great difficulty getting to the Guard on the neck before he was overtaken. From the Rage the people were in, it is most probable he would have been instantly murdered, could they have laid hands on him.

    The rest of the Commissioners immediately took shelter in Boston#,135 where they remained till the town was evacuated, except Mr. Burch, who went to England in October 1775.

    On occasion of the General’s removing the powder from Medford, an alarm was spread through the Country, and it was reported that the Soldiers had killed some of the people, and that the Admiral had fired on the Town of Boston. Immediately the people in many towns of Connecticut took to their Arms, and marched towards the relief of Boston, and were reluctantly sent back, on finding the account prove false. But this shews that the people in the remote parts were now ready to revolt. [383]


    The People of the Country had been preparing for action during the fall and Winter; and the Army had been strengthening the Lines on Boston neck; but an intercourse was still open between the town and Country during the Winter. One or other of the Regiments marched some miles into the Country daily; and the market people came every day to town as usual, and few of them went back without a musket or two, which they carryed out unmolested by the Guard. But besides the Enemy that were training without there was a formidable body of Rebels within the town, who were all provided with Arms. Every thing was prepared and they only waited for a proper opportunity to give the Signal for a general rising in Arms.

    Many of the inhabitants of Boston had withdrawn themselves into the Country in the Spring of the year, and several persons who seemed disposed to remain in town, had private notice from their friends in the plot, that a sudden blow was intended to be struck; and they were urged by all means to get out of the town, as they would wish to escape from that destruction that would fall on those who continued in Boston. [384]

    Most of the Officers of the Army had private Lodgings seperate from the Troops in Barracks, and about this time the General gave orders for all Officers to sleep in the Barracks with the Soldiers.

    A public Entertainment was to have been given on St. George’s Day, and it was afterwards said that the People were to have rose that night, after the Officers were gone to rest, (supposing they would be in private Quarters), and that ten or twelve men were fixed on to watch, and surprise each Officer.

    The intimidation that had been given to sundry Persons of the town, and the orders of the General, seem to strengthen the suspicion of some such plot being concerted.

    The affair of the 19th April prevented the intended Entertainment, and that night was surely the most alarming that could be imagined. The two bodies of troops that had been sent to Lexington were returning to Charlestown weary and fatigued, with the long march, and severe duty of the day.

    A fresh Corps was sent over in the evening to Charles Town, to cover and support them in their return. There was then only six hundred troops left in the town, so that the [385] Guard at the Lines consisting only of one hundred and fifty men could not be strengthened. The men did duty for forty[-]eight hours unrelieved.

    At this critical time the whole country had taken Arms, and were coming down towards Boston, and there were between five and six thousand men now in town, prepared with Arms, waiting only the signal to rise. We continued for a day or two in this ticklish situation; the People appeared very insolent and audacious; but the spirit and good conduct of the General on this occasion brought the Select Men to submit to the giving up the Arms of the Townspeople into his Custody, on his permitting them to go out of Town with their effects; and many thousands of the seditious inhabitants soon joined their rebellious friends in the Country.

    About a month after this the Generals Howe, Clinton and Burgoine arrived from England. We were now shut up from all communication with the country, and from this time obliged to live on salt provision, fish, or such casual supply of fresh meat as could be procured by sea, from distant parts; which always came very dear, from 1/ to 1/6 the pound. [386]

    The Rebels possessed themselves of several eminences between Boston and Cambridge, which they strengthened by Lines and Works; and from their great numbers, and their use of the spade, they could throw up extensive intrenchments in a night’s time. This we experienced on the morning of the 17 of June, by their playing on the north part of the Town from a Battery erected the preceding night at Bunker’s Hill.

    The event of that day, though it proved to the honour of our Arms, and relieved us from immediate anxiety, and dread, yet occasioned great pain and distress to every loyal subject.

    We had scarce given vent to our joy on seeing the flight of our Enemies, than we were called to mourn and lament over the Gallant men who were killed and wounded in our defence. The streets were soon filled with these objects of our respect, and compassion; and the cries of the Women and Children over their dead and wounded husbands and parents were truly lamentable.136

    The smallness of the Garrison at Boston would not allow the General to take all the advantages that might have arisen by the flight of the Rebels from Bunker’s Hill. They continued to fly in confusion even from Cambridge, but [387] finding they were not pursued, recovered from their panic, and repossessed themselves of their former Posts, and made a strong work at Roxbury Meeting.

