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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Sunday, July 31, 2016

“Excepting only from the benefit of such pardon”

Yesterday I quoted from Gen. Thomas Gage’s proclamation on 12 June 1775 declaring martial law in Massachusetts.

Since at the time Gage controlled only the peninsula of Boston and Castle William, that proclamation didn’t have a big effect in the province. A couple days later, he and his generals started planning to take the Dorchester and Charlestown peninsulas as well, but few people were living in those areas, either.

The part of the proclamation that people most noticed at the time and remember today is its offer of pardon to any surrendering rebels, with a couple of notable exceptions:
In this exigency of complicated calamities, I avail myself of the last effort within the bounds of my duty, to spare the effusion of blood; to offer, and I do hereby in his Majesty’s name, offer and promise, his most gracious pardon in all who shall forthwith lay down their arms, and return to the duties of peaceable subjects, excepting only from the benefit of such pardon, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whose offences are of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment.

And to the end that no person within the limits of this proffered mercy, may plead ignorance of the conseqences of refusing it, I by these presents proclaim not only the persons above-named and excepted, but also all their adherents, associates and abettors, meaning to comprehend in those terms, all and every person, and persons of what class, denomination or description soever, who have appeared in arms against the King’s government, and shall not lay down the same as afore-mentioned, and likewise all such as shall so take arms after the date hereof, or who shall in any-wise protects or conceal such offenders, or assist them with money, provision, cattle, arms, ammunition, carriages, or any other necessary for subsistence or offence; or shall hold secret correspondence with them by letter, message, signal, or otherwise, to be rebels and traitors, and as such as to be treated.
Those passages appeared in italics in the printed proclamation, presumably to signal that Gage really, really meant it.

This proclamation is also significant in what it doesn’t say. It offers no financial reward for Hancock and Adams, or any other Patriot leader.

In the 1800s it was common for American authors to say that the British Crown had promised £500 for the capture of Hancock, Adams, and sometimes other men. Some authors say that offer came in early 1775, others in early 1776. But as far as I’ve seen, there’s no evidence the Crown ever offered such a reward at all. None of those authors cites a document to back up the claim.

Gage and his colleagues wouldn’t have kept such a bounty secret; when you make an offer like that, you spread the news as wide as possible. Here, for example, and the proclamations from:
Even without a reward, Adams and Hancock clearly benefited from being singled out as “flagitious” by Gov. Gage, just as they had benefited from the mistaken belief that the king’s troops had tried to catch them in Lexington on 19 April. [I present the evidence against that belief in The Road to Concord.]

TOMORROW: John Hancock’s famous signature.


Anonymous said...

"Flatigious." Not hearing that a lot these days (in fact, my Web program has underlined the word to show that it must be misspelled).

J. L. Bell said...


Anonymous said...

Well, there's the trouble. Thank you.