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, June 07, 2020

“I was then the Servant of the Town”

Gov. Francis Bernard first moved the Massachusetts General Court to Cambridge in 1769, and the house immediately started arguing with him about it.

Acting governor Thomas Hutchinson convened a session in Cambridge early in 1770, renewing the argument.

So when the house took up the same issue in June 1770, there wasn’t a whole lot new to say.

House members demanded to know why they weren’t meeting in Boston. Hutchinson said he had orders from the king (really the government in London) to convene the legislature in Cambridge. The house asked to see those orders. Hutchinson said he wasn’t authorized to share them. On and on.

On 7 June, 250 years ago today, Lt. Gov. Hutchinson sent a message down from the temporary Council chamber that added a new wrinkle. He wrote:
In 1747 or 1748, when the Court-House in Boston had been consumed by Fire, the major Part of the then House of Representatives was averse to Re-building it, and disposed to build a House for the General Court in some Town in the Country.

Being then one of the Representatives of the Town of Boston, I used my influence in every Way I could with Propriety in Favor of Re-building the Court-House in Boston, but finally could prevail thus far and no farther. The House upon the Question whether a Grant should be made for Re-building the Court-House in Boston was equally divided, and I being then Speaker of the House gave my casting Voice in Favour of the Town.

I have still a very good Affection for the Town of Boston. I was then the Servant of the Town, and know I was acting the Mind of my Constituents. I am still satisfied that I did my Duty.

I now consider myself as the Servant of the Crown. I know his Majesty’s Pleasure, and I am doing my Duty in acting according to it, and if you should finally refuse to do Business at Cambridge, which I hope you will not, all the ill Consequences will be attributed to you and not to me.
Hutchinson used that historical moment to argue his record showed he had long supported Boston’s interests, that he wasn’t personally upset at the town. (Despite that incident in 1765 when his neighbors ripped his house apart. And then the legislature balked at compensating him. No, that was all in the past.)

The Massachusetts house leaders responded that that discussion in 1748 showed the legislature did have a say in where the General Court should sit. The impasse continued.

While we wait for that disagreement to clear up, we might as well look at the moment back in 1748 when Massachusetts flirted with making some town outside Boston the capital.

TOMORROW: Fire in the Town House.

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