Sunday, May 29, 2011

John Fleeming - Part Three

   The Boston Chronicle gave only twenty nine lines of coverage to the "Boston Massacre" which occurred on March 5th, 1770 and concluded its report with the statement that "We decline at present, giving a more particular account of this unhappy affair, as we hear the trial of the unfortunate prisoners is to come next week."

Please note that the Chronicle identifies Crispus Attucks as a "mollatto" named Johnson (I have no intention of getting into the whole Crispus Attucks controversy). It fails to mention Irish leather worker Patrick Carr who died nine days later.

   Whether Fleeming feared for his personal safety or that of his business or for some other reason, with the March 5-9, 1770 issue the Chronicle converted itself to circumspection. Fleeming continued to print the cargo manifests from the year 1769 up until June of 1770; but no more factional letters were printed. The damage had been done. In no issue during the Chronicle's short remaining life was there ever so much as one column of advertising.

   Mein and Fleeming's campaign against the Non-Importation Agreements has to be seen as a major cause of the collapse of the agreements. Of primary importance was the fact that the Chronicle had the widest circulation of any Boston newspaper as copies were supplied to prominent merchants in all ports outside of Boston. John Mein claimed that he and Fleeming used 4,000 sheets of paper for the issues of the Chronicle that were circulated outside of Massachusetts.

   Fleeming's continuation of John Mein's efforts by printing the manifests in his paper after the Boston Massacre caused him serious trouble. In a November 1773 letter to Lord North, Fleeming, speaking of the publication of the cargo manifests, stated that:

"His (Fleeming's) life was threatened and finding the power of Government too weak to protect him against the fury of a lawless mob, he fled to Castle William."
Castle William after restoration. British troops evacuating Boston destroyed its fortifications which were subsequently repaired by troops under Lt Col Paul Revere.

   Fleeming apparently had rejected overtures from a faction of the Whigs to discontinue publication of the manifests and it had responded, as Fleeming expressed it, by "denouncing vengeance against him if he refused."
  So on June 30th 1770, Fleeming fled to Castle William ( a fort on an island in Boston Harbor holding fortifications and 72 cannon for the defense of Boston ); an action caused by the publication of the last updated edition of the importation pamphlet. But popular rage against Fleeming soon abated and he was able to return to Boston to continue business in a new printing house on King Street.

   Somehow, during all of this turmoil, Fleeming managed to find romance and on August 8, 1770 married Alice Church, sister of Dr Benjamin Church. Jr.. The wedding took place in Portsmouth, N.H., perhaps to avoid any possible incidents since Fleeming's flight to Castle William was still very recent. Given Benjamin Church's prominence as a leader of the Whig camp, the prominence of the Church family in New England, and the fact that John Mein had lampooned  Church as 'The Lean Apothecary", this is an astonishing event. We have no first hand or second hand documentation in any letter, diary or other correspondence to chronicle this marriage but, looking back at it some 240 years later, one must assume that this must have been a love match or one of necessity. There certainly is no family, political, or business reason for an arranged marriage.

Connecticut Journal Tuesday August 14, 1770

   Sometime in 1770, Fleeming became a Mason, perhaps influenced by his new brother-in-law. Fleeming was to join with his brother-in-law when he received permission from John Rowe to start a new lodge, The Rising Sun Lodge, in June of 1772.

   Although Fleeming appeared to be free of physical intimidation after his return from Castle William, his Loyalist activities continued to hurt his business. His printing business was in trouble even though he continued to publish almanacs, the report of the Boston Massacre trial and various other books. His attempt  to publish "Clark's Family Bible" in folio met with little encouragement.  He remained the stationer to the Customs Board and attempted to gain the printing contract as well. But he faced the determined resistance of John Green and Joseph Russell, the publishers of The Boston Weekly Advertiser who had been very supportive of the British Government and the Tory cause. In anticipation of receiving this contract, Fleeming had associates in London ship him a large quantity of printing tools, papers and other supplies in anticipation of receiving the Board's printing business. Only, in Fleeming's own words to Lord North:

  This after all this expense, your Memorialist after waiting many months in expectation of employment from the Board as their Printer found to his great loss and disappointment, that they were only to discontinue him as their Stationer.
  That your Memorialist finding by experience, that the whole profit arising from his employment as Stationer was scarcely sufficient to discharge the interest of the money advanced to him by his friends, he thought it most prudent to give up the employment before he encroached on the Capital -- Especially, as all his other business had been totally ruined, by the entrigue and outrages of the faction.
   Faced with financial ruin, Fleeming sold his equipment and supplies to the new partnership of Mills and Hicks who had taken over the businesses of Green and Russell and sailed for London in April 1773.

Boston Evening Post, April 26, 1773

 In London in November 1773,, Fleeming wrote a letter (memorial), previously mentioned, directly to Lord North; an unusual occurrence reflecting some kind of relationship between the two. In his letter, Fleeming reflected on his close relationship with the Customs Board and stated that:

My life for these last four years has been a diversified scene of distress, expectations, and disappointment.
   Fleeming, implying that he had no intention of returning to America, asked Lord North for an appointment as one of the Landwaiters for the port of London. A "Landwaiter" was a British Customs Officer who enforces import/export regulation and collects duties. (You can't make this stuff up!) I do not know if Fleeming received his appointment as a Landwaiter or any other appointment.
   Fleeming did return to Boston, with his family, sometime in 1774. It has been suggested that he came back as a civil official with the British Army. If so, he most likely returned with General Gage in early May, 1774 or with the subsequent troop ships that brought in the troops to coerce the citizens of Boston. Fleeming must have had some type of appointment since given the situation in Boston after the passage of the Boston Port Bill and the closing of Boston Harbor and his past record in attacking the non-importation agreement, there is no way he could have earned a living as a printer. We have no information as to what Fleeming was doing between presumably May 1774 and September 1775 when a letter he wrote triggered the events that led to his brother-in law's downfall.

   Early in September 1775, Fleeming sent a cipher letter to his brother-in-law telling him that the British were determined to crush the rebellion and pleading most urgently:

For God's sake, Doctor, come to town directly. I'll engage to procure your pardon. Your sister is unhappy, under the apprehension of your being taken and hanged for a rebel...
    Church later said that this letter aroused fear and agitation in him and led him, about a week or ten days later to write the cipher letter to Fleeming that was intercepted. Later blog posts will address the circumstances surrounding both letters.

  Our knowledge of the remainder of John Fleeming's life is fragmentary. He is not on the list of refugees who left Boston when the British evacuated the city in March 1776. That can be explained either by the fact that we know that the list of refugees is incomplete or by the fact that if Fleeming was a civil servant working for the British Army he would have been part of the official complement, not a refugee. In any event, Fleeming and presumably his family departed Boston in March 1776. 

   Fleeming, curiously along with Mills and Hicks, was among the 308 Loyalists proscribed and banished by an act of the State of Massachusetts passed in September, 1778. This act provided that any of those listed in the act who returned to Massachusetts were to be arrested and deported, and, if they returned a second time, were to "suffer the pains of death without benefit of clergy."

  This dire threat was not enforced after the war, as Masonic records in Boston indicate that Fleeming visited Boston and the United States more than once as an agent for a commercial house in Europe. He is believed to have died in France, probably in 1800, where he had resided for several years. No proceedings concerning his estate or an application for a pension from the Crown have been found


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