biographical introduction

    By John W. Tyler

    In his History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay, Thomas Hutchinson described the concluding months of 1766 as “a short space of tranquility” after the “great perturbations” of the previous two and a half years. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, and the Revenue Act of 1766 brought relief from some of the most onerous provisions of the Sugar Act. In his personal affairs, Hutchinson at last received compensation from the Massachusetts General Court for the losses suffered during the looting of his house on the night of 26 August 1765, one of the principal objects of his past letter-writing for over a year. He did note, despite the calm, the advance of “a new set of ideas” pertaining to the relationship of the colonies to the mother country. The rhetoric of opposition to parliamentary extensions of authority was still inchoate and needed to be constantly adapted according to political circumstance. Few acknowledged the constitutional right of Parliament to impose taxes on America, yet most still recognized that it was reasonably prudent to submit voluntarily to such acts. Hutchinson thought he could detect a growing shift among some of the most radical thinkers that partial autonomy might some day lead to a complete independence.1

    When the General Court reconvened in late January, Hutchinson once again found himself at the center of unwanted controversy. He lost his seat in the Council during the general election in May 1766, when euphoria over the repeal of the Stamp Act swept a number of government party men from power. Since that time he continued to attend meetings of the Council in his capacity as lieutenant governor, a practice for which Hutchinson believed there was ample precedent, but did not participate in any discussion or vote. Nevertheless, when Hutchinson appeared at the side of Governor Francis Bernard for his opening address to the new session of the legislature, the assembly, in their reply, objected to the lieutenant governor’s presence, calling it “a new and additional instance of ambition and lust of power.” Joseph Hawley, the representative from Northampton whom Hutchinson angered in 1765 in his ruling as chief justice in the case of the Berkshire rioters, amended the assembly’s response to the governor’s address to include this particularly harsh characterization of Hutchinson’s motives.2 Though stung by such a public description, Hutchinson, rather than be a source of controversy between the governor and the General Court, ceased to attend Council meetings.

    While the Massachusetts government quibbled over Hutchinson’s proper role on the Council, other questions of imperial administration were at issue further south. New York failed to comply fully with the provisions of the Quartering Act of 1765. When reprimanded by Secretary of State William Petty, Lord Shelburne, the New York legislature, in December 1766, questioned the authority of Parliament, an act of defiance that would cause Parliament several months later to suspend the assembly’s legislative power. In late November in Massachusetts, a company of royal artillery en route to Quebec put into Boston when turned back by ice in the St. Lawrence. Bernard and the Council, since the House of Representatives was not in session, directed that the soldiers be temporarily lodged at Castle William in Boston harbor and supplied, as was customary, with fuel and candles. When it reconvened in late January, the General Court, desiring not to be outpaced by New York, questioned by what authority the governor provisioned royal troops at the province’s expense. Bernard, in his response, cited the Quartering Act of 1765 rather than previous provincial legislation, which provided the assembly with just the opening members needed to express their constitutional opposition to the new parliamentary legislation. When Bernard subsequently reversed himself, making reference instead to Massachusetts law and practice, the issue lapsed, but not before Parliament took note that Massachusetts joined New York in casting doubt on parliamentary sovereignty.3

    The Massachusetts assembly also asserted its growing obstinacy by challenging Governor Bernard over the choice of the province’s agent. In November 1765, the assembly took the unprecedented step of choosing its own agent, Dennys DeBerdt, to petition against the Stamp Act. DeBerdt’s appointment was an expression of the General Court’s lack of confidence in Richard Jackson, the official provincial agent, who had been elected in the traditional manner by both House and Council and approved by the governor the previous January. Jackson, a lawyer and private secretary to George Grenville, represented several other colonies in London and was a particular favorite of Bernard. On 5 February 1767 the House voted to dismiss Jackson, and in a portent of things to come, the Council unanimously assented. Bernard was powerless to prevent communication between the House and DeBerdt. He could do little except veto bills authorizing DeBerdt’s salary and urge ministers not to receive him, even though DeBerdt was now the de facto sole representative of Massachusetts in London.4

    The bitterness engendered by the winter session of the assembly spilled over into the popular press where both Bernard and Hutchinson were subjects of near-constant attack. This public criticism, combined with Hutchinson’s failure to win re-election to the Council during the May elections, affected him deeply, and he appears to have suffered some form of nervous collapse in the spring of 1767. He abandoned political affairs altogether and almost ceased letter-writing for a month. Physicians, including Joseph Warren (the future patriot), advised a course of moderate exercise, mostly horseback riding, to restore his health. By early June, Hutchinson rallied from his depressed spirits and was back to his usual routine.

