The Boston Massacre

    534. To the Committee of the Town Meeting, 6 March 1770

    535. To William Dalrymple, 6 March 1770

    536. To Thomas Gage, 6 March 1770

    537. From Sir Francis Bernard, 7 March 1770

    538. From Thomas Goldthwait, 7 March 1770

    539. From Lord Hillsborough, 7 March 1770

    Following the funeral of Christopher Seider, an escalating series of confrontations ensued between British soldiers and the townspeople of Boston. On 2 March, eight or nine soldiers of the 29th Regiment brawled with the employees of John Gray’s ropewalk. On the evening of 5 March, a group of young boys and apprentices scuffled with the sentry on duty in front of the Custom House (also a member of the 29th). The town bells began to ring in alarm, summoning more people into the streets. The sentry called for assistance from the nearby Main Guard, and soon three civilians lay dead with several others severely wounded. Samuel Adams and other leading patriots realized they had been handed the perfect opportunity to achieve a long-sought goal: the removal of the troops to Castle William. When faced with such demands, Hutchinson’s response, like that of his predecessor, Francis Bernard, was that he lacked the authority to order the disposition of the king’s troops. Meanwhile, Adams and others maintained that among the governor’s titles was “commander-in-chief,” which surely gave him such discretionary authority within the province. The same arguments were fully aired once again in the Council meeting that took place on the day after the Massacre. After hearing a delegation from the town meeting that warned of imminent mass violence, Lieutenant-Colonel William Dalrymple, acting commander at Boston, proposed a compromise whereby the 29th Regiment, the unit most frequently involved in conflicts with the town, would be removed to Castle William, while the 14th Regiment would remain, although confined to its barracks. Hutchinson dispatched a message to the town meeting embodying that compromise, which the town rejected as inadequate. In the interval before the Council reconvened in the afternoon, Dalrymple let it be known that if Hutchinson would, upon the advice of the Council, “desire,” rather than order, that the 14th Regiment be removed to the Castle as well as the 29th, he would comply. Throughout the afternoon, the Council continued to warn that alarms had spread through the surrounding countryside, and that thousands of armed militia would soon be marching toward Boston. Isolated and beaten down by argument, Hutchinson reluctantly wrote out the formal request, though he continued to worry that both Thomas Gage and the ministry in London would believe he had exceeded his authority.

    534. To the Committee of the Town Meeting

    Council Chamber, 6 March 1770

    Gentlemen, I am extremely sorry for the unhappy differences between the Inhabitants & the Troops and especially for the Action of last Evening and I have exerted my self upon that occasion that a due inquiry may be made and that the Law may have its course. I have in Council consulted with the Commanding Officers of the two Regiments which are in the Town. They have their Orders from the General at New York. It is not in my power to countermand those Orders. The Council have desired that the two Regiments may be Removed to the Castle. From the particular concern which the 29 Regiment has had in those differences Colo. Dalrymple who is the Commanding Officer of the Troops has signified to me that that Regiment Shall, without delay, be placed in the Barracks at the Castle until he can send to the General and Receive his further Orders concerning both the Regiments and that the Main Guard Shall be Removed and the 14th Regiment so disposed and laid under Such Restraint that all occasion of future differences maybe prevented.

    Tho. Hutchinson

    RC (Boston Public Library, Ms 787); endorsed, “Lt. Governor, Reply. A.”

    535. To William Dalrymple

    Boston March 6 1770

    Sir, I take the Liberty of inclosing to you a Vote passed this day in Council occasioned by the unfortunate Affair of the last Evening. I am sensible I have no power to order the Troops to the Castle but under the present circumstances of the Town and Province, I cannot avoid in consequence of this unanimous advice of the Council desiring you to order them to there which I must submit to you and have the honour to be Sir Your most obedient humble Servant,


    SC (Clements Library, Thomas Gage Papers); at foot of letter, “Copy.”

