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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 3

This note contained in document ADMS-05-03-02-0001-0003-0006
12. Paine Massacre Notes:
Richard Palmes. At Coffee House. Bells rang as for fire. I pass'd by Centry. No Body with him. Said Soldiers were abusing Towns People. I passd by J[ustice] Quin[cy's] thro' Alley. I Saw 3–4 Soldiers at Gate with Guns at Gate of Barracks. 2 Officers. I asked Officers I was Surprised they let 'em be out at that time. They answerd do you mean to teach us our duty. I said no but only to remind 'em of it. Officer said you see Soldiers gone into Barracks why dont you go home. James Lamb and I said [let us?] go home and they went off, 20 or 30, crying home home. I came thro Little Alley, I went thro Alley back with Mr. Hickling. I ask'd if he was going home, I saw Mr. Pool Spear, I went as far as T[own] Pump. Some Body said there was a Noise in King Street, I turn'd to go into K[ing] S[treet]. He said better not, afraid Something would happen. I went to make peace. I went saw Capt. Preston at head of 7. 8. Soldiers by C[ustom] H[ouse] drawn up Bayonet breast high. I found T. Bliss talking with Prisoner. T. Bliss ask'd him why dont you fire. Prisoner made some answer, T. Bliss said G[od]damn you why dont you fire. Then I stept between Prisoner and T. Bliss in front of Soldiers. I put my left Hand on Pris[oner's] Right Sholdier in a familiar manner to Speak to him. J. Hickling was looking over my Sholder, I askd Prisoner are your Soldiers Guns loaded. He said yes with Powder and Ball, I said I hope you dont intend Soldiers shall fire on Inhabitants. His Answer was by no means. That Instant I saw a peice of Snow or Ice not large Strike the Gun of Gren[adier] Montgomery at Prisoner's right Hand, who was only Soldier on his Right Hand. As soon as that he stept one foot back and fired. I then had my hand on Capt. Preston's Sholdier. After this firing I heard the Word fire. (At firing 1st Gun Prisoner stood half way between Breach and Muzzle of the Gun fired.) Who gave the word fire I dont know, whether from before behind or one side of me. On firing the 1st Gun I took my hand of[f], I did not think who gave the Word fire. It was Spoke Loud. Gun going of[f] frightd me and scorched my Surtot on Shoulder and Prisoner might have given the Word I not have heard it. After Word fire in 6 or 7 [seconds]. The next Grenadier to Prisoner's left fired and then it went through the Party. Prisoner stood still till the 2d and 3d Guns fired after 2d Gun fired I saw 1st Gren[adier] trying to prick me. Prisoner then by me with his hand on head of Sword not drawn. I struck him with a Stick on left Arm and dropt it and his Gun fell. I had not before that Struck at any Person. Then I turnd. I struck at 1st I could hit which was Capt. Preston. Guns then all fired. His face turn'd down Street towards Soldiers. My right foot slipt, and my Blow fell short. When I first heard word fire Prisoner's <face> Back to Soldiers and face towards me. Before I recovered, the 1st Gren[adier] recovered and was making at me to push. I threw my Stick in his face which made him jump back and I jump'd toward lane, and he push'd at me again and fell. Prisoner said nothing since his answer to me. On firing People run. I had on a Cloath Colored Surtot.
“1/2 a minute <from> I was there.
“60 or 70 people at time of firing. No disturbance. I saw no Stick.”
In March 1771, Palmes published his own version of his testimony, Boston Gazette, 25 March 1771, p. 2, col. 1:
Court. Please to relate to the Court what you know concerning the 5th of March.
A. Between the hours of nine and ten o'clock, &c. as per Narrative, p. 38. No. 53. [This refers to Palmes' deposition, which the editors have set out at the end of this note.]
Q. Did you hear Mr. Bliss say any thing to Captain Preston? A. I did.
Q. Inform the Court what he said to him.
A. He said to Capt. Preston, 'Why don't you fire?' Capt. Preston made him some answer, but what it was, I cannot say. Then Mr. Bliss returned, God damn you, why don't you fire? Upon this, I stept in between him and Capt. Preston, as related above [that is, in the deposition].
Q. At the time the soldiers fired, did you see a number of things thrown at them?
A. I saw nothing thrown, or touch them, excepting that which struck Montgomery. [Here the printers of the Gazette added the following note: 'Mr. Palmes and Mr. John Hickling both say, that the Piece of ice or frozen snow, which struck Montgomery fell perpendicular—probably from the roof of the Custom-House.']
