368 | To the Board of Trade

    Castle William, Augt 15, 1765.

    My Lords,

    I am extremely concerned that I am obliged to give your Lordships the Relation that is to follow; as it will reflect disgrace upon this Province, & bring the Town of Boston under great difficulties. Two or three months ago, I thought that this People would have submitted to the Stamp Act without actual Opposition: Murmurs indeed were continually heard; but they seemed to be such as would in time dye away. But the publishing the Virginia Resolves, proved an Alarm bell to the disaffected:1 from that time an infamous weekly Paper, which is printed here, has swarmed with Libells of the most atrocious kind.2 These have been urged with so much Vehemence, & so industriously repeated, that I have considered them as Preludes to Action. But I did not think that it would have commenced so early, or be carried to such Lengths as it has been.3

    Yesterday Morning at break of day, was discovered hanging upon a tree, in a street of the Town, an Effigy with inscriptions, showing that it was intended to represent Mr Oliver the Secretary, who had lately accepted the Office of Stamp Distributor.4 Some of the Neighbours offered to take it down; but they were given to know that would not be permitted. Many Gentlemen, especially some of the Council, treated it as a boyish sport, that did not deserve the Notice of the Governor & Council.5 But I did not think so: however I contented myself with the Lt Govr, as chief Justice, directing the Sheriff to order his Officers to take down the Effigy: & I appointed a Council to meet in the Afternoon to consider what should be done, if the Sheriff’s Officers were obstructed in removing the Effigy.6

    Before the Council met, the Sheriff reported, that his Officers had endeavoured to take down the Effigy; but could not do it without imminent danger of their Lives. The Council met: I represented this Transaction to them as the beginning, in my Opinion, of much greater Commotions; & desired their Advice what I should do upon this Occasion. A Majority of the Council spoke in form against doing anything; but upon very different Principles. Some said, that it was a trifling Business, which, if let alone, would subside of itself; but if taken notice of, would become a serious Affair. Others said, that it was a serious Affair allready; that it was a preconcerted Business in which the greatest Part of the Town was engaged; that we had no force to oppose to it; & making an Opposition to it without a power to support the Opposition would only inflame the People, & be a means of extending the mischief to persons not at present the Objects of it. Tho’ the Council were allmost unanimous in advising that nothing should be done, they were averse to having such advice entered upon the Council Book. But I insisted upon their giving me an Answer to my Question, & that it should be entered in the Book: when after a long altercation, it was avoided by their advising me to order the Sheriff to assemble the Peace Officers, & preserve the Peace: which I immediately ordered, being a matter of form rather than of real Significance.7

    It now grew dark; when the Mob which had been gathering all the Afternoon, came down to the Town House, bringing the Effigy with them;8 & knowing that we were sitting in the Council Chamber, they gave three huzza’s by way of defiance, & passed on. From thence they went to a new Building, lately erected by Mr Oliver to let out for Shops, & not quite finished: this they called the Stamp Office, & pulled it down to the Ground in five minutes.9 From thence they went to Mr Olivers House, before which they beheaded the Effigy, & broke all the Windows next the Street; then they carried the Effigy to Fort hill near Mr Olivers House, where they burnt the Effigy in a Bonfire made of the Timber they had pulled down from the Building. Mr Oliver had removed his family from his House, & remained himself with a few friends;10 when the Mob returned to attack the House. Mr Oliver was prevailed upon to retire, & his friends kept Possession of the House. The Mob finding the Doors barricaded, broke down the whole fence of the Garden towards fort hill, & coming on beat in all the doors & windows of the Garden front, & entered the House, the Gentlemen there retiring. As soon as they had got possession, they searched about for Mr Oliver, declaring they would kill him: finding that he had left the House, a Party set out to search two neighbouring Houses, in one of which Mr Oliver was; but happily they were diverted from this Pursuit by a Gentleman telling them, that Mr Oliver was gone with the Governor to the Castle: Otherwise he would certainly have been murdered.11 After 11 o’clock, the Mob seeming to grow quiet, The (Lt Govr.) Chief Justice & the Sheriff ventured to go to Mr Olivers House to endeavour to perswade them to disperse. As soon as they began to speak, a Ring leader cried out “The Governor & the Sheriff! to your Arms my boys.”12 Presently after a volley of stones followed; & the two Gentlemen narrowly escaped thro’ favour of the Night, not without some bruises. I should have mentioned before, that I sent a written order to the Colonel of the Regiment of Militia ,13 to beat an Alarm; he answered that it would signify nothing, for as soon as the drum was heard, the drummer would be knocked down, & the drum broke; he added, that probably all the drummers of the Regiment were in the Mob. Nothing more being to be done, The Mob were left to disperse at their own Time, which they did about 12 o’clock.14

    The next day I called a Council, having summoned all the Members within 10 Miles of Boston. I asked their advice in general, & particularly recommended to them, the Protection of Mr Olivers House & Family from further Attacks. They lamented the Impotence of the Government, & said that it would be to no purpose to attempt to raise a Military Force; as the Militia, the only force we had, would never act against the Rioters, if they would assemble at all, which was much doubted. All that was advised therefore, was to issue a Proclamation for discovering the Offenders, promising a reward, &c, & to convene the Justices of the Peace, & the select Men of the Town, & recommend to them, that they would use all the Means in their Power to preserve the peace of the Town. I accordingly issued the Proclamation immediately as is inclosed;15 & having convened the Justices of the Peace, & the Select Men into the Council Chamber, I there earnestly exhorted them to use all means in their Power to preserve the Peace; which they promised to do. Having taken all other necessary Measures for preventing Mischief in the ensuing Evening,16 I went at Sunset to the Castle; where I immediately set down to give your Lordships this information, expecting a Ship to sail for England to morrow. Whilst I am writing, looking towards Boston, I saw a Bonfire burning on Fort hill: by which I understand that the Mob is up, & probably doing mischief. I shall therefore discontinue this Letter till I can receive Information of what is done this night.

