Legal Papers of John Adams, volume 2

Editorial Note Editorial Note
Editorial Note

On 22 February 1770, a man named Ebenezer Richardson fatally shot an eleven-year-old German boy. The circumstances of the shooting and the conditions of Richardson's subsequent trial for murder so emphasize the peculiarly disturbed status of the law in Boston at the time that documents pertaining to the case are included in this collection, even though Adams does not appear to have been actively engaged in the matter. The fact is that defense counsel's notes (Document I) remain among the Adams Papers and were docketed “Rex v. Richardson” in Adams' hand; moreover, the legal points raised in Richardson's trial and its aftermath bore particular relevance at the Massacre trials in 1770 (Nos. 63, 64).

Ebenezer Richardson was born in Woburn in 1718, married a Woburn woman, and some time thereafter came to Boston.1 There he was at least a reputed member of the customs establishment and commensurately disliked. Although the Customs Commissioners were later to deny that he had ever been a customs officer,2 Richardson had for “many years” before 1770 “been known by the name of The Informer,” according to the Boston Gazette. 3 Even John Adams was in later times to fulminate against 397him: “If there was even a color of justice in the public opinion, he was the most abandoned wretch in America. Adultery, incest, perjury were reputed to be his ordinary crimes. His life would exhibit an atrocious volume.”4 Whatever Richardson's other faults may or may not have been, later events demonstrated indubitably that he had a short temper.

All this, added to the rough-and-tumble of the fall and winter of 1769–1770 in Boston,5 almost insured that Richardson would soon collide with the patriots. The occasion arrived on 22 February 1770, a Thursday, which, like all Thursdays, was by Boston custom a market day and a school holiday;6 plenty of idle schoolboys as well as numerous up-country farmers stood available to bolster the already powerful Boston mob.

The latter's principal object for some time had been the enforcement of the nonimportation agreement. Temporarily checked by the resourceful stubbornness of John Mein,7 the “well-disposed” were beginning to move against the few holdouts. One of these, Theophilus Lillie, a near-neighbor of Richardson's and “a very inoffensive man, except in the offense of importation”8 resisted with language which, for sarcasm, at least, rivaled even Mein's: “I cannot help saying,” Lillie had written in January 1770, “although I never entered far into the mysteries of government, having applied myself to my shop and my business, that it always seemed strange to me that People who contend so much for civil and religious Liberty should be so ready to deprive others of their natural liberty—that Men who are guarding against being subject to Laws to which they never gave their consent in person or by their representative, should at the same time make Laws, and in the most effectual manner execute them upon me and others, to which Laws I am sure I never gave my consent either in person or by my representative. . . . I own I had rather be a slave under one Master; for if I know who he is, I may, perhaps, be able to please him, than a slave to an hundred or more, who I don't know where to find, nor what they will expect from me.”9

For some time, the technique used against men like Lillie had been the 398 “exhibition,” a sign or placard planted before the offending shop, carrying language whose general import was “Don't Buy from the Traitor.” This was usually coupled with the 18th-century equivalent of a picket line, a crowd of schoolboys.10 As Gordon was to write a few years later, “Boys, small and great, and undoubtedly men, had been and were encouraged, and well paid by certain leaders . . . and still persevered.”11 But, though boys were the actors, Thomas Hutchinson, at least, did not doubt that they were being “set on by Men.”12

On the day in question, a gang of boys (the witnesses at the trial varied in their estimates: one said as few as sixty, another said as many as three hundred) paraded to Lillie's and placed before his door a large wooden head bearing caricatures of the four leading importers and a hand pointed toward the house.13 Richardson, seeing the “hundreds” of boys gathered at Lillie's, tried to persuade first “a countryman,” then a charcoal vendor, to run their respective wagons against the sign. In desperation, he even took a cart and horse standing in the street and tried to do the job himself. At this, the crowd began to add more solid missiles to the epithets it was already hurling. As Richardson retreated to his house, he passed several of the patriots, including Edward Proctor and Thomas Knox. Crying “Perjury! Perjury!” in apparent reference to what Richardson considered the false nature of the charges implied by the sign, Richardson paused to exchange insults with these men and two others besides. At the trial, there was testimony that Richardson had sworn to “make it too hot” for Proctor and the others; there was also testimony that they in turn had called him a “damn Son of Bitch” and had threatened to have his heart and liver out.

Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson, meanwhile, hearing of the trouble, “gave express directions to the Sheriff to go and suppress this unlawful assembly before the accident happened, but he did not think it safe to attempt it nor is there a J. of P. in the town who will appear upon such an occasion.”14

With Richardson back in his house, the battle raged on. A witness at the trial was later to testify that stones shattered the windows, carrying away even the lead and frames. George Wilmot, a sailor employed in the 399customs service, was at Richardson's house, the reason for his visit not being clear, although the patriots claimed he had originally been sent to tell Richardson to take down the sign.15 As the violence increased, and the crowd began to push at the doors, Wilmot told Richardson, one of the witnesses later said, “he would stand by him as Long as he had breath.” The pelting continued, and Richardson thrust a gun through a window, “snapping” it at the mob. Finally, he fired a charge of bird shot, eleven of which struck and mortally wounded Christopher Seider (or Snider), some after striking the hand of another boy.

Immediately a bell was set ringing and, according to the Evening-Post account, a crowd surrounded the house front and rear. The mob completed the breaking and entering, subdued Wilmot and Richardson, and hustled them outside. “[T]he first thought was to hang him up at once and a halter was brought and a sign post picked upon, but one who is supposed to have stirred up the tumultuous proceedings took great pains and prevented it.”16

The men were dragged through the town, “cruelly abused by the Mob,”17 and put before Justice of the Peace John Ruddock, who ordered them on to Faneuil Hall, where in the presence of a thousand people, he, along with Justices of the Peace Richard Dana, Samuel Pemberton, and Edmund Quincy, examined them and had them committed to jail.18 “After the Examination, when the Sheriff was carrying them to Gaol, several attempts were made to get a Rope around Richardson's neck.”19 It should be noted that the boy did not die until that evening,20 so that at the time of their commitment and near-lynching, Richardson and Wilmot could not, by any reasoning, be guilty of murder.

Of course the “Sons of Liberty took care to Improve this Affair to the utmost advantage.”21 On 26 February 1770 the Gazette ran an inflammatory report of the “late barbarous Murder” insinuating that the customs officers were behind it all. “Inhumanly murdered” the Gazette said of “the unfortunate boy,” “the young lad who last week fell a sacrifice to the Rage 400and Malice of an Old Offender and his Abettors.” Richardson was called “infamous” three times, no less, once all in capital letters.22 Even the loyalists had to acknowledge the propaganda triumph of the patriots. “So artful were they in their account that it was almost universally believed that the Commiss[ioners of Customs] were Abettors in this Affair.”23

