600 | To the Earl of Shelburne


    Boston March 19 1768

    My Lord

    I expected that the Appointment of the Commissioners of the Customs in America would have made it unnecessary for me to have troubled your Lordship with any Representations upon the Subject of the Customs. But I see such an Opposition to the Commissioners and their Officers and such a Defiance of the Authority by which they are appointed continually growing, that I can no longer excuse my informing your Lordships of the Detail of Facts from whence the most dangerous Consequences are to be expected.1

    It is sometime since there have been frequent Reports of Insurrections2 intended, in which it has been said the Houses of one or more of the Commissioners and their Officers would be pulled down: two were more particularly fixed on. Upon one of these Nights a Number of Lads, about 100, paraded the Town with a Drum and Horns, passed by the Council Chamber whilst I was sitting in Council, assembled before Mr Paxton’s (a Commissioners) House and huzzaed; and to the Number of at least 60 lusty Fellows (as I am assured) invested Mr Burch’s (another Commissioner’s) House for some Time; so that his Lady and Children were obliged to go out of a back Door to avoid the Danger which threatened.3 This Kind of Disturbance was kept up all the Evening; and after all was treated as the Diversion of a few Boys, a Matter of no Consequence. This was I think on March 4.

    After this it was reported that the Insurrection was postponed till March 18 which was the Anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act; upon which Day Effigies were to be exhibited; and two Persons, Mr Paxton a Commissioner and Mr Williams one of the Inspectors general were mentioned as devoted to the Resentment of the Mob. I took all the Pains I could to discover the Truth of this Report; but could get no other Answer but Assurances that no such ^thing^ would be done or suffered. On the very Day before I spoke with the most knowing Men I could procure; who were very positive that no Effigies would be hung up. And yet late that Evening I had certain Advice that Effigies were prepared: but it was too late to do any Thing, and my Information was of that Nature that I could not make Use of it in Public.4

    Early the next morning, the Sheriff5 came to inform me that the Effigies of Mr Paxton and Mr Williams were hanging upon Liberty Tree. I had the Day before appointed a Council to meet, and I now sent round to get them together as soon as possible it might be. Before I went to Council I learnt that the Effigies had been taken down by some of the Neighbours without any opposition. At Council I set forth in strong Terms the Notoriousness6 of this Insult,7 the danger of it’s being followed by actual Violence and the Necessity there was of providing for the Defence of the Town.8 But all I could say made no Impression upon the Council: they persevered in treating the Affair as of no Consequence, and assuring me that there was no Danger of any Commotion. After they had given their Opinion as in the inclosed Copy of the Minutes, I received a Letter from the Commissioners9 setting forth the Insult they had received, the Danger they apprehended, and desiring the Protection of the Government. I communicated this to the Council10 and proposed that they should reconsider this Business; but finding them not inclined to depart from their opinion, as before given, I adjourned the Reconsideration till the Afternoon. In the Afternoon the Question being again put to them, They adhered to their former Opinion.

    I should have mentioned before that under all their Assurances I had that there would be no Disturbances, it was never understood that the Day, the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp Act should not be celebrated.11 Accordingly at Break of Day there were beating of Drums and firing of Guns heard; and the whole Town was adorned with Ships Colours: and to add to the Celebration, the Feast of St: Patrick being the day before was postponed to this Day. However great Pains were taken by the Select Men of the Town and some other Gentlemen that the Festivity should not produce a Riot in the Evening: and so far it succeeded that it produced Terror only and not actual Mischeif. There was a Number of Gentlemen dined at two Taverns near the Townhouse, upon the Occasion of the Day: these broke up in good Time. After which many of the same and other Gentlemen kept together at the Coffee House (one of the Taverns)12 all the Evening. These prevented a Bonfire in that Street, which was several Times attempted, and would probably have been a Prelude to Action. But the assembling a great Number of People of all Kinds Sexes and Ages, many of which shewed a great Disposition to the utmost Disorder, could not be prevented. There were many hundred of them paraded the Streets with Yells and Outcries which were quite terrible. I had in my House Mr Burch (one of the Commissioners) and his Lady & Children, who had the Day before moved to our House for Safety. I had also with me the Lieut: Governor and the Sheriff of the County. But I had taken no Steps to fortify my House, not being willing to shew an Apprehension of Danger to myself. But at one Time there was so terrible a Yell from the Mob going by, that it was apprehended that they were breaking in; but it was not so. However it assumed the same Terror as if it had been so; and the Lady, a stranger to this Country, who chose our House for an Asylum, has not recovered it as yet — They went on and invested Mr Williams’ House but he shewed himself at a Window and told them that he was provided for their Reception,13 and they went off; and either did not intend or dared not to attack his House. They also at two different Times about Midnight made outcrys about Mr Paxtons House out of mere Wantonness to terrify his Family.14 The whole made it a very terrible Night to those who thought themselves Objects of Popular Fury: and yet if I should complain of it, I should be told that it was nothing but the common Effects of Festivity and rejoicing; and there was no Harm intended.