    August, 16th.

    I have now an Account from Boston,17 that tho’ the Mob was up, yet no mischief was done last Evening, to account for which, I must go back a little before it.

    In the Afternoon of Yesterday, sevral Gentlemen applied to Mr Oliver, to advise him to make a publick declaration, that he would resign the Office, & never act in it; without which they said, his House would be immediately destroyed, & his Life in continual Danger. Upon which he was obliged to authorise some Gentlemen to declare in public, that he would immediately apply for leave to resign, & would not act in the Office, (as indeed it was impossible for him to do) untill he received further Orders. This satisfied the Leaders; but the lower Part of the Mob were not so easily pacified.18 They accordingly prepared a bonfire on Fort hill, & designed, as I have been informed, to pull down Mr Olivers House that Night. Towards the Night, the Justices & Select Men went upon fort hill, & harangued the People assembled there, told them that Mr Oliver had resigned the Stamp Office, & had given satisfaction to all Persons concerned upon that account. The Mob were very incredulous, or perhaps they were unwilling to lose their Frolick: However, they were prevailed upon to disperse. Soon after they assembled again, & renewed their bonfire; but proper Persons being employed to talk with them, they were prevented from doing any more mischief. Afterwards they went to the Lieut. Governors, called for him to come out, assuring him that if he did, he should receive no harm. But the People within denying that he was at home, & the neighbours interposing, they went off without doing any Mischeif.19 Afterwards they went to the Province House, & asked for me: my People answering that I was at the Castle, they gave three Huzza’s, & went away. The abettors of them say, that these Visits were designed only to desire me & the Lt Govr to write home to get the Stamp Act repealed; but for my Part, I am glad I was excused a Personal interview with them, as they were, as I am told, the lowest of the Mob. Thus Matters stand now; & I am told these troubles are like to subside for the present.

    Every one agrees that this riot has exceeded all others known here, both in the Vehemence of Action & mischievousness of intention: & never had any Mob so many abettors of Consequence as this is supposed to have had.20 It is said there were 50 Gentlemen Actors in this Scene disguised with trousers & Jackets on, besides a much larger Number behind the Curtain.21 It is said also, that these disguised Gentlemen proceeded no farther than the burning the Effigy, & then departed, & had no hand in storming the House: & it is certain that many Gentlemen, who approved of hanging & burning the Effigy, took the Pains the next day to prevent any further Mischief being done to Mr Oliver or his House. But the common talk of the Town is, that the Stamp Act shall not be executed here; that a Man who offers a stamped Paper to sell, will be immediately killed; that all the power of Great Britain shall not oblige them to submit to the Stamp Act; that they will die upon the Place first, &c, &c. These & many other sayings such like, I continually hear of at second hand: Some time ago I despised them; but now they become too serious. In truth, it will be impossible to attempt to carry the Act into execution, untill fresh Orders & Powers shall come from England. It seems that this Commotion entirely arose out of the Town of Boston: it was given out that many People out of the Country were concerned in this Affair, but upon Enquiry I find, that such persons living out of Boston, as were seen in the Crowd, were there merely as Spectators.

    Hitherto I have had no share in this resentment: in the many libells that preceded this insurrection, nothing was pointed at me; during the whole disturbance, no personal insult was directed at me; Even my Proclamation gave no Offence, as it was considered as a form of Government: but I have been given to understand, that if I was to attempt to carry my Proclamation into execution, I should soon become an Object of Popular resentment myself. Indeed I am so utterly unable to oppose or correct an insurrection of this kind, that it would be the highest folly to attempt it. For such a purpose, I can not command a file of Men that can be depended upon; & there is not, that I know of, a Company of Regulars within 200 miles of me. So that I have no Choice, but to submit to indignity, & to acquiesce in this high insult upon the Authority of my Government, & wait for a more firm Establishment of it.

    I cannot but express to your Lordships my hopes, that the Conduct of Mr Oliver upon this occasion will not be condemned. He is an exceeding good Man, punctual in all his duties, & of the most respectable Character in the Province. But under the Terrors of the first Night; the expectation of greater distress upon the Second; his Wife & Children drove from their own House, & not safe in any other; himself devoted to Destruction by an enraged & merciless Mob; & no Power in the Place capable of protecting him; what could be done but to purchase his Security upon any Terms offered? No Considerations of Profit would induce a Man under such Circumstances to set so mad & incensed a People at defiance; and therefore it is to be hoped, that no obligations of Duty required it.

    Having gone thro’ this shocking & long Detail, I shall now conclude this letter; and shall write further to your Lordships, as occasion shall require, upon this subject.

    I am, with the greatest respect, My Lords, Your Lordships most Obedient and most humble Servant,

    Fra Bernard

    The Right Honble The Lords Commrs for Trade, &c.

    ALS, RC CO 5/891, ff 270-274.