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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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Hazards of Thomas Hazard

Thomas Hazard was born 22 Feb 1727 on the west side of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. He was the descendant of a man of the same name who had come to Boston in the 1630s Puritan migration, then helped to found Newport in 1639.

Hazard inherited a large farm in an area of Kingstown called “Boston Neck.” (Why Rhode Islanders called the western side of Narragansett Bay “Boston Neck” I don’t know, but it’s very confusing.) But Hazard was more interested in the mercantile trade.

About the time he turned twenty, Hazard married Mary Bowdoin. Her grandfather was a Huguenot emigré to Maine; her father moved to Virginia while her uncle James settled in Boston. Mary Hazard was thus a cousin to the James Bowdoin who helped to lead the Boston Whigs and later became governor of Massachusetts.

By marrying a Virginia woman, Thomas Hazard became known as “Virginia Tom,” which distinguished him from his cousin “College Tom” and several other Thomas Hazards living in Rhode Island at the time. The Puritans and their descendants tended to keep reusing the same names.

Thomas and Mary Hazard had nine children, but only three survived to adulthood. The youngest was born Susannah in 1758. When she was a little over a year old, her four-year-old sister Mary died. Susannah was then renamed Mary after her sister and mother, who died in early 1760. Like I said, reusing the same names.

In 1761 Thomas Hazard married nineteen-year-old Eunice Rhodes, a descendant of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams. The next year, she bore her first child. Thomas and Eunice had eight children in all, and seven grew to adulthood. By the last two the family had apparently run out of family first names and had to reuse the surnames of Thomas Hazard’s two wives, Bowdoin and Rhodes.

In 1760, Thomas Hazard and Henry Wall had financed a privateer (possibly the Success, captained by Abel Mincheson) to fight in the Seven Years’ War. It captured a French ship, burdening the investors with “eleven Frenchmen” as prisoners of war. Hazard and Wall secured permission from the Rhode Island Assembly to exchange those men in the Caribbean for “so many English prisoners to be brought back into Newport as the vessel will carry.”

When the Revolutionary War began, Rhode Island was split in two. The British seized Aquidneck Island in December 1776. The rest of the state remained independent. Thomas and Eunice Hazard were in occupied Newport along with their children, ranging from two twentysomethings from Thomas’s first marriage to little Rhodes, born in September 1777.

Soon, as Christian M. McBurney describes in Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island, Thomas Hazard was participating in raids on the New England coast to collect meat for the Newport garrison. With “sixteen Refugees” he first “brought off a flock of sheep,” outracing ”two privateers” to get back into harbor.

Hazard then signed up under George Leonard, a Plymouth Loyalist who had been one of Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s guides out to Concord on 18-19 Apr 1775. Leonard was organizing Newport Loyalists into military units for both naval and land operations.

Working under Leonard’s command in May 1779, Hazard reported, “We went by my advice to Point Judith and brought off eleven hundred sheep (one hundred of which was my own property). Also brought off sixty head of cattle.” On another they “took a Rebel guard of sixteen men and some inhabitants,” though at the cost of “a Negro man (his property).” Then Hazard “bought a share in an armed vessel” for more raids and scouting missions.

Then the British military pulled out of Newport in October 1779. Hazard sailed with them to New York, leaving Eunice and the children behind.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

(Map of Narragansett Bay from 1777 courtesy of Graham Arader.)

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