    By midsummer 1767, it was beginning to become clear to many American colonists how much resistance to the Quartering Act of 1765 angered even their friends in Parliament. Although parliamentary wrath focused on New York, Massachusetts also shared in its disapproval since it included a general amnesty for all Stamp Act rioters in its legislation compensating Hutchinson and the other victims of the riots. Word also reached London that, like New York, Massachusetts questioned the constitutionality of the Quartering Act. Americans assumed because Lord Chatham and other members of the current ministry advocated the repeal of the Stamp Act they would understand American resistance to all taxes not granted by their own assemblies. In their rejoicing over the repeal of the Stamp Act, the colonists never really took proper note of the language of the Declaratory Act asserting Parliament’s right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”

    Although Chatham, in an oft-quoted speech, made a distinction between “internal” and “external” taxes, even he did not believe Parliament gave up its taxing power entirely; furthermore by this point he was no longer active in the ministry he theoretically headed, having retired to Bath because of poor health. In his absence, Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, seized the initiative for resolving American affairs. To gain control over smuggling and increase Britain’s disappointing revenue from the acts of trade, he proposed establishing an American Board of Customs and adding several new juryless vice-admiralty courts. Townshend also believed the lack of vigor in bringing colonial smugglers to justice resulted from judges and attorneys general not being sufficiently compensated to render them independent of the popular will. Therefore, he proposed the creation of an American civil list to be paid from a fund created by new duties on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea. Because these commodities came from England, the new taxes evaded previous colonial objections to internal taxes (a distinction he himself did not take seriously).5 Lest there be any doubt about the supremacy of Parliament, Townshend also proposed that the legislative power of the New York Assembly be suspended until it complied with the Quartering Act. This new parliamentary legislation received the royal assent in late June, with the general outlines of the law becoming known in Boston by mid-July.

    Some of Hutchinson’s friends in England believed his appointment to the new American Board of Customs would be a suitable reward for his loyalty to the Crown during the Stamp Act crisis, but Hutchinson believed he could accomplish more for the government as chief justice, a position he would be required to resign if he joined the board. His own ambitions continued to focus on succeeding Bernard as governor. He believed, perhaps mistakenly, that someone with local ties could calm the increasingly confrontational relationship between the governor and the General Court.

    The new duties took effect on 20 November. Throughout much of September there was a steady drumbeat of criticism in the Boston press intent on stirring opposition. When George Grenville read one of the pieces written by “Sui Imperator,” he urged Parliament to compel the Boston printers Edes & Gill to identify the author. Loose threats circulated that the arrival of the new commissioners would certainly be resisted, but when they actually did appear on 5 November amidst the traditional disorder of Pope’s Day in Boston, nothing happened. The first organized efforts at resistance to the Townshend program occurred when the Boston town meeting passed a resolution urging the non-consumption of paper, paint, tea, lead, and glass. Subscription lists were circulated but enforcement proved impossible, and the agreement quickly fell apart, causing Hutchinson to underestimate the resentment toward Townshend’s new reforms.

    At the close of 1767, many longstanding sources of anxiety remained unresolved. Hawley was as much a problem as he had been in early January. Also, it was still unclear what “marks of royal favour” Hutchinson might receive for his loyal service during the Stamp Act crisis. Indeed, the political situation in Great Britain during the late days of the Chatham administration was so uncertain no one knew what course colonial policy would take. It was clear that the popular party had elected not to revisit the violence of the Stamp Act riots in their efforts to force repeal of the Townshend reforms, but with non-consumption faltering, no one seemed to know exactly what form resistance would take.

