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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Thursday, December 08, 2016

“The soldiers appear to be very uneasy with the officers elected”

Yesterday I quoted briefly from a letter that Mark Hopkins of Great Barrington sent to the Massachusetts Council on 30 Mar 1776. Hopkins’s whole report (as transcribed in Peter Force’s American Archives) is an interesting snapshot of how the New England militia system worked—and didn’t work.

Hopkins, born in 1739, was a young Yale-educated lawyer who had already represented his town in the General Court. In the spring of 1776 he became a militia colonel in Berkshire County, but, as he described, that regiment had problems:
Upon the receipt of the Militia Bill, and the order of the honourable Council conformable thereto, the Field-Officers of the Regiment which I have the honour to command, met, and divided the same into companies; and, amongst the rest, divided this town of [Great] Barrington into two companies, by a line running east and west through the middle of the same, having first taken off some of the out corners of the town, and placed them to other companies for their convenience.

After which division, the companies were brought to a choice of their officers, and chose those named in the list now sent to the Secretary. The Captains of each company were chosen by a bare majority of votes, and the Lieutenants but by a few more.
New Englanders probably had more elections than anyone else in the English-speaking world: for town officials and laws, representatives to the General Court, Congregationalist ministers, and, as in this case, militia officers. But they wanted to see strong majorities pointing to community consensus. A “bare majority” was troubling.
Since the choice, a large number of the soldiers appear to be very uneasy with the officers elected. Those of the South Company say that Captain Peter Ingersoll was broke last fall by the sentence of a Court-Martial in the Continental Army, and was then declared incapable of sustaining any office in the Continental service. The First Lieutenant, Timothy Younglove, they say is a Tory, and during the whole of our troubles has manifested himself unfriendly to the common cause, and openly opposed all the measures that have been recommended by the Congress; therefore that he ought not to have any command in the Militia.

Those in the North Company say that the Captain, Hewit Root, is advanced in years, and by frequent fits of the gout, or rheumatism, is rendered incapable of doing the duties of his office. They also object against the moral character and general conduct of the First Lieutenant; and the uneasiness in both companies has risen to that height, that they say they never will bear arms under these officers, so long as they are able to earn enough to pay their fines.
Hewitt Root was born in 1724, thus turning fifty-two in 1776. Despite being “advanced in years,” in 1777 he marched with his men to Fort Edward and back. As for Root’s first lieutenant, that appears to be William Pixley (1734-1800). I can’t find anything about his “moral character and general conduct.” Pixley lost his first wife and two children that fall. He later remarried and continued to fill political offices in Great Barrington during the war.

Ingersoll, Younglove, Root, and Pixley all owned taverns in Great Barrington. That reflected both how magistrates preferred to give licenses to well established property owners and also how tavern-keepers became popular in the community. David Conroy’s In Public Houses explores the cycle of influence those patterns produced.

Younglove’s tavern, “at the fork of the roads just west of Green River,” was remembered in local history as the “headquarters and place of rendezvous” for Loyalists, which helps to explain why people called him “a Tory.” That also raises the question of how the locals chose him to be a militia officer in the first place. (Younglove’s 1796 gravestone appears above, courtesy of Find a Grave.)

Hopkins saw the explanation lying in a deeper split within his regiment and his town.

TOMORROW: “an alteration in the division.”

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