Monday, February 29, 2016

Being Samuel Gray: Interpreting a Central Figure from the Boston Massacre (Part V and last)

Detail from a sketch of the Massacre Site attributed to Paul Revere

When rope worker Samuel Gray arrived on King-street the second and final time on the night of the Boston Massacre,  events had nearly reached a climax.  Benjamin Davis, Jr., who was one of the witnesses for the defense, stated during questioning that "I do not suppose he could have got into King Street two minutes before the firing."  It was then that he was shot dead in the street, suffering a massive head wound.  His fate was recorded in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal a week after the shooting:

“The Dead are Mr. Samuel Gray, killed on the spot, the ball entering his head and beating off a large portion of the skull…”

What did Gray do during those final minutes of life?   Did he stand by, passively observing with arms folded to keep his hands warm, or did he encourage the members of the crowd to stand firm?  Was he unarmed, or did he carry the stick that Davis remembered him having but others claimed he did not?  What does the evidence suggest about the clothes he may have worn and precisely when he fell?

One of the first depositions to mention Gray's actions was given by Charles Hobby, taken on March 20th, 1770 "to perpetuate the remembrance of the thing" and recorded as No. 44 in the Town's Narrative of the Boston Massacre.

I saw the mulatto fall, and Mr. Samuel Gray went to look at him, one of the soldiers at a distance of about four to five yards, pointed his piece directly for the said Gray’s head and fired. Mr Gray, after struggling, turned himself right around upon his heel and fell dead. Capt. Preston some time after ordered them to march to the guard-house. I then took up a round hat and followed the people that carried him down to a house near the post office.”

Thanks to Hobby's recollection, a round hat seems an appropriate choice of head covering for an historical interpretation of Samuel Gray's clothing.  Hobby is the only witness who testified that Gray was looking at Attucks lying on the ground when he himself was shot.  Others had him falling at about the same time.

Ebenezer Brigham testified for the prosecution at the trial of the soldiers of the 29th regiment, during which it became clear that Private Matthew Killroy had fired the weapon that killed Gray.

I saw Gray fall...He fell in the middle of the street…the gun that killed him must have been nearer to the Center.

Watchman Edward G. Langford also testified for the prosecution.  He gave a detailed account of Gray's last moments:

"Samuel Gray, who was shot that night, came and struck me on the shouldered, and said ‘ Langford, what’s here to pay?’…I looked this man (pointing to Killroy), in the face, and bid him not fire, but he immediately fired, and Samuel Gray fell at my feet…"

Q) "How many guns went off before he fired?"
A) "Two, but I saw nobody fall. Gray fell close to me. I was standing , leaning on my stick.”
Q) "Did Gray say anything to Killroy before he fired?"
A) "He spoke to nobody but me."
Q) "Did he throw any snow-balls?"
A) "No, nor had he any weapon in his hand, he was naked as I am now.”
Q) "Did you see anything thrown?"
A) "No, I saw nothing at all thrown of any kind."
Q) "Was you talking with Gray at the time the gun went off?"
A) "I did not speak with him at that instant, but I had been talking with him several times before that."
Q) "Was you near Gray, that if he had thrown anything you must have seen it?"
A) "Yes, his hands were in his bosom, and immediately after Killroy’s firing, he fell…”
Q) "Have you any doubt in your mind that it was that gun of Killroy’s that killed Gray?"
A) "No manner of doubt: It must have been it, for there was no other gun discharged at that time…”
Q) After Gray fell, did he (Killroy) thrust at him with his bayonet?
A)  "No, it was at me he pushed."
Q) "Did gray say anything to Killroy, or Killroy to him?"
A)  "No, not to my knowledge, and I stood close by him."
Q)  "Did you perceive Killroy take aim at Gray?"
A)  "I did not: He was as liable to kill me as him."

