HANSON — While most Americans spent the pandemic lockdown spring of 2020 perfecting their sourdough bread baking, watching “Tiger King” on Netflix, Zooming with friends and family or bleaching their hair blond, state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Pembroke, was researching and writing his second book.
His first, “Mobtown Massacre: Alexander Hanson and the Baltimore Newspaper War of 1812” had been published by The History Press in 2019 and he was looking into another incident of media-related political mob violence — this time set in Boston 23 years after his first story took place.
“Hopefully we can come back [for another talk] and the third book can have a new or a big, renovated library to host folks,” he said.
“How long is it going to take to write that?” a member of the audience joked.
Alexander Hanson was the man for whom the town of Hanson was named, Library Director Karen Stolfer said as she introduced Cutler for a talk on his new book Thursday, March 10. That book, “The Boston Gentlemen’s Mob: Maria Chapman and the Abolition Riot of 1835,” centers on the mob violence, racial unrest and attacks on the press which took place two centuries ago.
“I’m sensing a theme of mobs and violence in your writing,” Stolfer joked.
“It’s sort of a little theme — maybe a perverse theme — of mob violence. It’s unfortunately the same kind of occurrence that we see today, so it was sort of a fascinating intersection of things that were of interest to me,” said Cutler, who is a former newspaper editor and publisher himself.
Libraries had proven an essential ally in Cutler’s efforts to research the book during the pandemic lockdown.
“This was my pandemic project,” he said when an audience member asked if he wrote the book before or after Jan. 6. “When you’re the state Rep. and you can’t go to the meetings every night that you’re used to going to, you find time between your Zooms to do other things. … This is a great pitch for library websites.”
He especially made use of the Boston Public Library’s site. Photocopies of letters from featured figures, local newspaper accounts of events surrounding the main story going on in Boston at the time and similar materials were provided him in emails from libraries.
Hanson had been an anti-war publisher in a city that was decidedly in favor of it, which was one of the reasons he had been attacked by the Baltimore mob.
Cutler had mentioned that, when researching his first book, he found it interesting that a lot of South Shore towns were named after towns in the colonists’ native England or native American tribes, but Hanson was named for a Baltimore newspaper publisher.
“There must be a story there, so I decided to write it,” he said.
The new book, focuses on the early days of the abolitionist press and organizations in Boston, a town that — at the time — did not share those views.
Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was attacked by the titular mob and Cutler’s book examines how that all came about.
“What’s interesting about this mob … was that it was all of the upper crust of Boston,” Cutler said. “It was the merchants and the bankers and the militia members, who swarmed in the streets and committed violence against Garrison.”
The mob had carried Garrison to the Frog Pond on Boston Common, where they had intended to tar and feather him.
“We think of Boston as this progressive bastion of abolitionist spirit that was leading the charge against slavery, and at that time  it really wasn’t the case,” he said. The story also has a lot of “cool connections” to the South Shore, Cutler said.
Much of Boston was anti-slavery and anti-abolitionist, benefitting from slavery either directly or indirectly, with many fearing that freed Blacks in the city and the end of slavery in the South would economically damage Boston.
“For many, preservation of the Union was more important than any measured distaste they may have [had] for the growing institution of slavery,” Cutler quoted from his book.
Maria Chapman was a Unitarian who grew up in Weymouth, the oldest of eight children. Her father in-law was a prosperous ships’ chandler, living in a Boston where most streets were compressed dirt and oil lamps provided illumination at night. Andrew Jackson was president and Daniel Webster was a Massachusetts senator at the time. Boston’s mayor was Theodore Lyman.
Garrison, publisher of The Liberator abolitionist newspaper, was becoming a growing influence on abolitionist circles since its founding in January 1831. He favored immediate emancipation of all enslaved persons, as did Chapman.
Her husband also a committed abolitionist, Chapman, had recently joined a women’s anti-slavery society, having harbored those sentiments herself even as a young woman, and had become a growing force behind the scenes. She was 28 in 1835.
That spring, abolitionists had waged a correspondence campaign against slavery, sending mass mailings of their literature to the south, where a mob in Charleston, S.C., had broken into the Post Office, stealing the literature which they burned in the street.
A citywide meeting was called in Boston’s Faneuil Hall in August 1835 to reject abolitionist aims and express support for their Southern brethren. The meeting, chaired by Mayor Lyman, was attended by 1,500 of “Boston’s most respectful citizens.”
The meeting, touted as more anti-abolitionist than pro-slavery, was an attempt to quell the “poisonous influence of abolitionism” in Boston.
Chapman’s group, The Boston Female Anti-slavery Society met for its annual meeting in October, spawning a rumor that despised British abolitionist George Thompson. The rumors were false, but the group still had some difficulty finding a venue because of their work. They met near the Old Statehouse, but a well-dressed mob of anti-abolitionists had gathered outside.
Garrison realized his presence was causing the problem and fled by jumping out a second-floor window, but — while the women had left safely — Garrison was caught and dragged through the streets to the Common …
At that, Cutler ended his talk, admonishing the audience that they’d have to read the book to learn more.
“The Boston Gentlemen’s Mob: Maria Chapman and the Abolition Riot of 1835,” The History Press, 2021, 263 pages, is available on Amazon.com.
The audience included members of the Hanson Kiwanis Club, which also had a meeting slated at the library at about the same time.
Copies of both his books were available for sale, with proceeds, benefitting the Friends of the Library. Cutler signed books for those who purchased copies.