The funeral was a somber and effective climax to the press attacks. John Rowe, in whose company John Adams attended the rites, was “very sure two thousand people” were there,24 and Adams' “Eyes never beheld such a funeral.”25 As the cortege wound its way past the Liberty Tree, the mourners could read on a board tacked thereto these appropriate sentiments: “Thou shalt take no Satisfaction for the Life of a Murderer. He shall surely be put to Death. Though Hand join in Hand, the Wicked shall not pass unpunished.” 26 Adams wrote afterward in his diary: “This Shewes, there are many more Lives to spend if wanted in the Service of their Country. It Shews, too that the Faction is not yet expiring—that the Ardor of the People is not to be quelled by the Slaughter of one Child and the Wounding of another.”27 If the articles and the demonstration could have this effect on Adams, whose ability to distinguish patriotic heroes from “saucy boys” was to receive a public demonstration within the year,28 how well had the affair fulfilled its designed purpose “to raise the passions of the people, and to strengthen” the cause “in which their leaders had engaged them.”29 It is probably fair to say that if the troops had not fired on the mob less than two weeks after Richardson killed young Seider, the Sons would have celebrated not 5 March, but 22 February, as the anniversary of the first effusion of patriotic blood. As Hutchinson pointed out, the funeral of young Allen, killed in the St. George's Fields riot over John Wilkes in 1768 was a good recent example of the technique.30

But the King Street riot did occur, and, though its long-run effect on Richardson was to thrust him from center stage, its immediate result was 401to render his chance of a fair trial minimal and of acquittal zero. Two things assured this. First, popular prejudice, already heated by the newspapers and the funeral, burst into passionate flame over the actions of the soldiers; Revenge! was the cry, anything loyalist and powerless the object. Second, the rancor against Captain Preston and the soldiers was so great, and, apparently, the official interest in defending them so much higher than in Richardson's case,31 that, although the court “chose to postpone the Trials, untill there might be some Chance of Justice being uninterrupted,”32 when Sam Adams and a delegation “waited on the Superior Court and insisted upon their proceeding without any adjournment on the tryal of Preston, &c.,”33 the judges were forced to bargain. At first, it is true, the judges “notwithstanding this demand and the risque they run of being torn to pieces should they counteract the will of this Sovereign Committee . . . continued to try civil Causes only.” But “The people being very uneasy that the criminal tryals were not brought on, the Court found it necessary in order to keep them a little quiet to arraign Richardson.”34

“The existence of a state of public opinion which prevents a fair trial is a danger to which the jury system is always open,” Holdsworth has written. “And it is a danger against which there is no remedy except the existence of an impartial, a humane, a courageous, and a learned bench.”35 He might have added “and a strong civil authority.” In the opinion of Judge Oliver, “had a Trial been refused, it was rather more than an equal chance that the Prisoners [i.e. Preston and the soldiers as well as Richardson] would have been murdered by the Rabble; and the Judges been exposed to Assassinations.”36

According to the anonymous reporter whose narrative is in the Bernard Papers, “Richardson was arraign'd on a Monday and directed to prepare for his tryal on the Friday following. Accordingly on the Friday he was brought to the Bar and ask'd by the Court if he was then ready. He observ'd to the Court that he had made application to almost every Lawyer in town to undertake his cause, which no one would do, that the Constables had refused summoning his Witnesses,37 that the Jailer, had used him in so 402cruel a manner that he was even frequently debarred the Liberty of conversing with his friends, that every Newspaper was crouded with the most infamous and false libels against him in order to prejudice the minds of his jury; that without Counsel, without the privilege of calling upon his Witnesses to support his innocence he was now to be tried for his life. The Judges moved with compassion at this representation put off the trial to a further day. The Court then made application to the several Lawyers present to appear as his Counsel but this one and all of them declined. The court finding that a requisition had no effect asserted their Authority and order'd Mr. Fitch the advocate General to appear on his behalf on his trial. Fitch made use of a variety of arguments in order to excuse himself which the Court did not judge sufficient. He concluded with saying that since the Court had peremptorily ordered him, he would undertake it, but not otherways.”38

The right to counsel availed Richardson little, because Fitch was sick on the two occasions the case was called for trial, the last one being 17 April.39 The court thereupon appointed Josiah Quincy; three days later Richardson and Wilmot went on trial.40 For the Crown, Solicitor General 403Samuel Quincy and Robert Treat Paine divided the prosecution, establishing the pattern they were to follow later that year in the Massacre trials.41 According to a later newspaper account, “The cause was opened, and the evidence examined in behalf of the Crown by a Gentleman of superiour ability, who was assisted by another Gentleman, employed by the Town of Boston 42 perfectly acquainted with the law, who performed his part with such distinguished talents, as did honour to himself, and gave intire satisfaction to his constituents. The evidence in behalf of the Prisoner being examined by a Gentleman who did not speak to the case, gave the other Gentleman who was his Attorney a greater opportunity to enlarge on the law and evidence in his favour; who, actuated solely from the motive of humanity, as he did it without fee or reward, and at the hazard of losing his popular reputation, so ably managed the law and evidence, in bringing such pertinent authorities to support the facts, and making such just remarks on the same, as fully convinced me of his abili-404ties as an Attorney and of his benevolence as a citizen, in endeavouring to preserve the life of a fellow-subject; although his appointment to this task did not add to his reputation among the people at that time, yet the faithfulness and impartiality he shewed for the Prisoner must certainly more than compensate for any loss he might sustain in this or any other respect.”43

Paine's notes of the trial appear as Document II, below. They set out the evidence and most of the arguments, but do not describe the atmosphere of the courtroom. Some of the passion and hatred that filled the onlookers and tainted the proceedings filters through the subsequent testimony of the jurors and the keeper. But the contemporary accounts detail the picture even more vividly. To appreciate the legal context, it must be realized that Richardson's principal defense had been that, because the mob had attacked him in his own house and endangered his life, he had been entitled to protect himself in any way possible, including killing one or more of his assailants; the prosecution sought to show and to argue that the crowd was composed of nothing more than rowdy schoolboys, whose insults and stone-throwing had never endangered Richardson's life. Moreover, the Crown contended, whatever anyone else was doing, the boy Seider was not, at the moment Richardson fired, threatening his life. These were also the patriot views, and they have generally prevailed among historians.44 To this last, the defense argued that, because Seider had been part of the illegal enterprise, his killing, although perhaps not justifiable as self-defense, amounted only to manslaughter. Even if Seider had been a wholly innocent bystander, if Richardson had been justified in firing the gun at all, he would not be guilty of murder.

“Richardson's Trial continued till late on Friday night. After the witnesses were examined and the lawyers had done pleading the Judges gave their charge to the Jury. They said it appeared by the Evidence that the prisoner was attacked in his own house by a number of tumultuous people. That what he had done was in his own defence. That self-defence was a right inherent in every man. That the persons who had encouraged putting up these hands were guilty of the murder and not the prisoner and they were convinced the jury could find him guilty of nothing more than manslaughter.”45

“There was a vast Concourse of Rabble at the Trial.”46

“The Court upon summing up the Evidence to the Jury were all of 405opinion that if what the witnesses on both sides had sworn was believed the fact could amount to no more than Manslaughter. Mr. Just. Oliver doubted whether it could amount to that and with great spirit charged the death of the Boy upon the Promoters of the Effigies and the Exhibitions which had drawn the people together and caused unlawful and tumultuous assemblies and he did not excuse such as had neglected suppressing these Assemblies as the Civil Magistrate had done.”47

“[W]hilst one of the Judges was delivering his Charge to the Jury, and declaring his Opinion, that the Case was justifiable Homicide, one of the Rabble broke out, 'D—n that Judge, if I was nigh him, I would give it to him'; but this was not a Time, to attempt to preserve Decorum; Preservation of Life was as much as a Judge dared to aim at.”48