    Nevertheless, the members of the General Court, for their part, were determined from the outset of 1768 that the new legislation would not go unchallenged. Legislators in the House drafted a petition against the Townshend Act for DeBerdt to present to the king, and they wrote to a number of highly placed individuals whom they hoped would forward their cause in Parliament. While still professing that they recognized the supremacy of Parliament, they challenged the constitutionality of any laws designed solely to raise revenue in America. They also objected to the establishment of an American Board of Customs, claiming it was tainted by its association with the new duties on paper, paint, tea, glass, and lead, and joined New York in once again condemning the Quartering Act of 1765.6

    Just as the House was completing its letter-writing campaign, Francis Bernard, on 2 February, displayed before the members a letter written to him by Secretary of State Shelburne, commending him for vetoing the six new patriot councilors elected in May 1766 and scolding the House for leaving off Hutchinson and other key government party men. Shelburne stopped short of insisting that Hutchinson should be allowed to sit as an ex officio member of the Council but said that he found it “very extraordinary” that such a public servant to whom the province owed so much should be treated with such ingratitude.7 Thus, Hutchinson was not entirely forgotten, but vindication from Whitehall did little to change his situation.

    The patriots, who previously counted Shelburne as a key ally, believed that only misrepresentations by Bernard could cause the secretary of state to write as he did. Therefore, they requested from Bernard copies of any letters he might have written to Shelburne prompting such a response. The governor replied that he had nothing relevant to give them. The House and governor exchanged increasingly hostile messages, and an article written by “True Patriot” (Joseph Warren) in the Boston Gazette of 29 February not only challenged Bernard’s integrity but included a disparaging reference to the king.8

    Bernard seized this opportunity to check the flow of opposition satire from the Boston Gazette by asking the Council to indict “True Patriot” for libel, having received instructions from Shelburne the previous November to move against any scurrilous articles in the newspapers as long as he had sufficient evidence and the support of the legislature.9 The Council initially seemed inclined to make an indictment but then backed away from the action under pressure from James Otis Jr. and other House leaders. Hutchinson took up the crusade against seditious libel in his next charge to the Suffolk County grand jurors, but his words also failed to produce the desired result.10 The legislative session ended in a flurry of recriminations, with Bernard finding it necessary to force an adjournment in order to stop passage of a resolution calling for his removal.

    For much of 1767, Hutchinson wondered what form of reward he might expect as a result of the resolution of the House of Commons that loyal servants of the Crown should be compensated for their service during the Stamp Act riots.11 Initially, there was talk of appointment to the American Board of Customs, a position he was not sure he wanted, but gradually it later appeared his reward would be a supplement to his salary as chief justice drawn from funds raised by the new Townshend duties. The warrant to draw on the customs commissioners for the money finally arrived in mid-April 1768. Hutchinson expected to be one of several royal officials receiving such a supplement but discovered that he was the only beneficiary, a particularly unwelcome distinction since the May elections would soon take place. On the day of the Council elections, Otis, crying “Pensioner or no Pensioner!,” was able once again to block Hutchinson’s election to the Council, ruining what was perhaps his best chance for returning to the board since his ouster in 1766.

    Issues of customs enforcement began to take center stage in the spring of 1768. On 9 April, John Hancock forcibly ejected from belowdecks customs officials put aboard his vessel Lydia to prevent dutiable goods from being unloaded during the night. The custom commissioners wanted Jonathan Sewall (in his capacity as advocate general of the vice-admiralty court) to prosecute Hancock, but Sewall was reluctant to do so since the customs officials had no warrant to search the ship. On 9 May, Hancock’s sloop Liberty arrived in the harbor, and authorities suspected that the master underreported a large cargo of Madeira when he made his declaration at the customs house. Emboldened by the arrival of HMS Romney on 17 May, Customs Collector Joseph Harrison and Comptroller Benjamin Hallowell ordered the ship seized on 10 June and towed beneath the guns of the Romney. The seizure sparked a waterfront riot when a crowd of perhaps a thousand assaulted the customs officials. Fearing for their safety and that of their families, all customs commissioners except John Temple first took refuge aboard the Romney before moving to the security of Castle William in the outer harbor. From that safe place, they vowed they would not return to town until the governor could make adequate guarantees for their safety. To accomplish that they urged Bernard to make a formal request for regular troops to be dispatched to Boston to safeguard them in the exercise of their duties and sent Hallowell to England to give an eyewitness report of the disorder.12

    Differences of opinion about how to proceed against Hancock widened divisions within the customs establishment. Since the arrival of the new commissioners of the American Board of Customs in November 1767, John Temple had been at variance with his fellow commissioners. His authority as surveyor general had been superseded by the board, and he was now just one voice in five. Temple was also a long-time enemy of Bernard, whom he accused in 1764 of complicity in the corrupt activities of James Cockle, the collector at Salem. Temple, however, was a powerful figure because of his family connections, not only in England but also in Boston where he married into the Bowdoin-Erving-Pitts clan.

