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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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

A Plymouth County Protest “as if written with a sunbeam”

The letters I quoted yesterday described the arrival of about a hundred British soldiers in Marshfield on 23 Jan 1775, sent by Gen. Thomas Gage to support the local Loyalists. Those letters also reported that Patriots in the region had started to muster against those troops but hung back.

Instead, the nearby communities protested through their civil representatives and some high-flying rhetoric. They sent a letter to the governor that was published in the 27 Feb 1775 Boston Evening-Post:

We, his majesty’s loyal subjects, selectmen of the several towns of Plymouth, Kingston, Duxbury, Pembroke, Hanover, and Scituate, deeply affected with a sense of the increasing dangers and calamities which menace one of the most promising countries upon earth with political excision, cannot but lament, that, while we are endeavoring to preserve peace and maintain the authority of the laws, at a period when the bonds of government are relaxed, by violent infractions on the charter of the province, our enemies are practising every insidious stratagem to seduce the people into acts of violence and outrage.

We beg leave to address your excellency, on a subject which excites our apprehensions extremely: and, in the representation of facts, we promise to pay that sacred regard to truth, which, had our adversaries observed, we flatter ourselves, it would have precluded the necessity of our addressing your excellency, on this occasion.

We are informed, from good authority, that a number of people from Marshfield and Scituate, have made application to your excellency, soliciting the aid of a detachment of his majesty’s troops, for the security and protection of themselves and properties. That their fears and intimidation were entirely groundless, that no design or plan of molestation, was formed against them, or existed but in their own imaginations, their own declarations, and their actions, which have a more striking language, abundantly demonstrate.

Several men of unquestionable veracity, residing in the town of Marshfield, have solemnly called God to witness, before one of his majesty’s justices of the peace, that they not only never heard of any intention to disturb the complainants, but repeatedly saw them after they pretended to be under apprehensions of danger, attending to their private affairs, without arms, and even after they had lodged their arms a few miles from their respective houses. They frequently declared, in conversation with the deponents, that they were not apprehensive of receiving any injury in their persons or properties, and one of them, who is a minor, as many of them are, being persuaded to save his life by adjoining himself to the petitioners, but afterwards abandoning them by the request of his father, deposeth, in like solemn manner, that he was under no intimidation himself, nor did he ever hear any one of them say that he was.

It appears as evident, as if written with a sunbeam, from the general tenor of the testimony, which we are willing to lay before your excellency if desired, that their expressions of fear, were a fallacious pretext, dictated by the inveterate enemies of our constitution, to induce your excellency to send troops into the country, to augment the difficulties of our situation, already very distressing; and, what confirms this truth, if it needs any confirmation, is, the assiduity and pains which we have taken to investigate it. We have industriously scrutinized into the cause of this alarm, and cannot find that it has the least foundation in reality.

All that we have in view in this address is, to lay before your excellency a true state of facts, and to remove that opprobrium, which this movement of the military reflects on this country: and as a spirit of enmity and falsehood is prevalent in the country, and as every thing which comes from a gentleman of your excellency’s exalted station naturally acquires great weight and importance, we earnestly entreat your excellency to search into the grounds of every report, previous to giving your assent to it.
(This transcription was published in the journals of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress with 1800s spellings and punctuation. A contemporaneous printing is preserved in the Harbottle Dorr newspaper collection.)

Those towns also petitioned to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which on 15 February voted:
That the Congress do highly approve of the vigilance and activity of the selectmen and the committees of correspondence of the several towns of Plymouth, Kingston, Duxbury, Pembroke, Hanover, and Scituate, in detecting the falsehoods and malicious artifices of certain persons belonging to Marshfield and Scituate, not respectable either in their numbers or their characters, who are, with great reason, supposed to have been the persons who prevailed upon General Gage to take the imprudent step, of sending a number of the king’s troops into Marshfield, under pretence of protecting them: whereby great and just offence has been given to the good people of this province, as very fatal consequences must have arisen therefrom, if the same malevolent spirit which seems to have influenced them, had actuated the inhabitants of the neighboring towns; or if the same indiscretion which betrayed the general into the unwarrantable measure of sending the troops, had led this people to destroy them.
At this point the Massachusetts Patriots were anxious to deny or play down any reports of violence and intimidation, presenting themselves to the world as peaceful citizens. The Boston Gazette’s first comment on the troops in Marshfield carried a similar message.

No matter that there had indeed been some documented incidents of violence in the Massachusetts countryside. Or that fear of crowds had driven many supporters of the Crown out of their home towns and into Boston. Or that the Provincial Congress was secretly, as I discuss in The Road to Concord, gathering cannon.

TOMORROW: The Marshfield town meeting.

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