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what is the meaning of "heating the tar" here? is it a proverb?

Those humble folk who watched over the new birth—Capron, of Auburn, who first lectured upon it in public; Jervis, the gallant Methodist minister, who cried, "I know it is true, and I will face the frowning world!"; George Willetts, the Quaker; Isaac Post, who called the first spiritual meeting; the gallant band who testified upon the Rochester platform while the rowdies were heating the tar—all of them are destined to live in history.

from http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301051h.html

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Pouring boiling tar off the ramparts of castles or city walls was an early thermal weapon used in medieval times. Also, "tarring and feathering" was a form of public torture and humiliation. Both involved heating tar to use in an offensive way.

In your text, "heating the tar" seems to be used as a metaphor to describe people preparing for trouble. Calling them "rowdies", or rowdy people, suggests some kind of unrest.

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    Or they could have been preparing to tar and feather someone. – Kate Bunting Mar 31 '20 at 9:57
  • @KateBunting very good point, I suspect that is more likely given the context, added in. – Astralbee Mar 31 '20 at 10:11

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