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, December 10, 2016

“We advise you to resign your arms immediately”

I’ve been exploring the turmoil in Great Barrington during the spring of 1776. The trouble surfaced when the town elected officers for its militia companies.

As described by a local Patriot leader named Mark Hopkins, a group of Anglicans who had never participated in the Revolutionary actions voted as a bloc and narrowly elected some officers who were suspected Loyalists, lukewarm Patriots, or simple embarrassments.

While some men in the town wanted new elections, others felt that now that they had chosen officers under the prescribed methods it wouldn’t be right to change things.

In addition, Hopkins told the Massachusetts Council, men from the remote part of town called the Hoplands disliked having been shunted into neighboring Tyringham’s militia company.

Over the next two years, the Massachusetts legislature and local politicians took a number of steps that forced solutions to that situation. First, the legislature decided Berkshire County should organize three militia regiments instead of two, prompting a reshuffle of companies and officers. By July the once-court-martialed Peter Ingersoll was a militia captain in the new third Berkshire County regiment.

Second, in February 1776 the General Court had passed a resolve asking every town to elect a unified “Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety,” empowered “to Inspect whether there are any Inhabitants of or Residents in their respective Towns who violate the Association of the Continental Congress.” The Continental Association had started out in 1774 as yet another non-importation agreement, but by this point it was functioning as a loyalty oath. Hopkins thus became head of Great Barrington’s Committee with a mandate to root out Loyalists.

On 9 July 1776, the Great Barrington Committee served notice to thirty-three men who had “refused to subscribe” to the Association. Hopkins and his colleagues told them:
The People of this Town are very uneasy that you have not yet Resigned your arms, and we find they are determined to take your arms in their own way unless you resign them of your own accord. In order to prevent further confusion and mischief we advise you to resign your arms immediately to Sergeant Joshua Root who the committee have desired to receive & take the charge of the same, and we have desired him to give you Notice of this our advice.
Of those thirty-three men, at least nineteen were listed as regular worshippers in the Church of England the year before. The men asked to surrender their guns also included that church’s minister, the Rev. Gideon Bostwick, and the owner of the tavern where its members hung out, Timothy Younglove.

By October, Committee member William Whiting certified that Root had collected one gun from fourteen of those men, particularly in the Van Deusen and Burghardt families. Younglove went from being elected a militia officer at the beginning of the year to being disarmed. Furthermore, town officials gave four of those muskets to other men who were going off to military service.

According to local historian Charles G. Taylor, the town also confiscated “‘a cutlash without a scabbard’ from Asa Brown, who had renounced toryism a few months previous, but found the articles of Association too stringent for his compulsory patriotism.”

As for the dissatisfied Hoplanders, the Massachusetts government let them break off from Great Barrington and form a new town in 1777. They chose, perhaps too quickly, to have the town named after Gen. Charles Lee. Its first meeting-house, a traditional Congregationalist building put up in 1780, appears above.

Hopkins didn’t see the end of that process. He left to join the Continental forces in New York, fell ill, and died at White Plains on 26 Oct 1776, two days before the battle.

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