    When Sewall, the advocate general of the vice-admiralty court (as well as attorney general of Massachusetts), declined to prosecute Hancock in the Lydia affair, the four commissioners who fled to Castle William were critical of what they claimed to be his lack of zeal. When Sewall had difficulty finding witnesses to testify against Hancock about the alleged unloading of smuggled wine from the Liberty, the commissioners suspected intentional delay and complained to England. Sewall got word of these complaints (probably through Temple) and challenged the commissioners’ aspersions while refusing to reveal his sources of information. Hutchinson, a friend of Sewall, did his best to patch up the quarrel but achieved peace only through the dismissal of Samuel Venner, secretary to the board, and David Lisle, its solicitor general.13

    Meanwhile in London, unbeknownst to either the customs commissioners or Governor Bernard, Wills Hill, Lord Hillsborough, the newly appointed secretary of state for America, had ordered troops to Boston two days before the Liberty riot took place. Hillsborough instructed General Thomas Gage, the commander-in-chief for North America, “to order a regiment or such force as you should think necessary” to move from Halifax to Boston.14 When Hallowell arrived in London in late July with accounts of the Liberty riot, Hillsborough dispatched an additional two regiments from Ireland.

    Massachusetts had already earned Hillsborough’s ire for issuing, as part of the General Court’s letter-writing campaign in February, a circular letter to other assemblies urging intercolonial cooperation against the Townshend Act. When Hillsborough learned in mid-April of the final passage of the letter, he convinced the rest of the cabinet to demand that the Massachusetts House should rescind this “open Opposition to, and denial of, the authority of Parliament.” Hillsborough’s demand, when it was communicated to the members of the House in late June, seemed to unite them in opposition, and they voted 92 to 17 not to rescind the letter, prompting Bernard to dissolve the General Court until he received further instructions from Hillsborough.15

    Although Bernard hoped the arrival of British troops would restore order in the face of deteriorating political affairs in Boston, he was reluctant to take on the political responsibility of requesting them himself. Throughout much of July both Gage and Bernard, unaware of the orders that had already issued from Hillsborough, each attempted to force the other to request that troops be sent.16 Bernard was reluctant to do so without the agreement of the Council, which responded on 27 July exactly as he anticipated: no troops were needed.

    Earlier in March, Boston merchants (following the collapse of a non-consumption agreement) voted not to import any goods from England for eighteen months beginning 1 June, provided merchants in Philadelphia and New York agreed to do the same. New York initially agreed but then pulled out after Philadelphia failed to act by the deadline. But on 1 August 1768, sixty Boston merchants voted to proceed with a nonimportation plan regardless of the actions of Philadelphia and New York. Additional meetings convened hoping to increase the number of subscribers, and by 10 August over 200 people signed. Hutchinson might object that many of the subscribers had previously little or no role in trade, but there were only sixteen merchants who refused to sign, a number that included two of his sons, Thomas Jr. and Elisha.17

    For whatever reason the mail from England to America was extremely slow during the summer of 1768, and Gage did not receive his instructions from Hillsborough, written on 8 June, until late August. He then secretly dispatched an adjutant to Boston to confer on the disposition of the troops from Halifax. It was eventually decided that one regiment should be stationed in the town of Boston and the other at Castle William in the harbor. On September 18, Bostonians learned of the imminent arrival of an additional two regiments from Ireland, and Bernard officially informed the Council the following day, telling them to make provision for their quartering and supply.18