    Samuel Adams, 1770-1772. By John Singleton Copley. This portrait is said to have been commissioned by John Hancock to commemorate the confrontation between Adams and Hutchinson at the council meeting of 6 March. Adams points to a copy of the Massachusetts charter. He later wrote about the occasion in a letter to James Warren on 25 March 1771: “If Fancy deceive me not, I observ’d his [Hutchinson’s] Knees to tremble. I thought I saw his face grow pale (and I enjoy’d the Sight).” Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

    536. To Thomas Gage

    Boston 6th March 1770

    Sir, I beg leave to refer you to Colonel Dalrymple for the particulars of a most unfortunate Affair, which hapned the last Evening, so far as they relate to the Troops under his command. So far as they respect the Inhabitants and my own conduct, I must acquaint you that just before ten o’clock, the bells of the town were rung as usual in case of fire, but I soon found there was another cause and one upon another came Running to my house to inform me that, unless I went out immediately, the whole Town would be in arms and the most bloody scene would follow that had ever been known in America. I went immediately abroad, and met vast crowds of people running for their arms and prevailed on them to turn back and follow me to King street promising them justice should be done. I found two persons killed a third mortally wounded since dead a fourth dangerously wounded1 & a fifth Mr Payne a Merchant of the Town shot in his arm and the bone splintered as he stood at his door.2 The people were enraged to a very great degree and could not be pacified until I assured them immediate inquires should be made by the Civil Magistrate, which was done, and the body of them retired, about 100 only remaining until the examination was over which lasted till 3 or 4 o’Clock in the morning. I ordered a Council to be summoned to meet to day at 11 o’Clock. When I came to them I found the Selectmen and the Justices waiting for me to represent that the Inhabitants had insisted upon a Town Meeting and that it would not be in their power to keep them under Restraint, if the Troops were not removed to the Barracks at the Castle. I told them this was not in my power. In a short time I received a Message from the Town meeting, which I shall inclose.3 The Committee consisted of the principal Inhabitants, several of them in plain terms declared, that they knew the people not only in the town but all the neighbouring towns were determined to unite and force the Troops out of the Town. I told them that an attack upon the King’s Troops would be High Treason & every man concerned would forfeit his Life and Estate, but what I said had no Effect. Upon consulting the Council (Colo Dalrymple & Colo Carr being present) they expressed unanimously their desire, that the Regiments might be sent to the Castle.4 As the principal if not all the quarrels of the Inhabitants had been with the 29th. Colo Dalrymple so far yielded to their desire as to concede5 that the 29th should be quartered at the Castle and promised further that the 14th should be kept in the Barracks at Wheelwrights wharfe, and all occasions of difference with the Inhabitants prevented. This the Committee of the Town were informed of and reported to the meeting, but it proved not satisfactory and, in the afternoon, a second Committee came to me in Council, Colonels Dalrymple & Carr and also Captain Caldwell of the Rose being then present,6 and laid before me another vote of the Town declaring they were not satisfied &c which vote I could not avoid asking the opinion of my Council upon. They, not only unanimously declared their opinion that it was absolutely necessary that the Troops should be in the Barracks at the Castle, but most of them declared they had the greatest certainty that the Inhabitants of the Town and of the Towns of Charlestown & Cambridge Dedham Roxbury Dorchester &c would infallibly unite and, at all events, drive the Troops from the Town and that it would admit of no delay; they were sure the night which was coming on would be the most terrible that had ever been seen in America. Two of the Council from Charlestown & Dedham confirmed what had been said of the disposition of the people of those towns7 and every one, in the most earnest manner, pressed me to communicate their opinion and advice in a formal way to Colonel Dalrymple and to pray him to cause both Regiments to remove to the Barracks at the Castle.8 I did not see how I could avoid complying with this unanimous advice of the Council, under the circumstances of the Town and Province, especially as I had opportunity of consulting so many Servants of the Crown, together with the Secretary, who are not of the Council and who all saw the matter in the same light that I did;9 and I am very certain that Colo. Dalrymple was influenced to a compliance with the measure from the representations made in Council of the desperate state of the people, and the desire ^they^ so strongly expressed, which he thought necessary to justifie him in his compliance.

    I shall immediately represent the state of this Affair to the Secretary of State. A Vessel I am informed will sail for London in eight days.

    I have the honour to be very Respectfully Sir Your most humble & most obedient Servant,

    Tho Hutchinson

    March 7th. I am now informed that four persons are dead and a fifth lyes very dangerous and that several more were slightly wounded.