This was crucial evidence for the prosecution, for if it could be shown that Gray was unarmed and not acting in a hostile manner, it supported a charge against Killroy of deliberate murder. For the historical interpreter, it provides a line of dialogue and a pose for Gray to assume before being shot. "His hands were in his bosom" might suggest they were inside an outer garment, perhaps for warmth, or they might have been tucked under his arm pits. Sam Adams later paraphrased Langford's description of Gray, saying "his arms were folded in his bosom."  I've tried it both ways, and find it easier and more natural to place my hands across my chest and under my arms than to unbutton a jacket or coat and stick them inside. That is probably the way I will play it this Saturday during the Massacre reenactment.

Samuel Gray, "hands... in his bosom", option 1
Samuel Gray, "arms folded in his bosom", option 2 (with stick)
Joseph Hinkley was a witness for the defense, and he described Gray as more actively engaged in the mob:

"…Samuel Gray, who was shot that night, clapped me on the shoulder, and said do not run, my lad, they dare not fire, and he ran back and forth among the people and clapped others on the back as he did me."

Q) "Had he anything in his hand?"
A) "I think not: I looked to my left soon after the guns were fired, and saw him on the ground, and with the help of some others, carried him to Dr. Loring’s shop, but could not get in, and left him there."
Q) "Did you see anybody go up to Gray, and thrust at him with a bayonet?"
A) "No I did not see it."
Q) "How near did he fall to the soldiers?"
A) "He was in the middle of the street."

Q) "How near was you to Gray?"
A) "About three or four yards distance."

Hinkley's evidence helped John Adams argue that Killroy acted in self defense.  According to his version, Gray encouraged the crowd to stand because the soldiers would not shoot without authorization from a higher authority than Captain Preston.  Past experience during the ropewalk brawls and other confrontations may have encouraged this idea, and indeed the "rules of engagement", to use the modern term of art, should have prevented the soldiers from shooting.  Hinkley also describes where Gray's body was carried after he was killed, and indeed Dr. Loring's shop was quite near the Post Office on the other side of King-street where Charles Hobby said he had followed the body with the round hat.

Defense attorney John Adams dismissed the crowd that night as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs."  Which of these descriptions fits Samuel Gray, about whom not much more is known for certain save that he was a native Bostonian of English stock and a laborer at John Gray's ropewalk
The most famous contemporary engravings of the Massacre by Pelham and Revere depict Gray in jacket and trowsers, clothing associated both with sailors and with lower class laborers.  Aside from the round hat described by Hobby, Gray might have worn any of the clothing of the period usually associated with those of the lower sort in Boston or with sailors familiar with rope work.  Jackets were very common among among these groups, as well as linen trowsers, sometimes worn over breeches and long stockings.  There was a foot of snow in the streets on March 5th, 1770, so it is likely that an under jacket was worn as well.

As to whether Gray had a stick, only one witness during the trial proceedings recalled that he had one, and that was young Benjamin Davis, Jr. who was not at the Massacre site when the shooting took place.  Hinkley, a defense witness, stated that he did not think Gray had anything in his hand.  Langford said that he had no weapon of any kind, not even a snow ball.

Samuel Gray after Pelham/Revere
My interpretation of Samuel Gray, above, is a nod to Revere and makes use of my 1760-1780 American merchant seaman impression.   There will also be a new striped calimanco under jacket, but to see that you'll need to wait for pictures from the upcoming Massacre reenactment, Saturday March 5, 2016.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Being Samuel Gray: Interpreting a Central Figure from the Boston Massacre (Part IV)

How did Samuel Gray spend his final hours on Earth?  Does his prior association with the donnybrook at John Gray's Rope-walks suggest he went out that night on March 5th, 1770 looking for a fight, or did he show up thinking there was a fire, only to be fired upon himself?  Given the anecdotal and politically motivated testimony that constitutes nearly all the available evidence, not to mention the confusion during the climactic moments of the Boston Massacre, there is room for historical interpretation in either direction, though probably not to either extreme.