    Rumors abounded in the days preceding the arrival of the troops. Vice-admiralty court judge Robert Auchmuty warned Hutchinson his life was in danger. There was talk of an attack on Castle William, and many expected the townspeople to forcibly resist the landing of the troops. A fresh barrel of tar mysteriously appeared atop the seldom-used beacon on the highest of the three hills of the Shawmut Peninsula. If lit, the beacon would summon militia from the interior towns. The Boston town meeting called upon all citizens to arm themselves in the event of “a French war” and took the extraordinary step of calling for a “convention” of representatives from all the towns in the province, a week-long event beginning on 22 September. Since the General Court could only be summoned by the governor, such a gathering was unconstitutional, but representatives from ninety-six towns and eight districts answered the call. They refused to disband when ordered to do so by Bernard, but they took little action other than to draft a report restating familiar arguments in moderate language. The convention adjourned just as the masts of the first troop transports appeared in the outer harbor on 28 September.19

    Bernard was now faced with quartering the troops he had long desired. Hillsborough’s letter confirmed Gage and Bernard’s decision regarding the positioning of troops, stipulating one regiment at the Castle to secure that key bastion for the Crown and another stationed in town to preserve public order. The actual language of the Quartering Act, however, specified that troops should first be housed in existing barracks before any other quarters could be secured. Since both regiments could fit in Castle William, the Council insisted they be quartered there on an island three miles away from town, thus defeating the police function for which the troops were intended. Despite the Council’s wishes, one regiment remained at the Town House and in tents on the Common following their landing on 1 October. Even the arrival of Gage himself on 15 October failed to break the impasse, and his adjutants began to rent winter quarters from private landlords, the expense to be resolved at a later time. With large buildings in great demand, attention focused on the Manufactory House on the Common, a structure built in 1754 with public funds to encourage the poor to take up spinning and weaving. The building had fallen into disuse, but unlicensed squatters continued to occupy the space. Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf, assisted by Hutchinson, was sent to clear the building for the troops, but the pair were turned away by the occupants who barricaded themselves inside.20

    The Council addressed Gage, belittling the public disturbances that led to the dispatch of the troops and requesting that in light of the evident good order the general could see all around him, that the number of troops be reduced or totally removed. Gage, who came to suspect the reports of Bernard and the customs commissioners were exaggerated, replied that continued good behavior would be the best argument for such a change and returned to New York on 24 November.

    Hutchinson believed the arrival of the troops intimidated the opposition, but over time friction between the populace and the regulars increased. These incidents appeared first in reports published in New York that were later reprinted in the Boston papers in a regular section headlined the “Journal of Occurrences,” appearing in print starting on 13 October and published weekly for over a year.21 Hutchinson suspected Samuel Adams as the author. Though rife with propaganda and hyperbole, the “Journal” proved an effective means of keeping up sympathy for Boston in the other colonies and framing an argument about the evils of standing armies in peacetime.

    Hutchinson and other members of the government party eagerly anticipated Parliament’s reaction to the accumulating excesses of Massachusetts patriots: the Liberty riot, the refusal to rescind the Circular Letter, the resolutions of the Boston town meeting, and the extralegal meeting of the convention of the towns while the General Court was prorogued. The first hint of the character of Whitehall’s response came in the wording of the king’s speech at the opening of Parliament on 8 November. The monarch declared Boston to be in a state of disorder, that certain publications manifested a disposition toward independence, and called on Parliament to assist him in defeating the “mischievous designs of certain turbulent and seditious people” who sought to “delude” his North American subjects. Hillsborough followed up in the House of Lords with eight resolutions declaring that the Massachusetts House denied the supremacy of Parliament and sought through its circular letter to instigate a conspiracy to subvert the Townshend Act. The resolutions sharply criticized Boston’s justices of the peace for failing to suppress riots and denounced the convention of the towns as unconstitutional. An accompanying address to the Crown also called on the governor of Massachusetts to conduct an investigation to seek out all those guilty of treason since 30 December 1767 so that they might be transported to England for trial according to the statute of 35 Henry VIII. Letters from London hinted that the Council in Massachusetts would cease to be elected by the House and would instead be appointed by the king, as was the case in other royal colonies. Both Hillsborough and Bernard long favored this idea, but they did not find the necessary support elsewhere in the king’s cabinet. At first, news of Parliament’s indignation caused alarm in Boston, which soon dissipated once the patriots realized the weakness of the current ministry and how many friends they still had in Parliament.

