Today I am happy to host Allen Woods, a writer and historian who has written the novel The Sword & Scabbard: Thieves and Thugs and the Bloody Massacre in Boston. Apparently, many colonists were not as well behaved as our Founding Fathers! Please feel free to ask him questions and comments.
Crude vengeance, angry mobs
|Author Allen Woods|
Most of us have ingested a view of Revolutionary times that involves noble speeches and actions, and a unified pursuit of democratic ideals (this is true of most other periods of American history as well). There were certainly instances of noble thoughts and deeds during the period, but there was a lot more going on as well. My research brought to mind the modern cliché about politics and making sausage: you might like the product, but the process is rather unsavory.
In doing research for some American history textbooks, I began to think about some of the realities that were suggested but not emphasized, such as the practice of tarring and feathering British officials or their supporters. It all sounds rather jolly until you imagine a man stripped of his clothes, cowering before an angry mob, painted with boiling tar from the docks, covered in foul poultry feathers and dragged about town to the delight of jeering crowds. According to one historical account, removing the tar took off layers of skin as thick as steaks. Suddenly, Revolutionary ideals seem a long way off.
The same was true of the protests against the Stamp Act in Boston. Anyone willing to sell the tax stamps or support those who did risked the crude vengeance of a rough and angry mob directed by leaders who stayed in the background and often hypocritically deplored the violence in public. It was common for a British Customs family to have their house surrounded and windows broken out as a mob howled threats, for businesses to have their doors painted with urine and feces during the night, for officials to be accosted in the street, knocked down and dragged through gutters filled with sewage.
|An early depiction of the Boston Massacre|
Another issue suggested by my research and that inspired my book was the intersection between politics and crime. Smuggling was common in American ports before the war and was the foundation of John Hancock’s fortune and that of some other large merchants. At some point, it dawned on me that when John Hancock’s ships filled with taxable wine were unloaded beneath the noses of British Customs officials, it wasn’t Hancock unloading the hundred-gallon barrels in the middle of the night and transporting them to be hidden nearby. He, or those working with him, needed a connection with people willing to work in the night and able to evade capture by heavy-handed officials. Later, when a rival British newspaper had its office wrecked and equipment vandalized, American leaders needed people skilled in criminal activities to do the deeds.
I used factual accounts of many criminal incidents and political actions in my book to illuminate the times from the ‘street level’ rather than present the flowery writings and speeches that dominate much of the common historical narrative. My intent in this book, and those will follow, is not to tear down the heroes of the time, but simply to provide a more accurate picture. Just as the mythology surrounding the personal life of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon have been fleshed out with more realistic and unflattering detail, careful attention will allow us to understand the Revolutionary period better as well. From my point of view, an honest portrayal of a fallible hero is better than any mythical, sanitized one.
Allen Woods has been a full-time freelance writer and editor for almost 30 years, recently specializing in social studies and reading textbooks for all ages. The inspiration for The Sword & Scabbard came while doing research for an American history text. He resides in Massachusetts and has been married to his wife, Irene, for over 30 years.
His blog is at www.theswordandscabbard.com. The paperback and Kindle version are available at this link.