Suffolk Inferior Court, Boston: Gray v. Pitts, July 26, 1771


John Adams (October 30 [O.S. October 19] 1735 – July 4, 1826)

John Adams (later the second president of the United States) is appointed the attorney for a minor, Lendall (or Lindall) Pitts, in a legal action brought against Pitts by John Gray. The youth, Pitts, is charged by Gray with injuring him in a scuffle outside Dehon's barber shop in Boston.

John Adams's notes on the case indicate that the cause of the scuffle was an earlier incident in which young Pitts had been "gallanting" (flirting with) a person he assumed to be a young woman. Only later did Pitts learn that this individual's feminine clothes covered a male body -- apparently, either Gray's or that of another male closely associated with Gray. Learning of the deception, young Pitts, after unsuccessfully demanding an apology from Gray, opened Gray's scalp with a walking stick -- the injury for which Gray brought legal charges. 

In a first hearing, in July 1771, in the Suffolk Inferior Court, Gray sued young Pitts for £300, but Gray's lawyer, Josiah Quincy, Jr. (the American lawyer and patriot) won him only £5. Gray appealed this award to the Suffolk Superior Court, where a jury increased Gray's award to £18 damages, and costs of £lO 8s. 8d. 

The case involved young Pitts's "very loving" behavior toward an apparent female; when he discoverd this individual to be a male he was  greatly insulted and upset -- enough to take physical retribution.


Josiah Quincy, Jr. (February 23, 1744 – April 26, 1775)

Did Pitts's feeling of insult arises simply from being the object of a jest? Or was he responding to the public humiliation ofr having inadvertently experienced those feelings for a male which a male is only supposed to feel for a female?  Interestingly, the jury in this case thought Gray, the physically injured party, innocent of any provocation or guilt.

John Adams's sketchy, incomplete notes on the case indicate that William Molineaux, son of the patriot leader, testified in young Pitts's defense. Molineaux, referring to Gray, or another male associated with Gray, said: 

I saw him dressed in Women's Clothes. He had the outward Appearance of a Woman, a Gown and Women's Clothes. I saw a Couple of young Gentlemen gallanting him. Pitts was one. I was very sensible they were taken in. . . . They appeared to be very loving -- she rather Coy. I called out to Pitts at New Boston [the Beacon Hill area]. He turned a deaf Ear. He came back and said he had a very clever Girl, and went to her again.[1]

Another witness, John Whitworth, a merchant, recalled that "Pitt said in the forenoon, that Gray had used him very ill, and he would beat him whenever he met him."  This was about an hour-and-a-half before Pitts attacked Gray.[2] 

Another witness, William Winter, a "peruke [wig] maker," testified to seeing Gray and Pitts arguing in front of Dehon's wig and barber shop. "Pitts demanded Satisfaction," calling Gray a "chuckle headed son of a Bitch." Pitts then "held up his Fist and Gray held up his, and then Pitts pushed him off with one hand and struck him with the other."[3] 

Timothy Odin testified that Pitts asked Gray to apologize, and Gray answered, "No, you wolly [woolly?] headed Rascall, I wont." "D---m you you shall," Odin recalled Pitts answering.[4] 

Although Judge Thomas Hutchinson cited a Massachusetts law of 1696 prohibiting men or women from wearing the clothes of the other sex, the jury apparently ignored this statute in awarding Gray damages.[5]


1  John Adams, Legal Papers of John Adams, ed. by L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel (Cambridge, MA.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), p. 160. Jonathan Ned Katz is indebted to Robert Qaks for informing him of this reference. 

2  Adams, p. 159.

3  Adams, p. 158.

4  Adams, p. 159.

5  Adams, p. 161.