    The publication in the Boston Gazette on 23 January 1769 of six letters written by Francis Bernard and one by Gage, describing events that took place in Boston from 1 November through 5 December 1768, a period when the dispute over the quartering of the troops was at its height, initiated a series of revelations that would eventually prove to be the governor’s undoing. In the letters, Bernard also recommended the creation of a royally appointed council in Massachusetts and the passage of a special act of Parliament that would enable him to remove justices of the peace who failed to support the government.22 The patriots must have obtained copies of the letters in Boston, since some of them were not received by the ministry until mid-January.23

    Meanwhile in Parliament, the ministry’s program faced heavier opposition in the new year during debates in the House of Commons than it had at the time of the king’s speech. Criticism came from both those who found the resolutions too harsh and those who believed them to be empty threats that would accomplish no real change in colonial behavior, an opinion both Bernard and Hutchinson would come to share.24 The debates in the House of Commons did, however, provide Bernard’s enemies access to an even larger share of his correspondence than those letters previously printed in the Boston Gazette. Bernard had long portrayed Boston in a state of lawlessness that only the dispatch of troops could remedy. After a large batch of Bernard’s letters was laid before Parliament as evidence of the colony’s disorder, the Council’s agent, William Bollan, was able initially to obtain from a clerk attested copies of the seven previously printed letters. These Bollan dispatched to Massachusetts on 30 January, and they arrived in Boston on April 8, addressed to Samuel Danforth, the senior member of the Council. In response to a popular clamor to know the content of the letters, the Boston Gazette printed them in a special supplement sometime between 10 and 17 April.25 This new round of publication of the same material helped stir indignation against the governor and his supporters in advance of the May elections.26

    Consequently, the few supporters Bernard still had on the Council were dropped from the list of successful candidates in the May elections. Bernard’s characterization of the intransigence of the Council concerning the quartering of the troops particularly struck home, prompting the new Council to draft a response to Hillsborough. James Bowdoin, whom Bernard described as the chief of opposition within the Council, also wrote an additional letter denying any leadership role. So the letters were printed by Edes & Gill once again, together with the councilors’ response, at the end of the session in July.27

    The first action of the House during the summer session of 1769, even before the election of a Speaker, was to demand the removal of “the standing army” from Boston’s streets and proclaim that the representatives were unprepared to proceed to business while the cannon of the main guard were pointed at the door of the Town House. Bernard replied that he had no authority to issue orders to the king’s troops, a point the House vehemently disputed. After a two-week deadlock, the governor removed the General Court to Cambridge in order to circumvent its objection to the troops. A contentious session of the legislature ensued, culminating in a petition from the House for Bernard’s removal as governor, and they also refused to vote him any additional salary after his scheduled departure on 2 August for England to report on colonial affairs.28 In frustration, Bernard prorogued the General Court on 17 July and ordered that it should not meet again until 10 January 1770.

    One of the last resolutions of the House, insisting that the province could only be taxed by its own legislature, appeared to be such a fundamental challenge to the idea of parliamentary supremacy that Alexander Mackay, the commander of His Majesty’s forces at Boston, hesitated to remove one of his two regiments, when it was ordered elsewhere. The patriots backed down when they heard this news and announced that the text of their resolves that appeared in Boston newspapers on 3 July was only a preliminary draft, allowing them to moderate the language before it appeared in their official journal.

    Just as Bernard was about to depart, a circular letter to colonial governors arrived from Hillsborough stating that the ministry intended at the next session of Parliament to remove the duties on paper, glass, lead, and paint. Boston merchants believed the repeal did not go far enough and voted on 26 July that their nonimportation agreement would continue until all the Townshend duties (including the tax on tea) were repealed. The agreement was contingent, however, on both Philadelphia and New York merchants voting to do the same.

