On March 28, 1774, Britain passed Coercive Act against Massachusetts, but the Americans in Boston didn’t feel its effects until June 1 of the same year when the act was activated. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall of Boston patriots when they discovered that Parliament intended to make Bostonians pay for their insubordination at the Boston Tea Party? In Chapter 4 of Soldiers Don’t Cry, Elizabeth Thorton (our heroine) and Peter Mayford (her brother-in-law and Boston merchant) have just learned that the Coercive Act has gone into effect and the Port of Boston has closed.
The crystal on the mantel and chandelier tinkled. Elizabeth heard her brother-in-law, Peter Mayford, cursing with each stomp.
“You’re home early, Peter,” Elizabeth said quietly. She did not need to turn around to see who it was. She finished her task and faced him, anyway.
“They closed the port! They brought another warship into Boston Harbor today and they closed the port!”
Elizabeth put her hands on her hips and scolded. “There’s no reason to be cursing through the house.”
“I have every reason to be cursing! I cannot believe you are taking this so calmly. My business involves working at the port! Have you forgotten that I am a shipping merchant? Those fancy silk fabrics I bought you were not only brought in on my ship, they were paid for by those ships being able to come and go from this port!”
“Yes, Peter,” she patronized. “I’m totally aware of those facts. We also knew King George was planning to close the port, and we are ready for it. The king calls this act the Coercive Act.”
“Intolerable Act if you ask me!” Peter Mayford huffed.
“You’re not the first person I’ve heard call them ‘intolerable.’ Every Patriot I’ve met in this city calls those acts ‘intolerable,’” Elizabeth added. “Peter, I don’t know why you’re so upset. When you heard the rumors that Parliament was closing the port, you moved your ships up to Salem. At least you can be thankful you had warning.”
“Thankful, I should be thankful for what? Have you not heard what I am saying? My main business is here in Boston, not Salem. A shipping merchant cannot do business from almost a hundred miles away. Do you know how inconvenient it will be for me to have to travel overland to Salem in order to conduct my shipping business?”
Elizabeth folded her hands in front of her. “You did expect some repercussions from the little tea party you and your ‘Indian’ friends had last winter, didn’t you?”
“I can understand the repercussions, certainly, but not closing the port. The port provides the livelihood of most of the people in this town. What is the king trying to do? Is he trying to drive New England to rebellion? He is treating us like children who he has a right to discipline. In Annapolis they burned a ship full of tea and all we did was. . .”
“Share the British tea with the seagulls,” Elizabeth giggled. Then she became serious. “Honestly, Peter, you make it sound like it’s the end of the world. I wish you would keep your voice down. Rachel might hear you, if she hasn’t heard you bellowing already.”
“Rachel is home? I thought she would be at the market. Where is she?”
“She is upstairs working with the loom. She’s trying to finish the broadcloth she’s working on for Jonathan’s new britches.”
Jonathan was Peter and Rachel’s twelve-year-old eldest son.
“Outgrowing his clothes again, huh?”
“Yes, Peter, your son is growing up.”
A shadow came over Peter’s face. “He’s a lot like my friend Matthew was when we were children. Matthew was always ripping his pants on something. I wonder what Matthew would have said about the most recent turn of events?”
Elizabeth empathized with Peter’s loss of his friend. “If he were alive today, I can guarantee he would have been right beside you dumping the tea into the harbor. What was the ship’s name? It was the Beaver, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, the ship was called the Beaver, and you’re right, Matthew would have been right beside me. I’m sure he would have.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, he was the radical sort, wasn’t he? He was the one who first introduced you to Sam Adams, wasn’t he?”
“No, John Adams introduced me to Sam Adams. Matthew introduced me to Paul Revere.”
Elizabeth watched Peter’s troubled face. He was probably reliving the afternoon on March 5, 1770, when King George’s soldiers opened fire and murdered Peter’s friend Matthew Wilds. The events of March 5, 1770, changed Peter Mayford’s life forever. The day started like any other day. Peter was working at his office near Hancock’s Wharf when one of his clerks told him about the commotion at the square. Eyewitnesses told him about the insults exchanged between a barber’s boy and the soldiers in the square in front of the statehouse. A crowd gathered to join the argument. The crowd threw snowballs and sticks at the detachment. The maddened soldiers retaliated by shoving their bayonets toward the crowd.
