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William Molineux

William Molineux was a Boston merchant and friend of Samuel Adams; he was a most influential and radical patriot. Molineux was unusual among the Boston Whigs because he was born in England and immigrated to Massachusetts; unlike many of his fellow revolutionary leaders who were born in Boston. He was also not part of the province’s Congregationalist orthodoxy [a religion that originated from Puritanism]; instead, he attended an Anglican church. Insurance records show that Molineux broke British trade laws in his business by sending ships to Holland; so he might have been motivated to join the radical cause by increased custom duties and enforcement. Also, unlike other revolutionary leaders who distanced themselves from mobs and violent protest, Molineux was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Molineux was the only top Whig organizer not in Old South Meeting House on the night of the Tea Party; he was probably at the dock observing the destruction of the tea. In 1774 he set an example by refusing jury duty under royal judges and may have helped to gather field artillery for the province. Molineux rose to prominence by leading committees and crowds in demonstrations against the Townshend Acts, seizures by Customs officers, and the stationing of British troops in Boston. He also organized a public works effort to employ the town’s poor by spinning and weaving linen. Along with Doctor Thomas Young, William Molineux was one of the most radical revolutionaries among the genteel Whig organizers who sought to steer and increase public demonstrations in Boston after 1765. The mob, under his leadership, harassed the British troops, initiated brawls and encouraged desertion among the British soldiers. He was well versed and just like Samuel Adams, became the spokesman for the street crowds. With such devotion to the anti-British cause, he quickly became involved with the Sons of Liberty and grew to be one of its most influential leaders. Among Molineux’s passionate patriot acts, he advocated a march on acting governor Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion, despite warnings that such an act against the king’s representative was treason, for which the penalty was death. He reportedly threatened to kill himself if his colleagues did not aid him in the march. However, in late October he suddenly became ill, and on October 22nd, 1774 he died, reportedly saying, “O save my Country, Heaven.” Because Molineux died before the Revolutionary War began, and because some of his colleagues were uncomfortable with his radical methods, he was largely omitted from histories of America’s independence. In fact, his name was only preserved most prominently in a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” set in the 1740s. Molineux’s home on Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts was torn down to make room for the Massachusetts State House.


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