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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0003-0005-0002

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1769-03

Adams' Minutes of the Trial1

Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, March 1769

Gill vs. Mein.
News Paper. Jacobite Party.
Kent. Odd that Edes and Gill should desire him to be of no Party. Pitt is a fallen Angell, and given up by his Partizans, since he dwindled into a Lord. Lost. Lucre of Gain. Gain of Gain. Did not come from Salem.2 Mem. no Witchcraft in it. Jacobite Party, ungenerous base Insinuations. Kick upon the A—se.
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B. Edes. No Conversation past between Us, about agreeing not to abuse one Another, nor to mention one Another. The Account I published is true, all but one Word, and I am uncertain whether I said Fellow, Rascall or Scoundrel.
Anthony Oliver. Do not remember Meins desiring Edes and Gill, not to mention him in their Paper, Mein said he would get the Printers to meet, so that they might have no Dispute.
Auchmuty. I shall confine myself to one single Object, the Quantum of Damages. To view a Case of this sort thro the Flames of Passion, must give you a dissagreable Turn against the Rules of Justice.
The Passions are sometimes, excused by Law. Son killing the Assailant of his father. The Husband killing An Adulterer, with his Wife, not guilty of Murder, Jury not to punish in Terrorem. Feeling, &c. Tendency to take away his Bread by publishing that a Man publishes Falsities. Sporting and wantoning with Characters. Not from Man to Man, but scattered thro whole Countries. Have not been so civil as to [give?] his Name. If Printers will not tell the Author they must be treated as the Authors themselves.
Auchmuty. Uncandid and uncivil, not to tell the Author. An Indication of some little Guilt, in the Mind of Mr. Gill when he desired Witnesses beforehand, to take Notice if Mr. Mein should Assault him.
Virulence of Representation, high Colouring Rather that Mr. Adams has given it in Opening.
“But how are they fallen off,” &c. This is to catch and byass the Reader.
Accuse Mein of taking out of “Choice ... the most infamous and reproachfull Invectives” vs. the Patron of the Country. By his Profession depends vastly upon the public Smiles. The Insult vastly greater, upon Us, than upon Gill.
Encomiums and Panegyricks upon Mr. Pit or the Person alluded to. 1st to be guilty of infamous Lying, and for no other End but to abuse the “best Friends and Benefactors” of the Country. A Lyar, a Traytor, and a Jacobite. Assassin, Ruffian, Spaniards Sticking and Stabbing.3 { 156 } Henshaw and Tyng.4 Lye, the high Provocation. If I was to call Assassin, and Ruffian, I would in some other Place. A Man must be made of Oakum, not to feel Cutting, and tearing Characters. It is one of the greatest inconveniences, and may be attended with public Mischief.
Otis. Weight and Bulk of the Stick. Observations a cool deliberate Action. No sudden Heat, or Ruffle of Passion. Went once and twice to the office, and took an Opportunity afterwards to beat. Gill pretends not to be a Boxer, Bruizer, Man of the sword or any Prowess whatever. I would not engage Mein, but I would beat 2 of Gill.
He was assaulted for carrying on a Paper, in the Course [of] his Business. No Man I think ought to publish an Opinion that he is not able nor willing to defend.
Mr. Cooke5 who lived and died in the Service of the Town whose last Words expressed Wishes for our Welfare, and Fears of the very Things that are now coming upon Us.
Chaind between two Posts. Odd Idea of Liberty of the Press.6 A Fashion to raise a vast Outcry vs. this Paper. Scurrillity of Grandees. Dream or Vision, of a mutual Compact between Mein and Gill.
Green & Russell7 go on in pe[a]cable quiet, harmless, dovelike, inoffensive Manner. Distinction between Bump and Tumour. Note the Diversity.
Paper set up above all Criticism. This is but a Criticism [of?] impartial History.
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Little nibbling quibbling Decisions in our Books about Libells and Actions of Defamation.8 All these decisions cannot make the Words “leave these Things to the Jacobite Party” applicable to Mein.9
Interlard and interlace with Innuendo's.
1. In JA's hand. Original not found, but a photostat of the MS, originally in private hands, is preserved in MHi:Photostat Coll. under date of 1768. Quotation marks supplied by the editors. See note 4 above.
2. A paper in Mein's hand in 3 Bernard Papers 45, 46, MH, explains this allusion: “Jemmy [Otis] is fond of dating his pieces from Salem, being the town where he has the fewest Adherents. And he is suspected from good Authority of being the author of the abusive piece in Edes & Gill against me when our Chronicle was first published, which obliged me to call on the Printers, and on their refusal to name the Authors to ask them one after another to take a short Walk; and on their declining it to cane the first of them I mett which has already cost me about £100 St.” On the resistance of Salem to the nonimportation agreement, see Miller, Sam Adams 222.
3.
“The Freedom of the PRESS has been deservedly esteemed an important Branch of our Liberty. We hold it dear, and look on all those as our Enemies who endeavour to deprive us of it. The Dispute therefore between Messieurs Gill and Mein, cannot be looked upon barely as a Dispute between two private Persons, but is of the highest Importance to the Community. If we suffer the Printers to be abused, for resolutely maintaining the Freedom of the Press, without discovering our just Resentment against those who endeavour to force them from their Duty, we shall soon find the Press shut against us—For it cannot be expected that one or two Men who will be subject to the Malice of the publick Enemies, bear to be bruised, and run the Hazard of being assassinated, if the Public, whose Cause they are fighting do not zealously patronize their Cause. The People in this Province, and this Town in particular, must for the foregoing Reasons, be justified in their general Disapprobation of, and Disgust to Mr. Mein, for his late Spaniard-like Attempt on Mr. Gill, and in him, upon the Freedom of the Press.” Boston Gazette, 1 Feb. 1768, p. 2, col. 2.
4. The reference is unclear.
5. Elisha Cooke (1678–1737), “the masterly hand from School Street,” politician and court clerk, of “a fixt enmity to all Kingly Governments,” had led the fight against the royal prerogative in the 1720's. He even sailed to England to argue the cause before the Privy Council. DAB. Ironically, a transcript of the Privy Council proceedings had appeared in the Boston Chronicle, 11 Jan. 1768, p. 33, cols. 1–3. Cooke was the father of Middlecott Cooke (1705–1771), clerk of the Suffolk Inferior Court. See vol. 2:248–249, notes 4, 5, and 7, below.
6. “Otis at my trial for caning Gill, bandied about this Liberty of the Press as the Salvation of America, and said, that in beating him I had endeavoured to shutt up that great Source of freedom.” Mein, “A Key to a Certain Publication,” 3 Bernard Papers 45, 47, MH.
7. John Green and Joseph Russell, publishers of the pro-Administration Boston Post-Boy. Matthews, “Bibliographical Notes,” 9 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 403, 470.
8. See the discussion of this point in 8 Holdsworth, History of English Law 355–356, cited in No. 3 at note 9.
9. The words are apparently Otis' paraphrase for “Let that Dishonor [i.e. falsities and prejudice of friends] stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party,” from the Americus letter, note 4 above.

Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0003-0006-0001

Editorial Note

This was an action brought by John Gray for injuries inflicted upon him by Lendall (or Lindall) Pitts in a scuffle outside Dehon's barber shop in Boston. Adams' minutes indicate that the underlying cause was an earlier incident in which Pitts had “gallanted” what he assumed to be an attractive young lady, only to learn that feminine clothes covered a masculine form—either Gray himself or another male procured by him. Pitts blamed Gray in any case and, after unsuccessfully demanding an apology, opened Gray's scalp with a walking stick.
Gray sued in the July 1771 Suffolk Inferior Court for £300; Josiah Quincy was able to win him only a £5 verdict, which Gray appealed to the August 1771 Suffolk Superior Court.1 There, the jury awarded him £18 damages and costs of £10 8s. 8d. Adams, who had been specially appointed guardian ad litem for Pitts (a minor), was his counsel at both trials.2
From a technical standpoint, the case is interesting because, although the plea was not guilty, that is, a flat denial of the assault, Adams was allowed to introduce evidence in justification of the blow.3
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Adams' minutes suggest that James Otis spoke at the trial on 2 and 3 December 1771, although he was not counsel of record for either party.4 In fact, on the latter date Otis, having been certified “a distracted person” by the Selectmen of Boston, was “carried off ... in a post chaise, bound hand and foot.”5 If the remarks recorded by Adams were actually made in court, they not only offer a striking glimpse of Otis on his way to the madhouse, but suggest a very informal court room atmosphere.
1. SCJ Rec. 1771, fol. 216. SF 101911. Pitts' cross appeal was dismissed, the merits having been determined in Gray's appeal. Min. Bk. 95, SCJ Suffolk, Aug. 1771, N–11.
2. SF 101911. JA's wealthy client, James Pitts, had a son named Lendall. If the dates (1747–1784) given for him by Shipton are correct, however, he could not have been a minor in 1771. See 9 Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates 81; Francis S. Drake, Tea Leaves 141–145 (Boston, 1884). The Pitts here involved may be the Pitts referred to in the deposition of Sergeant John Eylery, dated 25 Aug. 1770, 12 Gay Transcripts 93, MHi. On 17 Oct. 1769, Eylery said, a mob gathered before the Guard Room door—on the south side of King Street, across from the Town House—and began insulting the sentinels “in a most abusive manner, and particularly one Pitts who said if he had the Scoundrels elsewhere and without Arms he would thresh them as long as his cane would last.”
3. See note 146 below.
4. Min. Bk. 95, SCJ Suffolk, Aug. 1771, N–11, N–17. The dates are fixed by the foregoing entries. The trial began on the “18th day” of the Aug. term, which, after an adjournment, had reconvened on 26 Nov., the 14th day. The subpoena and bill of costs in the file confirm this determination. SF 101911.
5. Selectmen's Minutes, 26 Nov. 1771, 23 Boston Record Commissioners, Reports 103–104 (1893); letter of Thomas Hutchinson to Francis Bernard, 3 Dec. 1771, 27 Mass. Arch. 260.
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, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/