601 | To the Earl of Shelburne

    No 9

    Boston Mar 21. 1768

    My Lord

    In my last letter1 I omitted giving your Lordship an account of the meetings of the Merchants &c within the time I was describing, as I reserved it for a separate letter: as the two subjects are not necessarily connected & I cant say how far they are really so. These proceedings however so immediately followed a particular transaction that it is necessary to begin the Narrative with that.

    About the middle of febry2 one Malcolm (a little trader, who about 18 months before made himself famous by a Violent & riotous resistance to the Custom house officers endeavouring to search his house for uncustomed goods, of which there is a Very full Account in your Lordship’s office)3 expecting a Schooner laden with Fyal4 Wines to come in, asked an Officer of the Customs, what indulgence he might expect in regard to the duties. The Officer answered him, none at all; he must pay the whole duties; Malcolm replied, he was glad he knew what he had to trust to. Some days after the Schooner came in & was ordered to anchor among the Islands 5 miles below the Town. From thence the Cargo consisting, as is said, of above 60 pipes of Wine was landed in the night & carried in drays to different cellars, each load being guarded by a party of Men with clubs. This business employed a Number of Men the greatest part of the night & was as notorious, by the Noise it occasioned for many hours together, as if it had been done at noon day. The lading of the Schooner was also publickly known & talked of long before She arrived, She appeared plainly when She came up to Town by well known marks to have been lightened a yard or more, & was evidently too light to bear the Sea. Nevertheless the Master went to the Custom house & swore that She came from Surinam in ballast & had landed nothing since She left that Port.

    Two or three days after, this Malcolm procured a meeting of some Merchants & traders at which he presided. Their Deliberations were Sanguine & full of high pretensions: but nothing was determined upon, but to call a general Meeting of the Merchants on fryday Mar 4. This may be said to be the first movement of the Merchants against the Acts of parliament: all the proceedings before were carried on at town meetings,5 & were rather ^upon^ refinements of policy than concern for Trade. There never was less reason for the Merchants to complain of the regulations of trade than at present; there never was a greater plenty of Money or a more apparent Ballance of trade in their favor; of which the State of Exchange with London, which now is & for a long time has been at par is an irrefragable Evidence. However The Merchants are at length dragged into the Cause; their intercourse & Connection with the politicians & the Fear of opposing the Stream of the people have at length brought it about against the Sense of an undoubted Majority both of members property & weight. Accordingly the Result of this meeting was that a Subscription for not importing any English goods, except for the fishery ^for 18 months^, should be prepared & carried round the Town; & a Committee was appointed for that purpose. This was the same night that the little mob with the Drum passed by the Town house.

    Upon the Subscription Paper first going round the Town It met with no great Success: a great many declined it; as indeed it cannot fail being ruinous to the generality of traders. Upon this all Engines were set to work to increase the Subscription: Some were told they would be obnoxious to the lower sort of people, others were threatned with the resentment of the higher. Some were made affraid for their persons & houses; others for their trade & credit. By such means the Subscription has been filled by numbers who if at liberty would protest against the force put upon them & neither intend nor can comply with the terms. And there are still remaining Enough of the most respectable Merchants in the Town non subscribers, to defeat this Scheme, even if the subscribers were to keep to their promise: and it never can be carried into execution, without the interposition of the Mob. But it is scarce a Secret with any of them that the cheif intent of this Subscription is to raise an alarm among the Merchants & Traders of Great ^Britain^ & by means of popular discontent there to oblige the parliament to submit to their Terms in America. As this Game has been once before plaid with success, it is no Wonder that they have great dependence upon it Now.6

    There is such Confidence in the Success of this Combination, that the Business of Manufactures seems to be dropped; at least it is not now talked of.7 I cannot be answerable for all America; it is possible that in Pensylvania, which advances much faster in Acts than other Colonies there may be some rivalry with Great Britain.8 But for New England to threaten the Mother Country with Manufactures, is the idlest Bully that ever was attempted to be imposed upon sensible people. Notwithstanding all the puffs flung in the Newspapers, there is not as yet the least apparent advance of any one Work. They have neither materials nor hands nor inclination for such works. All the Wool in the province would not make 2 pair of stockings a year for each person. It allways has been worked up, cheifly in the families where it grows, & there used, not being fit for any Market: All the advantage being its being done in the dead time of the Year, when there is no Work to be done out of doors. There is no probability of any increase or improvement in this than what has been time out of mind. There has been an attempt to make nails; it is found they cannot be brought within a saleable price: paper, there is but one Mill, that can scarce keep itself going. There is now an attempt to set up a Manufactory of Duck or Sail cloath at Boston, in order to employ the poor who are so ill managed as to be a great burthen: If that should succeed, it can only be by the Town making good the loss in the price of labour & thereby gaining something in aid of the poor rate. And this, as it is a foreign Manufacture, cannot hurt Great Britain. Whatever therefore may be the Motives to induce Great Britain to Submit to the present advanced claims of the Americans, let not the Fear of American Manufactories be one of them.9