“After the Judges had done speaking the mob became very outrageous, called out that they hoped no Jury dare acquit him. 'Remember jury you are upon Oath.' 'Blood requires blood.'”49

“[The mob] designed to have hanged the Prisoner as he came out of the Court House, to be returned to Prison untill the Jurors Verdict was settled; and they provided an Halter, ready at the Door of the Court Room, for the Purpose; but the Court had ordered the Sheriff, with the Peace Officers, to lock him into the Court Room untill the Mob had dispersed.”50

“The judges found it necessary to remain in Court for upwards of an hour, and also to detain the prisoner till the mob were in some measure dispersed least they should destroy him in his way from the Court house to the Jail. It is said they had a rope in Court ready to hang him. The judges were hissed and abused in a most shameful manner in passing from the bench to their carriages.”51

The jury (none of whose members came from Boston) began its deliberations at 11 p.m. 52 and, without food, drink, or sleep, debated until 8 or 9 o'clock the next morning.53 The verdict as to Wilmot was Not Guilty;54 406as to Richardson, Guilty of Murder. “An universal clap ensued,”55 and “the Court Room resounded with Expressions of Pleasure; 'till, even one of the Faction, who had some of the Feelings of Humanity not quite erased, cried out, 'for Shame, for shame Gentlemen!' This hushed the clamorous Joy.”56

At first, the grounds for the verdict were unknown. “I have not yet heard whether the Jury did not believe the W[itnesses] for the Prisoner or whether they thought themselves better J[udges of] the Law than the Court or whether they were intimidated by die of the Inhabitants of Boston.”57 Notwithstanding, the defense apparently moved immediately for a new trial. This was a difficult motion to carry in the 18th century under the best of circumstances, and the court did not consider it seriously at that time. As Hutchinson noted, “The court was at first in distress. It was hard to be obliged to give judgment upon a verdict which appeared to them directly against law; and it was difficult, in the state of the town, to order the jury out a second time, or to refuse or delay sentence after the verdict was received.”58 So the court compromised. “The Verdict was received and recorded,”59 but the court adjourned without passing sentence until 29 May 1770.60

On that date, two of the judges being ill, the court further continued the matter to 31 May and then to 6 September.61 At last, on 6 September, at least one judge and all the lawyers having dined together at John Adams', the jurors were called back in and individually examined.62 Judging from Paine's minutes (Document III), the verdict had rested on at least two of the grounds which Hutchinson had hypothesized. The jury had pretty clearly found the facts the Crown's way and it had certainly been exposed to the rancor of the courtroom mob, although the shouts of the crowd were “not mentioned in the Jury Room.”63 But the jury apparently did not consciously take to itself the decision of the law. Indeed, the willingness of eleven jurors to leave the law to the court was the lever which ultimately moved the last man, Thomas Lothrop, who finally agreed to vote Guilty on the assurance of the others that “if the verdict was not agreeable to Law the Court would not receive it.”64


The jurors having testified (whether on oath or not is unclear), the court heard defense counsel's argument for a new trial. From Paine's minutes, it appears that Blowers made three alternative points: first, that the jury intended to follow the court's direction and find manslaughter, so the court should effectuate that intention; second, that the shouts as the jurors were retiring amounted to conversations with the jury sufficient to nullify a verdict of Guilty; third, that the verdict was so contrary to law and evidence that the court should order a new trial.

There was some authority for granting a new trial to a defendant whom the court considered to have been improperly convicted, and Blowers (or whoever was arguing that branch of the motion) appears to have brought it all to the court's attention. The trouble was that the opinions cited dealt with noncapital offenses, and the English law did not allow new trials in capital cases.65

It is apparent from the notes that counsel was very much aware of the doctrine, soon to be tested anew in the English criminal libel trials,66 that the jury was the proper finder not only of fact, but of law as well. Everyone agreed, and had for a hundred years, that no matter how blatantly a jury disregarded the court's directions, neither it nor any of its twelve members could be punished for so doing.67 This was true in civil and criminal cases alike. In the former class of litigation, “if the Jury find against Evidence and the Direction of the Court,” the judges could alleviate the problem by granting a new trial.68 Thus, in capital criminal matters, the most that lay in a court's power was to remind the jury that it was on oath to find according to law, that the court knew the law better than the jury, and that the jury would be risking its conscience by finding contrary to the rules laid down by the court. And as Lord Mansfield himself noted, the jury could always end the question by bringing in a Not Guilty verdict, right or wrong.69 The court could also advise the jury that, if it had any doubts of the law, its safest course was to bring in a special verdict. If the jury followed the recommendation, its verdict would take the form of a series of recited facts, found from the evidence, concluding with a prayer to the court to decide on the basis of those facts whether the defendant was guilty or not.70

But the jury, in the last analysis, did have the “final power” to decide 408according to its own view of the law. “This power,” as James Bradley Thayer has noted, “where it was uncontrollable, has been considered by some to be not distinguishable from a right; and it is not at all uncommon to describe it thus—as a right to judge of both fact and law.”71

Faced with the double problem of apparent jury omnipotence and inability to grant a new trial, the Massachusetts court temporized and followed the advice of the 17th-century criminal-law writer, Sir Matthew Hale, “to reprieve the person convict before judgment, and to aquaint the king, and certify for his pardon.”72 This made better political sense, too, than passing sentence and then having the Lieutenant Governor suspend execution pending receipt of the pardon, at which “the people would have been more enraged, than merely at the court's suspending their own determination.”73

Hutchinson apparently wrote Lord Hillsborough, at an unspecified time after the verdict, recommending a pardon; the Hutchinson letterbooks in the Massachusetts Archives contain nothing precisely on this point. However, in a letter to Hillsborough dated 15 May 1771, Hutchinson referred to “the Instrument which accompanied” one of Hillsborough's earlier letters; this, Hutchinson said, “I have caused to be communicated to the Judges of the Superior Court. Some of them are struck with the informalities of it for the purpose for which it is intended, and they have thought it advisable to defer their determination until their Court which is to be held on the third Tuesday of June in the County of Essex. Whatever it may be as to the sufficiency of the Instrument in point of form, it carries such evidence with it of His Majesty's most gracious pleasure with respect to the immediate Subject of it that must stop all further proceedings against him.” The “Instrument” can only be the copy of the pardon order, dated 12 February 1771.74 When one recalls that the Court did not examine the jurors until 6 September 1770, the probable chronology appears to be this:

After the examination, the court concluded it could do nothing, and Hutchinson wrote to England, asking for a pardon. As a result of the usual delays attendant upon a North Atlantic passage, coupled with the slowness of official action, the pardon order did not issue until 12 February 1771, and was not received in Boston until the beginning of May 1771.

