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“ John Oxly, pawnbroker of Bethnal Green, was indicted for assaulting Jonathan Boldsworth on the highway, putting him in fear, and taking from him one silver watch, value 51. 5s. The prisoner pleaded, that, having sold the watch to the prosecutor, and being immediately after informed by a person who knew him, that he was not likely to pay for the same, he had only followed him and taken the watch back again. But, it appearing on the trial, that, presuming he had not been known when he committed the robbery, he had afterwards sued the prosecutor for the debt, on his note of hand, he was found guilty, death."

Old Bailey Sessions Paper, 1747.

I CHOSE the above extract from the proceedings of the Old Bailey in the trial of criminals, as a motto or text, on which to amplify in my ensuing discourse. But on second thoughts, having given it forth, I shall, after the example of some other preachers, quit it for the present, and leave to my readers, if I should happen to have any, the task of discovering what relation there may possibly be between my text and my sermon.

During some years past, the British newspapers have been filled with reflections on the inhabitants of America, for not paying their old debts to English merchants. And from these papers the same reflections have been translated into foreign prints, and circulated throughout Europe; whereby the American character, respecting honor, probity, and justice in commercial transactions, is made to suffer in the opinion of strangers, which may be attended with pernicious consequences.

At length we are told that the British court has taken up the complaint, and seriously offered it as a reason for refusing to evacuate the frontier posts according to treaty. This gives a kind of authority to the charge, and makes it now more necessary to examine the matter thoroughly; to inquire impartially into the conduct of both nations; take blame to ourselves where we have merited it; and, where it may be fairly done, mitigate the severity of the censures that are so liberally bestowed upon us.

We may begin by observing, that before the war our mercantile character was good. In proof of this (and a stronger proof can hardly be desired), the votes of the House of Commons in 1774-5 have recorded a petition signed by the body of the merchants of London trading to North America, in which they expressly set forth, not only that the trade was profitable to the kingdom, but that the remittances and payments were as punctually and faithfully made, as in any other branch of commerce whatever. These gentlemen were certainly competent judges, and as to that point could have no interest in deceiving the government.

The making of these punctual remittances was however a difficulty. Britain, acting on the selfish and perhaps mistaken principle of receiving nothing from abroad that could be produced at home, would take no articles of our produce that interfered with any of her own; and what did not interfere, she loaded with heavy duties. We had no mines of gold or silver. We were therefore obliged to run the world over, in search of something that would be received in England. We sent our provisions and lumber to the West Indies, where exchange was made for sugars, cotton, &c. to remit.

We brought molasses from thence, distilled it into rum, with which we traded in Africa, and remitted the gold dust to England. We employed ourselves in the fisheries, and sent the fish we caught, together with quantities of wheat, flour, and rice, to Spain and Portugal, from whence the amount was remitted to England in cash or bills of exchange. Great quantities of our rice, too, went to Holland, Hamburg, &c., and the value of that was also sent to Britain. Add to this, that contenting ourselves with paper, all the hard money we could possibly pick up among the foreign West India Islands, was continually sent off to Britain, not a ship going thither from America without some chests of those precious metals.

Imagine this great machine of mutually advantageous commerce, going roundly on, in full train; our ports all busy, receiving and selling British manufactures, and equipping ships for the circuitous trade, that was finally to procure the necessary remittances; the seas covered with those ships, and with several hundred sail of our fishermen, all working for Britain ; and then let us consider what effect the conduct of Britain, in 1774 and 1775 and the following years, must naturally have on the future ability of our merchants to make the payments in question.

We will not here enter into the motives of that conduct; they are well enough known, and not to her honor. The first step was shutting up the port of Boston by an act of Parliament; the next, to prohibit by another the New England fishery. An army and a fleet were sent to enforce these acts. Here was a stop put at once to all the mercantile operations of one of the greatest trading cities of America; the fishing vessels all laid up, and the usual remittances, by way of Spain, Portugal, and the Straits, rendered impossible. Yet the cry was now begun against us, These New England people do not pay their debts !

The ships of the fleet employed themselves in cruising separately all along the coast. The marine gentry are seldom so well contented with their pay, as not to like a little plunder. They stopped and seized,

under slight pretences, the American vessels they met with, belonging to whatever colony. This checked the commerce of them all. Ships, loaded with cargoes destined either directly or indirectly to make remittance in England, were not spared. If the differences between the two countries had been then accommodated, these unauthorized plunderers would have been called to account, and many of their exploits must have been found piracy. But what cured all this, set their minds at ease, made short work, and gave full scope to their piratical disposition, was another act of Parliament, forbidding any inquisition into those past facts, declaring them all lawful, and all American property to be forfeited, whether on sea or land, and authorizing the King's British subjects to take, seize, sink, burn, or destroy, whatever they could find of it. The property suddenly, and by surprise taken from our merchants by the operation of this act, is incomputable. And yet the cry did not diminish, These Americans don't pay their debts !

Had the several states of America, on the publication of this act seized all British property in their power, whether consisting of lands in their country, ships in their harbours, or debts in the hands of their merchants, by way of retaliation, it is probable a great part of the world would have deemed such conduct justifiable. They, it seems, thought otherwise, and it was done only in one or two States, and that under particular circumstances of provocation. And not having thus abolished all demands, the cry subsists, that the Americans should pay their debts !

General Gage, being with his army (before the declaration of open war) in peaceable possession of Boston, shut its gates, and placed guards all around to prevent its communication with the country. The

inhabitants were on the point of starving. The general, though they were evidently at his mercy, fearing that, while they had any arms in their hands, frantic desperation might possibly do him some mischief, proposed to them a capitulation, in which he stipulated, that if they would deliver up their arms, they might leave the town with their family and goods. In faith of this agreement, they delivered their arms. But when they began to pack up for their departure, they were informed, that by the word goods, the general understood only household goods, that is, their beds, chairs, and tables, not merchant goods ; those he was informed they were indebted for to the merchants of England, and he must secure them for the creditors. They were accordingly all seized, to an immense value, what had been paid for not excepted. It is to be supposed, though we have never heard of it, that this very honorable general, when he returned home, made a just distribution of those goods, or their value, among the said creditors. But the cry nevertheless continued, These Boston people do not pay their debts !

The army, having thus ruined Boston, proceeded to different parts of the continent. They got posses

. sion of all the capital trading towns. The troops gorged themselves with plunder. They stopped all the trade of Philadelphia for near a year, of Rhode Island longer, of New York near eight years, of Charleston in South Carolina and Savannah in Georgia, I forget how long. This continued interruption of their commerce ruined many merchants. The army also burnt to the ground the fine towns of Falmouth and Charlestown near Boston, New London, Fairfield, Norwalk, Esopus, Norfolk, the chief trading town in Virginia, besides innumerable tenements and private farm-houses. wanton destruction of property operated doubly to the


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