Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a man of many talents. He was a historian, lawyer, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor of Massachusetts. He was also an ardent loyalist to the British government.
In March 1765 Hutchinson was Lieutenant Governor. That month, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This act was a tax levied on colonists in North America. But calling this specific tax a stamp tax was a misnomer, as it applied to much more than stamps. It was a tax on over 50 different paper products: newspapers, playing cards, contracts, wills, stationary, and more. So, anytime you wanted to write a letter or read the newspaper, you had to pay a tax on each piece of paper.
Why was this tax imposed? From 1756-63 there was a conflict in North America between France and England called the French and Indian War. The French lost but there were still many British troops stationed in the colonies. The threat from the French no longer existed. Yet these soldiers and their officers (who were sometimes well-connected to Parliament) were not paid if they went back to Britain. So the government kept them overseas and thus they could receive an income. And the way to pay these extra soldiers in the North American colonies was through the tax on paper products.
Yet the colonists objected to the stationing of these troops. They believed their colonial militias were capable of handling any problems that may arise.
In addition to this, the government required payment of this tax in British pounds. This may not seem like an issue except that many colonists used their own form of colonial paper money. The British currency was difficult to come by. Also, the tax was steep.
Today, an unfair tax levied might cause one to appeal to their elected representative for relief. Yet, if one remembers the rallying cry of the American Revolution (“No taxation without representation”) it’s clear the colonists had no recourse.
So what is one to do at that time? Well, if you’re in Boston in colonial times, there is one solution that often solves this problem: rioting. Boston, in fact, had more riots than any other city in the North American colonies: 28. And the reasons for rioting were many: anti-Pope sentiment, food shortages, impressment into the British Navy, etc.
On the night of August 26, 1765, colonists decided to show their displeasure for the Stamp Act. They headed to the house of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The reason for the mob’s fury toward Hutchinson was due to rumors spread around Boston that he was in support of the Act. In reality, he worked to tone down the severity of the language of the bill before it passed as law.
A messenger found Hutchinson at dinner with his family and warned him a mob was coming. Hutchinson and his family made their way to a neighbor’s house as the mob took axes to the front door, and proceeded to ransack the house for hours. They ate the Hutchinson’s dinner, drank their wine, tore apart their fruit trees, stole their silver, and broke down the walls. The only reason the mob stopped was due to the sun coming up the next morning.
And while a few arrests occurred, no one received a trial or conviction for taking part in the destruction of Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion. Why? First, in a town of Boston’s size in 1765 (approximately 16,000), most people knew one another. Few wanted to turn in their neighbor, friend, or family member for taking part in this activity. Second, residents of the town saw the work of these rabble-rousers and didn’t wish to cross them. Third, many despised the Stamp Act, too, so it’s not as though they couldn’t relate to the frustration of the rioters. Finally, Hutchinson was quite wealthy. He had another estate in nearby Milton where he could live while his house was rebuilt; it’s not as though he’s going homeless by this riot.
Ultimately, due to the mass protests throughout the Colonies such as the riot at Hutchinson's mansion, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766.
This video explores a Christmas present to myself: The Atlas of Boston History.
While many people know Salem as the epicenter of witch hangings in New England, it was hardly the only town in the area where witch trials occurred. In fact, many towns had executions of witches and that includes Boston. Officials executed four witches in the city from 1648 to 1688. I speak about the last witch, Goody Glover, on the North End Crime Tour, but I wanted to write a bit today about the first witch executed in Boston.
Margaret Jones resided in Charlestown (originally its own town, but annexed by Boston in 1874) in the 1640s. She lived there with her husband, Thomas. In 1648 townspeople suspected her of being a witch and she went to jail, along with her husband. According to Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop, suspicions were due because:
1. People she touched in either affection or displeasure became sick or deaf.
2. The medicine she practiced using traditional substances (seeds, liquor, etc.) caused violent reactions.
3. She stated people wouldn’t be healed and they weren’t, despite the best efforts of doctors.
4. She could foretell things and knew of conversations she would have no reason to know of.
A local boy named John Hale, who would later go on to play a role in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials as a minister, said she was suspected partly because of “some angry words passing between her & her neighbors” and that “some mischief befell such neighbors.”
Margaret went to jail because of her behavior. She didn’t exhibit traditional witch behaviors such as giving people fits or producing specters. The primary case against her was the possible use of imps. Imps are small, mischievous creatures who were thought to work for witches to do their evil deeds. These imps, however, needed sustenance to carry out these tasks, so they suckled on a teat hidden somewhere on the witch’s body. According to Governor John Winthrop’s journal, Margaret had a teat in her "secret parts."
