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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Sunday, August 23, 2009

“The Instrument Should Be Taken Away”

In July 1740, one of Boston’s representatives to the Massachusetts General Court, James Allen, published a pamphlet titled A Letter to a Friend in the Country, &c. It was an attack on Roland Cotton, representative from the town of Woburn, for how he’d voted on a controversial fiscal measure.

According to Allen, Cotton had tried to abstain from voting on the grounds that he was Clerk of the House and should remain “Neuter.” But then he inserted his vote into the records so he’d look good to his constituents back home (perhaps after knowing that his vote wouldn’t change the outcome).

Politics was never just personal in the 1700s, and the last two pages of Allen’s pamphlet veer off into this anecdote:

A weaver in the County of P[lymout]h made a Business of playing upon a Fiddle and drew away many people to hear the Musick; upon which a Complaint or Memorial was put into the Church against him, and upon the Trial, (not before the Trial) he was order’d to be suspended:

But some Time after, the said Weaver mov’d for a Restoration [of his church membership], making a penitent Confession; and the Parson putting the Question, Brother C——n started up and agreed to said Motion, with an Amendment, That the Instrument should be taken away to prevent any such undue and irregular Practices for the future; which was voted accordingly:

Some Time after it so happen’d that Brother C——n was a Widower (or if a Batchelor, is all one [to be exact, Cotton was a bachelor]) and had a handsome Maid, and happening to be too active, said Maid prov’d with Child; upon which Brother C——n was call’d before the Church and suspended; and afterwards mov’d for Restoration; which charitable Brother Weaver agreed to with this Amendment, That the Instrument should be taken away, to prevent such more than undue and irregular influencing the Propagation of Mankind for the future:

Which was voted accordingly.
I don’t know if any of that was true, but you wouldn’t really expect me to pass it up, would you? And now we’ll return to 1752.

TOMORROW: The Rev. Edward Jackson demands an apology.

[This series of postings started back here.]

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