Detail from an October, 1775 map of Boston
The map of Boston has changed dramatically since the events of March 5th, 1770.  Even with the benefit of historical maps, it is hard to trace the route taken by Samuel Gray to King-street based on sometimes conflicting depositions and trial testimony.  More than that, a researcher will search such contemporary cartography in vain for streets bearing the names given by witnesses.  There are good reasons why this should be the case, but to provide a clear explanation requires a more nuanced knowledge of Boston history, and perhaps also an appreciation of Bostonian character.

Local place names die hard.  There are still a few long-time residents of Boston who will direct you to Scollay Square in the old West End that was obliterated by urban renewal in the 1960s and replaced by the modern brutalism of Government Center.  It will take another generation before the Mystic Bridge is universally known in Boston as the Tobin Bridge, though it has carried that name since 1967.  The same thing happened to the streets and lanes in Colonial Boston.  It might have been shown on a 1769 map as Atkinson's Street or Leverett's Lane, but everyone in Boston knew these places as Green's Lane or Quaker-Lane (in the latter case because the Quaker Meeting House was located there).

detail from A Plan of the Town of Boston in New-England
Distinguishing that Part which was Burnt in 1760
Boston had experienced the 18th century version of urban renewal with a devastating 1760 fire that gutted a number of blocks in the South End, including most of the locations associated with Samuel Gray sightings the night of the massacre before Gray arrived at King-street.  The Great Fire had started during the night on March 20th, 1760 at a tavern at Cornhill.  Fanned by a Northwest wind, the fire spread out towards the harbor and consumed nearly everything between the rope-walks and Long Wharf.  About 350 structures and ten sailing vessels were lost during the 10 hours that the fire raged, making it the worst urban conflagration in the American colonies up to that date.  Among the destroyed buildings was the Quaker Meeting House that gave Quaker Lane its local name.

During the rest of the decade, the burnt-over section of Boston experienced street reconfigurations as well as rebuilding. Some of the maps of the town printed in the late colonial era were based on earlier maps that had not been altered to reflect subsequent development to the extent that the printers may have claimed.  William Price's wonderful publication - A new plan of ye great town of Boston in New England in America, with the many additionall buildings, & new streets, to the year 1769 - was in fact heavily derivative of Captain John Bonner's 1723 The town of Boston in New England map, also published by Price.  Compare the details from each map, below, which focus on the areas where Samuel Gray was seen prior to his death on King-street during the Boston Massacre.  Among other things, the 1769 map still shows the 1710 Quaker Meeting house that was lost in the 1760 fire.

Detail from Bonner Map of Boston by William Price 1723

Detail from William Price Map of Boston 1769
Let us consider the witness testimony about encounters with Gray discussed in the previous post in this series.  Ropeworker Nicholas Ferriter stated:

"On the 5th March I went to Quaker Lane, and met Samuel Gray. I said Where are you going – he said to the fire. I went into King-Street and saw nobody there, the sentry was walking as usual. We agreed to go home. I went towards home, and stopped at the bottom of Long-lane, and while I wathere, I heard guns go off. I went to King-street and was told several were killed."

Quaker Lane is identified as Leverts L. on both of the Price maps above, running between King-Street and Milk St. and today part of modern Congress Street. There is an L shaped alley just West of Congress St. and south of State St. that is called Quaker Lane today. Ferriter and Gray would have walked North together to King St. where they parted, with Ferriter retracing his route and then continuing on Long Lane after he crossed Milk St.  The bottom of Long Lane (now Federal St.) was at Cow Lane (now part of High St.), and when Ferriter heard the gunfire he went back once more in nearly a straight line from Long Lane to Quaker/Levert's Lane and the Massacre site at King-street.

