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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Friday, September 14, 2007

Deacon Newell's Emotion of Resentment

Boston 1775 interrupts “Back to School Week” because of a crisis in the life of Timothy Newell. So far, when I’ve quoted Newell’s diary of the siege of Boston, I’ve identified him as a selectman. But he had another important role in his society: he was a deacon of the Meeting-House on Brattle Street, the town’s wealthiest Congregationalist religious society. (Picture courtesy of the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.)

Newell held a position of great prestige and responsibility, all the more since the church’s minister, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, had slipped out of town just before the war began. Because Cooper was one of Boston’s most respected Whigs, and John Hancock was one of the congregation’s financial stalwarts, the Crown authorities viewed the Brattle Street Meeting as a font of rebellion. So it was only natural for them to think how that big handsome building could be put to better, more loyal use. Their decisions prompted Deacon Newell to write the longest, most outraged entries in his journal, starting with this:

Memorandum 14th Sept. 1775.

Messrs. [Archibald or Thomas] Auchinclosh, [John] Morrisson, and another person came to me, as three Scotchmen had been before—they showed me a paper directed to me setting forth that “the Revd. Mr. Morrisson was permitted by his Excellency Genl. [Thomas] Gage to preach and desired he may have the use of Dr. Cooper’s Meetinghouse[”]—signed by about 30 Scotchmen and others—viz. B[enjamin]. Hallowill J[ames]. Forrest &c.—

I desired they would leave the Paper for my consideration.—They did not chuse I should keep it and began to urge their having the house.—For answer I told them, I looked upon it a high insult upon the Society their proposing it, and turned my back upon them and so left them.

PM. [i.e., in the afternoon] Messrs. Black, Dixon [William Dickson?], [William?] Hunter, came and told me his Excellency the General, had consented they should have our Meetinghouse and desired I would deliver them the Key. I told them when I see such an order I should know how to proceed. One said to me—so, you refuse to deliver the Key. I answered with an emotion of resentment, Yes I do.
Newell’s resentment probably had deep roots in his Yankee prejudices. The “Scotchmen” were out-of-towners, mostly from New Hampshire and, before that, Scotland. They were Presbyterians, not Congregationalists (despite most British soldiers’ assumption that those creeds were the same thing). The men supporting their demands were friends of the royal government.

And as for their choice of new minister, the Rev. John Morrison, where had Newell seen him before? Oh, yes, Morrison had deserted from the provincial troops in late June. And Newell had undoubtedly heard about the accusations against Morrison up in Peterborough. And this man would occupy the most prestigious pulpit in Boston?

TOMORROW: Deacon Newell refuses to cooperate.

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