Peter decided to investigate. From a half block away, Peter distinctly heard the command to fire. He ran down the street as fast as he could toward where the shots were fired, but the oncoming crowd running away from the gunfire jostled him. When he finally reached his friend, Peter found Matthew lying in a pool of his own blood, dead from a gunshot wound to his chest. As he held his friend to his body and Matthew’s blood flowed from the fatal wound, Peter vowed he would do everything in his power to avenge his friend’s death.
Peter had been one of the many people who testified against Captain Preston, the commander of the British detachment, and six of his men at the trial when they were tried for the murder of five men who died on the fifth day of March. The Patriots memorialized the day and designated the “Boston Massacre.”
Oddly enough, widely known Patriots John Adams and Josiah Quincy were the defense attorneys for the soldiers. John Adams was able to get Captain Preston and most of his men acquitted, and this put a rift between Peter and John Adams—a rift Elizabeth doubted would ever be repaired.
For years, John Adams had been a family friend, ever since he acquitted Elizabeth’s mother of murder. Drusilla’s trial had been the first case Adams defended. It was four years before Elizabeth was born, but Elizabeth heard the trial recounted many times. Her father, Kanter Thorton, and her sister, Rachel, had helped John Adams clear Drusilla’s name and bring the true murderers—Mark and Phyllis, John Codman’s black slaves—to trial.
In 1770, however, Adams agreed to defend the soldiers at the Boston Massacre trial, and Peter was outraged. He could not believe a family friend would become such a turncoat by defending the enemy.
In his closing argument of the famous trial, Adams stated the soldiers had been provoked and the commanding officer had not been the one to issue the command, and though he did not believe their actions were totally justified, it was not an act of premeditated murder.
Elizabeth personally was not sure that Peter’s reaction was justified, because she knew that John Adams was as furious as the majority of the people in the courtroom with the verdict. The judge let five go free. The punishment given to the other two was a searing brand to the palms of their hands. The death of his friend and five others along with the broken friendship were merely scars on the palms of two men from the squad of men responsible.
For a while, all seemed quiet. Despite the cooled tempers, Peter’s anger remained kindled with help from Sam Adams’ numerous articles in the Boston Gazette. Then on November 3, 1772, Peter, who was one of the members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, helped draft the second document that declared the infringements and violations of the rights of the colonists. His coastal ships helped distribute letters from Boston to the other seacoast cities in North America. These letters of correspondence instructed the other colonists on how they could collectively respond to the infringements and violations foisted on them by the Crown.
Then the announcement came from Parliament. They passed the Tea Act on May 10, 1773. Peter arranged for the captain of one of his ships to make secret, illegal deals with the Dutch to bring in a shipload of Dutch tea disguised in salt barrels, thereby avoiding the tax. He then devised a network of prominent Patriot businessmen who would buy the tea and distribute it among the colonists of Massachusetts.
During the autumn of 1773, the Boston Committee of Correspondence asked the Boston, merchants whom the crown supported to resign from their posts. Even though these consigned merchants in New York and Charlestown, Massachusetts, resigned, the tenacious merchants in Boston refused to resign. On November 28, three ships, filled with the notorious taxed tea, docked in Boston Harbor.
The Boston Committee of Correspondence met with the committees of neighboring towns at the Old South Meetinghouse. The members unanimously voted to send the tea back to England. They further resolved that if these resolutions were put into effect, the citizens should be willing to risk their lives and their property to resist the tyranny. The Committees of Correspondence sent copies of the resolutions to the other colonies and to England.
The Boston Committees of Correspondence’s decisions led to the already infamous event known as the Boston Tea Party. Peter laughed when Elizabeth told about the popularized version of what happened the night of December 16. Peter denied that they had planned to dress as Mohawks. The idea of dressing as Mohawks was a spur of the moment decision. The participants dabbed paint on their faces and put old blankets over their clothing to disguise their identities. He agreed it was a brilliant plan, but premeditated, it was not. They had never actually intended for the sailors to think they were real Mohawks. They disguised themselves to keep authorities from discovering each participant’s exact identity.
