Revolutionary Shore: a clever shoemaker seemingly outwits his creditors

May 4, 2024
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Pictured: Ad in Pennsylvania Weekly Advertiser, May 4, 1774

THE REVOLUTIONARY SHORE – May 4, 1774

By Kellee Blake

On this very day, 250 years ago…

Accomack shoemaker Tom Nock was on the run.  Oh, not from customers unhappy with his cobbling, but from court officers, creditors, and family members seeking him and his money.  Though born and raised on the Shore, the twenty something Nock received artisan training in highly specialized Philadelphia. Such skilled shoemakers were sought in all colonies, but Nock returned to the Shore. 

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 In March 1773 Nock was accused in the Accomack County Court of owing Thorowgood Smith some seventeen pounds British sterling.  Smith was a well-positioned Shore businessman and future mayor of Baltimore.  Tom Nock admitted to the overdue debt and received bail when John Colbourne and Joseph Nock posted funds ensuring Tom would return for his next court date.

Merchant Thorowgood Smith by Charles Balthazar Julien de Fevret St. Memin, National Portrait Gallery.

But when the court day arrived, Tom Nock did not.  He “jumped bail,” could not be found on the Shore, and was rumored to be in Baltimore or Philadelphia.  Determined not to lose their bail bond money, Colbourne and Joseph Nock placed an eye-catching ad in the Pennsylvania Weekly Advertiser of April 27 and again on May 4, 1774.  They promised “three pistoles” and reasonable costs to anyone who secured Nock in any of “his Majesty’s gaols” for transfer to the Accomack County Sheriff.  Was he hiding with friends in Philadelphia? Did Tom Nock truly evade his debt?  Though the Accomack County Court administered hundreds of cases in the summer of 1774, Nock’s was not among them.

By then, merchants like Thorowgood Smith had worries far greater than a small local debt: the British had closed the Port of Boston.  All commerce ceased and Bostonians were heavily fined for the tea destroyed during the Boston Tea Party.  Far from compelling submission, however, the Boston Port Act increased colonial cooperation and ignited an irrepressible sense of indignation blasting far beyond Massachusetts. Certainly it was felt–and would soon be acted upon–by the farmers of the Eastern Shore. 

Join WESR on the 4th of each month to learn more about Virginia and the Shore’s role in the War for Independence.  Get ready for the Revolutionary Shore! 

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