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Richard Watts

David Bradlee: “Windows broke when I got there”

We’ve come to the last of the men George Gailer sued for tarring and feathering him in October 1769, the man his legal filing identified as a “Taylor” named “David Bradley.”

As it happens, David Bradlee was one of the first individuals in Boston I dug into, about twenty years ago. I wrote a short article about him for the Bostonian Society newsletter then.

Bradlee hasn’t made a lot of appearances on Boston 1775, but I may have been saving him for the Sestercentennial of when his political activity started to appear in the historical record.

David Bradlee was born in Dorchester on 24 Nov 1742, according to Samuel Bradlee Doggett’s History of the Bradlee Family (1878). David was the sixth child and third son in the family, and two more boys followed. Most moved into Boston.

Bradlee became a tailor. On 22 Mar 1764 he married Sarah Watts of Chelsea. Doggett said her father was a judge, but Mellen Chamberlin’s Documentary History of Chelsea shows she was a daughter of Richard Watts, Harvard 1739, innkeeper and militia captain. His father was the judge—Samuel Watts, justice of the peace, member of the Massachusetts General Court and the Council. In other words, David Bradlee married up in society.

David and Sarah Bradlee’s first son arrived on 20 October, or seven months after their marriage. That baby received the name David Watts Bradlee. The couple then had Sarah (1766), Samuel and Mary (twins in 1768, but Mary died at nine months), and eventually another Mary (1770).

As I’ve written, it’s not clear why George Gailer named David Bradlee as one of the people who attacked him on 28 Oct 1769. I’m assuming Bradlee really was involved in assaulting the sailor in some way. But Bradlee had the connections to secure John Adams as his attorney. He and his fellow defendants eventually won their case on default, and he paid Adams 19s.4d.

Well before that lawsuit was resolved, however, Bradlee was present at another riot and involved into another court case about it. He was on the scene on 22 Feb 1770 when Customs officer Ebenezer Richardson shot into a crowd of boys and young men mobbing his house, killing little Christopher Seider.

Robert Treat Paine’s notes on the Richardson trial summarize Bradlee’s eyewitness testimony this way:

Windows broke when I got there. I saw 3 or 4 Stones come out of the Window. I saw one or two Men in the Room with Guns in their hands. R put a Gun on edge of Window. I heard the Gun, and run to the back of the house. R clapt the Gun at me.

In this case, the word “clapt” seems to mean that Richardson had fired a load of powder but no shot at Bradlee—in other words, he fired a blank to scare the man off. Even though Bradlee’s testimony was all about the stones and gunshots coming from inside the house, one has to wonder what he was doing so close to that house to provoke Richardson’s action.

TOMORROW: Two weeks later.