Massachusetts

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

The militia muster of 1787 in Boston should have been a celebration. Boston’s citizen soldiers had helped win the American Revolution only recently, adding to the already festive nature of the muster.

militia muster

A militia muster

The militiamen would carry out military exercises and drills, 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, local vendors would provide food and drink during a muster.

The Militia Muster of 1787

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. And so in 1787, soldiers from the North Shore towns of Ipswich and Rowley came to Boston for the event.

Young Daniel Foster came from Rowley to the muster and Amos Chapman from Ipswich. At the closing of the muster, privates liked to continue firing volleys from their muskets into the air as a salute to the officers. The officers, however, discouraged the practice. Not only was it disorderly, it was unsafe since the musket balls might fall anywhere. In addition, the militia members were not reliably sober by the end of a muster.

That’s how it came to be 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 the seventh, Chapman died.

The court took a dim view of Foster’s behavior. Foster was indicted by the court in Salem in August of 1788 for manslaughter. He had “feloniously and wilfully” killed Chapman. Foster pleaded his innocence.

Hancock Intervenes

john-hancock

John Singleton Copley painted this portrait of John Hancock around 1771. Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

But in the spring of 1789, the jury convicted him and he was ordered executed.

Fortunately for Foster, Massachusetts  Gov. John Hancock didn’t like the idea of executing men unless they menaced the population. It was an era when many of the laws of the Puritans – notorious for their harsh penalties – were frowned upon and undone.

Hancock had famously pardoned the participants of Shay’s Rebellion. And he 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. It granted him his release without further punishment.

This story updated in 2022. 

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