    RC (Clements Library, Thomas Gage Papers); at foot of letter, “His Excellency General Gage”; docketed, “6th March 1770 Received March 12th. Transmitting Minutes of his Conduct of Said Dalr. Answrd.” SC (National Archives UK, CO 5/759, ff. 61–62); at foot of letter, “General Gage”; docketed, “Copy of Lieut Governor Hutchinson’s Letter to General Gage In Lt. Govr. Hutchinson’s of 12. March. 1770. (No. 5).” SC (National Archives UK, CO 5/894, ff. 18–19); docketed, “Copy of Lieutent Governr Hutchinson’s Letter to General Gage dated March 6. 1770” and “In Lt. Govr. Hutchinson’s (No. 5) of 12 Mar 1770.” SC (National Archives UK, CO 5/768, ff. 92–97); unaddressed but listed as an enclosure in No. 544, below. SC (Houghton Library, Sparks 10, 3:66); at head of letter, “Extract of Govr. Hutchinsons letter of 6 Mar 1770 to Genl. Gage [inclosed in the Govrs. letter to the Secretary of State 12 March 1770]”; excerpt, “I ordered a council to be Summoned . . . necessary to justify him in his Compliance.”

    537. From Sir Francis Bernard

    Pall Mall March 7th. 1770.

    No. 21

    Dear Sir, Last Monday I wrote to you a short Letter, of which I now send you a duplicate. I cannot now enlarge upon those Subjects as a fresh one is now started which is more interesting to America.

    Lord North began the Debate saying, the last Year the Ministry had in Consideration the Complaints of the Americans against the late Duties, & were of Opinion that such of them as were laid upon British Manufacturers were uncommercial and ought to be repealed. This was signified to the Colonies by a circular Letter;1 notwithstanding which, they had been very refractory & had entered into illegal Combinations hurtfull to themselves as well as their Mother Country; and thereby were entitled to no favour. Nevertheless as the Merchants of London trading to America had given in a petition upon this Subject, and this day was appointed to consider it, he was content that the Duties on Glass, Painters colours & British Paper should be repealed upon Commercial Principles only. But he could not consent to the Repeal of the Duty on Tea, not only because it was not a British Manufacture; but because it was insisted upon in the Way of Denying the Right of the Parliament to tax the Colonies. It was not consistent with the Policy, dignity or Honor of Great Britain to give Way to the Obstinacy of America. He was not at all influenced by the American Associations; they must be broke up; they had allready brought Distress on that Country by the Rise of Goods and Great Quantity of Goods were now going over. But as he was in the Cabinet when the circular Letter was advised, tho’ he had doubted of the Propriety of it, he thought himself obliged to make good the Assurances he had given, tho’ the Americans had forfeited the Benefit of it: & if it was not for this Obligation, perhaps he should have thought otherwise of the Proposal he made now. The Americans complained without Reason, & had forgot the many Indulgences of Great Britain in giving Bounties upon allmost every thing imported from America. He added that there was a Treaty with the East India Company depending, which might possibly in its Consequences produce a Repeal of the Duty upon Tea; but he would engage for Nothing. I have thought proper to give you these particulars because what may surprise you; he was the only Person on the Side of the Ministry that spoke in favor of the partial Repeal; tho some Ministerial Men spoke against any Repeal.

    Mr Beckford, Lord Mayor, moved for an Amendment so as to include the whole Act, urging that the Americans would not be satisfied without it:2 therefore the keeping the Duty upon Tea was anticommercial as it would hurt the Commerce of Great Britain. Govr Pownall spoke to the same Purpose & said he did not ask the Repeal as a favor for America; not to repeal would be a favour for America, as it would make them industrious, & raise Manufactories: He proposed it as a Commercial Object in favour of this Country. He denied that the Associations were at an End and offered to produce Letters to show that they were not & he justified the Legality of them. He complained that the military was put above the civil Power & said that if any Minister would maintain that Superiority, he pledged himself that he would impeach him.

    Col. Mackay spoke next3 & said that the Repeal of the Stamp Act had made the Americans wanton in their Claims against Great Britain. That three Quarter of the Bostonians would be against the Combinations if they could act for themselves. That notwithstanding the Cry against the Troops, many prayed for their Continuance for the Sake of the Money they brought in. That the military were so far from being superior to the civil, it was the very reverse: for when a Soldier had committed a trivial Crime the Justices first fined him more than he could pay & then sold him for nonpayment. That the most illegal Part of the Conduct of the Americans arose from the Encouragement they received from hence.