    These were hardly auspicious circumstances for Hutchinson to assume the role of acting governor after Bernard’s departure, but he long hoped for just this opportunity to demonstrate that a native-born governor with deep political ties throughout the province could do a better job of calming the rancorous dispute between Massachusetts and Great Britain. Fortunately, Hutchinson was able to weather the arrival from England of a new batch of attested copies of previously private letters, particularly since none of the letters was written by him personally. In addition to more letters from Bernard and Gage, the new documents included letters from Commodore Samuel Hood and members of the American Board of Customs.29

    In Hutchinson’s early months as acting governor, the friends of government sometimes seemed more troublesome than the opposition. When James Otis Jr. read the ways in which he was described in the customs commissioners’ correspondence, he tried to provoke a duel with one of them. Commissioner John Robinson was in an equally contentious frame of mind on 5 September when a fight broke out between them at the British Coffee House, and Robinson struck Otis in the head with a cane. Otis never recovered, and his usefulness to the patriots declined sharply. Under the circumstances, Robinson decided the best course of action was to embark for England, where he could be useful in providing detailed information on the obstacles the commissioners were encountering.

    The arrival in Boston of fall goods in early October renewed tensions surrounding the nonimportation agreement. The so-called “Well-Disposed Merchants” (the signers of the agreement) were disinclined to allow nonsubscribers to profit from the dearth of manufactures in town, so they redoubled enforcement efforts and compelled certain notorious hold-outs, most notably Hutchinson’s two sons and Bernard’s son John, to lock away any arriving goods and surrender the keys. The merchants also renewed their commitment to the extended agreement they had voted in late July, this time saying they would persist until “all the Revenue Acts” were repealed, implying that not even the repeal of the tax on tea alone would satisfy them.

    John Mein, the Scottish-born printer of the Boston Chronicle, assumed that since domestically made paper was almost nonexistent and disseminating the news was a public necessity, his imports would be an exception to the agreement. When he found his name posted in advertisements made by the merchants’ association as an importer who should be boycotted, Mein retaliated by publishing the cargo manifests of ships arriving in Boston exactly as they appeared in the customs house books. Mein’s lists made it clear that nonimportation was not observed as widely as previously supposed and that some leading members of the merchants’ committees received goods from England despite their signed promises not to do so. During the early fall, many merchants published heated denials of Mein’s claims, but his publication of the list of importers left the integrity of the agreement in question.30

    Mein was an able satirist and not shy about deploying his talents. Two satires in the Boston Chronicle entitled “The Catechism of the Well-Disposed” and “Outlines of the Characters of the Well-Disposed” caused particular offense. Captain Samuel Dashwood, one of those singled out in “Outlines,” attacked Mein with a shovel in King Street on the morning of 28 October. Mein, who already feared retaliation for his publications, was accompanied by a number of armed supporters, one of whom discharged a pistol in the scuffle, although no one was hurt. Rumors and accusations were made on both sides when Mein sought protection from the main guard. Warrants were issued for Mein’s arrest, but the printer refused to surrender for fear he would be lynched; instead he called on Hutchinson for help. The preservation of public order was one of the principal reasons troops were dispatched to Boston, but Mein had been unnecessarily provocative.31 In the end, Hutchinson refused to call upon the regulars to escort Mein through the streets. The best Hutchinson could do was see that Mein was smuggled out of town. He would have to do what he could to justify his actions to Hillsborough when Mein reported Hutchinson’s lack of support in London.

    During the closing days of 1769, Hutchinson bemoaned the continued lack of instructions from Hillsborough. He had no clear sense of how the new Parliament would respond to the various provocations of the Bostonians over the past year. Bernard had prorogued the General Court until 10 January 1770, but Hillsborough, allowing very little time for the orders to arrive given the speed of eighteenth-century transatlantic communication, did not write until 9 December. Hillsborough’s instructions to continue the prorogation through mid-March arrived on 3 January, just before the scheduled opening of the session. There was also good news for Hutchinson from the south: both Philadelphia and New York elected not to join Boston in extending nonimportation until the repeal of the tax on tea but would be satisfied with the removal of all the other Townshend duties. Since their original agreement was due to expire on 1 January, Boston merchants had little time remaining before some subscribers would demand to begin selling their goods.32

    During the fall of 1769, his first four months as acting governor, Hutchinson did little to contain the extralegal authority of the merchants’ committee, and the committee’s success in driving Mein from the town once again demonstrated the weakness of civil government that persisted as long as magistrates were unwilling to summon regular troops to their aid. During the winter months of 1770, a sense of crisis would continue to build as the merchants’ efforts to maintain loyalty to the agreement became ever more coercive, culminating in the Boston Massacre on 5 March.