J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Deacon Newell Chooses Not to Be Seen

Yesterday I quoted Deacon Timothy Newell’s first response to demands that he turn over the key to the Brattle Street Meeting-House to a group of Loyalist Presbyterians who wanted to worship there. After a curt exchange, he refused to talk with them.

So, on 15 Sept 1775, they turned up the pressure:

As I was attending a funeral, the Provost Mr. [William] Cunningham, came to me and told me “It was his Excellency the Genls command, I should immediately deliver him the Key of Dr. [Samuel] Cooper’s Meetinghouse[”]—I replied, I must see the Governor—he told me he would not see me till I had delivered the Key. I told him, I must see the General, and refused to deliver the Key. He left me in a great rage and swore he would immediately go and break open the doors.

I left the funeral and proceeded to the Governor’s,—calling on Capt. [John?] Erving to go with me.—He excused himself, so I went alone. The Governor received me civilly. I addressed myself to him and most earnestly intreated him that he would be pleased to withdraw his order, urging that Dr. [Andrew] Elliot, in order to accommodate our people, was to preach in said Meetinghouse next Sabbath, or the Sabbath after and that the person they proposed was a Man of infamous character, which had it been otherwise, I should not oppose it &c. And I desired his Excellency would consider of it. He told me he would and that I might keep the Key, and if he sent for it he expected I would deliver it,—so left him.—

I had not been, I believed 20 minutes from him, before the Provost came with a written order to deliver the Key immediately, which I did accordingly.

When I at first urged the Governor to excuse my delivering the Key for the reasons given—he replied that a number of creditable people had applied to him, and he saw no reason why that house should not be made use of as any other. Gen’l Robinson (when I mentioned the preacher being of an infamous character) said he knew no harm of the man, but this he knew that he had left a very bad service and taken up with a good one.

The next day the Provost came to my shop, I not being there, he left word that he came for the apparatus of the Pulpit and that he must have the Key under the Pulpit, supposing the curtain and cushions were there.

The Provost the same day came again. I chose not to be there. He left orders to send him the aforesaid and swore most bitterly that if I did not send them, he would split the door open—and accordingly I hear the same was forced open[—]and that if Dr. Cooper and Dr. Warren were there, he would break their heads and that he would drag me in the gutter, &c. &c. &c.—

This being Saturday afternoon, I chose not to be seen—spent the evening at Major [William] Phillips’s—consulted with a few friends—advised still to be as much out of the way as possible.—

Dr. Elliot invited me to come very early in the morning (being Lords day) and breakfast with him and also dine, which I did and returned home after nine at night—found Serjent with a Letter had been twice at our house for me—Thus ends a Sabbath which exclusive of the perplexities and insults before mentioned, has has [sic] been a good day for me.

P.S. Capt. Erving and myself being the only persons of the Committee remaining in town, I acquainted him of the demands of the General, who advised me that if the Gen’l insisted on the delivery of the Key, to deliver the same.

The next week several of our Parish thought proper to petition the Genl.—I advised with Foster Hutchinson Esqr., who thought it very proper, and accordingly at my desire he drew a petition, but upon further consideration and hearing of the opinion of the General, he thought it best not to present it.
Provost William Cunningham was one the most notorious villains of the Revolutionary War, according to Americans. He was reviled for the suffering of prisoners of war under his care, and Americans delighted in newspaper reports that he had been hanged in England for financial crimes in 1791. However, British historians later wrote they could find no evidence that actually happened. Practically all the facts that most sources state about Cunningham’s life come from the “confession” published at his “execution,” which renders them more than a little dubious. I’ve just started digging into him (and frankly wish he had a more unusual name).

Foster Hutchinson (1724-1799) was younger brother of former governor Thomas Hutchinson. Newell might have thought he’d have some pull with the royal governor, but he apparently decided to defer to Gage instead.

I haven’t been able to identify “Gen’l Robinson.”

1 comment:

Dana Huff said...

RE: William Cunningham -- My earliest known Cunningham ancestor, born in 1792, has the same name, and I am in complete agreement with you about the frustration involved in working with such a common name. I have been trying to find out something about his antecedents for some time, but can never get anywhere definitive. Very frustrating! I first heard of the William Cunningham you mention when I was talking with my Southern Literature professor, who specialized in South Carolina, and specifically the Dutch Fork, and told me there was a notorious "Bloody Bill" Cunningham in the Revolutionary War. I would be utterly astonished if there is a connection between the two men, but I found it interesting nonetheless.