    We were long threatened that the Town should be set on fire by the people within, whilst the Rebels under favour of the confusion and the advantage of their numbers, should make a general assault. In the month of June, a great fire broke out at night in the middle of the town, and from the circumstances we were in, we were under great apprehensions till it was reduced.

    About the middle of July several Transports arrived with four Regiments of foot from Ireland.

    Early in that month the Generals Washington and Lee came to Cambridge, being appointed by the Continental Congress to the command of their Army, which was now to be called the Army of the Confederate Provinces.

    The Rebels had now provided themselves with some hundreds of Whale Boats, from the Island of Nantucket. These Boats were very light, and were rowed with prodigious swiftness.

    In these they made descents on the Islands in the harbour, in sight of the Men of War, and were very audacious in their attempts, carrying off People from the Islands, and [388] burning houses and barns. Nay, they burnt the Light house, and a few nights after returned and burnt the dwelling house on that Island, killed the Officer of Marines stationed there, and made his party Prisoners.

    We were now every day subject to alarms, and threatened with the number of Whale Boats that were assembled at Cambridge; and made to expect that we should be assaulted by great numbers of all sides, so that we never went to bed without apprehension of an attack; and sometimes we were awaked at midnight with furious cannonadings.

    The Rebels threw up intrenchments on the side of Roxbury, near our advanced post, and frequently fired on the Lines with some pieces of Cannon; and almost daily attacked, and fired upon the Centries; which sometimes drew on a Cannonading on our part, but in general the Lines and Centries received their fire, without returning any.

    The Rebels prevented all in their power any supplies of Fuel, provision, or Forage coming to us. There was now great sickness in town, both amongst the Army and the People; and it was very lamentable to be witness to so much distress [389] one could not relieve, and to see one’s Children and friends languishing for fresh provisions, and the comfortable accommodations they had been accustomed to; but those evils appeared light in comparison of what we apprehended in the course of the Winter, if we were not powerfully supported, relieved.

    Most of the Inhabitants of the town, in the interest of the Rebels, had now removed out of it; and indeed many of those who were friends to Government sought to Embark for Great Britain, and other parts, to escape from the impending calamities.

    On the 31st of July soon after midnight, we were awaked with a furious cannonade of Great Guns, and an heavy fire from small Arms in several Quarters. We immediately rose, apprehending the Rebels were making a general attack on the town in all parts; but it proved to be a feint from our side.137

    General Gage went home in the begin[n]ing of October, leaving the command with General Howe. [390]


    Most of the Ships that were sent from England with supplies of Provision and Coals for the Garrison at Boston, were either taken, or drove off the Coast, so as not to arrive in Season. And the Troops and Inhabitants were a good deal distressed for want of those articles. During the Winter a number of houses were pulled down in Boston for fuel for the Army.

    In the month of February the Rebels advanced their works near the water side, opposite to Barton’s point, and threw shott and shells into the Town, whereby some houses were damaged.

    A Battery was erected under Mount Whordom against their new works, but played with little effect, and though the Inhabitants were alarmed, and incommoded, both by shot and shells from the new works, and on the Roxbury side; yet there was little apprehension from their present operations, that the Rebels would possess themselves of the town. But on the 5th March at day break we were surprised with a view of many thousands of them at work on the hill upon Dorchester neck, opposite the South end that commands the Town. Upon this it was immediately resolved to dispossess them of those heights; and in the afternoon [391] between two and three thousand troops were Embarked with intention to land on the neck, a back of the hills which were occupied by the Rebels; but the weather proved so stormy that the men could not be landed; and the next morning it was found that the Rebels had so far strengthened themselves in their new post, that it was most adviseable to give over the attack.

    The Rebels now played furiously upon the town each night, which was returned from our several Batteries.

    On the 7th in the Morning, it was given out in Orders that the Troops were to quit the town. Immediately a general scene of distress and confusion arose. Houses were left, and furniture neglected. Everyone was only intent in providing for his own safety.

    As soon as it was publickly declared that the town was to be evacuated, the Commissioners of the Customs applyed to General Howe for a Transport Ship to carry themselves and their Officers. The General referred them to Admiral Shuldham, as he had no Ship under his direction that could accommodate them. [392]

    The Admiral told them there were six Victualers under his command, laden with provisions for the fleet, and that they might have any one of those they would chuse. There was no time to be lost; many other persons were applying for passages; and they were obliged to fix on a Vessell immediately.

