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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Friday, May 20, 2011

“To Preserve Him and His Family and Substance from Injury and Abuse”

At the top of New England rural society were a town’s wealthy landowners and professionals, its selectmen, its militia officers, and—once political turmoil reached its boiling point in 1774-75—its local committee of correspondence. Those groups overlapped a lot, and they and their children tended to intermarry.

Usually the town minister was part of that class, but in Groton in 1775 the Rev. Samuel Dana was siding with the Crown, and therefore unpopular. Even so, his genteel neighbors didn’t want to see a mob hurt harm him, for several overlapping reasons: class solidarity, dislike of disorder, a wish to preserve the town’s reputation, &c.

In early May 1775, a committee of local bigwigs met with Dana and brought the following report to the town meeting:
This memorandum witnesseth, that at a conference between Dr. Oliver Prescott, Capt. Josiah Sartell, Dea. Isaac Farnsworth and Benjamin Bancroft, Ensign Moses Child and Mr. Jona. Clark Lewis, on the one side, and the Rev. Samuel Dana, on the other side, it was proposed and agreed to by all parties, that the pastoral relation between the said Samuel Dana and the inhabitants of Groton, should be dissolved, on conditions, the town when properly met shall judge it expedient, and at the same time will restore the said Samuel Dana to the usual privileges and advantages of society and neighborhood, and use their influence to preserve him and his family and substance from injury and abuse, either from the inhabitants of this, or any of the neighboring towns. The said Samuel Dana, at the same time, giving the town the reasonable assurance in his power, that he will not only not oppose their political measures, but will unite with them agreeable to the advice of the Continental and Provincial Congresses, and the votes of the town.
Groton’s official committee of correspondence, which consisted of Prescott, Sartell, Farnsworth, and Child, as well as James Prescott, presented that agreement to the town meeting on 15 May. (That meeting probably took place in the town church, which doubled as the public meeting-house.) The committee also apparently offered a text that Dana would have to sign:
I, The Subscriber, being deeply affected with the Miseries bro’t on this Country, by a horrid Thirst for ill-got Wealth and unconstitutional Power—and lamenting my Unhappiness, in being left to adopt Principles in Politics different from the Generality of my Countrymen; and thence to conduct in a Manner that has but too justly excited the Jealousy and Resentment of the true Sons of Liberty against me, earnestly desirous, at the same Time, to give them all the Satisfaction in my Power do hereby sincerely ask Forgiveness of all such for whatever I have said or done, that had the least Tendency to the Injury of my Country, assuring them that it is my full Purpose, in my proper Sphere, to unite with them, in all those laudable and fit Measures, that have been recommended by the Continental and Provincial Congresses, for the Salvation of this Country, hoping my future Conversation and Conduct will fully prove the Uprightness of my present Professions.
According to the town’s records of that meeting:
the Rev. Samuel Dana came into the meeting, and after some conference with the town, and the memorandum above being read and duly considered, he, the said Dana, desired the town would grant him a dismission from his pastoral relation and office, in the said town; whereupon, the town voted nem. contract, that the said Samuel Dana be dismissed from his pastoral relation and office aforesaid, and he is hereby finally discharged therefrom accordingly.
But that consensus among the gentlemen and yeomen wealthy enough to vote in town meeting didn’t put an end to the troubles. Part of the problem might have been that Dana didn’t sign the document right away.

Around 20 May, Jason Russell and John Tarbell of Mason, New Hampshire, went into a pasture Dana owned in that town and “took from thence a three year heifer, and killed and converted it to their own use.” The Mason committee summoned the men and “required of the offenders full satisfaction therefor.” The two men refused. The Mason leaders called in the committees from New Ipswich and Temple. But Russell and Tarbell, the committeemen reported, “not only neglected to make their appearance before us, but, as we learn, have fled to the Army.”

Ordinary people in and around Groton might have been signaling Dana and his genteel protectors that his property was fair game, and that he might be, too. That in turn might have been enough to make him sign the town’s document on 22 May. It was printed in the New-England Chronicle the following month along with the committee’s report. 

Finally, the Groton church met on 29 May, after a summons by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, and voted, “that what Mr. Samuel Dana has offered to the public for satisfaction, for his conduct in political matters, is by no means satisfactory to this church, as a brother.” The congregation formally dismissed Dana from their pulpit.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Samuel Dana?

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