    Mr Greenville said that the Question put him under great Difficulties.4 He had allways disapproved of this Act & thought it an improper one. But he was convinced that the Repeal of it at this Time & under the present Circumstances would give a Wound to the Authority of Great Britain. If he should vote against the Repeal he should show his Approbation of an Act he did not like; if he voted for the Repeal, he should appear to assent to the Pretensions of the Americans which he could not approve of. He had therefore nothing to do but to decline voting at all. He accordingly left the House with some of his Friends.

    Several other Members spoke & among them two leading Men in the Ministerial Party against any Repeal at all. The first Question was for the Repeal of the whole Act, when it passed pro 142, con 204. Maj. 62. The second Question was for the Repeal of Glass Colours & British Paper: There were some no’es but not enough to encourage a Division. There was upon this Occasion as upon the Repeal of the Stamp Act, a great Departure from the Arrangement of Parties & therefore it was probable there was no Desire on either Side to distinguish the Votes.

    I hope that this Determination, now it is over, will have an Effect to lay a Foundation for a Reconciliation between Great Britain & America: if it is not so, the American Opponents may assure themselves that their Credit will be very low in the next Session of Parliament. It was with a View to such a Reconciliation that I have laboured hard for the partial Repeal both with those who were well disposed to it, and those who declared against it: a total Repeal of the Act I could not have attempted, if I had thought it right. Certain it is that farther Concessions by the Means of Opposition & Threats are not like to be obtained: tho they may do much in the Way of Submission & Duty. I am &c.,


    SC (Houghton Library, Sparks 4, 8:70–74); at foot of letter, “Lt Govr Hutchinson.”

    538. From Thomas Goldthwait

    Fort Pownall March the 7 1770

    Honoured Sir, I return you thanks for your kind letter of the 12th January which I received but 6 or 7 days ago.1 The weather having been such, I mean on account of ice, that no vessell coud go or come before. Things remain here with the Indians and otherways, pretty much as they were, excepting a little alarm the Indians are in by a message they’ve lately receiv’d by some Indians of the St. Francois tribe from Canada & tho it be an Indian story I think it wont be improper to hand it to you. They have sent two Indians in to me on purpose to tell me that they have a certain account from Canada that, that country is to be again in the possession of France the next Summer and they desire to know of me if a war shoud break out between the two nations how they are to conduct themselves. I lay but little stress upon Indian stories; still I woud’n’t treat every thing they say as chimerical. I tell them that by the advices I’ve got, I see no appearance of any such thing; but if such an event shou’d happen, I’ll immediately dispatch an express to them to give notice of it, & if they think it unsafe on any account to continue in their own Country I’ll recommend it the government to give them liberty to Camp with their families under the protection of this Fort, & also think of some way of assisting them if they shoud be depriv’d of their hunting by it. I mention this because they intimated, that if a war breaks out & they shou’d join the english, they Shoud make several other Indian nations their enemies, & their families might be unsafe in their village. Indians are troublesome neighbours, still if a war shoud happen, I think this method might be most eligible; however I’ll say no more upon it, at present, lest your honor shoud think I make too serious a matter of so improbably an event. You have mentiond something about the Indian trade in your letter. I’ll give you my opinion very candidly about it. Its actually a matter of indifference to me personally, whether the province continues it or not.2 If they give it up, it may still be as advantageous to me as it is now, perhaps more so; but then it will be very far from answering the end which the province proposed in establishing it, whom I suppose had at least two things in view, one that the Indians might be treated with humanity & justice, the other that they might be attach’d to our intrest. I think hitherto, both these ends have been answerd. If it shou’d now be given up, & the Indians left to the mercy of private traders only, I think it may be attended with bad consequences. The maxim in trade is that a thing is worth as much as it will fetch. We can produce examples of a quart of rum being sold for a pound of spring beaver & very many other instances of exhorbitancy equal to this. At the same time I am not clear in it that all the restrictions in the present act, ought to be continued. The english complains that the Province keeping up an exclusive trade with the indians is unnatural & unjust except in the article of rum. The indians so far agree with them in it, that they never complain of private traders without they are grossly imposed upon: neither do they ever trade with them unless they can get more for their goods; or are at too great a distance from the Fort; or that it be for rum. The Indians acknowledge its for their interest in general, & that its their inclination to come here to trade, but at times they are at so great a distance, necessity obliges them to sell & buy of others.