No one doubted that Parliament and King George would seek reprisal. In preparation for the inevitable, during a January emergency meeting, the Patriots agreed to establish ammunition depot barns in Charlestown and Concord to prepare for any military retaliation. Peter agreed to utilize his “tea” ship to bring in lead from the motherland and more “salt” from Holland (this time in the form of gunpowder). Peter’s cargo arrived May 13, the same day General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts, arrived in Boston Harbor. The rumor that Parliament was closing the Boston Port arrived with his ship.
General Gage and his beautiful wife, Margaret, moved into the Governor’s Mansion. On the same day that the military governor arrived in Boston and was unloading his army’s cannon, Peter’s men unloaded Peter’s ship filled with small kegs of gunpowder along with lead bars that were hidden in barrels of salt. They worked day and night in order to get the ship unloaded before the June 1 deadline. On the night of May 29, the ship was empty, and the following morning the ship sailed from Boston Harbor. Peter’s ship was the last ship to clear the port before the port closed.
By June 1, Peter assigned well-trusted men to remove the gunpowder from the casks of salt in his warehouse. The ammunition was then smuggled to various Patriot blacksmiths and silversmiths of the city. There they were made into musket balls and then smuggled to Charlestown inside the clothing and saddlebags of citizens of Boston. Gunpowder was smuggled in the same manner. All this activity was right under the noses of the British Regular Army, which was already beginning to occupy the city. If General Gage noticed the unusual number of Charlestown citizens who bought “salt,” had silver to repair, or had emergency horseshoe repairs, he did nothing to stop the Patriots’ activities.
The chain of events beginning with Peter taking revenge for a friend’s death had become what the British government would now consider outright treason. If the government ever discovered Peter’s activities, the authorities would try him for smuggling as well as conspiracy to overthrow the British government in the American colonies.
A second shipment of ammunition was due in after June 1, but with the threat of the port closing, Peter sent another ship out to warn the ship to anchor not in Boston Harbor but in the port of Salem.
Peter diverted a fleet of wagons that normally took freight inland, sending them down the North American coast from the port of Salem to Boston. He wanted the wagons to take the ammunition and other provisions that the ship delivered in Salem down to Boston.
Even though the Boston port was closed and it would slow neither of his operations, Peter’s regular business as an import merchant nor his smuggling operation would stop.
A loud pounding on the front door brought Peter back to the present.
Elizabeth looked from the door to her brother-in-law. “Do you want me to answer the door?”
“No, I’ll answer it. I don’t have anything better to do,” he murmured. “General Gage has me reduced to a butler’s status.”
Peter marched to the front door and opened it wide. There at the door stood a private dressed in the red uniform with gold buttons worn by members of the Regular Army. In his hands, he held a scroll. He cleared his throat and read the following:
“Hear ye, hear ye, by order of Parliament, beginning tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, you are instructed to quarter two officers of the British Regular Army. It will be your responsibility to prepare adequate and proper rooming as well as proper food for said officers in a manner as to which they are accustomed.”
“And what, young man, does the Crown consider the proper food as to which they are accustomed?” Peter asked.
“Officers have been assigned homes based on their rank, sir. The food they would be accustomed to, sir, would be the same food served to the family at the dinner table.”
“And what officers have been assigned here?”
“Two captains, sir,” the young boy replied.
“I’m not as wealthy as I thought,” Peter said dryly. “I thought we’d at least be worthy of lieutenant-colonels.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayford. Do you have any more questions?”
Peter shook his head. “No, thank you. You may go.”
Peter closed the door none too gently. He turned to face Elizabeth, who had followed him in from the kitchen.
Peter put up his hands as a sign of distress. “Now I’ve heard everything! Can they invade us more than this? First they close my port, and then they move into my home.”
Elizabeth laughed at Peter’s animation. “Peter, I don’t think the king did this to upset you personally.”
“Well, you couldn’t prove it by me.”
“It could be worse,” Elizabeth replied. “One of them could marry into the family.”
Peter was not amused by Elizabeth’s attempt to humor him. “Don’t be absurd. I would never allow you or one of my daughters to marry a Redcoat. Besides, what Redcoat officer in his right mind would marry a Patriot?”
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