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, November 10, 2020

The Committee and Colonel Malbone

When Godfrey Malbone of Pomfret, Connecticut, set up an Anglican church and arranged for the Rev. Richard Mosley to preach there in the fall of 1771, that wasn’t just a matter of religious freedom.

It was also a financial matter. Malbone had been a principal contributor to his town’s established meeting, and he was withdrawing his support just when (and because) that congregation had voted to build a new meetinghouse. Furthermore, he had pulled away a bunch of other thrifty parishioners with him.

And there were legal questions. New England law gave ministers jurisdiction over religious ceremonies in the towns where they had been called to the pulpit. But the charter for Malbone’s congregation spilled from the village of Brooklyn, where Trinity Church still stands (shown above), to neighboring towns. And who was this Mosley anyhow?

In February 1772, a committee of three Pomfret town leaders—Joseph Holland, Samuel Williams, and Josiah Tasset—came to Malbone’s house “to inspect Mr. Mosley's letters of orders,” he later reported.

Malbone had been raised as the son of a wealthy Newport merchant and studied at Oxford. He was a militia colonel and owner of a great deal of land. He had lived in Pomfret, he said, for six years without any trouble. And clearly he felt affronted by this visit from some country deacons.

Malbone described their discourse this way:
The contention lasted full two hours, near the close of which I told them that I considered their present conduct as their last effort; that they were then uttering their last dying speech; that, as they knew they could not, by their own laws, do any more against the Church, they had not sense enough to conceal their implacable malice; but had very foolishly taken this ridiculous step to gratify an impotent resentment.

However, I was willing to indulge them, even in their follies; and as I had been favoured by a notice of their intended visit, the evening before, I had drawn up an instrument in writing, which, if they would sign, I would satisfy them as far as it was in my power; and I would promise as much for Mr. Mosley.

“Of what nature is this instrument, sir?"

“You shall know, gentlemen, if you will have the patience to hear me read it quite through: but you must promise not to interrupt me, and also to sign it before you leave the room. Upon these conditions you shall have the examination of Mr. Mosley’s orders, and I will satisfy you as to the right of Induction.“

“We shall be very glad to hear it read to us: we promise to hear it, but cannot to sign it, until we know whether we like it or not. It may be a bond for money. What is it?"

“Why, gentlemen, you have had your whim in coming hither and making a very ridiculous demand. I am willing to gratify you, provided, in turn, you will let me have my whim in making this demand, and your conduct thereupon public. It is nothing like a bond, I assure you, but a writing drawn up for this sole purpose.”

“We shall be glad to hear it; we promise to be patient, and to sign it if we like it.”
So Malbone finally read the document he had prepared, “as distinctly, emphatically and Yankily as I was able to do.”

TOMORROW: The instrument.

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