    They took their chance of the Ship Hellespont, one of those that was named to them. The Ship was still laden with the greatest part of her Cargo of Victuals, and though the Commissioners expected she would be discharged immediately, yet the suddenness of their departure obliged them to go on board before the Vessell was prepared to receive them.

    On the 9th March at midnight, during a furious Cannonading, orders were signified for the Transports to go down to Kingroad the next day at noon.

    The Commissioners were obliged to rise, abandon their dwellings, and ship off their families immediately. They walked above a mile through the town, and before day were on the Wharf ready to Embark.

    When they got on board, the Ship was in no condition for a Voyage; she was without seamen, and filled with the Provision she brought out; so that they were obliged to leave many packages containing liquor, stores and valuable furniture on the Wharf, [393] for all their cabinet Ware, and bulky furniture was left entirely behind.

    Twelve Marines were procured to assist as seamen in getting the ship down to Nantasket.

    With difficulty they got her away from the Wharf in the afternoon, and in the Evening brought her to Anchor abreast of the Town. During the night, the Marines got drunk with the Liquors of the passengers; here was a fresh scene of trouble and distress—with much difficulty six of them were removed from on board, and four seamen obtained from a Man of War, to carry the Ship down. At this time the Cabbin and Steerage were filled with the families of the Commissioners and their Officers—Thirty[-]six Men, Women and Children had lain in the Cabbin and state rooms, without accommodations; and no births were yet fixed up, other than the few standing ones in the state room and Cabin.

    When the ship got down to Nantasket, it was many days before these necessary conveniences were fitted up. And the ship was daily discharging her lading by piecemeal to the Fleet, as each Ship wanted Victuals; so that the passengers were constantly incommoded to the last hour.#138 The necessary ballast was not begun to be put on board till the day before the fleet sailed; and to the last moment it was taking in. Nor was there sufficient on [394] board when the Vessell sailed; so that the seamen afterwards declared, that had they had a severe passage, the Vessel must have overset for want of ballast. We were to have had six good seamen from the Lively Man of War to navigate the ship; nearly at the last hour, six indeed were sent, but they were Yankees; neither were they seamen; nor could be trusted. And one night, through neglect of the Mate, they steered the ship so much to Leeward, that we had great difficulty in recovering the convoy again.

    On arrival at Halifax we could scarce obtain the least Shelter. The numbers that had arrived before us had filled every house. Many families were still obliged to remain on board the Ships. Mr. Hulton’s family were taken into part of a friend’s house, and lay for a considerable time on the floor; but Mr Hallowell’s family continued for many days on board the Ship, before they could have a place to put their heads in.

    We were here equally distressed for Victuals as at Boston. Very scanty was the supply of fresh meat, and that was poor, and sold at an extravagant price, so that had it not been for Fish, many people must have been in danger of starving—in short for those necessaries of Fuel, lodging and provision, no place could be more scarce, dear & wretched. [395]

    Some time after their arrival at Halifax, the Commissioners applyed to General Howe, for a Transport ship to carry them home. He answered that he wished to serve them, and soon after made them an offer of a Vessell in no wise capable of accommodating them. But on the arrival of the Renown transport ship with donations, the General made a tender of her to the Commissioners, for their accommodation; and it was generally understood that they were to go home in her, but the General afterwards made them acquainted that she neither was at his disposal, nor could any Vessel then in the harbour be allotted for the Commissioners, as they stood in need of every one for the Army; however, this ship remained at Halifax after the Army sailed, and was afterwards engaged to carry the 65th Regiment to England, and the Commissioners hired the ship Aston Hall to transport themselves, their Officers &c. to London. The Renown being an armed Vessel, and having upwards of one hundred Officers and soldiers on board; the Commissioners engaged the Captain of her to keep company with the Aston Hall, and the two ships sailed together from Halifax the 18th July. The next day they had a violent gale of wind, so that with much difficulty they weathered the Isle of Sables. In tacking off this Island, the two ships separated, and did not join Company again; and we were for some time in great apprehension of falling in with the Rebel Privateers, [396] some of which we were told at Halifax were advised to look out for us; but we happily escaped them, and though we had rather a severe passage for the summer season, we arrived off of Dover in twenty[-]five days, and landed there the 13th August. [397]