Benjamin Davis, Jr., on the other hand, testified that he met Samuel Gray that same evening but farther from King Street than where Ferriter came upon him:

I went home and staid at the gate in Green’s Lane some time. Samuel Gray (one of the persons killed that night in Kings-Street) came along, and asked where the fire was. I said there was no fire, it was the soldiers fighting. He said Damn it, I am glad of it, I will knock some of them on the head; he ran off, I said to him take heed you do not get killed in the affray yourself, he said do not you fear, damn their bloods.”

Green's Lane was a local name for what is shown on the maps as Atkinson's St. running close to Long Lane between Milk and Cow St.  The rope walks were located on the East side of Green's/Atkinson's,where a section of Modern Congress street lies today.

 Although Ferriter and Davis's statements seem to contradict each other, they both mention that Gray was out that night because he initially thought there was a fire.  The cause was the untimely ringing of church bells, the universal fire alarm of the day.  The bells started to ring that night before the confrontation on King-street had attracted more than a few youths who were taunting a solitary sentry, for another, seemingly more significant ruckus was underway in front of Murray's Sugar House on Brattle St. where some of the 29th had their barracks. 

Approximate routes of Nicholas Ferriter and Samuel Gray, based on Ferreter's
 and Benjamin Davis Jr.'s sworn statements(shown on a 1775 map of Boston)
If Ferriter and Gray reached King-Street together from Quaker-Lane, it may have been in response to  bells that were ringing because of the altercation several blocks away to the north at Murray's Barracks, for Ferriter claimed that nothing was happening when they came upon the sentry at the Custom House.  Ferriter did not say that Gray left the scene with him when he returned to Long Lane, but perhaps Gray and he parted at Milk Street, with Gray proceeding along Green's Lane still looking for the fire until he encountered Benjamin Davis, Jr., who was too far from the scene of the growing crisis at the Custom-House to have recent knowledge of it.  He might, however, have known about the fighting at Murray's Barracks.

Perhaps Gray became belligerent once he learned from Davis that the alarm was about "soldiers fighting", and ran back to King-Street where by now there was a greater crowd and Captain Preston and the Guard had since arrived to reinforce the beleaguered sentinel before the Custom-House.  Perhaps young Davis was mistaken when he testified that Gray had a stick under his arm, or maybe Gray was by this time carrying a weapon.  The one thing that seems likely based on both Ferriter and Davis's statements was that Gray approached King-Street from the South End of Town and his home as well as the rope-walks where he labored may well have been in that section of Boston.

Plotting Samuel Gray's path risks becoming something akin to  a ricocheting bullet if one tries too hard to make such evidence conform to a definitive account.  The same is true for conflicting accounts of his behavior once he arrived, without Ferriter this time, in the middle of King-Street where minutes later he would lose his life.  We will discuss the evidence for what happened next, including suggestions about how he may have been dressed when he died, and the question once more of whether he was unarmed or carrying a stick, in the next post in this series.

Being Samuel Gray: Interpreting a Central Figure from the Boston Massacre (Part III)

Detail from Henry Pelham's 1770 engraving of the Boston Massacre
On March 2nd and 3rd, 1770, several escalating conflicts took place in Boston's South End between British soldiers and laborers at John Gray's rope manufacturing complex.  Samuel Gray is said to have been one of these rope workers who played a notable part in these brawls, possibly even fighting with the same soldier who would later shoot him dead just days later during the Boston Massacre.  Gray's actions in those earlier conflicts became an important legal question during the trial of the soldiers of the 29th regiment after the shooting on King-street, because a claim of self defense could be made if the shooter felt that his life had been previously threatened, while a charge of deliberate murder could be asserted if instead it was shown to be targeted revenge.

