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, September 06, 2014

A Matter “of too small importance to be noticed”

Here’s another snapshot of the situation in Massachusetts in September 1774, from the records of the Worcester Convention.

The Whigs were trying to stop all court proceedings under the Massachusetts Government Act to communicate their belief that law violated the constitution. A court clerk in Worcester County, Samuel Paine (1753-1807), was continuing to issue summons for jury duty, and the convention demanded an explanation.

On 21 September, the convention read this message from Paine:
To the several gentlemen of the committees of correspondence for the county of Worcester, now convened in Worcester,

Gentlemen:—

I thought I gave you all the satisfaction, relative to my issuing the warrants, at your last meeting, which could reasonably be expected: still, you have demanded of me more. As I considered myself, in that matter, as acting merely officially, and, as such, had no right to judge of the propriety or impropriety of the act of parliament, and my issuing the warrants gave the people, who were the only judges, an opportunity to determine for themselves whether they should be complied with or not, upon this representation, I hope I shall stand fair in the eye of my countrymen.

Should not this be a sufficient excuse for me, you must know, gentlemen, that I was regularly appointed clerk of the peace for this county, by the justices, in September last, and, as the said justices of the court of general sessions of the peace, as well as the inferior court of common pleas for this county, whose servant I am, on the sixth day of September current, did give assurance to the body of the people of this county, then assembled at Worcester, that they would not endeavor to put said act in execution, so, gentlemen, I give you the same assurance.

Your devoted servant,
SAMUEL PAINE.
The convention voted that that letter was “not satisfactory” and turned it over to a committee composed of Joseph Henshaw (1727-1794) of Leicester, Timothy Bigelow (1739-1790) of Worcester, and Ephraim Doolittle (d. 1802 at an old age) of Petersham. After “some time,” those men came up with this recommendation:
The letter appears to have been written by a young man, who, by his connections, has lately started into the office of clerk of the sessions and inferior court, through the indulgence of the bench of justices. The letter is affrontive to the convention, and in no respect answers their reasonable requisitions.

Considering the person who wrote it, the committee are of opinion, it is of too small importance to be noticed any further by the convention, and therefore recommend, that said letter be dismissed, and the person treated with all neglect.
Oh, snap!

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