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, October 10, 2015

“A person more suitable to your birth & rank”

Yesterday I quoted a letter that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson received from William Fitzwilliam on 6 Apr 1771, asking for his youngest daughter Peggy’s hand in marriage.

As I said, Hutchinson knew that that young man was the son of a nobleman back in Britain. For many colonial politicians, the prospect of allying his family with the imperial aristocracy would have been very enticing.

Hutchinson wasn’t that sort of person. He loved his daughter dearly, and he also loved his late wife, who had died giving birth to her. He no doubt knew that the marriage of two young people who had never even spoken was unlikely to lead to happiness. A native Bostonian, Hutchinson collected offices at home but showed no ambition to join the noble class in Britain.

The governor was also a firm believer in the social order, and that gave him a way to let Peggy’s suitor down easy. He wrote back the same day:
I am not insensible that such an Alliance as you have proposed would be doing the greatest honour to me & my Family.

I am at the same time very sensible that it cannot be approved of by the Noble Family to which you belong—In my station, from Respect to My Lord FitzWilliam I should think it my duty to do all in my power to discourage one of his Sons from so unequal a match with any person in the Province and I should most certainly be highly criminal if I should countenance & encourage a match with my own daughter

I hope Sir you will think this a sufficient reason for my not acceding to your proposal & sincerely wish you happy in a person more suitable to your birth & rank & who may be approved of by your Honorable Parent

I have the honor to be
Sr. Yr. most obedt.
humble Sert.
Thomas Hutchinson
This action turned out to benefit Gov. Hutchinson in a small way. On 8 Nov 1774, after moving to London, he visited the British politician George Onslow. At the end of that conversation, which seems to have been full of mutual flattery, came this exchange, as Hutchinson recorded it in his diary:
He thanked me for conducting an affair of his nephew, Ld FitzWilliam’s son, in America. I had forgot he was his nephew. He hoped to cultivate an acquaintance, &c.
Peggy Hutchinson joined her father in London. She died three years later, never having married.

TOMORROW: Who was William Fitzwilliam?


meryka said...

Hello John,

Great story.
A question about the family: have you run into anything about son Elisha and his wife Mary (Watson) Hutchinson?



J. L. Bell said...

By coincidence, I was just reading some letters to Polly Hutchinson last night. She was outside of Boston when the war started, at the house of her father, George Watson, in Plymouth. But I know nothing more. The Hutchinson sons seem to recede.