Daniel Foster, Amos Chapman and the Militia Muster Murder of 1787

The militia muster of 1787 in Boston would have been a celebration to be sure. Colonial musters were popular events for the young men who attended them.

militia musterMilitia units would form. Military exercises and drills would be carried out with militia companies forming, marching and training in the use of their muskets and other arms. Attendance was mandatory for a citizen soldier to claim membership – and pay – as a militia member.

In addition to the official activities, attendees would be treated to food and drink provided by local vendors, for whom a muster was a windfall.

And with the final exclamation point added to the American Revolution in 1783 – the signing of the treaty of Paris – young Americans were proud and frisky upon these occasions. Soldiers from the North Shore towns of Ipswich and Rowley came to Boston for the event.

Among the attendees were young Daniel Foster of Rowley and Amos Chapman of Ipswich. At the closing of the muster, it was traditional for the privates to continue firing volleys from their muskets into the air as a salute to the officers. It was discouraged – not only was it disorderly, it was unsafe since the musket balls might fall anywhere and the militia members were not reliably sober by the end of a muster.

That’s how it came to be that on October 22, 1787 Daniel Foster shot Amos Chapman in the leg with a musket ball. The ball carried a full three inches into Chapman’s leg and for six days he fought for his life. On October 29, Chapman died.

The court took a dim view of Foster’s activities. Foster was indicted by the court in Salem in August of 1788 for manslaughter. He had “feloniously and wilfully” killed Chapman. Foster declared he was not guilty.

But in the spring of 1789, the jury convicted him and he was ordered executed. Fortunately for Foster, Massachusetts’ Governor John Hancock didn’t like the idea of executing men unless they were a menace to the population. It was an era when many of the laws of the Puritans – who were notorious for their harsh penalties – were being frowned upon and undone.

Hancock had famously pardoned the participants of Shay’s Rebellion. And Foster granted a full and unconditional pardon for Foster. Hancock noted that Foster lacked malice in his actions, though he lamented the misguided tradition of ending musters with unruly salutes fired in the air.

In June of 1789, the Court at Ipswich concluded that Foster had paid the costs of the court, as ordered in Hancock’s pardon, and released him without further punishment.

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