Case Study



Boston Tea Party Historical Society

William Molineux – charismatic street agitator

William Molineux (c. 1717 – October 22, 1774), Boston merchant and friend of Samuel Adams was one of the most influential and radical patriots. By some accounts he had more authority on the streets of pre-revolutionary Boston than Adams himself. He died unexpectedly at age 58, just one year after the Boston Tea Party stirring up rumors about assassination and suicide.

Mr. Molineux was born in England not in Boston, like most of the revolutionary leaders. His religious affiliation also made him stand out. Molineux was Anglican where as most of his colleagues followed Congregationalism, a religion that originates in Puritanism.

Unlike other revolutionary leaders, who tried to distance themselves from the mobs that carried out protests, Molineux was not afraid to get his hands dirty. The Boston Tea Party was one of such acts. Molineux not only organized the protesters but actually lead them to destroy the tea.

Molineux played a part in Boston Massacre, but not in the incident itself but rather being the one to escort those British soldiers who were not immediately arrested to Wheelwright’s Wharf from where they were first sent to Castle William and later sailed back to England.

In the Book Rebels Rising by Benjamin L. Carp, Molineux is described as a “charismatic street agitator” who was behind almost every street protest since British Townshend Acts were imposed on Boston. The mob under his leadership harassed the British troops, initiated brawls and encouraged desertion among the 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 leaders.

The patriots needed Molineux to lead the streets but when it came to political games, his own associates often turned backs on him. A notable episode occurred during a town meeting calling for boycott of British goods. It was in this meeting Molineux proposed to march on the home of Thomas Hutchinson the British Governor whose family members were among the biggest merchants for the British goods. The call for action was so radical that other patriots found it too violent and borderline suicidal because the participants could be arrested and tried for treason. In that meeting Molineux was talked down and some of the meeting attendants refused to participate in any action lead by him.

As if to add to the disagreement between William Molineux and the rest of the revolutionary leaders his oldest daughter married Ward Nicholas Boylston, a strong supporter of the King.

In October 1774 Mr. Molineux suddenly became ill even though he had not been known to suffer from any serious illness. The sudden death that followed just weeks later made everyone in Boston speculate about possible conspiracies. Some of his associates believed that he was poised by British army officers. To counter that, British loyalists circulated the rumor that Molineux killed himself after being caught embezzling from a New York merchant whose affairs he represented. And even though his estate was in debt to that merchant this possibility seems unlikely. Compared to the dangers of being arrested and tried for his anti-British acts, financial difficulties could hardly be a cause for suicide.

The final words of William Molineux were worthy of his reputation of the true patriot, reportedly dying he exclaimed "O save my Country, Heaven."

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