    I coud wish the Government woud not consider this trade with a lucrative view. If they get 2 or 300—L M per ann by it,3 its not worth their consideration, and if thats all the end in their keeping it up, it might as well be dropt: Thats too trifling a sum to influence in a matter of so much importance. I woud likewise observe upon the present Act that the English are restraind from hunting I think Eastward of Saco. I can see no need of that. If they are restraind from hunting eastward and northward of St. Georges river except in towns where they dwell, it will answer all ends; that confines the english from hunting in the Indian country & the indians desire no more. I was thinking to conclude for I believe by this time your honors tired; but I recollect your mention something of bringing this country into order. Indeed it wants it. I mean eastward of this river as far as the Settlements go. The people are in general settled of their own heads & not under the Gentlemen whom the Townships were granted to & for the most part have considered themselves out of the reach of government, at least of the Massachusetts government; having had an idle story propagated among them that the river St. Croix was westward of Penobscot river.4 But they have so often had Occasion to apply to me for the assistance of law in criminal matters, and found redress, they see the benifit of it and are more reconcild to it; but its doubtful whether I shou’d have been able to have bro’t a criminal to justice if they hadn’t stood in some awe of the Garrison. Some who have been pretty obstinate in their opinion of the Massachusetts government not extending eastward of Penobscot river, have alter’d their opinion, & I believe are pretty generall convinced that St. Croix is at Passimaquoddi. Another thing which shews them now inclin’d to come into order, is petitions from most of the Settlements sign’d by the people to get militia officers appointed among em & a militia settled & a good many applications to me for my interest to get civil officers appointed. However I must be better acquainted with the persons who are recommended before I apply for one or the other. I wish I coud as easily find good officer[s] among em, as I can good soldiers. They are in general a resolute hardy people who fear neither hunger nor cold, and in most respects are well qualified to go upon any military service. They may also in time become good settlers. They have one excellent way in bringing up their children. I suppose necessity at first led them into it. Out of 800 families which I suppose there are at least between this and St. Croix I believe there is’n’t forty children under nine years old that has a shoe or stocking on all winter and who find no inconvenience from it, tho they are exposed as much as if they had. Youl ask me where all these people came from. I answer from every where, for it seems to me there is a mixture of all nations; tho’ a Considerable part of them are eastern country people who Serv’d as Soldiers in the Massachusetts & New Hampshire Regiments in the last war. The most likely way in my opinion to civilize & bring them into order, is, that when men suitable for civil or military employment can be found among ‘em, then to appoint such officers as are needful, and if they are discreet men, I think they may affect all that’s wanted without much difficulty. Another thing which woud have a good effect I think woud be settling the peoples possessions, the tenure of their holding them, &fixing the Lines of their Townships, but whether this is the business of the Crown, or the Province, you are the best judge. When the people know their own lands & the tenure of their holding them they’l soon be for incorporating; indeed in many of the settlements at this time they meet annually & choose their town officers & go on regularly as if they were incorporated. Ill now quit the subject for the present for I think Ive dwelt too long on it & yet I cant see how I coud say less and give you any idea of the country.

    I know your indifference Sir, about being continued in command; but I own I heartily wish for the sake of the people that you may be continued in command. But if I had nothing in view but the good which you yourself might reap from it I shou’d hardly wish you so much evil.

    This lengthy epistle I gues will discourage your giving me another subject; but whether you do, or do not, I shall remain with the same esteem affection and regard. I am Sir Your most dutiful and obliged Servant,

    Thomas Goldthwait

    RC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 25:361–65); at foot of letter, “Hutchinn. The Lt. Governor”; docketed, “Mr Goldthwait Fort Pownall March 7 1770.”

    539. From Lord Hillsborough

    Whitehall March 7 1770

    (No. 33.)

    Sir, I have received and laid before the King your Letter of the 8th. of January last.1

    It was certainly right to communicate to the Council His Majesty’s Orders for the Prorogation of the Assembly, & to acquaint them with the reasons which occasioned that Measure; and it is a great satisfaction to His Majesty to find that it will not be attended with public Inconvenience.

    I have also received this afternoon your Letter of the 24th. Janry. and the Papers inclosed;2 but as the North American Mail will be made up and dispatched to Night, I shall have no opportunity of receiving the King’s Commands upon the contents of it in time for this Packet, but shall not fail to write to you again by the first Conveyance that offers; I am &ca.,


    AC (National Archives UK, CO 5/759, f. 46); at head of letter, “Lt. Govr. Hutchinson.” SC (National Archives UK, CO 5/765, ff. 81–82); at head of letter, “Lt. Govr. Hutchinson.”