A guard was set out to observe Margaret overnight to see if her imps would come to feed from her. While it’s not clear what the type of confinement was, traditionally, suspects had to sit cross-legged on a stool or table. If they declined the authorities tied them up. Jailers made a hole in the door for the imps to come in. During Margaret's time in prison, the authorities saw her holding a little child and feeding it from her teat. The child then ran into another room and vanished.
Based on this evidence and witnesses who came forth, a trial convened. Margaret’s jurors were the big shots of the Massachusetts Bay colony. They included Governor Winthrop, his son, deputy and assistant governors, and wealthy merchant William Hibbins. (Ironically, Hibbins' own wife, Ann, hanged in Boston as a witch in 1656.) Winthrop, in his journal, stated Margaret lied and railed against the jury and witnesses, and was in a most foul mood.
The court found Margaret guilty and executed her by hanging from an elm tree in Boston Common on June 15, 1648. After release from prison, her husband Thomas sought to leave Charlestown on a ship called Welcome. It was a calm day but the ship pitched from side to side. Thomas had a disagreement with the captain about passage fare. The County Court heard of this and sent for Thomas's arrest. As soon as the warrant came to Thomas, the rolling of the ship began to stop. While it seems incredible, it makes for an interesting coda to this witch tale.
I’m often asked if I believe these people (most often women) were witches. Did these individuals have the ability to cast spells and send imps to do their evil bidding? In this particular case, the evidence seems rather light.
This is because there are only two sources (Winthrop and Hale) who report on this instance. Winthrop’s version is critical of Margaret and very matter-of-fact. Hale, on the other hand, has a bit of sympathy for her, stating how she espoused her innocence up to her death. Like other witchcraft cases in New England, it’s another example of a woman who stepped out of what was perceived to be her “proper” place in a community. In Margaret's case she used non-traditional medicine and ruffled some feathers in a small town. This led to someone else to take up a charge of witchcraft against Margaret. In the end, it caused an innocent person to lose their life for something that was certainly not a crime.
I'm beginning a video series where I look at some Boston-related items I have in my apartment and talk a little bit about them. The first in the series is this 1775 map of the town, drawn by a British military officer right after the Battle of Bunker Hill.
I’ve always found the history of radical groups to be fascinating. It’s intriguing to think about what attracts people to come to use violence to express their interests. How does such violence shape a country, city, or neighborhood? The anarchist movement didn’t end up overthrowing the government. But the federal government took notice and feared anarchists, communists, and their comrades. This led to the first Red Scare of 1919-20. For some individuals, it was an integral part of their community and how they made connections in their new country, the United States.
If nothing else, when I talk to guests about these events on the tour of the North End, I point out how much the neighborhood has changed. Think about it: nowadays most people come to visit and see Old North Church or Paul Revere's House and get a nice Italian dinner. Perhaps they grab cannoli and head to a local park. But one hundred years ago the North End was home to riots, bombings, and people who wanted to overthrow the government! I prefer the way things are today, but to see how rich the history of the North End is makes me appreciate the neighborhood even more.
Boston is one of the most historically rich cities in the United States, especially as it relates to the foundation of the country. And while tales of Paul Revere’s midnight ride and the Boston Tea Party are interesting, lots of companies share those stories. I’ve always had a fascination with the oddball stories: riots, robberies, and the ones where you say, “You couldn’t make this stuff up.” (A good example in another city: the Toronto Circus Riot of 1855 where clowns faced off against firefighters! What?!) I wanted to create a company to share those stories.
I also think Boston has a lot of buildings and spaces with which people aren’t familiar. So many people come to Boston and follow The Freedom Trail. And while it’s a great way to see many sites, when I go to cities, I want to see the places only the locals know of and the sites I would likely never find on my own.
Thus, I sought to combine it all. I created tours that expose people to areas of the city they might not find on their own. Also, I highlight statues, buildings, and spaces they may not understand without some explanation. And I wanted to tell people interesting stories they would never hear on most tours.
My personal history also lent well to this type of work. I have a background in history and American Studies and have always enjoyed public speaking. Since 2015 I’ve led hundreds of tours for multiple organizations and tour companies.
And hence, Historic Boston Crime Tours was born. I try to delve further back in history: you won’t hear about crimes more current than 1950. I also make sure that each story involves an actual illegality: there are usually trials mentioned in almost each of my tales.
It’s been a fun, interesting ride so far and I’m glad to have you all along for it! If you’re in the area, I’d love to have you join me for a tour. Click the Book Now button on the bottom of the page to get in on the action.