Needless to say, depositions were used for propaganda purposes by Tory's and Sons of Liberty alike.
One of the statements included in the pro-government document "A Fair Account of the late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England" infers that Gray was a premeditated aggressor:

“…on the second and third of March, last, before the general assault of the fifth, one Gray, and another person, both rope makers, met an acquaintance of mine, an high son of liberty, and told him that they expected to die to-morrow, they did not care how soon, as it was in a good cause, for that they, as well as several of their profession, with the assistance of some noted North-End bruisers, were determined the following day to attack the soldiers. That they (the ropemakers) were well prepared, and certain there would be bloody work; and concluded with asking him whether he would not attend as a spectator, advising him to arm himself in case of the worst, that Gray and his companion were both of them armed with desperate bludgeons…
                                                       - deposition of Thomas Pryce (No. 97) April 22, 1770

Pryce considered Samuel Gray a "worthless fellow", though his loyal bias in favor of the soldiers is clear.  If the radicals are to be believed, Gray was a peaceful man who arrived at King-street with neither a weapon nor in anger.  Sam Adams, writing on December 31, 1770 to the Boston Gazette under the pseudonym VINDEX, claimed that on the night of the shooting,

"Mr. Gray...was at his own house the whole of the Evening, saving his going to a neighbour's house to borrow the News-Paper of the day and returning; He went out on the ringing of the bells; and altho' a child swore in Court, that he saw him with a stick, after the bells rang, yet another witness saw him before he got into King-Street without a stick; others saw him in King-Street and testified that he had no stick; and when he was shot, the Witness at whose feet he fell, declared, as is mentioned in a former Paper, that he had no stick, and his arms were folded in his bosom, so that it is probable, the young witness mistook the person."

John Adams, who defended Captain Preston and the soldiers of the 29th regiment at their separate trials, also references Samuel Gray's activities prior to the Massacre in a summary address.

"Some of the witnesses, have sworn that Gray was active in the battle at the Rope-walks, and that [Private] Killroy was once there, from whence the counsel for the Crown would infer, that Killroy;  in King-street, on the 5th of March in the night, knew Gray whom he had seen at the Rope-walks before, and took that opportunity to gratify his preconceived malice; but if this is all true, it will not take away from him his justification, excuse or extenuation, if he had any.  The rule of the law is, if there has been malice between two, and at a distant time afterwards they meet, and one of them assaults the other's life, and he kills in consequence of it, the law presumes the killing was in self defense, or upon the provocation not on account of the antecedent malice."

Based in part on this legal nicety, Private Killroy, whose shot according to the March 12,1770 Boston Gazette account of the Massacre "killed [Gray] on the spot, the ball entering his head and beating off a large portion of the skull…”, was found not guilty of murder but only of manslaughter.

Fellow rope worker Nicholas Ferriter, who testified as a prosecution witness that he himself had been involved in the initial dust up on March 2nd at John Gray's warehouse, offered further evidence of Samuel Gray's lack of militant behavior on the night of the Massacre:

…On the 5th March I went to Quaker Lane, and met Samuel Gray. I said Where are you going – he said to the fire. I went into King-Street and saw nobody there, the sentry was walking as usual. We agreed to go home. I went towards home, and stopped at the bottom of Long-lane, and while I was there, I heard guns go off. I went to King-street and was told several were killed. The then went home. Samuel Gray, when I saw him that night, was quite calm, and had no stick.”

In contrast, Benjamin Davis, Jr. testified for the prosecution that when he encountered Gray that night the rope worker had belligerent intent:

“I went home and staid at the gate in Green’s Lane some time. Samuel Gray (one of the persons killed that night in Kings-Street) came along, and asked where the fire was. I said there was no fire, it was the soldiers fighting. He said Damn it, I am glad of it, I will knock some of them on the head; he ran off, I said to him take heed you do not get killed in the affray yourself, he said do not you fear, damn their bloods.”
In response to follow up questions by the prosecutor, young Davis stated that Samuel Gray did indeed have a stick under his arm at that time, and that "I do not suppose he could have got into King Street two minutes before the firing."

Is it possible to reconcile the statements of Ferriter and Davis?  One explanation may lie in the route that Samuel Gray took to King-Street and what was happening at the time.  We will explore the conundrums of 18th century Boston's geography in a subsequent post in this series.