• The 'French-Bread Riot' of 8 September 1778: The French Fleet and Boston's Food Supply

    Michael Donnay (see profile)
    Eighteenth century, United States, History, Culture, Naval history
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    McMullen Naval History Symposium
    Conf. Org.:
    U.S. Naval Academy
    Conf. Loc.:
    U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
    Conf. Date:
    17-18 September 2015
    American Revolution, Military History, Riots, 18th century, American history, Cultural history
    Permanent URL:
    On the evening of 8 September 1778, an altercation occurred in Boston between bakers employed making bread for the French fleet anchored offshore and a number of unidentified townspeople. When the crowd asked the bakers for some bread to eat, the bakers refused, so the crowd assaulted both the bakers and a pair of French naval officers who hurried to the scene, severely injuring a number of Frenchmen. One of the officers, a distant relation of the French king, died from his wounds a few days later. Fearful that the incident would irreparably damage the new Franco-American relationship, the American officials in Boston did their utmost to prevent the incident from escalating. All involved found it most convenient to explain away the incident as the actions of a few British provocateurs serving aboard privateers in Boston Harbor. This paper addresses two issues relating to the incident. Firstly, it suggests that those who assaulted the French were in fact Bostonians and that British sailors were blamed purely out of political expediency. Secondly, it investigates whether the riot was primarily motivated by hunger or whether other causes were more prevalent and suggests a mix of factors. This paper uses personal and official correspondence, period newspapers, and judicial records, as well as secondary literature, to examine the socio-economic situation in Boston at the time and the strain the arrival of the French fleet put on supplies in the city.
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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