Throughout the summer the judges and Hutchinson temporized. Their chief concern was the form of the “Instrument,” which was really only a copy of an order from the King to the Recorder of London to insert Richardson's name in the next “Newgate” Pardon—so-called because it referred to “our poor convicts in Newgate” Prison. As Hutchinson wrote to former Governor Pownall in August, “Neither the Judges nor the Attorney General 409are clear in the discharge of Richardson without some further evidence of His Majesty's pardon. We have no precedent upon record in this province. They say that if there was no other Exception to the form of the Instrument yet it is no more than a Warrant to insert the name of Richardson in a pardon which it does not appear to them has ever been done. If a Copy could be procured of the pardon attested I hope it may be sufficient. I am not acquainted in what manner pardons are passed for such persons whose sentences are respited in the several Counties in England but if it be usual to insert the names of such persons in the Newgate pardons I wish to be furnished with a Certificate that it is so.” Hutchinson even proposed that a Royal Warrant issue, permitting Hutchinson to issue the pardon himself, under the Province seal. This was rejected, but not until 3 March 1772 did Hutchinson receive his final instructions.75

Meanwhile, Richardson remained in jail, while the patriot press flayed him and his protectors. The Massachusetts Spy and the Boston Gazette claimed that the court planned to enlarge the benefit of clergy by admitting him to it.76 By early 1772, the patriots were becoming impatient over Richardson's fate. The Massachusetts Spy published some bitter doggerel referring to the two soldiers' having pleaded clergy as well as Richardson's remaining alive: “The basest murderers, full of guilt and crimes / Have gone unhung by reason of old LINES / So we were disappointed in our hopes / But for the future they'll be hung by Ropes.” 77 The Boston Gazette ran a lengthy piece signed “Callisthenes” which urged that Richardson was either innocent, and should be released, or guilty, and should be executed. “Is Richardson kept in goal in order to recommend him to mercy?” “Callisthenes” asked. “The honour of magistracy ought openly to avow it:—the wisdom of the recommenders ought to justify it. . . . Let not the infamy of the man give origin to an acquiescence in unjustifiable confinement. . . . What is law for a Richardson is law for a Sidney. If oppression is warranted by law, the Patriot is much more likely to fall a victim than the pimp and pander. Hampdens will stain the scaffold with blood, while a robber or murderer finds a city of refuge.78 No tyranny so secure, none so intolerable, none so dangerous, none so remediless, as that of Executive Courts.” 79


This remarkable document, although too lengthy to be quoted in full, is well worth examination. On the one hand it seems to be urging Richardson's death, on the other it appears to be vigorously asserting his rights. Its appearance in the Boston Gazette suggests that its author was certainly of the patriot party. This suggestion is accurate: “Callisthenes” was none other than Josiah Quincy himself.80 But his purpose in writing the letter defies explanation. It is possible that he knew of the pardon, inaccurately suspected its arrival in Boston, and hoped to stimulate Richardson's release. Another view might be that “Callisthenes” perhaps purposed to provoke the execution. If this was Quincy's aim, it would seem to contrast sharply not only with his duty as an attorney to his erstwhile client, but also with his stand in the Massacre trials.

Whatever Quincy's motive, shortly after his piece appeared, the Chief Justice told the Suffolk County Grand Jury, in apparent response to “a certain Paper, the Contents whereof have not yet transpired,” that the court believed the jurors “were ignorant that the Case of Ebenezer Richardson was then before his Majesty.”81

The suspense increased, even after the pardon safely arrived, for Hutchinson, despite his belief that “The people have never been in so good a temper to submit to his discharge at any time since he was first committed,”82 thought it best to wait a few days longer, until 10 March 1772, when the inhabitants were engaged at their town meeting. Then Richardson was taken hastily into court and brought to the bar, where on his knees he pleaded his pardon, recognized in the sum of £500 to appear again and plead the pardon whenever the court should require him (an empty formality), and then “fled with precipitation and crossed the ferry before the inhabitants were informed of it.”83 “The Rabble heard of it, and pursued him to execute their own Law upon him, but he happily escaped.”84

So Richardson left Boston, but his reputation remained as soiled as ever. Apparently he lived “at or near Stoneham” for about a year following his 411release, and then received an appointment in the customs service at Philadelphia.85 But, as late as 1774, the mere rumor of his presence in Boston was enough to raise a mob.86


Stark, Loyalists of Mass. 422; William R. Cutter, Broadside Regarding Ebenezer Richardson, the Informer, Found in the Library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia 9 (n.d.).


See Boston Evening-Post, 5 March 1770, p. 3, col. 1; Boston Gazette, 5 March 1770, p. 2, col. 1.


Boston Gazette, 5 March 1770, p. 2, col. 1. The Gazette claimed that Richardson had sworn before a grand jury “not many years past” that he had acted on a “commission or warrant” from Charles Paxton; this Paxton denied, calling Richardson “a d——d villain.” According to the Gazette, the grand jurors had complained of Richardson's perjury to a magistrate, with no result. The entire story should probably be treated suspiciously. In the first place, grand jury deliberations were secret, or at least were supposed to be; see form of oath, Act of 25 Nov. 1692, 1 A&R 78, 79. Second, if the grand jury believed Richardson to have perjured himself, it could have presented him; finally, even if the story is true, it establishes only that Richardson did not hold a post requiring a commission. Hutchinson referred to him as “a landwaiter, or inferior custom-house officer, and before that, an informer against illicit traders.” 3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 193. And Peter Oliver called him “a Custom House Officer.” Oliver, Origin and Progress 84. Note, however, that Oliver dates the incident as “the beginning of March 1770.” Ibid. See also Hutchinson to ——, 28 Feb. 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 450: “Richardson, whose name you must remember as an Informer.” Richardson could well have acted as informer without a commission at first and been commissioned after the grand jury incident.


JA to Dr. J. Morse, 20 Jan. 1816, 10 JA, Works 204, 210; Cutter, Broadside Regarding Richardson, reprints a broadside containing the following couplets: “Woburn, my native place can tell / My crimes are blacker far than Hell / What great disturbance there I made / Against the people and their Head. / A wretch of wretches prov'd with child / By me I know, at which I smil'd / To think the PARSON he must bare / The guilt of me, and I go clear.” Cutter attributes the allusion to a protracted incident of 1752, in which the widow Keziah Henshaw gave birth to a child and “at the time of her travail . . . laid it to” the Reverend Edward Jackson. See the details in Samuel Sewall, History of Woburn 319–325 (Boston, 1868). Keziah was a sister of Richardson's wife, Rebecca, which explains JA's “incest” charge. Cutter, Broadside Regarding Richardson.


See No. 12.


Anonymous report, 3 Bernard Papers 70, MH.


See No. 12.


Hutchinson to Hood, 23 Feb. 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 444.


Massachusetts Gazette, 11 Jan. 1770, p. 2, col. 3.


The Sons of Liberty, Hutchinson said, “thought it best that great numbers of Boys should Meet upon such occasions rather than Men.” See text at note 6 above.


1 Gordon, History of Independence 277.


Hutchinson to Gage, 25 Feb. 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 445. For Mein's correspondence with Hutchinson, see 25 Mass. Arch. 455–459.


The events of 22 Feb. are largely drawn from the report in the Boston Evening-Post, 26 Feb. 1770, p. 3, col. 1. Although the published story was “almost entirely made up from the facts detailed by [Richardson's] enemies,” see Drake, History and Antiquities of Boston 777, even the anonymous and patently anti-patriot author of the Reports in the Bernard Papers referred his reader to the Evening-Post account without serious correction. 3 Bernard Papers 70, MH. Lillie's shop was located on Middle (now Hanover) Street near the New Brick Church. Stark, Loyalists of Mass. 310; Thwing, Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston 60.


Hutchinson to Gage, 25 Feb. 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 445, 448. See also Hutchinson to Bernard, 20 Oct. 1770, 27 Mass. Arch. 26, 30.