    And indeed a temporary Stoppage of the importation of British goods to America, if it could be done without alarming the Manufactors, would be advantageous to the British Trade as things stand now in this part of America. For the English Merchants have brought themselves under difficulties in regard to their American Debtors, which the peaceable & Submissive conduct of the Americans, if it had happened to be so, would not have removed. Formerly The Merchants of Boston were of the same nature with those of London, importers & dealers by whole-sale & by no means retailers. Then the Merchants of London dealt for small profit that the Merchants of Boston might have a reasonable profit in retailing. But for some years past the London Merchants for the sake of advancing their profits, have got into dealing immediately with the retailers, & have thereby abolished the distinction of Merchants at Boston: so that at present ev’ry Merchant is a Shop keeper & ev’ry Shop keeper is a Merchant. Hence instead of dealing with respectable & creditable houses, the London Merchants are engaged in a great number of little Shops; and for the sake of the advantage derived from treating with people who cannot dispute the terms prescribed to them, they have extended their credit beyond all bounds of prudence, & have sacrificed Security to profit; and they have also glutted this Country with goods much more than its real Wants ^required^.10 It must therefore be expected that whenever a Ballance is struck between the traders of Great Britain & New England, there will be a considerable deficiency in the latter; not from the Country itself, for that is in as good Ability as ever it was, but from particular persons who have been credited beyond their powers & resources. It is therefore the Intrest of Great Britain that this ballance should be struck as soon as may be; and a Suspension or other regulation of the importation is one necessary Step towards striking such a ballance. What is said here of Boston & New England is generally applicable to the other Colonies, tho’ I can’t exactly say how far to each. The Conclusion of this Detail is that if the British Merchants should incur Any great losses by their trade to America they ought not to be imputed to the parliament or the administration of Great Britain, but to their own indiscretion, in giving too great credit to America & overstocking its markets.

    To illustrate the foregoing Narrative, I send your Lordship their own Account of the meeting on the 18th with a list of the toasts, as usual. There is also in the same paper a piece containing a Sneer upon the late proceedings of parliament;11 the whole Wit of which arises from the common assertion that the parliament has no right to impose Duties in the American Colonies – no more than they have in portugal. In the same is also the Letter to your Lordship, as the Address to the King is in another of the same papers & in others.12 This shews that the cheif Use of these Letters is to inflame the other Colonies: for unless they preferred this Service to the obtaining redress from home, they could not be so deficient in duty respect & even common civility, as to publish in America an Address to the King & a Letter to his Minister of State, before they could have come to hand in England. Heretofore ^even^ a complimentary Address to the King never used to be published in America, till it appeared there in the Gazette. In short, your Lordship may depend upon it that Nothing less than the abolition of all Acts imposing Duties, is proposed. When that is done the transition to all other Acts of Parliament will be Very short & easy.

    I am, with great respect, My Lord, Your Lordships most obedient and most humble Servant

    Fra Bernard

    The right honble The Earl of Shelburne

    ALS, RC     CO 5/757, ff 74-77.

    Endorsed: Boston March 21. 1768 Govr Bernard (No. 9) R 3d. June. A.13. Enclosed copies of the Boston Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, 21 Mar. 1768, CO 5/757, ff 78-80. Variants of the letter: CO 5/893, ff 50-53 (dupALS, RC); CO 5/766, ff 160-168 (L, RLbC); BP, 6: 288-295 (L, LbC); Letters to the Ministry (1st ed.), 17-19; Letters to the Ministry (repr.), 22-25. Hillsborough replied to the RC with No. 622. The duplicate, received on 24 Jun., was considered by the Board of Trade on 6 Jul. 1768. JBT, 13: 34. Extracts of the letter together with the enclosures were laid before both houses of Parliament on 28 Nov. 1768. HLL: American Colonies Box 1. A copy may have been sent to Gen. Gage under cover of Appendix 4.