Q. Did you situate yourself before Capt. Preston, in order that you might be out of danger, in case they fired?
A. I did not apprehend myself in any danger.
Q. Did you hear Captain Preston give the word Fire?
A. I have told your Honors, that after the first gun was fired, I heard the word, fire, but who gave it, I know not.
Q. Do you think it was possible Capt. Preston should give the word fire, and you not be certain he gave it? A. I think it was.”
Palmes' deposition, reprinted from A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston (Boston, 1770), where it appears at pages 38–40 of the Depositions, is as follows:
“(No. 53)
“I Richard Palmes of Boston, of lawful age, testify and say, that between the hours of nine and ten o'clock of the 5th instant, I heard one of the bells ring, which I supposed was occasioned by fire, and enquiring where the fire was, was answered that the soldiers were abusing the inhabitants; I asked where, was first answered at Murray's barracks, I went there and spoke to some officers that were standing at the door, I told them I was surprized they suffered the soldiers to go out of the barrack after eight o'clock; I was answered by one of the officers pray do you mean to teach us our duty; I answered I did not, only to remind them of it; one of them said you see that the soldiers are all in their barracks, and why do not you go to your homes; Mr. James Lamb and I said, Gentlemen let us go home, and were answered by some, home, home; accordingly I asked Mr. William Hickling if he was going home, he said he was, I walked with him as far as the post-office, upon my stopping to talk with two or three people, Mr. Hickling left me; I then saw Mr. Pool Spear going towards the town-house, he asked me if I was going home, I told him I was; I asked him where he was going that way, he said he was going to his brother David's. But when I got to the town-pump, we were told there was a rumpus at the custom-house door; Mr. Spear said to me you had better not go, I told him I would go and try to make peace; I immediately went there and saw Capt. Preston at the head of six or eight soldiers in a circular form, with guns breast high and bayonets fixed; the said Captain stood almost to the end of their guns. I went immediately to Capt. Preston (as soon as Mr. Bliss had left him) and asked him if their guns were loaded, his answer was they are loaded with powder and ball; I then said to him I hope you do not intend they shall fire upon the inhabitants; his reply was, by no means. When I was asking him these questions my left hand was on his right shoulder; Mr. John Hickling had that instant taken his hand off my shoulder, and stept to my left, then instantly I saw a piece of snow or ice fall among the soldiers, on which the soldier at the officer's right hand stept back and discharged his gun, at the space of some seconds the soldier at his left fired next, and the others one after the other. After the first gun was fired, I heard the word Fire, but who said it I know not; after the first gun was fired the said officer had full time to forbid the other soldiers not to fire, but I did not hear him speak to them at all; then turning myself to the left I saw one man dead, distant about six feet; I having a stick in my hand made a stroke at the soldier who fired, and struck the gun out of his hand. I then made a stroke at the officer, my right foot slipt, that brought me on my knee, the blow falling short, he says I hit his arm; when I was recovering myself from the fall I saw the soldier that fired the first gun endeavoring to push me through with his bayonet, on which I threw my stick at his head, the soldier starting back, gave me opportunity to jump from him into exchange-lane, or I must been inevitably run thro' my body. I looked back and saw three persons laying on the ground, and perceiving a soldier stepping round the corner as I thought to shoot me, I ran down Exchange lane, and so up the next into King-street, and followed Mr. Gridley with several other persons with the body of Capt. Morton's apprentice up to the prison house, and saw he had a ball shot through his breast; at my return I found that the officer and soldiers were gone to the main guard. To my best observation there were not seventy people in King street at the time of their firing, and them very scattering, but in a few minutes after the firing there were upwards of a thousand; finding the soldiers were gone I went up to the main-guard and saw there the soldiers were formed into three divisions, the front division in the posture of platoon firing, and I expected they would fire. Hearing that his Honor the Lieutenant Governor was going to the Council-chamber, I went there, his Honor looking out of the door desired the people to hear him speak; he desired them to go home and he would enquire into the affair in the morning, and that the law should take its course, and said, I will live and die by the law. A gentleman desired his Honor to order the soldiers to their barracks, he answered it was not in his power, and that he had no command over the troops and that it lay with Col. Dalrymple and not with him, but that he would send for him, which after some time he did; upon that a gentleman desired his Honor to look out of the window facing the main-guard, to see the position the soldiers were in, ready to fire on the inhabitants, which he did after a good deal of perswasion, and called for Col. Carr and desired him to order the troops to their barracks in the same order they were in; accordingly they were ordered to shoulder their guns, and were marched off by some officers, and further saith not.
[signed] RICH. PALMES.
[signed] “Suffolk, ss. Boston, March 17. 1770. Richard Palmes, above named, after due examination, made oath to the truth of the above affidavit, taken to perpetuate the remembrance of the thing.“Before Ri. Dana, Just. of Peace and of the Quorum. John Hill. Just. Peace.”
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.