Boston Gazette, 26 Feb. 1770, p. 5, col. 2. Wilmot had “lived in Boston since 1736 as a master mariner.” Jones, Loyalists of Mass. 298. He was employed as a seaman on the sloop Liberty when she was a revenue vessel, and was serving aboard her when she was destroyed. Richard Reeves in Boston Evening-Post, 3 May 1770, p. 3, col. 1.


Hutchinson to Gage, 25 Feb. 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 445, 448. See also Hutchinson to Hood, 23 Feb. 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 444, 445, in which Hutchinson identifies Richardson's benefactor as “M——x [Molineux] who probably was afraid how he might be attacked himself by such an action.”


3 Bernard Papers 70, MH.


Boston Evening-Post, 26 Feb. 1770, p. 3, col. 1.


3 Bernard Papers 70, MH. See also William Palfrey to John Wilkes, 5 March 1770, printed in Elsey, “John Wilkes and William Palfrey,” 34 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 411, 415–417 (1941).


Boston Evening-Post, 26 Feb. 1770, p. 3, col. 1. Dr. Joseph Warren performed the subsequent autopsy and extracted the eleven shot, each the size of a big pea. Ibid. See also the coroner's inquest, SF 102009.


3 Bernard Papers 70, MH.


Boston Gazette, 26 Feb. 1770, p. 5, col. 2.


3 Bernard Papers 70, MH. One of the latter-day believers is O. M. Dickerson. But his “The Commissioners of Customs and the Boston Massacre,” 27 NEQ 310 (1954), is only lightly based on the sources.


Rowe, Letters and Diary 197.


1 JA, Diary and Autobiography 350.


Boston Gazette, 5 March 1770, p. 2, col. 2.


1 JA, Diary and Autobiography 350.


No. 64, text at note 49 226 .


3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 194. The patriots had moved quickly into print to avert any chance of postponing the trial until passions cooled. “It is whispered that the trial of Richardson and Wilmot will be put off until ——.” Boston Gazette, 5 March 1770, p. 2, col. 2.


3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 194. For details of the Allen incident and its aftermath, see R. W. Postgate, That Devil Wilkes 134–135 (N.Y., 1929). The Wilkes propagandists, by the way, labeled the doings in St. George's Fields a “massacre,” which term may have inspired the patriots later on. Incidentally, Wilkes himself received a highly charged account of the Richardson affair from one of the patriot leaders. See William Palfrey to John Wilkes, 5 March 1770, in Elsey, “John Wilkes and William Palfrey,” 34 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 411, 416–417 (1941).


See editorial note to Nos. 63 and 64.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH; see 3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 205; Oliver, Origin and Progress 87, also refers to this visit, but seems to place it after Richardson's trial. Compare Lynde, Diary 194 (14 March 1770): “Com[mitte]e of Boston with Court after Warren.”


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH.


9 Holdsworth, History of English Law 231–232.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86.


In England, there was “no express provision that the defendant in felony shall have process to bring in his witnesses.” I Chitty, Criminal Law 625 note. Hawkins, however, thought that although in capital cases the defendant had “no Right by the Common Law to any Process against his Witnesses without a special Order of the Court . . . it seems that since the Statute of 1 Annae [c.] 9 . . . which ordains, That the Witnesses for the Prisoner shall be sworn, Process may be taken out against them of Course in any Case whatsoever.” 2 Hawkins, Pleas of the Crown 435. No Massachusetts statute appears to cover criminal cases, although from early pro vincial days, the parties in civil causes were entitled to subpoena witnesses. Preston and the soldiers were afforded process to summon witnesses. See editorial note to Nos. 63 and 64, note 63.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH; Lynde, Diary 195 (17 April 1770). The following tentative chronology is based on (1) 3 Bernard Papers 76; (2) Lynde, Diary ; (3) Paine Diary; (4) the Minute Books for this and the Charlestown terms:

13 March (Tuesday), Court convenes; indictment sometime during that week.

19 March (Monday), Richardson arraigned.

23 March (Friday), Richardson requests counsel.

27 March (Tuesday), “Attorney General to Ipswich Court; so we on civil actions all the week.” Lynde, Diary 194.

2–7 April (Monday-Saturday), civil and routine criminal cases.

10 April (Tuesday), Charlestown term commenced.

13 April (Friday), Charlestown term adjourned.

17 April (Tuesday), second postponement.

20 April (Friday), trial.

21 April (Saturday), verdict; court adjourned to 29 May.

29 May (Tuesday), court adjourned to 31 May.

31 May (Thursday), court meets, adjourned to 6 September.

6 September (Thursday), motion for new trial and jury examined.

7 September (Friday), motion argued.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH. Drake, History and Antiquities of Boston 777, says without citation that Sampson Salter Blowers was associated with Quincy. A contemporary account (note 43 below) shows that Quincy had help, and the Paine notes indicate that Blowers participated in the late stages of the affair at least. Quincy's service in Richardson's defense has received almost no attention or even notice. Gordon, for example, did not mention it (see note 11 above); nor did Josiah Quincy in his memoir, Josiah Quincy, Jr., or Samuel M. Quincy in his introduction and notes to Quincy's Reports. Yet in many respects Quincy's defense of Richardson was even more significant than his participation in the Massacre trials.

It is worth noting that whereas in provincial Massachusetts, the court would apparently appoint counsel for a man accused of murder who had none, in contemporary England (and, for that matter, in New York), defendants in felony trials could not be represented by counsel at all. The rule, it is true, was gradually being relaxed in England, and in at least one reported case of 1758, counsel was cross-examining the witnesses. But not until the Prisoners' Counsel Act, 6 & 7 Will. 4, c. 114, §1 (1837), was a prisoner accused of felonies given the right to have counsel present his full defense. And, even in the mid-18th-century English trials which conceded counsel the right to cross-examine, the attorney was not permitted to address the jury on the prisoner's behalf. See generally, 9 Holdsworth, History of English Law 235; 1 Stephen, History of Criminal Law 424–425, which discusses the English case, Rex v. Barnard, 19 State Trials 815 (London Sessions, 1758). On the New York practice, see Julius Goebel and T. Raymond Naughton, Law Enforcement in Colonial New York 573–574 (N.Y. 1944). The Massachusetts right to counsel may stem from general legislation on attorneys. The “Act for the Establishing of Judicatories and Courts of Justice Within This Province,” after conferring on the Superior Court of Judicature “cognizance . . . in all pleas of the crown, and in all matters relating to the conservation of the peace and punishment of offenders,” enacted that “it shall be in the liberty of every plaintiff or defendant . . . to plead and defend his own cause in his proper person, or with the assistance of such other as he shall procure being a person not scandalous or otherwise offensive to the Court.” Act of 25 Nov. 1692, 1 A&R 72, 73–74, 75. This act and several successors were disallowed, 1 A&R 72; Act of 19 June 1697, 1 A&R 283; Act of 18 July 1699, 1 A&R 372; but finally, in 1701, after the Superior Court received the jurisdiction of the three English common-law courts (“An Act for The Establishing a Superiour Court of Judicature, Court of Assize and General Goal Delivery Within This Province,” 26 June 1699, 1 A&R 370, 371) and the Privy Council approved, the General Court passed “An Act Relating to Attorneys,” providing that “the plaintiffe or defendant in any suit may plead or defend his cause by himselfe in his proper person, or with the assistance of such other person as he shall procure.” Act of 20 June 1701, 1 A&R 467. Arguably, despite its language, this act applied to criminal as well as civil matters.