    Your Lordship will perhaps ask what I have been doing all this while, that this Spirit of Disorder is got to such a Pitch: I answer, every Thing in my Power to prevent it. Since first these Tumults were apprehended, the Commissioners, with whom (I mean 4 of the 5)15 I am upon the most intimate Terms, have often asked me what Support to their Office or Protection for themselves I can afford: I answer none in the World. For tho I am allowed to proceed in the ordinary Business of the Government without Interruption; in the Business of a popular Opposition to the Laws of Great Britain founded upon Pretensions of Rights and Priviledges, I have not the Shadow of Authority or Power. I am just now in the Situation I was in above two years ago, sure to be made obnoxious to the Madness of the People by the Testimony I am obliged to bear against it and yet left exposed to their Resentment without any possible Resort for Protection. I am then asked why I don’t apply for Troops as well to support the Kings Government as to protect the Persons of his Officers. I answer because I dont think it proper or prudent to make such Application upon my own Opinion only. All the Kings Governors are directed to take the Advice of the Council in Military Movements. And in this Government, where the Governor is in a more peculiar Manner obliged to have the Advice of the Council for allmost every Thing he does, it would be dangerous to act in such an important Business without such Advice. And it is in vain to put such a Question to the Council: for considering the Influence they are under from their being Creatures of the People and the personal Danger they would be subject to in assisting in the restraining them, it is not probable that the utmost Extremity of Mischief & Danger would induce them to advise such a Measure. I have once before tried the Experiment when the Danger was more urgent and immediate than it is now16 and the Success then fully convinced me that it is to no Purpose ever again to repeat the Question. His Majesty’s Ministers have within these three Years been fully acquainted with the defenceless State of this Government; and therefore I trust that I shall be excused leaving it to the Administration to determine upon a Measure which they are much more able to judge of and be answerable for than I can be. I shall have trouble and Danger enough when such Orders arrive, tho’ I keep ever so clear of advising or promoting them. These my Lord are the Answers I have given to the Commissioners in the Course of Conversation; which I have thought proper to recapitulate in this Place for my own Vindication if it Shall be needful.

    I should have mentioned before but for not interrupting the Narrative, that in the Debate at the Council one Gentleman said there were Associations formed for preserving the Peace of the Town. I said that I had not been made acquainted with them: that if there were any such they ought to have been formed with my Privity and confirmed by my Authority. That if a general Association for supporting the Authority of the Government and preserving the Peace of the Town could be brought about, it would be of great Service, and I should be glad to see it set about immediately. Upon this a Councellor got up with Vehemence and said that such a Subscription was illegal and unconstitutional, and he should protest against it as tending to bring an Opprobrium on the Town. I said that at a Time when a Subscription was handed about the Town in direct Opposition to the Parliament and People of Great Britain and was every Day enforced by Menaces and other unfair Methods, it was very extraordinary at that Board to hear a Subscription for the Support of Government and Preservation of the Peace called illegal. That I should not endeavour to press a Measure which would derive its cheif Efficacy from being so Voluntary but I feared they would see the Expediency of such a Measure when it was too late. From this and the Generality of the Assurances that no Mischief would be done, I am to understand that the Preservation of the Peace of this Town is to depend upon those who have the Command of the Mob and can restrain them (and of Course let them loose) when they please; and civil Authority is not to interpose in this Business. And indeed I have with Attention observed, that all the Assurances that no Mischief was intended at present are founded upon the Impropriety of using Violence at a Time when they were applying to the Government and Parliament of Great Britain for redress. But it is inferred and sometimes expressly declared that when they have Advice that the Redress which they expect is denied, they will immediately proceed to do themselves Justice: and it is now become common Talk that they will not submit to Duties imposed by Parliament, not only those by the late Acts but all others which raise a Revenue. This is publick Talk: as for the Sanguine Expectations which the Faction from whose Cabinet all these Troubles have arose, has formed for controlling and triumphing over Great Britain, I dare not repeat what I have heard till their Purposes become more apparent.

    In this Narrative I have taken no Notice of the Town Meetings of Merchants, Subscriptions for not importing English Goods, Proposals for Manufactures &c which have been carrying on before and during the whole forementioned Time. I intend to make a Seperate Letter upon these Subjects; which possibly may accompany this, as I am not as present apprised of a Conveyance safe enough to trust this by.

    I am, with great Respect, My Lord, your Lordships most obedt: and most humble Servant

    Fra Bernard

    The Right honble The Earl of Shelburne

    dupLS, RC     CO 5/893, ff 41-45.

    Possibly in handwriting of John Bernard. Endorsed: Massachusets. Duplicate of a Letter No. 8. From Francis Bernard Esqr. Govr. of Massachusets Bay, to the Earl of Shelburne, dated March 19. 1768, relative to the opposition made to the Commissioners of the Customs, and their Officers. Nn 13. Recd. June 24. Read July 6th. 1768. 2 papers. Enclosures: minute and resolution of the Massachusetts Council of 18 Mar. 1768, CO 5/893, ff 46-47; deposition of William Wootton, 18 Mar. 1768, ibid., f 48. Variants of letter: CO 5/766, ff 150-160 (L, RLbC); BP, 6: 280-288 (L, LbC); Letters to the Ministry (1st ed.), 12-17; Letters to the Ministry (repr.), 16-22. A copy was made for Hillsborough, probably by a Plantation Office clerk, and is filed at CO 5/757, ff 66-71; substantive differences are itemized in the notes below. The duplicate received by Shelburne was considered by the Board of Trade on 6 Jul. 1768. JBT, 13: 34. Copies of the letter together with the enclosures were laid before both houses of Parliament on 28 Nov. 1768. HLL: American Colonies Box 1. Read by Privy Council, with enclosures, 26 Jun. 1770. APC, 5: 247.