Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mein Wars - Denoument

    By late 1768, John Mein had run up substantial debts to two major London suppliers - Thomas Longman, a bookseller located on Paternoster Row in London for approximately L1660 and a firm of stationers, Thomas Wright & William Gill for approximately L300. In July 1769, Longman wrote to John Hancock seeking his assistance in collecting his debts. It's not known when Hancock received this letter nor has his reply survived but Hancock apparently agreed to assist Longman, asking for a power of attorney by letter dated 24 October 1769. Hancock must have been thrilled to receive this serendipitous request from Longman just as the struggle between the Non-Importation Agreement merchants and Mein was at its height and Mein was savaging Hancock and his allies. In his letter to Hancock advising him of Mein's debts, Longman only asked Hancock to recommend someone to whom Longman could send a power of attorney to act for him in this matter. The fact that Hancock, busy as he was, volunteered to act as Longman's agent speaks for how delighted he must have been to receive this request. Mein, of course, believed that it was Hancock who was the driving force behind Longman's actions.
    Before Longman could respond to Hancock and furnish him the power of attorney, Mein had his run-in with the Boston mob and had to flee Boston for London. Longman then executed a power of attorney, had Wright &Gill execute one too and forwarded the documents to Hancock in Boston. They arrived on 1 March 1770 and, that very day, John Adams, acting as attorney for Hancock in this matter, filled out the appropriate writs and had the Deputy Sheriff seize Mein's property, which included his stock of books and, most importantly, "Seven frames on which are sixty-five cases with the types &c. Two Printing Presses with all the Materials thereto, and "One Composing Stone."

John Adams - 1766
    At this point, James Murray, Mein's merchant friend and staunch Tory, stepped in and tried to provide surety until the suit could be settled amicably; but Hancock wanted complete payment and nothing short of it. It's apparent that Hancock knew that he had Mein boxed in and wasn't about to let him off of the hook. In any event, the matter went to trial and after appeals and new trials was not settled until December, 1771. Reading through the various depositions and motions in this matter, one comes to two conclusions: The British legal system was everything Charles Dickens made it out to be; and two, John Adams, like lawyers through out time, knew how to milk a case and run up those legal fees. In any event, eventually the two cases were settled in the creditors' favor and three appraisers, all booksellers-stationers, one of whom was Henry Knox, settled on a figure of L1,038, 8s, 5d, for the books. After deductions for certain expenses, Hancock signed a receipt for approximately L956. Wright & Gill realized only approximately L94 after deductions and accounting for the fact that half of the printing gear belonged to Mein's partner John Fleeming, Dr Church's, by then brother-in-law.
   Mein was later confined to a debtors prison in London and assisted the British government in writing propaganda against his old enemies in Boston. He then fades from history. Fleeming attempted to keep the Chronicle going but finally had to cease publication with the edition of June 25, 1770, for a lack of patronage.
   That the Boston Chronicle was the best newspaper technically in New England  and the most ambitious endeavor in newspaper printing that the colonies had yet seen, there is little doubt. It was the best printed and cheapest paper in the colonies. It often printed 1500 copies each week and was frequently oversold. It was only when Mein decided to attack the Boston merchants that its troubles started. Mein's motivations will never be certain. Some writers have recently stated that the Chronicle was started as a government propaganda tool, but I doubt that.  Fleeming was a gifted printer and the partners had a technically superior product that was unrivalled in its typographical appearance. Mein, perhaps out of conviction or personality or both, decided to take on the Boston merchants and he soon found himself riding a tiger he could not control.

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