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, July 25, 2009

Independence Proclaimed in Watertown and Boston

On 16 July 1776, James Bowdoin and the Massachusetts Council were continuing negotiations with Ambroise Saint-Aubin and other representatives of the Malecites and Mi’kmaqs about how those Native nations might ally with the Continental cause. On that day, the negotiating record states, Bowdoin shared a significant piece of news from Philadelphia:

The St. John’s & Mickmac Tribes are now our Brothers, and are become one people with the United Colonies—Those Colonies have lately by their Great Council at Philadelphia declared themselves free and independent States, by the Name of the United States of America.—

The Certain News of it and the Declaration itself are just come to us and we are glad of this opportunity to inform you, our Brothers of it.—The said Great Council the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress Assembled appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of their Intentions do in the name and by the Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united Colonies are and of right ought to be Free and Independent States...
And Bowdoin continued reading the last clause of the Declaration—the one that had legal meaning.

The meeting record says, “Here the printed Declaration at large was produced to the Indians, and the Interpreter Mr. [Job] Prince fully explained it to them.” The response of Saint-Aubin (referred to in these records as Ambruis or Ambrose Var) was translated as, “We like it well.”

Bowdoin went on:
This is the declaration of the United States of America. You and we therefore have now nothing to do with Great Britian[.] We are wholly separated from her and all the former Friendship and Connection with her are now dissolved. The United States now form a long and Strong Chain; and it is made longer and stronger by our Brethren of the St. John’s & Mickmac Tribes joining with us; and may Almighty God never suffer this Chain to be broken—

In pursuance and in full Conformation of what has in these Conferences been agreed upon between us, we now lay before you certain Articles of Alliance and Friendship, which if you approve of them we propose shall be mutually signed, viz, by you in behalf of the St. John’s & Mickmac Tribes on the one part; and by us in behalf of the united States of America on the other part.
Bowdoin held out the treaty and said, “This is the Treaty to be read to you. If you approve of it, it will be fairly written [i.e., copied neatly] and brought here again to be Signed by you and us.—I shall desire one of my Brothers to read it to you being obliged myself to go to Boston.” He then shook hands with the Native leaders and left.

Benjamin Greenleaf read the pact, Prince interpreted it, and the Malecite and Mi’kmaq leaders said they were ready to sign. The conference then adjourned for the treaty document to be copied.

The record for Wednesday, 17 July says, “The Council and the Indian Delegates being met, Duplicates of the Treaty fairly written were produced and signed and exchanged.” However, the official text of that treaty carries the date of “the Nineteenth day of July In the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Six.” Why the discrepancy? Perhaps because Bowdoin wasn’t available to add his signature until the 19th, or perhaps lawyers felt independence had to be proclaimed officially in Massachusetts before the treaty could take effect. Or perhaps the meeting record is in error, and should say the 19th.

On 18 July, “the Committee of Council”—quite possibly including Bowdoin—and many other Massachusetts officials gathered in the Council Chamber of the State House, as the American Gazette newspaper reported. “At One o’Clock the Declaration was proclaimed by the Sheriff of the County of Suffolk [William Greenleaf, assisted by Col. Thomas Crafts], which was received with great Joy expressed by three Huzzas from Concourse of People assembled on the Occasion.” A nineteenth-century portrayal of that event appears above, courtesy of the History Place.

TOMORROW: The significance of the “Watertown Treaty.”

1 comment:

RJO said...

There is a Maliseet reservation today near Houlton, Maine. It might be nice to forward this thread to them for their interest.