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, July 09, 2016

London’s Response to the Marshfield Loyalists

In February 1775 Gen. Thomas Gage received the thanks of the town of Marshfield, or at least of the Loyalist majority at that February town meeting, for stationing British soldiers in that town.

The royal governor responded as protocol demanded: he sent back a public letter of gratitude, praising the citizens’ initiative “at a Time when Treason and Rebellion is making such hasty Strides to overturn our most excellent Constitution, and spread Ruin and Destruction through the Province.” Likewise, Adm. Samuel Graves thanked the town for its loyalty.

Back in January, Gage had reported to his superiors in London how he had sent troops to Marshfield and expected good results. He might even have started to turn the political tide, regaining some control over Massachusetts outside of Boston.

Marshfield came up as Parliament debated further steps to pacify New England. Former governor Thomas Hutchinson (shown above) visited the House of Lords on the afternoon of 16 March. In his diary he recorded that one of the colonies’ strongest supporters, Lord Camden
upbraided the Ministry with being pleased with every appearance of concession from the Americans: a little town of Marshfield had desired soldiers from Gage; he thought it was an inland town, and that 100 men had marched 40 miles into the country without being destroyed: but, alas! it appears by the map to be a town upon the sea coast, to which the men were sent by water—a town which had six of Mr Hutchinson’s Justices in it.

Upon mentioning my name, most of the Bishops, and many Lords who sat with their backs to me, turned about and looked in my face. It happened that I never made a Justice in that town whilst I was in the Government.
Two days later, Hutchinson complained to Jonathan Sewall in unusually emotional terms about Lord Camden’s remark:
I am a little angry wth him for asserting that the departure of the little town of Marshfield from the confederacy was owing to Mr Hutchinson’s having made six Justices there, wch. brought the eyes of the Lords upon me, who, I doubt not, believed him, though it happens unluckily for him that I never made a Justice in that town. Our American patr[iots] hardly exceed him in boldly asserting, to say the least, what he knows not to be true (you may transpose not if you will) to support his cause.

Ld Suffolk spake very well. Ld Mansf. was silent, but looked with sovereign contempt upon his adversary. Attending two or three debates in the H. of L. has lessened the high opinion I had formed of the dignity of it when I was in England before.
On 30 March, Parliament passed the New England Restraining Act, designed to apply economic pressure to the whole region in the same way the Boston Port Bill was squeezing Boston. That law limited both trade and fishing out of New England ports. However, it made a couple of exceptions, such as:
XI. Provided also, and be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That nothing in this Act contained respecting the Fisheries carried on by his Majesty’s subjects in North America, shall extend, or be construed to extend, to any Ship or Vessel being the property of any of the inhabitants of the Townships of Marshfield and Scituate, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, employed in or carrying on the Mackerel, Shad, and Alewife Fisheries only, if the Master or other person having the charge of any such Ship or Vessel as aforesaid, shall produce a Certificate, under the hand and seal of the Governour or Commander-in-Chief of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, setting forth that such Ship or Vessel, (expressing her name and the name of her Master, and describing her built and burthen) is the whole and entire property of his Majesty’s subjects of the said Townships of Marshfield and Scituate, and was the property of one or more of them, on or before the twenty-fifth day of March, in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, which Certificate or Certificates such Governour or Commander-in-Chief is hereby authorized and required to grant.
Thus, Parliament viewed Marshfield and its neighbor to the north—the one part of Massachusetts that appeared to have welcomed the king’s troops—as not part of the rebellion.

TOMORROW: Was Marshfield a “Tory town”?

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