Today, the Bicentennial Quarter Coin remembers the British soldiers tarring and feathering a colonist.
Their actions, both unfair and illegal, fed the flames of patriotism toward liberty among the colonists who were already angry with the British rule.
From the Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, published in 1838 under the supervision of William Lincoln:
These applications related to an outrage on a citizen of Billerica, named Thomas Ditson, Jun. The story of his wrongs, which created great sensation, is told in the following narrative copied from the Massachusetts Spy, March 10, 1775.
“The act of tarring and feathering not repealed.”
Last Thursday morning, a countryman was tarred and feathered, and carried through some of the streets, in this town, by a party of soldiers, attended by some officers. The following is the man’s own deposition relative to that affair, sworn to before a magistrate; upon which we shall make no remarks, but leave the public to judge of the conduct of some of those who are said to have been sent among us to preserve peace and good order, and to prevent mobs, tumults and other unlawful assemblies.
I, Thomas Ditson, Jun., of Billerica, husbandman, testify and declare, that, while walking in Fore street, on the 8th of March, in the afternoon, I inquired of some townsmen, who had any guns to sell? one whom I did not know, replied, he had a very fine gun to sell.
The man appeared to be a soldier, and I went with him to a house where one was, whom the soldier called sergeant, and seeing some old clothes about the house, I asked whether they sold such things; the sergeant replied that they did frequently.
I then asked his price for an old red coat ript to pieces; he asked 8s. 6d. sterling; but I refused to give it.
Then one M’Clinchy, the soldier I met with at first in the street, said he had some old clothes to sell, and sent his wife out after them to a man he called a sergeant, and she soon brought an old coat and an old jacket.
I then asked him if he had any right to sell them, and the sergeant said that they frequently sold them, and he would give a writing if I desired it, but said there was no occasion.
I then bought the coat and jacket, and gave two pistareens, and then put the clothes in a bag, which I left behind; after which I went to M’Clinchy to see his gun, which he said was a very fine piece.
I asked him if he had any right to sell it. He replied he had, and that the gun was his to dispose of at any time.
I then asked him whether he thought the sentry would not take it from me at the ferry, as I had heard that some persons had had their guns taken from them, but never thought there was any law against trading with a soldier.
He then told me he had stood sentry, and that they frequently let them pass.
He then asked me what I would give him for the gun? I told him I would give four dollars, if there was no risk in carrying it over the ferry.
He said there was not, and that I might rely on his word.
I then agreed to give four dollars for his gun, but did not take it nor pay the money; coming away, he follows me down stairs, and says, that there was a sergeant had an old rusty piece, that he would sell cheap.
I asked him his price; he said he would sell it for one dollar and an half, if I would pay the money down, and he urged me to take it. I then agreed to give him said sum.
His wife, as he called her, then came down, and said, M’Clinchy, what are you going to do, to bring the man into a scrape?
I then told them, that if there was any difficulty, to give me my money again, but he refused, and replied his wife made an oration for nothing, and that he had a right to sell his gun to anybody.
I was afraid from her speaking that there was something not right in it, and left the gun, and coming away, he followed me, and urged the guns upon me. I told him I had rather not take them for fear of what his wife had said.
He then declared there was no danger, for he had spoken to the officer or sentry, who said he had a right to dispose of them, and urged me to pay the four dollars I had offered for the guns, which I then refused, and desired I might have the one and half dollar back which I had paid for the gun.
He refused, saying there was no danger, and damned me for a fool. I then paid him the four dollars for the good gun, but did not receive any one of them.
After I had paid the money, he then said, take care of yourself, and the first thing I saw was some men coming up.
I stept off to go after my great coat, but they followed and seized me, and carried me to the guard-house upon Foster’s wharf.
This was about six or seven o’clock in the evening. When I came into the guard-house, they read me a law which I never before saw or heard of.
I was detained till about seven in the morning, when I expected I should have been obliged to pay the £5 mentioned in the law read to me, and hired a regular to carry a letter to some friends over the ferry, which was to desire them to come to me as quick as possible with money to pay my fine.
Soon after, the sergeant come in, and ordered me to strip. I then asked him what he was going to do with me.
He said, damn you, I am going to serve you as you have served our men. Then came in a soldier with a bucket of tar and a pillow bier of feathers.
I was then made to strip, which I did to my breeches. They then tarred and feathered me, and while they were doing it, an officer who stood at the door said, tar and feather his breeches, which they accordingly did.
I was then tarred and feathered from head to foot, and had a paper read to me which was then tied round my neck, but afterwards turned behind me, with the following words wrote upon it, to the best of my remembrance: “American liberty or democracy exemplified, in a villain who attempted to entice one of the soldiers of his majesty’s 47th regiment to desert and take up arms with rebels against his king and country.”
I was then ordered to walk out, and get into a chair fastened upon trucks, which I did, when a number of the king’s soldiers, as I imagined about forty or fifty, armed with guns and fixed bayonets, surrounded the trucks.
They marched with a number of officers before them, one of whom, I am told, was the colonel of the 47th regiment, who I have since heard was named Nesbit, together with a number of drums and fifes, from the wharf up King street and down Fore street, and then through the Main street, passing the governor’s house, until they came to liberty tree.
They turned up Frog lane and made a halt, and a sergeant, as I took him to be, said get down.
I then asked where I should go, and he said where you please.
Near the governor’s house the inhabitants pressed in upon the soldiers; the latter appeared to me to be angry, and I was afraid they would have fired, they being ordered to load their muskets, which they did.
Thomas Ditson, Jun.
The Bicentennial Quarter Coin shows beside an image of the colonists tarring and feathering the “exciseman.”