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, June 03, 2021

The Death of Thomas Hutchinson

Thomas Hutchinson was born on 9 Sept 1711 to a wealthy Boston merchant. His father valued education so much that he funded the building of a new Latin School in the family’s North End neighborhood. Naturally, of course, that school benefited the Hutchinson boys.

Thomas went on to Harvard College and then a mercantile career of his own. But his real interests lay in two other professions:
  • researching and writing history, culminating in the two volumes of his History of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay and a manuscript for a third, published in the 1800s.
  • politics.
Hutchinson served significant terms as a Boston selectman, representative and then speaker in the Massachusetts General Court, probate court judge, advocate for the province in London and in intercolonial discussions, Council member, lieutenant governor, chief justice of the Superior Court, and finally governor.

One of his major accomplishments was stabilizing Massachusetts currency by using the Crown’s specie payment after the Louisburg expedition to pay off old notes and then limiting the amount of new debt the province took on each year. He also took credit for keeping Boston as the provincial capital after the Town House burned in 1747.

Hutchinson became unpopular among Boston politicians for holding so many offices at once along with his relatives the Oliver brothers, and for siding with the royal establishment on so many issues. Sometimes he actually opposed London policies, as with the Stamp Act, but he usually did so privately and, if he lost that internal argument, insisted publicly that people had a duty to follow the law.

In late 1769 Hutchinson became the acting governor after the departure of Sir Francis Bernard. Once the Crown officially made him governor, he lasted about three years before being replaced by Gen. Thomas Gage. By then hugely unpopular at home, Hutchinson sailed to London.

At first the former governor was viewed as a valuable advisor on the American situation. But as war broke out and went on, the government sought him out less and less. He remained the leader of the Massachusetts Loyalists in exile.

In 1780 Hutchinson was in his sixty-eighth year, not in good health. His sons Thomas, Jr., and Elisha and his daughter Sarah with her husband, Dr. Peter Oliver, had joined him in London. His beloved younger daughter Peggy had died there in 1777.

On 2 June, the Gordon Riots began in London. I wrote about them back here. Elisha Hutchinson described events of the next day in an account published with his father’s diary and letters in 1886:
Governor slept tolerably well, as he had done for several nights past; arose as usual at 8 o’clock, shaved himself, and eat his breakfast, and we all told him that his countenance had a more healthy appearance, and if he was not better, we had no reason to conclude that he had lost ground.

He conversed well and freely upon the riot in London the day before, and upon different subjects, ’till the time for going out in the coach; at intervals however, expressing his expectations of dying very soon, repeating texts of Scripture, with short ejaculations to Heaven. He called for a shirt, telling Ryley his servant, that he must die clean.

I usually walked down the stairs before him, but he got up suddenly from his chair, and walked out of the room, leaving the Doctor and I behind. We went into the room next the road; saw him whilst he was walking from the steps of the door to the coach, (a few yds. distance), hold out his hands to Ryley, and caught hold of him, to whom he said “Help me!” and appeared to be fainting.

I went down with the Doctor. The other servants had come to support him from falling, and had got him to the door of the house. They lifted him into a chair in the Servants‘ Hall or entrance into the house, but his head had fell, and his hands and f[eet?], his eyes diste[nded?] rolled up.

The Doctor could feel no pulse: he applied volatiles to his nostrils, which seemed to have little or no effect: a be[d] in the mean time was bro’t, and put on the floor, on which he was laid, after which, with one or two gaspes, he resigned his Soul to God who gave it.
Hutchinson was buried in the churchyard of Croydon Parish in London, three thousand miles from home.

TOMORROW: John Adams, speaking ill.

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