Paine Diary, 20 April 1770; Drake, History and Antiquities of Boston 777.


This was Paine, who had probably been retained as a result of the following resolution:

“Voted, that the Selectmen be desired to employ one or more Council to offer to the Kings Attorney as Assistance to him in the tryal of the Murtherers now committed; and in case the Kings Attorney should refuse such Assistance, and the Relatives of those Persons who were murthered should apply for it, that then the Town will bear the Expence that may accrue thereby.” Town Meeting, 13 March 1770. 18 Boston Record Commissioners, Reports 14.


Boston Censor, 28 March 1772, p. 77.


1 Gordon, History of Independence 276: “Provoked, rather than endangered by the assault, he fired and killed.” George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, 3:371 (N.Y., 1895): “Provoked but not endangered.” Edward Channing, A History of the United States, 3:119 (N.Y., 1912): “[A]n informer, being attacked by a mob, fired at his assailants from a window and killed a harmless eleven-year-old boy; but beyond a demonstration at the boy's funeral, nothing happened.”


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86. At least three of the spectators had their pockets picked. See Confession of John Bemis, SF 89524; Min. Bk., Suffolk Sess., Aug. [i.e. July] 1770.


Hutchinson to Lord ——, 21 April 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 463.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH. This extract has been punctuated for clarity and quotation marks have been inserted.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86. Lynde, Diary 195, 20 April 1770, says “jury went out after noon,” which does not seem correct in view of the trial's length. On the jurors' domiciles, see SF 101646b.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86, says eight; Lynde, Diary 195, 21 April 1770, says nine.


Wilmot seems to have been almost ignored by lawyers, witnesses, and court, and, except for some early flurries, by the patriot press, too. Boston Gazette, 26 Feb. 1770, p. 5, col. 2; Boston Gazette, 5 March 1770, p. 2, col. 1. Paine's notes indicate that some effort was made, consistent with English practice, to prove him a principal in the affair, although he had been indicted for “aiding, helping, abetting, assisting, and maintaining” Richardson. Indictment, SF 102009. See testimony of Robert Hewes and Phil Ridgaway, and the authorities cited on the law of accomplices, Doc. II below. But the evidence against him was so weak that not even the mob could demand his life.


3 Bernard Papers 76, MH.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86.


Hutchinson to Lord ——, 21 April 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 463.


3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 206.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 86.


Hutchinson to Lord ——, 21 April 1770, 26 Mass. Arch. 463; Paine Diary, 21 April 1770; Lynde, Diary 195, 21 April 1770.


Paine Diary, 29 May 1770; see also Lynde, Diary 196, 29 May 1770. Min. Bk. 91.


Lynde, Diary 198. Regrettably, there are no entries in JA's diary in 1770 after August. Hutchinson is apparently wrong in his implication that the court continued the case for further consideration only after learning what went on in the jury room. See 3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 206. The subpoenas, dated 1 Sept. 1770, summoned the jurors to appear in court at 9 a.m. on 6 Sept. to “be enquired of touching” the trial. SF 101646b.


Testimony of Jonathan Ellis, Doc. III below.


Testimony of Thomas Lothrop, Doc. III below.


James B. Thayer, A Preliminary Treatise on Evidence at the Common Law 178 (Boston, 1898); 1 Stephen, History of Criminal Law 311; 1 Chitty, Criminal Law 654. And see Rex v. Marchant, 2 Keble 403, 84 Eng. Rep. 253 (K.B. 1699): trial for perjury; the trial judge certified that the verdict was against evidence (that is, that there was no evidence tending to convict, not that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; see No. 12, text at note 49). Held: motion for new trial denied, because “there can be no trial de novo for, or against the King.” 21 Viner, Abridgment 479, tit. Trial, also cites this holding.


See No. 12, notes 4 74 and 40 110 .


Bushell's Case, Vaughan 135, 124 Eng. Rep. 1006 (C.P. 1670), discussed in No. 12, text at notes 56–60.


3 Bacon, Abridgment 278.


Rex v. Miller, 20 Howell, State Trials 869, 894 (Guildhall 1770).


5 Bacon, Abridgment 286.


Thayer, Evidence at Common Law 253.


2 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 309–310. The entire passage is set out, note 57 173 below.


3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 206–207 note.


Hutchinson to Hillsborough, 15 May 1771, 27 Mass. Arch. 167–168; the Instrument itself is in SF 102009.


Hutchinson to Pownall, Aug. 1771, 27 Mass. Arch. 210–211; Hutchinson to Lord——, 12 March 1772, 26 Mass. Arch. 301. See also 3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 206–207 note; Oliver, Origin and Progress 87; Hutchinson to Hillsborough, 8 Sept. 1771, 27 Mass. Arch. 224.


Boston Gazette, 1 April 1771, p. 1, col. 1, reprinting a note from the Massachusetts Spy, 21 March 1771. Because benefit of clergy (respite from execution by reason of literacy) extended only to those convicted of manslaughter, allowing Richardson, who had been convicted of murder, to plead it, would have enlarged the privilege.


Reprinted, Boston Gazette, 27 Feb. 1772, p. 3, col. 2. Nathaniel Ropes had been appointed to the Superior Court on 15 Jan. 1772 upon the resignation of Chief Justice Benjamin Lynde. Whitmore, Mass. Civil List 70.


This expression had been used in the course of the trial. See Doc. II, text at note 15 131 .


Boston Gazette, 10 Feb. 1772, p. 2, cols. 1, 2.


Josiah Quincy, Josiah Quincy, Jr. 51–52.


The courtroom colloquy took place 22 Feb. 1772. Boston Gazette, 24 Feb. 1772, p. 3, cols. 1, 2.


Hutchinson to “JP Esq.,” 18 March 1772, 26 Mass. Arch. 305.


Boston Gazette, 16 March 1772, p. 3, col. 2.


Oliver, Origin and Progress 87. Min. Bk. 95, SCJ Suffolk; Rec. 1772, fols. 15–16. The doggerel of the previous month was echoed in “A Monumental Inscription on the Fifth of March. Together with a few Lines On the Enlargement of Ebenezer Richardson, Convicted of Murder” (Boston?, 1772), reproduced in Massachusetts Historical Society, Some Early Massachusetts Broadsides,No. 26 (Boston, 1964):

“Oh! Wretched man! the monster of the times, / You were not hung 'by reason of old Lines,' / Old Lines thrown by, 'twas then we were in hopes, / That you would soon be hung with new made Ropes; / But neither Ropes nor Lines, will satisfy / for seider's blood! But GOD is ever nigh, / And guilty souls will not unpunish'd go / Tho' they're excus'd by judges here below! / You are enlarg'd but cursed is your fate / Tho' Cushing's eas'd you from the prison gate / The—Bridge of Tories, it has borne you o'er / Yet you e'er long may meet with HELL's shore.”

Compare text at note 77 above. The “Bridge” was Judge Trowbridge. See Clarence S. Brigham, Paul Revere's Engravings Plate 18 (Worcester, 1954).


Boston Gazette, 3 May 1773, p. 3, col. 1; id., 24 May 1773, p. 2, col. 3.


Hutchinson to Earl of Dartmouth, 28 Jan. 1774, reprinted in Hersey, “Tar and Feathers: The Adventures of Captain John Malcom,” 34 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 429, 449 (1943)

Defense Counsel’s Notes<a xmlns="" href="#LJA02d087n1" class="note" id="LJA02d087n1a">1</a>: Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, April 1770 Quincy, Josiah Jr.


