Legal Papers of John Adams, volume 1

Editorial Note Editorial Note
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


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.


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.


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.”


See note 14 6 below.


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.


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.

Adams’ Minutes of the Trial<a xmlns="" href="#LJA01d041n1" class="note" id="LJA01d041n1a">1</a>: Suffolk Inferior Court, Boston, July 1771 JA Adams’ Minutes of the Trial: Suffolk Inferior Court, Boston, July 1771 Adams, John
Adams' Minutes of the Trial1
Suffolk Inferior Court, Boston, July 1771
Gray vs. Pitts.

James Melvin. Saw Pitts push Gray off with one Hand and give him a stroke with his Stick. G. no Hatt on. Saw the Blood run. A knotty Stick—big as the Thumb. Bigger than Wallaces's. Did not strike so hard as he could.

Wm. Winter. Gray came into Dehons shop.2 Pitts and he went out. Pitts demanded Satisfaction. I ask your Pardon you chuckle headed son of a Bitch. Pitts held up his Fist and Gray held up his, and then Pitts pushed him off with one hand and struck him with the other.

Mr. Hutchinson.3 Pitts told me, he had sent a Lad to demand Satisfaction for the Insult he had received. Saw Gray stand holding his Coat, the Blood dropping from his Head.

Odin. Pitts sa Gray said you woolly headed Rascall. Pitts said you shall—The Blow did not seem very hard. Saw Blood.

Mr. Molineux.


In JA's hand. Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 185. The trial took place 26 July 1771, according to a summons in the Inferior Court file.


William Winter, “peruke maker,” was also a witness in the Superior Court. SF 101911. “Dehons” is probably the shop of Theodore Dehone, Perukemaker. See Thwing Catalogue, MHi.


Godfrey Hutchinson, “infant,” was also a witness in the Superior Court. SF 101911.

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