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, August 30, 2014

Samuel Adams’s Petition to the Legislature

Yesterday I mentioned a New England Historical and Genealogical Register obituary for Samuel “Rat-trap” Adams after his death in 1855. After giving some details about his parents it said:
At the time of the Revolution he was old enough to perform services in that cause, which he did, on the patriot side. About five years ago he applied to the General Court for remuneration for some losses which he sustained in the service. There were those in that body disposed to slight his application, but the Hon. J. T. Buckingham [a state senator from Suffolk County in 1850-51] effectually brought a majority to sustain it, and a small appropriation (probably more than was asked for) was granted for the relief of the truly deserving old citizen. In sustaining the application, Mr. Buckingham paid a well merited tribute to the honest old gentleman, whose peculiarities in matters of religion and politics, though admitted, were not allowed to debar him from his just rights.
Now that looks like a lead! A statement from Adams about his work “in the service” of the “patriot side” during the Revolution. A written statement in the most formal of circumstances, with potential legal ramifications if it were found to be exaggerated. A document that might still be on file in the state archives.

Alas, that anecdote turned out to be untrue in several respects. Adams did petition the Massachusetts legislature for support in 1850. But his claim was “for compensation for bringing a prisoner from Worcester to Boston jail, during Shays’ rebellion, 68 years ago,” according to the 25 February Daily Atlas. That would have been 1782, though the uprising in western Massachusetts actually happened in 1786-87.

Furthermore, while Buckingham may have been behind the favorable vote in the Massachusetts senate, which approved giving Adams $100, the bill aroused opposition in the Massachusetts house. An acidic letter from Boston published in the Barre Patriot on 15 February said:
If they give him money, why not vote as much more to the lady in Lexington who is now 102 years old, and needs it more than a hale man of only 90, or thereabouts. She succored the wounded in the Revolution.
So I had to look for that lady. She was Mary (Munroe) Sanderson, who died in 1852, less than a month after a private party raised $300 for her.

Back to Samuel Adams’s bill. The lower house discussed it twice before letting it die. Adams renewed his petition the next year. The committee on claims recommended paying him $100—but once again the bill died.

Newspapers in 1852 and 1853 refer to more rejected petitions from Samuel Adams. By that time Buckingham was no longer in the senate. The published journal of the Massachusetts House shows that in January 1854 yet another Adams petition “for compensation for services rendered during ‘Shay’s Rebellion’” was introduced, given leave to be withdrawn (i.e., rejected) the next month, reconsidered, and rejected again.

The Massachusetts State Library has just launched what it calls DSpace, offering digital copies of many public documents, including the Acts and Resolves for each year showing what bills did pass. And a search through those files shows that Samuel Adams never got special compensation for his work in 1782. Or 1787. Or whenever.

TOMORROW: Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.

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