Defense Counsel’s Notes: Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, April 1770 Quincy, Josiah Jr.
Defense Counsel's Notes1
Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, April 1770
Dom: Rex vs. Richardson and Wilmot Upon an Indictment for Murder

1st. To open the Defence with a proper Address to the Jury to remove all popular Prejudices and Passions and engage them to make a fair, candid and impartial Enquiry and to give their Verdict agreeable to Law and the Evidence, uninfluenc'd by any other Motive; to mention the manner of my becoming engaged as Council for the Prisoners, explain my Duty and the Part I ought and am determin'd to act.

2d. The Witnesses for the Crown having been carefully and thoroughly cross-examined, to produce those for the Prisoners, and endeavour to find out what the Nature and Degree of Provocation offered; how far the Attack upon the house was carried; Whether and to what Degree the Windows were demolished before the firing, and whether the Door was broke open, and any Attempt made upon it; whether any actual Attempt was made to enter; or any Evidence of such Design from threatning Words; Whether Men as well as Boys were not concerned in that Attack; What Weapons were used or thrown into the house; and whether any One within was wounded; and upon the whole whether this is not to be consider'd as an Attack upon the Persons of the Prisoners.

3d. To sum up the Evidence and state the Facts as they shall appear upon Evidence.

4thly. To explain the Nature of the Crime of Murder and the different Kinds of Homicide, as justifiable, excusable (as se defendendo) and felonious: and to shew the Distinction between felonious Homicide of Malice prepense, which is properly Murder, and without 412such Malice, which is Manslaughter. Foster 273. 4. 7.2 1. H.H.P.C. 449.3 4 Black. Com:

The Crime in the present Case cannot at most amount to more than Manslaughter, as he was in his house peceably and there assaulted, by breaking his Windows and throwing Stones at him. And if an Intent to enter and commit a Felony appear, whether from threatening Words, or an Attempt to break the Door or the manner and Degree of the Attack, it is excusable Homicide Se defendendo, at least, if not justifiable. A Man's house is his Castle and he may defend it by himself alone or with such as he calls to assist him. 1 H.H.P.C. 445. 487.5 5 Coke Repts. 91b. Semane's Case.6 11 Coke Repts. 82b. Lewis Bowles Case.7

A Man is not obliged to retire from his house. 1 H.H.P.C. 486.8

So he may justify killing one that attempts to break open his house in the Day time with an attempt to Rob or commit other Felony. 4 Black: Com. 180. 3. 182.9 1 H.P.C. Page 71 Chap. 28 Sect. 21 and by Sect. 23 of this and Sect. 13 of the next Chap. it appears that ware 413one kills another who assaults him in his house in the Day Time with Intent to beat him only is guilty of Homicide Se defendendo and if he appears to have a Design of killing him it is justifiable Homicide. Vid. Sect. 124.10 Vide also Hales P.C. 40 the reason why it is not justifiable but excusable only is that “they came not to commit a known Felony,” and “it cannot be judged whether he meant to kill me.” 11 But if a man in the Daytime breaks the Windows of the house of another and endeavours to enter in order to execute a civil Process, and he within kills him this is Manslaughter and no more. Cooks Case in Cro. Car.: 537. 8.12 And it appears by Lord Hales brief State of this Case 1 H.H.P.C. 458 that had Cook not known the other to be a Bailiff, it had been no Felony because done in Defence of his house. 13 So if A endeavours to enter a house and shoots an arrow at those within and B shoots another out at those who wou'd enter and kills one of the Company. This is ruled not to be se defendendo, but Manslaughter because there was no Danger of their Lives by the Arrow so shot into the house upon them. Harcourts Case 1 H.H.P.C. 485. 6.14 Vid. also the Case of Drayton Basset in 1 H.H.P.C. 440. 1 and also in Page 444. 5 which shews who shall be said to be present, aiding, abetting &c.15


If upon angry Words one man assault another either by pulling him by the Nose or even filliping him upon the Forehead, and he who is so assaulted immediately runs the other through, it is but Manslaughter, for the Peace is broken by him that is killed; and he that receives such Indignity may reasonably apprehend a further Design upon him; Maugridges Case, in Keyling's Repts. 135 adjudged and reported by Lord Holt.16

D. Williams on a sudden and slight Provocation only of Words kills Marbury, ruled to be only Manslaughter, 1 H.H.P.C. 469 and in 470,17 another Case mentioned also by Foster 298. 299 where no 18 given but an Officer had violently entered a Room to make an arrest.19

Two Boys fight, one is beat and runs home blody and complains to his Father who goes three quarters of a mile and kills the other Boy ruled to be Manslaughter by Reason of the sudden heat &c. 1 H.H.P.C. 453 Rowley's Case taken from 12 Coke Repts. 87.20 Vide also a Case in Strange Repts. 499 &c. ruled to be manslaughter only a strong Case. 21

On a sudden Affray or Quarrel if the Party has declined the Combat and retreated as far as he Can with Safety and kills his Adversary thro' Necessity and to avoid immediate Death, it is Se defendendo; 415but if the Combat on both sides is kept up to the time the mortal Stroke is given, and he who gave it was not at that Time in emminent Danger of Death it is Manslaughter, Foster 277.22

A Woman strikes Stedman a Soldier who returns the Blow with the pummel of his Sword. She fled he pursued and stabbed her in the back this ruled to be no more than Manslaughter: by Holt. Foster 292.23 Vide the general Observation by the same author Page 296 which Note.24

If A shoots at B misses him and kills C, if it wou'd have been Murder supposing he had killed B; it will amount to the same Offence, tho' C is killed, whom he did not intend to hurt. On the other hand if the Blow intended against B arose from a sudden Transport of Passion which if B had died by it wou'd have reduced the Offence to Manslaughter, the Fact will admit of the same Alleviation if C shou'd happen to fall by it. Foster 261. 2.25 1 H.H.P.C. 442.26

By Foster 295 Sect. 3d. it is apparent that tho' base Words of Reproach or Gestures are not such Provocation as to lessen the Crime to Manslaughter. Yet when there is any assault on the Person arising from thence, it is otherwise: This Distinction appears from Maugridges Case:27 Whenever the Assault is very slight, as two persons justling against a Wall A kills B who had justled him, or if B had 416whipt A's horse out of the Path and A had alighted and killed B, it had been only Manslaughter, 1 H.H.P.C. 455. 456.28 Where it also appears that Words of Menace of Bodily harm wou'd reduce the Crime to Manslaughter, though Words of Reproach only, woud not.29 Vid. these Distinctions 1 Hawkins P.C. Page 82 and 83 Sect. 34. 35. 36. 37.30


In an unidentified hand, probably Josiah Quincy's; docketed by JA: “Rex v. Richardson.” Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 185.


The references are to Foster, Crown Cases 273, 274, and 277, all of which are within Chapter III, entitled “Homicide founded in Necessity.”


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 449: “Chapter XXXVI: Touching murder, what it is, and the kinds thereof.”


4 Blackstone, Commentaries *190–192 distinguishes murder and manslaughter.


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 445: “But if A. comes to enter with force, and in order thereunto shoots at his house, and B. the possessor, having other company in his house, shoots and kills A. this is manslaughter in B.” 1 id. at 487: “[H]is house is his castle of defense, and therefore he may justify assembling of persons for the safeguard of his house.”


Semayne v. Gresham, 5 Co. Rep. 91, 77 Eng. Rep. 194 (K.B. 1605).

“[T]he house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose; and altho' the life of man is a thing precious and favoured in law . . . if thieves come to a man's house to rob him, or murder, and the owner or his servants kill any of the thieves in defence of himself and his house, it is not felony, and he shall lose nothing. . . . [E]very one may assemble his friends and neighbours to defend his house against violence.”


Bowles v. Bury, 11 Co. Rep. 79, 82, 77 Eng. Rep. 1252, 1258 (K.B. 1616): “If a Man is in his House, and hears that others will come to his House to beat him, he may call together his Friends, &c. into his House to aid him in Safety of his Person; for as it has been said, A Man's House is his Castle and his Defense, and where he properly ought to remain.”


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 486: “[A man] being in his own house need not fly, as far as he can, as in other cases of se defendendo, for he hath the protection of his house to excuse him from flying, for that would be to give up the possession of his house to his adversary by his flight.”


4 Blackstone, Commentaries *180:

“If any person attempts a robbery or murder of another, or attempts to break open a house in the night time . . . and shall be killed in such attempt, the slayer shall be acquitted and discharged. This reaches not to any crime unaccompanied with force, as picking of pockets; or to the breaking open of any house in the day time, unless it carries with it an attempt of robbery also.”

4 id. at * 182–183 discusses “homicide per infortunium, or misadventure,”


1 Hawkins, Pleas of the Crown 71, §21 lists various justifiable killings of wrongdoers. Id. at 72, §23:

“[H]e who in his own Defence kills another that assaults him in his House in the Day-Time, and plainly appears to intend to beat him only, is guilty of Homicide se defendendo, for which he forfeits his Goods, but is pardoned of Course; yet it seems that a private Person . . . who happens unavoidably to kill another in endeavouring to defend himself from, or suppress dangerous Rioters, may justify the Fact, inasmuch as he only does his Duty in Aid of the publick Justice.”

Id. at 74–75, §13, defines homicide se defendendo:

“where one, who has no other possible Means of preserving his Life from one who combats with him on a sudden Quarrel, or of defending his Person from one who attempts to beat him (especially if such Attempt be made upon him in his own House,) kills the Person by whom he is reduced to such an inevitable Necessity.”

Probably 1 id. at 72, §24:

“And I can see no Reason why a Person, who without Provocation is assaulted by another in any Place whatsoever, in such a Manner as plainly shews an Intent to murder him, as by discharging a Pistol, or pushing at him with a drawn Sword, &c. may not justify killing such an Assailant, as much as if he had attempted to rob him.”


Hale, Pleas of the Crown (Summary) 40: “But if the assault in my House were not to rob me, but to beat me, &c. there would be only se defendendo and Goods forfeited, and a Pardon of course to be granted,” and so as in the text. Quotation marks have been supplied in text.


Rex v. Cook, Cro. Car. 537, 79 Eng. Rep. 1063 (K.B. 1639). The text states the case.


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 458. Hale does not mention that the breaking took place in the daytime, which, according to the report, it did. It seems likely, therefore, that whoever wrote the instant note had examined the original report in Croke.


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 485–486. The text states the case.


The Drayton Basset Case, 1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 440–441, and the discussion in id. at 444–445, concern liability of each member of an unlawful gathering for death caused by any one of them.


Reg. v. Mawgridge, Kelyng 119, 135, 84 Eng. Rep. 1107, 1114, Holt K.B. 484, 90 Eng. Rep. 1167 (Q.B. 1707). JA had dealt with this case recently when arguing Rex v. Corbet, No. 56. His notes for that argument, together with the footnotes thereto, fairly state the case.


Rex v. Williams, W. Jones 432, 82 Eng. Rep. 227 (K.B. 1640). Williams, a Welshman, on being taunted by R., threw a hammer at him, but missed, striking and killing M. Held: Manslaughter and, because not within the Statute of Stabbing, 1 Jac. 1, c. 8 (1604), clergy allowed, 1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 470 note, notes the view of Holt, C.J. in Reg. v. Mawgridge, Kelyng 119, 131–132, 84 Eng. Rep. 1107, 1113 (Q'B. 1707), that if the indictment had been for murder Williams ought to have been found guilty for lack of sufficient provocation.


Blank in MS.


Foster, Crown Cases 298–299, in a discussion of the Statute of Stabbing, recites the anonymous case here stated, 1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 470, to which Foster cites, attributes the case to the 1657 Newgate sittings before Glynn, C.J.Held: The killing was not within the Statute, and so clergy allowed.


Rex v. Royley, Cro. Jac. 296, 79 Eng. Rep. 254 (K.B. 1612), reported anonymously 12 Co. Rep. 87, 77 Eng. Rep. 1364, and set out substantially as in the text, 1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 453.


Rex v. Reason & Tranter, 1 Str. 499, 93 Eng. Rep. 659 (K.B. 1722), discussed at length, Foster, Crown Cases 292–294. Held: where two against one, deceased stabbed nine times, then shot as he lay on the floor, defendants guilty only of manslaughter, because the evidence supported a finding that the deceased struck the first blow and threatened the defendants.


Foster, Crown Cases 277:

“He therefore who in the Case of a mutual Conflict would excuse Himself upon the Foot of Self-Defence must shew, that before a Mortal Stroke given He had declined any further Combat and retreated as far as He could with Safety: and also that He Killed his Adversary through meer Necessity, and to avoid immediate Death. If He faileth in Either of these Circumstances He will incur the Penalties of Manslaughter.”


Reg. v. Stedman, Foster, Crown Cases 292 (Old Bailey, 1704):

Holt was at first of Opinion that this was Murder, a single Box on the Ear from a Woman not being a sufficient Provocation to Kill in this Manner, after He had given Her a Blow in return for the Box on the Ear. And it was proposed to have the Matter found Special. But it afterwards appearing in the Progress of the Trial, that the Woman struck the Soldier in the Face with an Iron Patten, and drew a great Deal of Blood, it was held clearly to be no more than Manslaughter.”

JA considered this case in the course of Rex v. Corbet, No. 56.


Foster, Crown Cases 296:

“To what I have offered with regard to sudden Rencounters let Me add, that the Blood, already too much Heated, kindleth afresh at every Pass or Blow. And in the Tumult of the Passions in which meer Instinct Self-Preservation, hath no inconsiderable Share, the Voice of Reason is not heard. And therefore the Law in Condescension to the Infirmities of Flesh and Blood hath extenuated the Offence.”


Foster, Crown Cases 261–262, sets out substantially the point here summarized.


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 442, supports this point.


Foster, Crown Cases 295:

A. useth provoking Language or Behaviour towards B. B. striketh Him, upon which a Combat ensueth, in which A. is Killed. This is held to be Manslaughter, for it was a sudden Affray and They fought upon equal Terms. And in such Combats upon sudden Quarrels it mattereth not Who gave the first Blow.

For Mawgridge's Case, see note 16 102 above.


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 455–456, sets out these examples.


1 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 456: “[W]ords of menace of bodily harm would come within the reason of such a provocation, as would make the offense to be but manslaughter.”


1 Hawkins, Pleas of the Crown 82–83, discusses the various provocations and excuses, and collects the applicable cases.