William Shepherd Attempts to Collect Customs Duties

Shepherd, William



Having obtained the inspector general's leave of absence for the recovery of my health, I returned here on the 13th instant. I now in obedience to your commands signified to me when I had the honour to attend the board, do lay before your honours the following account of the disturbances which happened at Philadelphia, viz.

On Saturday 1st instant, about ten o'clock in the morning, a seizure was made by the collector in consequence of an order from the inspector general, of near fifty pipes of Madeira wine, which was lodged in a store belonging to Mr. Andrew Hodge. . . . I waited upon the inspector general and acquainted him that I had great reason to suspect that it was the intention of some of the inhabitants to rescue the wines from the officers. He told me that he would take care to prevent it. I informed the collector of my not being able to get the key of the store, and with my apprehensions of the design of the inhabitants, and recommended the wines being removed as soon as possible. He told me that he had no stores to put them in and that if he had, it was not in his power to get it removed on account of the rain. The rain was over about four o'clock in the afternoon, when the collector went down to the store but was denied admittance therein by a man unknown who had armed himself with pistols, and swore that if he pretended to enter it he would blow his brains out, or words to that effect; upon which the collector retired and went to the chief justice and procured a writ of assistance, and a number of constables to assist him in the execution of his duty, and they returned to the store about five o'clock in the afternoon, but they were not able to afford him any help, the mob being so numerous. They ordered the constables off of the wharf, though I think they tarried there long enough to read the Riot Act or writ of assistance, but which I do not know. They likewise prevented the collector's executing his duty, obliging him to go away, swearing they would shoot him if he attempted it. They pelted him with stones, glass bottles, etc., one of which struck him in the lip and hurt it considerably. . . . [T]he lock which the collector put on the store was broke off by the mob, and the door forced open and all the wines therein taken out and put on board three lighters or shallops and carried up the river. All the time they were transacting this matter they swore revenge and destruction against me, taking it for granted that I was the cause of making the seizure. . . . Some particular persons told me they thought it would be dangerous for me to venture out. The gentleman that I boarded with was advised not to let me tarry in his house; that if he did it would be in danger of being pulled down, but he kindly said that he would run the risque of it. I could not be persuaded that my person was in danger, and thought that if I appeared to be intimidated, the inhabitants would think it arose from a consciousness of guilt. I therefore went out as usual. I spent the evening out, taking care for fear I should be insulted, to put a pair of pistols in my pockets. Upon my return home about a quarter past ten o'clock, two men of a sudden came up to me, one of them without saying a word to me, struck me as hard as he could in the pit of my stomach, which immediately deprived me of breath and I fell down. He took the advantage of some weapon, I apprehend a knife, and slit my nose. . . . As I passed through the streets I was the object that everybody stared and gazed at. I at present think myself unable to persevere any longer at Philadelphia, for the trouble and abuse I meet with there appears to be impossible for me to encounter with, and yet my desires are so great to be continued and fixed in it, that notwithstanding their opposition, I can't think of quitting the field. Therefore if the honourable board should think it most for his Majesty's service to order me to return, I am determined to obey them, if the consequence should be the loss of my life, which I really apprehend may be the case. . . .


William Shepherd to Boston Commissioners of Customs," April 1, 1769, Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections (Boston, 1806-), 4th Series, vol. 10, pp. 611-617.