Wednesday, December 15, 2010


A few Sundays ago I spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon with my
brother in law Pete looking over some family heirlooms. Pete like myself
is of two heritages, one side of the family descended from immigrants,
the other from colonial New England stock. The items he showed me
come from the second side and included albums of beautiful century-old
postcards, greeting cards, and calling cards, and I'll relate the story
behind them in a later post. Another item is a legal document with a bit
of a mystery behind it, and we're hoping someone reading this can help
us solve it.

Many of Pete's ancestors came from the coastal town of Scituate, Ma.
and among them are members of the Otis family.The most famous
member of the family was James Ois, a mercurial figure who was 
prominent in Boston in the days leading up to the American Revolution. 
He battled mental illness which included violent outbursts of temper.
That, coupled with his sarcastic comments led to many confrontations
with the Tories of Boston.

The document Pete showed me is an indication of how heated those
confrontations became. It's a court wit for Lewis Grant, a prominent
Tory who'd been the target of some of Otis'  tirades. According to the
writ Gray had broken into Otis'  house and assaulted him on November
11th, 1771 and "beat wounded & evil intreated" Otis. Just how badly
Otis was beaten is unknown but he was able to file charges. Gray was
arrested and released the next day after promising to appear in court.

The question is, how did the trial turn out?

With Pete's permission I started searching the internet to try to discover
the outcome but had no luck. Then I turned to J L Bell of Boston 1776
but he had never heard of the case either. He suggested I contact Jeff
Purcell who is writing a biography of James Otis. Although Jeff hadn't
heard about the court case he did share some fascinating information
about Otis and I'm looking forward to reading his book when it's

So at this point, we're at a dead end. I've attached a transcription Peter
sent me of the writ so you can read it, and if any of my readers have any
suggestions on how to further research this I'd appreciate hearing  from
you. I know there are resources not available on the Interenet; I just
need some idea of where to start looking.

Or perhaps we should submit it to the History Detectives?

What do you all think?


Heather Rojo said...

I love that history detectives idea. Have you contacted the Massachusetts Historical Society? Maybe they have some records. (Just a guess)

Barbara Poole said...

And now I see, you've been contacted. That is amazing, and what a good post.

Martin said...

The materials you want are at the Mass. State Archives. They house all the court records prior to 1800 or so.

Bill West said...

Thanks all for comments. Heather &
Martin, thank you for the suggestions!