John Goldfinch and the Consequences of an Unpaid Bill
One of the most known facts about the Boston Massacre is that the scuffle on King’s street started from the accusations thrown at one of the British officers that he did not pay the wigmaker’s bill. This makes an interesting story and many of us may speculate that perhaps the most famous protest would not have occurred if the bill had been paid on time. But on the contrary to the popular myth, the British officer Captain John Goldfinch in fact settled his bill the day earlier.
On March 5, 1770, Captain Goldfinch who was on his way to Murray barracks, was crossing the Kings street near the Customs House when a teenaged apprentice named Edward Garrick called out to him that he was late paying his master’s bill.
This is how Captain himself later described this event at the Boston Massacre trial.
“The same evening, I was in King street, and was accosted by a barber's boy, who said, there goes the fellow who hath not paid my master for dressing his hair; fortunately for me, I had his receipt in my pocket; the sentinel (private Hugh White) said, he is a gentleman, and if he owes you anything he will pay it; I passed on without taking any notice of what the boy said.”
The other reason why Goldfinch did not dignify the boy with an answer was that the officer was in a rush to arrive to Murray barracks where the army regulars were headquartered. The captain was called to break up a fight between the soldiers and the locals. In his testimony during the trial Captain explained that he was doing his best to “send the soldiers to their barracks, or else there would be murder”.
Goldfinch was not present on the site of the Boston Massacre when the shooting occurred. He reportedly said after having heard about what happened - “I thought it would come to this.”
The short testimony of Captain Goldfinch in the Boston Massacre trial provides some other interesting details about his whereabouts on the night of March 5, 1770
Captain John Goldfinch sworn. Was you at Murray's barracks that evening ?
The 5th of March, about nine in the evening, I was passing over Cornhill, I saw a number collected by the passage to the barracks, I went towards it and two or three called me by name, and begged me to endeavor to send the soldiers to their barracks, or else there would be murder; with difficulty I got to the entrance of the passage, the people were pelting the soldiers with snow balls, the soldiers were defending themselves at the entrance.
Had the soldiers cutlasses ?
No, by no means, I think one of them had a fire-shovel; as soon as the soldiers knew me they with my persuasion went to the bottom of the passage; when I got there, I saw some officers of the twenty-ninth ; I told those officers I suspected there would be a riot, and as I was the oldest officer I ordered the men to the barracks and they were immediately confined ; the mob followed me and came to the gate of the barracks, and abused the men very much indeed, with bad language, so that the men must have been enraged very much, but by the vigilance and activity of the officers, the men were kept within bounds; the mob still insulted the men, dared them to come out, called them a pack of scoundrels, that dared not come out to fight them, and it was with difficulty they were kept in their barracks; I never heard such abuse in my life, from one man to another. A little man came up and spoke to the people, and desired them to go home, as they saw the officers used their best endeavors to keep the men in their barracks; immediately the best part made towards the passage to Cornhill, I suppose a body of about forty or fifty people. I thought it necessary to stay sometime to assist the officers in keeping the men in their barracks; in a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes after the people had moved off, I heard some guns fire, and the main-guard drum beat to arms; I told Mr. Dixon it was necessary for me to move off, to join my own regiment.
The same evening, about half an hour before this affair happened, I was in King street, and was accosted by a barber's boy, who said, there goes the fellow who hath not paid my master for dressing his hair; fortunately for me, I had his receipt in my pocket; the sentinel said, he is a gentleman, and if he owes you anything he will pay it; I passed on without taking any notice of what the boy said.