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.

Follow by Email


Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Transformation of Thomas Cowdin

Today Bob O’Hara continues his story of Thomas Cowdin, an Irish-born farmer who became a prominent landowner in central Massachusetts.

In the weeks that followed the battle of Lexington and Concord, it’s tempting to think that all the residents of Massachusetts sorted themselves neatly into Patriot and Tory camps, with one side laying siege to Boston and the other side coming under siege in their homes and villages all across the countryside. But the career of Thomas Cowdin of Fitchburg reminds us that revolutions are rarely neat—for Thomas Cowdin was indeed a soldier of the Revolution, but not at first.

As described yesterday, when news of the fatal shots at Lexington and Concord reached Fitchburg, Cowdin resisted the call to join the militia alarm. But in August 1775, he traveled to the siege lines to ask Continental authorities for a commission as an army officer.

Cowdin’s reputation for reluctance had preceded him, however. Reporting for duty four months after the war had begun looked suspicious to some of his fellow townsmen. When Cowdin arrived in Cambridge, he was promptly arrested by Gen. Nathanael Greene for having “invariably opposed every Measure pursued for the Restoration of our violated Previlages,” and he was sent to Gen. George Washington’s headquarters on 6 Aug 1775 for examination. Washington, skillful politician that he was, declined to involve himself in a local matter and referred the Cowdin case to the newly-reconstituted Massachusetts legislature, then sitting at Watertown.

Before that assembly two days later, Cowdin acknowledged that he had been “Backward In town Affairs with Regard to the Liberties of the Country.” He begged “the forgiveness of the honourable Board & hous of Representatives & all the good People of this Country,” declaring that he was “Now Ready to Convince the World of this Solemn Declaration not only by Word Interest—but even by exposing my life itself if my Country Calls me there to.”

After due consideration of his public apology, the General Court politely declined to recommend Cowdin for the commission he was seeking. But because they did apprehend in him “evidence of a Reformation,” they agreed to send him home to Fitchburg with a certificate “for his own security against the further resentment of the Publick for his past offences.”

But Thomas Cowdin was never one to sit still, and over the coming two years he worked assiduously to regain the trust of his Fitchburg neighbors. By 1777 he was again accepted into the town’s militia company and served in New York. By 1779 he was that company’s captain. The next year, his townsmen elected him as their first representative to the Massachusetts General Court under the new state constitution drafted by John Adams. The General Court was the same body that had denied him a commission in 1775, so he surely must have considered his rehabilitation complete.

TOMORROW: The man with two monuments.

No comments: