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, October 31, 2015

Meanwhile, in London…

As their anti-Stamp Act campaign got started in the late summer of 1765, American Whigs were heartened by the news from London that Prime Minister George Grenville’s ministry had fallen.

This change had nothing to do with the unhappiness in America. It was all about the internal politics of the royal court, and in fact of the royal family. But as a result, the man who had championed the Stamp Act was removed from power. George III invited the Marquess of Rockingham to form a coalition with a broader base.

The American press speculated happily that this change meant the popular William Pitt would return to a position of authority. In fact, Pitt refused any role in the new government.

Instead, the strongest man in the new coalition was Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland, the king’s uncle and a military commander (shown above). Cumberland hosted the cabinet meetings at his city and country estates.

The first news those ministers received about the violent American protests was a letter from Massachusetts governor Francis Bernard, sent on 31 August and received on 5 October. Two days later, Andrew Oliver’s resignation as Massachusetts’s stamp master arrived. The government’s quick response was to send back a letter urging Bernard to appoint a temporary stamp-tax collector and proceed as planned.

The cabinet met on 13 October and had a brief discussion of the situation in North America, among many other things, according to John L. Bullion’s study in the 1992 William & Mary Quarterly. The ministers were confident that the leaders of colonial society would realize that they had to use stamped paper for lawsuits, transatlantic trade, and their other business, so they would soon accede to the new law, however grudgingly.

The Privy Council issued instructions to the colonial governors on 23 October, urging them to repeat that message about the wisdom of accepting the tax and getting on with business. Those governors could call on the military forces available in North America to put down riots, if necessary. But there was no plan to send more troops across the ocean; that would be expensive (the Stamp Act was supposed to bring in revenue, not cost a lot) and hard to do with winter coming on.

Five days after that message went out, a letter came in from Gen. Thomas Gage in New York. He reported that riots were spreading across the colonies, driving stamp masters into hiding and threatening the stamped paper itself. Gage suspected that rebellious Americans planned to make it impossible for royal officials to distribute the stamps and then to insist that courts and Customs offices stay open anyway. Now the situation seemed more dire. On 31 October, the cabinet gathered again at the Duke of Cumberland’s London house.

Just before the ministers went into their meeting, the duke collapsed with a heart attack and died. Though Cumberland had significant health problems, including an old war wound, he was only forty-four years old, and no one expected him to leave the scene so suddenly.

All the politicians in London began speculating and maneuvering anew. The Marquess of Rockingham was now the actual head of the government, as well as the titular one, but could he hold power without the duke’s authority behind him? In that political turmoil, the cabinet didn’t meet again until 11 December. And by then, they knew the situation in America had gotten worse.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Stamp Masters in the Deep South

In South Carolina, two men received appointments under the Stamp Act: George Saxby as inspector of the stamps and Caleb Lloyd as distributor.

This appears to have been a way to spread the patronage around. But official news of those appointments didn’t arrive in Charleston until late October 1765, causing some confusion.

On 19 October, Charlestonians—“2000 souls” in all, according to the newspaper—went through the ritual of hanging the stamp master in effigy, even though they weren’t sure who that man was.

Before burning that effigy on the green, the crowd visited a house owned by Saxby and broke some windows. Later the crowd went to Lloyd’s home, demanding to know if he was going to execute the law. The next day, a Sunday, Lloyd posted a notice at St. Michael’s church in the center of town insisting he hadn’t received a commission—which might have been true, but he probably knew one was on its way.

Over the next couple of days, crowds went to other sites, seeking the stamped paper. On the night of 23 October, about seventy men pushed their way into the mansion of Henry Laurens. He hadn’t supported the Stamp Act or sought an appointment under it, but he’d advocated following the law instead of defying it. The crowd demanded the freedom to search Laurens’s house for the stamps. While those men did no more than 15 shillings’ worth of damage, they frightened Laurens’s pregnant wife badly.

The next morning, Lt. Gov. William Bull finally announced that the stamps had arrived back on 20 October and were “lodged in Fort Johnson, till it should be necessary for his Majesty’s service to remove them from thence.” Lloyd was probably in that island fort as well, and Saxby joined him after arriving on another ship from Britain on 26 October.

Two days later Saxby and Lloyd wrote from Fort Johnson with a promise to do nothing to enforce the Stamp Act. That was enough for Charleston’s mercantile and political leaders to promise them safety. The two men came into town, went through the ritual of publicly repeating their promise to the crowd, and were escorted to a tavern with music and flags for “some refreshment.”

A similar situation in North Carolina played out as farce. On 19 and 31 October, Dr. William Houston was hanged in effigy as the colony’s stamp agent in Wilmington, New Bern, and one of the towns that became Fayetteville. Meanwhile, Houston reportedly had no idea he’d been appointed to the job.

Dr. Houston traveled from his plantation to Wilmington to meet with Gov. William Tryon on 16 November, only to be greeted by a crowd of three to four hundred men. They demanded that the physician resign his appointment, which he did, and then repeat that resignation in writing at the courthouse. As for the stamps, they didn’t arrive in the colony until 28 November, nearly a month after the law was supposed to take effect.

Likewise, as of 1 November, the small colony of Georgia had seen no stamped paper, no stamp master, and no anti-Stamp Act demonstrations.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two Virginia Gentlemen and the Stamp Act

As I noted back in May, the Virginia House of Burgesses was the first American institution to protest the Stamp Act—albeit not as forcefully as first thought, or later reported.

Virginians were also ahead of their southern neighbors in protesting the new law on the street, starting even before their stamp master had made his way back from Britain.

George Mercer (1733-1784), a former military companion of George Washington, was first hanged and burnt in effigy in Westmoreland County on 24 Sept 1765. Richard Henry Lee (shown here) led that protest, ordering his slaves to cart the effigy around and reportedly himself playing the part of a clergyman taking its confession before execution.

Mercer arrived in Virginia in the last week of October 1765. On the evening of 30 October, newspapers reported, he reached the colonial capital of Williamsburg.
…upon his walking up streets as far as the Capitol, in his way to the Governor’s, [Mercer] was accosted by a concourse of gentlemen assembled from all parts of the colony, the General court [House of Burgesses] sitting at this time. They insisted he should immediately satisfy the company (which constantly increased) whether he intended to act as a commissioner under the Stamp Act;

Mr. Mercer told them that any answer to so important a question that he should make, under such circumstances, would be attributed to fear; though he believed none of his countrymen, as he had never injured them, could have any design against his person; insisted that he ought to be allowed to wait on the Governor and Council, and to receive a true information of the sentiments of the colony (whose benefit and prosperity he had as much at heart as any man in it) and that he would, for the satisfaction of the company then assembled, give them his answer on Friday [1 November] at ten o’clock.

This seemed to satisfy them, and they attended him up as far as the Coffee-House, where the Governor, most of the Council, and a great number of gentlemen were assembled; but soon after many more people got together, and insisted on a more speedy and satisfactory answer, declaring they would not depart without one. In some time, upon Mr. Mercer’s promising them an answer by five o’clock this evening [31 October], they departed well pleased; and he met with no further molestation.

And accordingly he was met this evening at the capitol, and addressed himself to the company as follows:
I now have met you agreeable to yesterday’s promise, to give my country some assurances which I would have been glad I could with any tolerable propriety have done sooner.

I flatter myself no judicious man can blame me for accepting an office under an authority that was never disputed by any from whom I could be advised of the propriety or weight of the objections. I do acknowledge that some little time before I left England I heard of, and saw, some resolves which were said to be made by the House of Burgesses of Virginia; but as the authenticity of them was disputed, they never appearing but in private hands, and so often and differently represented and explained to me, I determined to know the real sentiments of my countrymen from themselves: And I am concerned to say that those sentiments were so suddenly and unexpectedly communicated to me, that I was altogether unprepared to give an immediate answer upon so important a point; for in however unpopular a light I may lately have been viewed, and notwithstanding the many insults I have from this day’s conversation been informed were offered me in effigy in many parts of the colony; yet I still flatter myself that time will justify me; and that my conduct may not be condemned after being cooly inquired into.

The commission so very disagreeable to my countrymen was solely obtained by the genteel recommendation of their representatives in General Assembly, unasked for; and though this is contradictory to public report, which I am told charges me with assisting the passage of the Stamp Act, upon the promise of the commission in this colony, yet I hope it will meet with credit, when I assure you I was so far from assisting it, or having any previous promise from the Ministry, that I did not know of my appointment until some time after my return from Ireland, where I was at the commencement of the session of Parliament, and for a long time after the act had passed.

Thus, gentlemen, I am circumstanced. I should be glad to act now in such a manner as would justify me to my friends and countrymen here, and the authority which appointed me; but the time you have allotted me for my answer is so very short that I have not yet been able to discover that happy medium, therefore must intreat you to be referred to my future conduct, with this assurance in the mean time that I will not, directly or indirectly, by myself or deputies, proceed in the execution of the act until I receive further orders from England, and not then without the assent of the General Assembly of this colony; and that no man can more ardently and sincerely wish the prosperity thereof, or is more desirous of securing all its just rights and privileges, than

Gentlemen, Yours &c.,
George Mercer.
Rather than stick around, Mercer headed back to Britain, warning the imperial government that the Stamp Act was unenforceable. Sympathetic bureaucrats there appear to have leaked letters to him showing that another Virginian had applied for the job of stamp master months before: none other than Richard Henry Lee.

TOMORROW: Stamp masters in deep trouble in the deep south.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When “Clamours run very high” in Philadelphia

As of 8 Sept 1765, the stamp agent for Pennsylvania, John Hughes, had heard demands for his resignation, but he brushed them off. Then on 12 September, he reported to the man who had secured that appointment for him:
Our Clamours run very high, and I am told my House shall be pull’d down and the Stamps burnt. To which I give no other Answer than that I will defend my House at the Risque of my Life. I must say, that all the sensible Quakers behave prudently.
The irony is that Hughes and the man he was writing to, Benjamin Franklin, were leaders of the political alliance that had broken down the Quaker dominance of the Pennsylvania legislature.

On 15 September, Philadelphia received news of the change in government in London: George Grenville, who had sponsored the Stamp Act, was no longer prime minister. That news caused celebrations in the city, which soon turned into actions against the men seen as supporting or carrying out the unpopular law.

Hughes wrote out periodic reports to Franklin about what followed:
Sept. 16. in the Evening. Common Report threat[ens] my House this Night, as there are Bonfires and Rejoicings for the Change of Ministry. The sober and sensible Part of the People are doing every thing towards being in Readiness to suppress a Mob if there should be any Intention of Rising. I for my Part am well-arm’d with Fire-Arms, and am determin’d to stand a Siege. If I live till tomorrow morning I shall give you a farther Account; but as it is now about 8 aClock, I am on my Guard, and only write this between whiles, as every Noise or Bustle of the People calls me off.

9 aClock. Several Friends that patroll between my House and the Coffee House, come in just now, and say, the Collection of Rabble begins to decrease visibly in the Streets, and the Appearance of Danger seems a good deal less than it did.

12 aClock. There are now several Hundreds of our Friends about Street, ready to suppress any Mob, if it should attempt to rise, and the Rabble are dispersing.

Sept. 17. 5 in the morning. We are all yet in the Land of the Living, and our Property safe. Thank God.
In those same days, crowds visited Franklin’s house—though they knew he was three thousand miles away in London. It was up to his wife Deborah (shown above) and their friends to dissuade the crowd from causing any damage.

The stamped paper for the Middle Colonies arrived in the Delaware River on 5 October. With it came Hughes’s official commission as stamp agent. A large crowd gathered outside the State House and chose a committee that included James Allen (1742-1778), Robert Morris, and Charles Thomson to call on Hughes and find out what he planned to do with the paper now.

Hughes was sick in bed, but he received the committee. He told them that he wouldn’t enforce the Stamp Act unless the law was generally accepted in the colonies—which was not looking likely. Hughes refused to formally resign, however. The crowd visited again two days later, but he stuck to his position, and his bed. The people went away, figuring that was the best they could do until November, when the law was to take effect.

TOMORROW: To the south.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

More Trouble for the American Stamp Agents

So far Boston 1775 has recounted the resignations of the stamp tax collectors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Maryland. What was going on in Britain’s other North American colonies in 1765?

In Nova Scotia, Archibald Hinshelwood (d. 1773) applied for the position and continued to inquire about it even after reading what happened to Andrew Oliver in Boston on 14 August.

The stamps and stamped paper for that northern province arrived in early October. On Sunday, 13 October, Hinshelwood was hanged in effigy. A printed copy of the law was burned in the town of Liverpool. But no other protests took place before the law went into effect on 1 November. Just to be safe, a small guard of dragoons was posted at Hinshelwood’s house.

The stamp agents for Pennsylvania (including Delaware) and New Jersey owed their appointments to Benjamin Franklin (shown above), then working as a lobbyist in London. Franklin had campaigned against the Stamp Act, but once it passed he, like Jared Ingersoll, decided to make the most of it. He recommended friends for the job of stamp agent, which seemed both prestigious and lucrative. That turned out to be a bad idea for all concerned.

In New Jersey, the unlucky designee was William Coxe (1723-1801). In late August, he reportedly tried to rent a house and was told he’d need to buy insurance, lest it be attacked by a crowd. He got the message and resigned on 2 September. Gov. William Franklin told his father that he thought Coxe had resigned precipitously and was sure he could find a replacement.

For Pennsylvania, Franklin got the job for his political colleague John Hughes (1711-1772). On 8 September, Hughes wrote back:
there is scarce a Day goes over my Head, but many People call upon me to resign, and say I am an Enemy to North America if I do not. But since I am now dipt, and must abide by Consequences be they what they will, I shall be exceedingly oblig’d to you, if it is consistent with your Judgment, to recommend my Son Hugh for Mr. Coxe’s Successor.
That looks like a triumph of hope over experience.

TOMORROW: Things get worse for John Hughes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Timothy Ruggles Makes His Case

I’m going to jump ahead of the sestercentennial anniversaries to finish the story of Timothy Ruggles’s refusal to sign the results of the Stamp Act Congress he had presided over.

In 1766, the Massachusetts House demanded to know what Ruggles had been thinking. He told them. The legislature voted to reprimand its former speaker on 12 February.

Ruggles then asked his colleagues to allow him to publish his reasons for his conduct in the legislative record, and they said yes. A week later, after Ruggles submitted his case in writing, they voted no.

On 3 March, Ruggles read that same memorandum to the town meeting at his home in Hardwick. His neighbors voted that his reasons were “sufficient to vindicate his conduct.” Finally, on 5 May 1766, Ruggles had his case published in the Boston Post-Boy.

His arguments were:
  • “The petition agreed upon by the congress to be presented to his majesty not being conceived in terms clearly enough expressive of that duty and loyalty which are due to the best of sovereigns.”
  • “That it is more regular, constitutional and conformable to the constant practice of the colonies to have their petitions and remonstrances to the King and Parliament of Great Britain signed by the Speaker of their House,” not by a congress representing multiple colonies.
  • “That the signing said addresses by the committees of the several colonies which attended the congress, and who were empowered to sign the same, could by no construction come up to a general address from the colonies” since so few colonies were officially represented in New York.
  • “A matter of so great importance to the colonies and of so delicate a nature as the open and avowed claim of an exclusive right of taxation (however true) to be asserted in addresses to the King and Parliament for relief from an Act made by this very Parliament was a measure I could not bring myself to adopt.”
Ruggles acknowledged that he’d left New York on 25 October while other delegates gathered for one final session to sign the petitions. He didn’t really address the question of why, if he’d perceived such basic flaws in what the Stamp Act Congress was doing, he had presided over its meetings for the previous two and a half weeks.

The people of Hardwick continued to support Ruggles. They reelected him as their representative to the General Court and kept doing so until 1770, even after he voted to rescind the House’s circular letter of 1768.

In 1774 the ministry in London made Ruggles a mandamus councilor; Mercy Warren made him “Brigadier Hateall” in her satirical play The Group. During the siege of Boston he led a Loyalist militia. Ruggles evacuated the colony and died in Nova Scotia in 1795, thirty years after the Stamp Act Congress.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Timothy Ruggles’s Challenge

One of the Stamp Act Congress’s first actions was to elect Timothy Ruggles as the presiding officer. People expected him to be more moderate than his fellow Massachusetts delegate, James Otis, Jr.

People also expected Ruggles to sign the public documents issued by that congress, along with clerk John Cotton. That was part of a convention chairman’s duties. (That’s why John Hancock’s name appeared on the first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, and was so big on the calligraphic copy.)

But Ruggles refused to endorse the congress’s three petitions to the government in London, undercutting their legitimacy.

Otis argued with Ruggles, saying that the Massachusetts House had explicitly foreseen that the congress would prepare “a most loyal and dutiful address to his Majesty and his Parliament,” and “empowered [them] to sign and forward” such a document. It was important for the American colonies to show unity. But Ruggles insisted he wouldn’t sign.

In 1813, the Delaware delegate Thomas McKean (shown above more than twenty years later) told John Adams how heated the discussion had become:
…when the business was finished, our President would not sign the petitions, and peremptorily refused to assign any reasons, until I pressed him so hard that he at last said, “it was against his conscience,” on which word I rung the charge so loud, that a plain challenge was given by him and accepted, in the presence of the whole corps; but he departed the next morning before day without an adieu to any of his brethren.

He seemed to accord with what was done during the session so fully and heartily, that Mr; Otis told me frequently it gave him surprize, as he confessed he suspected his sincerity.
Did Ruggles really challenge McKean to a duel on 24 October and then leave town? Ruggles was fifty-four, a former speaker of the Massachusetts house, a militia general and war veteran. His standing as a gentleman was secure, and New England didn’t have a big tradition of dueling.

In contrast, McKean was a thirty-one-year-old lawyer from Delaware, which barely qualified as a colony. (It was a three-county adjunct to Pennsylvania with a small separate legislature.) I can’t help but think that Ruggles would easily have brushed off whatever remarks the younger man had made. Almost five full decades later, however, there was no one left to contradict McKean’s dramatic version of events.

In any event, when the congress delegates gathered one last time on 25 October to sign the documents they had written together, Ruggles was already on his way home.

TOMORROW: The fallout in Massachusetts.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The End of the Stamp Act Congress

By 24 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress had revised and approved its three petitions to different parts of the British government, as described a couple of days back.

But delegate Robert Ogden (1716-1787) of New Jersey argued that the congress shouldn’t send those documents to London. Rather, he said, each delegation should bring them back to their colonial legislature for their colleagues to amend, approve, and then send across the Atlantic. Which wouldn’t really present a united front against the Stamp Act.

As speaker of the New Jersey house, Ogden had at first been reluctant to authorize any participation in the congress at all. Apparently under pressure from colleagues, he had presided over a special meeting to choose delegates without the authorization of Gov. William Franklin. When he put himself on the list, he probably hoped to steer the process.

Ogden’s late suggestion that the congress lacked legitimacy on its own made people accuse him of foot-dragging. By 2 November, Robert R. Livingston of New York wrote, the New Jersey speaker was “burnt in Effigy in almost all the Towns of East Jersey.” Ogden would resign his legislative seat by the end of that month.

The other delegates stuck with their original plan to send the petitions to London directly. They also voted to recommend “to the several colonies to appoint special agents for soliciting relief from their present grievances, and to unite their utmost interest and endeavors for that purpose”—in other words, a joint lobbying effort. Both those actions were tentative steps toward continental unity.

The only other recorded business on 24 October was an order for clerk John Cotton to sign his sparse record of the congress and arrange for it to be printed and distributed to the colonial legislatures. At least, that was the only business that actually got printed. (As a result, some accounts say the congress ended on that date.) Handwritten transcripts of the proceedings sent to the Maryland legislature and other contemporaneous documents indicated that the congress also met on the following day, 25 Oct 1765, to sign the petitions.

But even that wasn’t simple. For one thing, the New York delegation said that they shouldn’t sign the petitions (which some of them had helped to draft, and which listed “New-York” among the participating colonies) since their legislature hadn’t chosen them in an official session. As I said before, the men from Connecticut and South Carolina had already dropped out for similar reasons. The congress settled for having the documents “signed by such of the members as thought proper.”

That group didn’t include Robert Ogden. And then the congress’s chairman said he wouldn’t sign, either.

TOMORROW: Timothy Ruggles’s challenge.

Friday, October 23, 2015

“Full restitution to the French proprietors”

In John Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, I came across this story about Dr. Joseph Fox (1729-1785) of Falmouth, England.

As a Quaker, Fox felt an “attachment to the principles of peace, and of a resolution not to participate in profits derived through war.” That produced a problem during the Revolutionary War.
Joseph had a small share in two cutters, with other owners, who, at the commencement of hostilities with France, in 1778, armed these vessels as letters of marque, in order to capture French merchantmen. He remonstrated against this proceeding, and offered to sell his share, but in vain; the majority was against him.

The enterprise was successful, and some valuable ships were captured. His co-partners then endeavoured to prevent him from receiving his proportion of the proceeds, but he insisted upon it, and lodged the amount in the British funds, not disclosing the circumstance to any of his family, but resolving at the first opportunity to make full restitution to the French proprietors.

On peace being restored, in 1783, he took measures for that purpose, and in the following year commissioned his son, Dr. Edward Long Fox [1761-1835], to proceed to Paris, where he first communicated the circumstances to him by letter. Much delay and difficulty obstructed the settlement of the business, and early in 1785, while it was yet in progress, Mr. Joseph Fox died.

A notice was inserted in the Gazette de France, of the 25th February, in that year, and applications in consequence being speedily made by most of the sufferers, the sum of £22,000 was restored to the principal claimants, who made a spontaneous acknowledgment in the same Gazette . . .

A small sum still remained in the hands of Dr. Fox, the equitable proprietors of which could not be discovered, and the breaking out of the [French] revolutionary war and other circumstances, prevented the disposal of it for many years. At length, in 1818, this sum having increased to about 15,000 francs, he again proceeded to Paris, and, after instituting various enquiries as to the best means of its appropriation, he placed this amount in “the treasury of the invalid seamen of France,” for the relief of “non-combatants” of the merchant service…
The Foxes’ mission got some attention from the British press, such as the Edinburgh Magazine in 1785.

Dr. Fox’s Wikipedia page includes a more verbose version of the same story, apparently derived from a pamphlet titled “The Prize Money Restored” and published by some later generation of the family. Surprisingly, that text seems to exist on the open web only on Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Dublin Seminar Goes to Sea in 2016

Here’s the call for papers at the 41st Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, which will take place 24-26 June 2016 at Historic Deerfield. The topic is “New England at Sea: Maritime Memory and Material Culture.”
The Seminar is now accepting proposals for papers, presentations, and workshops on the maritime history of New England and adjacent areas of New York and Canada from the seventeenth through the early twentieth century. The topic explores how the region remembered its maritime past.

Proposals are sought for papers on shipbuilding, fishing and whaling, maritime art and literature, the coastal trade, prize-taking and piracy, shore leave, and charitable associations such as seamen’s aid societies. Other subjects might include inland ports and rivers, the global trade, underwater archaeology, maritime ecologies and sustenance, food, speech, work songs, maritime laborers at sea and in shore-side industries, the sea’s appeal to rural people and vacationers, and clothing (sailors’ slops, for example).

The conference is also interested in maritime law, the command structure, and the appeal of maritime life to people of diverse origins such as Cape Verdeans, escaped slaves, and Native Americans. We are also interested in papers on the evolution of maritime heritage, including the histories of maritime museums as well as maritime antiques in New England historical collections.

The Seminar encourages papers that reflect original research, especially those based on primary or underused resources such as material culture, letters and diaries, vital records, federal and state censuses, naturalization records, as well as newspapers, portraits, prints and photographs, business and banking records, recollections, and autobiographies.
The organizing committee plans to choose about seventeen lectures of twenty minutes each, along with related tours and workshops if possible. Selected papers will appear in the Dublin Seminar’s annual Proceedings volume published about eighteen months after the conference. For further information on how to submit a paper proposal, visit the seminar website.

This Dublin Seminar is scheduled for the same weekend as the Omohundro Institute’s 2016 conference, which will take place over four days (23-26 June) in Worcester.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Stamp Act Congress’s Three Messages to London

On the same day that the Stamp Act Congress approved its Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which was mostly for public consumption, it also appointed three committees to draft formal messages to different branches of the British government:
The next day was Sunday. On Monday, 21 October, all three committees presented their drafts. Probably for some reason of protocol, the “address” to the king became a “petition.” The congress read, debated, and amended the documents, approving the first two on the 22nd and the third on the 23rd.

All three documents made the same argument, with varying degrees of obsequiousness, detail, and appeals to economic benefits. Here, for example, is how each appeal began. To the king:
That the inhabitants of these colonies, unanimously devoted with the warmest sentiments of duty and affection to your sacred person and government, and inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the protestant succession in your illustrious house, and deeply sensible of your royal attention to their prosperity and happiness, humbly beg leave to approach the throne, by representing to your majesty, that these colonies were originally planted by subjects of the British crown, who, animated with the spirit of liberty, encouraged by your majesty’s royal predecessors, and confiding in the public faith for the enjoyment of all the rights and liberties essential to freedom, emigrated from their native country to this continent, and, by their successful perseverance, in the midst of innumerable dangers and difficulties, together with a profusion of their blood and treasure, have happily added these vast and extensive dominions to the Empire of Great Britain.
To the Lords:
That his majesty’s liege subjects in his America colonies, though they acknowledge a due subordination to that august body the British parliament, are entitled, in the opinion of your memorialists, to all the inherent rights and liberties of the natives of Great Britain, and have ever since the settlement of the said colonies, exercised those rights and liberties, as far as their local circumstances would permit.
To the Commons:
That the several late acts of parliament, imposing divers duties and taxes on the colonies, and laying the trade and commerce under very burthensome restrictions; but above all, the act for granting and applying certain stamp duties in America, have filled them with the deepest concern and surprise, and they humbly conceive the execution of them will be attended with consequences very injurious to the commercial interests of Great Britain and her colonies, and must terminate in the eventual ruin of the latter.
Even as the delegates approved those documents, their united front was cracking. Although men from Connecticut and South Carolina had helped to draft the messages to Britain, those delegations insisted on not being listed among the colonies endorsing those documents. The instructions from their legislatures, they said, didn’t authorize them to approve such petitions to London. That meant only half of the colonies originally invited to the Congress were visibly getting behind its results.

And when the delegates discussed how to sign those documents, their unity would break down further.

COMING UP: A challenge to a duel?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Panel on Washington in Roxbury, 24 Oct.

On 3 May 1797, Rufus King, then in London as the U.S. minister to Great Britain, wrote this in his diary:
Mr. [Benjamin] West called on me—we entered into politics after speaking of the Dinner at the Royal Academy and of the annual exhibition; Mr. West said things respecting Amer. had changed very much; that people who cd. not formerly find words of unkindness enough now talked in a different language; that the King had lately spoken in the most explicit manner of the wisdom of the American Gov. and of the abilities and great worth of the characters she produced and employed. He said the King had lately used very handsome expressions respecting Mr. [John] Jay and ——— and that he also spoke in a very pleasing manner of Mr. [Christopher] Gore.

But that in regard to Genl Washington, he told him since his resignation that in his opinion “that act closing and finishing what had gone before and viewed in connection with it, placed him in a light the most distinguished of any man living, and that he thought him the greatest character of the age.”
Two years later, on 28 Dec 1799, the British painter Joseph Farington called on West, and the older man began telling stories about British-American relations. According to Farington’s diary, West described this conversation with George III at some unspecified time toward the end of the war:
The King began to talk abt. America. He asked West what would Washington do were America to be declared independant. West said He believed He would retire to a private situation.—The King said if He did He would be the greatest man in the world.
West might have amalgamated his conversations with the king, but it’s clear that by the late 1790s George III firmly admired Washington for how he stepped away from positions of authority.

On the afternoon of Saturday, 24 October, the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury will host a panel discussion about Washington’s recurrent decision to give up power: “George Washington: The Ruler Who Would Not Be King.” The panelists include:
  • Dr. Robert Allison, chair of the History Department at Suffolk University and author of numerous histories of the Revolution.
  • Dory Codington, author of the Edge of Empire series of novels.
  • Stephanie Davis, journalist and founder of Embedded Systems of Boston.
The event begins at 3:00 P.M. Refreshments will be served in the second hour. Admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Register through Eventbrite.

Monday, October 19, 2015

“It is the indispensable duty of these colonies”

By 19 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress had been meeting and debating for over a week and a half. What sort of debate did they have? We have no idea. Clerk John Cotton’s record reads like this:
Wednesday, Oct. 9th. 1765, A.M. — Then the congress met according to adjournment. The congress resumed the consideration of the rights and privileges of the British American colonists, &c, the same was referred after sundry debates, for further consideration.

Then the congress adjourned until to-morrow morning, 11 o’clock.

Thursday, Oct. 10th, 1765, A.M. — Then the congress met according to adjournment, and resumed, &c, as yesterday — and then adjourned to 10 o’clock, to-morrow morning.
Repeat the entry for 10 October verbatim for the 11th, 12th, 13th, and so on through the 18th. (The delegates took Sunday the 15th off.)

Then a breakthrough on the 19th!
The congress met according to adjournment, and resumed, &c. as yesterday; and upon mature deliberation, agreed to the following declaration of the rights and grievances of the colonists in America, which were ordered to be inserted.
That Declaration of Rights and Grievances was drafted by John Cruger (1710-1791, shown above), mayor of New York and speaker of the New York assembly. The document had thirteen points, but the argument was basically threefold:
  • British colonists had the same rights as people in Britain itself.
  • Those rights included not being taxed without the consent of their own legislature, rendering the Stamp Act unconstitutional.  
  • And besides, the Stamp Act hurt the American economy and thus the whole empire.
The declaration concluded:
Lastly, That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavor, by a loyal and dutiful address to his majesty, and humble application to both houses of parliament, to procure the repeal of the act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other acts of parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late acts for the restriction of the American commerce.
In other words, by opposing the Stamp Act in every way, the men at that congress and elsewhere in America weren’t really defying the king, Parliament, and the British constitution. They were standing up for that system, “protestant succession” and all. It was even their duty to get the Stamp Act repealed! This remained the basis of American Whig thinking right up through the beginning of the war.

Some pre-war Whigs, such as John Cruger himself, never made the jump to believing that the only way to preserve the principles underlying that British constitution was to break with Britain entirely. He voted against the proceedings of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and soon retired from politics, sitting out the war in Kinderhook.

COMING UP: Three messages to Great Britain.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Revolutionary Talks at the A.A.S. this Fall

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester has a bunch of interesting public lectures in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 22 October, 7:00 P.M.
Linda K. Kerber, “Looking Back on Women of the Republic
Each year the Annual Robert C. Baron Lecture brings a distinguished A.A.S. member who has written a seminal work of history to Antiquarian Hall to reflect on the book’s impact on scholarship and society in the years since its first appearance. This year, Linda Kerber will discuss her 1980 book, a landmark study of American political thought and women’s roles in the new nation.
Friday, 23 October, 5:30 P.M.
Richard H. Brown, “Dispatches from the Front Lines: Maps and Views of the American Revolutionary Era”
In this illustrated lecture, Brown will examine rare and beautiful full-color maps and images created on the scenes of battles from the French and Indian War through the American Revolution. This lecture is based upon the recently published book Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1788 by him and Paul E. Cohen.
After Brown spoke at the Boston Public Library last month, Charles Bahne wrote me to say it was “a really great lecture, one of the best I’ve heard in a long time.”

Thursday, 5 November, 7:00 P.M.
Robert J. Allison, “The Birth of the Liberty Tree
What were the long-term consequences of Boston’s resistance to the Stamp Act? A broad mobilization of Bostonians demolished property and forced Crown officials to resign; the British government rescinded the law; and both sides felt they had averted a bigger crisis. But had they? We will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act with this lecture that examines the importance of the Stamp Act Crisis, both for those who lived through it and for future generations.
Friday, 20 November, 7:00 P.M.
Wendy Bellion, “Representing Iconoclasm: Paint, Print, Performance”
This talk will explore nineteenth-century representations of colonial iconoclasm, such as the 1776 destruction of a statue of King George III in New York, and the re-performance of that action in civic pageants and parades, which often included ephemeral reproductions of the destroyed statue.
Bellion’s lecture is also the keynote address for the CHAViC fall conference.

These talks are open to the public free of charge. All take place in Antiquarian Hall at 185 Salisbury Street. Parking is available on the streets nearby.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Birth of an Iroquois Constitutional Legend

Like any good fiction writer, Richard Barry didn’t just describe a dramatic meeting between John Rutledge and Sir William Johnson in 1765 and leave it there.

He also returned to the moment hundreds of pages later, when Rutledge was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and chairing its Committee of Detail (which Barry called by a different name):
At the first meeting of the Drafting Committee, on the morning of July 27, in Independence Hall, Rutledge, as chairman, drew from his pocket a parchment, which had never been referred to in the Convention or by any of the delegates outside, and read it aloud.

It was a replica of the constitution of the Treaty of the Five Nations (the Iroquois) of 1520. Rutledge read what the Indians had written more than two and a half centuries before: “We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity and order. . . .”

The chairman made no speech. He merely read the dry, quaint, and archaic words of the Indian parchment. The inference lay in the act. [Charles] Pinckney, [James] Madison, [William] Paterson, and the others had gone back through England and Greece. The fruit of their research lay to hand in the documents on the table. They would be utilized. But for the first brief moment Rutledge was saying to his committee, in effect: We are American, of this soil and none other.
Barry’s citations offer no source for this anecdote, and we skeptical readers shouldn’t accept such claims without evidence. As I noted yesterday, Barry’s statement that Rutledge had discussed the Iroquois form of government with Sir William Johnson in October 1765 doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Furthermore, words on “a parchment” wasn’t how the Iroquois Great Law of Peace worked. The Five Nations hadn’t “written” anything in 1520 (or in whatever year they allied); they didn’t have a written language yet. Wampum belts served as memory aids for the agreement but didn’t preserve exact language. English interpretations of the Great Law of Peace don’t start with “We, the people,…” but with the first-person voice of Dekanawidah, the Great Peacemaker.

Finally, Rutledge’s Committee of Detail didn’t even draft the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, the part that starts “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”—phrasing supposedly adapted from that mythical Iroquois parchment. The first draft of the Preamble came out of the Committee on Style and Arrangement weeks later.

The gaping holes in Barry’s story didn’t stop Charles L. Mee, Jr., from repeating it briefly in The Genius of the People (1987), a popular history of the Constitution. Donald A. Grindé and Bruce E. Johansen then used that “evidence” in their argument in Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of American Democracy (1991) that the example of the Iroquois Confederacy influenced the Founders of the U.S. of A.

The popularity of that thesis in some circles appears in turn to have inspired Joy Hakim to go back to Barry’s book for the tale of Rutledge and Johnson, which she retold in A History of US: From Colonies to Country. That school textbook, published by Oxford University Press, is well regarded. It does a good job of getting beyond traditional power structures to tell the story of the whole American nation. However, in this instance the author was misled by a biographer who had just made stuff up.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Did John Rutledge Meet Sir William Johnson in 1765?

As quoted yesterday, Richard Barry’s 1942 biography of John Rutledge described in dramatic detail how that South Carolina jurist met Sir William Johnson (shown at right, in red), the British Empire’s representative to the Six Nations.

According to Barry, Rutledge was in New York for the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765, and Johnson was making his yearly visit to the city with a retinue of Iroquois warriors.

Barry directly quoted Johnson’s joke about the congress, but he didn’t provide any specific citations for those words. Instead, his notes were general, pointing to the Thomas Addis Emmett Collection on the Stamp Act Congress in the New York Public Library, the Laurens Papers at the Long Island Historical Society [now at the Kendall Whaling Museum], and the Rutledge Family Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

But we don’t have to go through all those archives to check Barry’s story. We can look at Sir William Johnson’s papers in the New York state library. In 1909 the state published a Calendar, or chronological list, of that correspondence. Two years later, that institution suffered a disastrous fire. In the 1920s, New York published transcripts of the surviving Johnson documents.

Both the Calendar of the Sir William Johnson Manuscripts and the published correspondence show that in October 1765 Johnson was writing letters from Albany and from his home at Johnson Hall, another hundred miles farther from New York City. He was nowhere near the Stamp Act Congress. (One of Sir William’s sons was in New York on 12 October, heading to Britain, according to a letter by John Watts.)

Furthermore, there’s no mention of a large body of Native American men camping north of New York in the city newspapers for that month. Merchant Thomas Ellison wrote a series of letters about events in the city that year, and the Iroquois didn’t come up.

Barry’s book turns out to be full of other refutable claims, stories without evidence, and outlandish interpretations. When he wrote John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (University of Georgia Press, 1997), James Haw wrote: “The only previous biography of John Rutledge, Richard Barry’s Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, is unreliable. I have followed the advice of Professor George C. Rogers, Jr., to ignore Barry’s book.”

TOMORROW: And yet the Rutledge-Johnson meeting is in a respected textbook today.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Legendary Meeting at the Stamp Act Congress

Here’s a lively picture of events during the Stamp Act Congress, which took place in New York two and a half centuries ago this month.

It comes from the pages of Richard Barry’s Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, a biography of delegate John Rutledge (shown here) published in 1942.
The day after Rutledge put up at the Kings Arms Inn, New York was startled by the arrival of two hundred Indians, heavily armed, but without war paint and in holiday attire. They came down the Albany Post Road as the retinue of Sir William Johnson, High Commissioner of His Majesty to the Six Nations, who was arriving from his castle a hundred miles beyond Albany for his annual visit.

John Rutledge hired a coach and rode out to the Mohawk camp to call on Sir William. As Rutledge entered the tent of the High Commissioner, nude red braves, Seneca warriors, lifted the flap. The visitor had never seen such native males, sleek, alert, silent.

“I see you’ve come to comb the King’s hair!” Sir William shouted as he greeted the young southerner. “Good! Only don’t take his wig off!” He laughed uproariously.

After they had talked a while, Rutledge wanted to know about the operation of the Hodenosenee, the parliament of the Six Nations. Sir William explained: each nation was sovereign internally, but externally, especially in war, the council of sachems was supreme; this gave individuality to six nations, yet they had the united strength of one; the autocratic power granted the chiefs in war was for limited periods and was not hereditary.

“If England is ever to become a great nation,” the High Commissioner summed up, “she must go to school to the Iroquois. The Six Nations control this continent, not by accident, but through the triumph of their science of government. If it had a chance their system could master Europe—or the world.“
Rutledge eventually chaired the congress’s committee to write a petition to the House of Lords, one of three documents it created. His biographer therefore claimed that “JR caused George III to repeal the Stamp Act.” As you might guess, Barry did not have a high threshold of evidence for what he wrote about Rutledge.

In fact, that story about Rutledge, Johnson, and the Iroquois visitors in New York is complete bunkum.

TOMORROW: Negotiating the burden of proof.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Expiring Maryland Gazette

Yesterday I showed an image of the 5 Sept 1765 Maryland Gazette. In the lower right corner, publisher Jonas Green put an image of a skull and crossbones with the label, “Hereabouts will be the place to affix the STAMP.”

Green continued to run that image in the corner of his paper, with different captions, for another few weeks as a warning against the impending Stamp Act. Finally, on 10 October, he issued The Maryland Gazette, Expiring, blaming “The Fatal Stamp” for his decision to close the newspaper.

Green revived the Gazette in early 1766 once it was clear that the Stamp Act was a dead letter. He died the following year, and his Holland-born widow Anne Catherine Green continued the business until the eve of the war.

This University of Maryland website says the Greens had previously used that skull-and-bones woodcut to draw attention to prominent obituaries. The webpage continues, “When Archaeology in Annapolis excavated the remains of their print shop, the piece of type used to create the image on the front page was recovered.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Annapolis Commemorates the Stamp Act Protests, 19-25 Oct.

On 26 Aug 1765, the same day that Bostonians tore apart Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s home in the North End, Annapolis saw its first public protest against the Stamp Act.

Following the model of the widely reported demonstration in Boston on 14 August, Marylanders built an effigy of their colony’s stamp agent, Zachariah Hood, and then ritually destroyed it. This is the account from the Maryland Gazette, published by Boston native Jonas Green:
Monday morning last, a considerable number of people, assertors of British American privileges, met here to show their detestation of, and abhorrence to, some late tremendous attacks on liberty, and their dislike to a certain late-arrived officer, a native of this Province. They curiously dressed np the figure of a man, which they placed on a one horse cart, malefactor-like, with some sheets of his paper in his hands before his face.

In this manner they proceeded through the streets of town till noon, the bells at the same time tolling a solemn knell, when they proceeded to the hill; and after giving it the Mosaic law [i.e., thirty-nine lashes] at the whipping-post, placed it in the pillory, from whence they took it and hung it to a gibbet erected for that purpose, and then set fire to a tar-barrel underneath, till it fell into the barrel. By the many significant nods of the head while in the cart, it may be said to have gone off very penitently.
Among the people who led that event was twenty-four-year-old lawyer Samuel Chase. The next year, members of the local political establishment called him “a foul-mouthed and inflaming son of discord and faction.” Chase went on to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Chief Justice of Maryland, and an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, surviving impeachment in 1805.

Zachariah Hood himself wasn’t in Annapolis to see his effigy. He arrived from London a few days later, met by an angry crowd. In September another mob burned one of his warehouses. Meanwhile, other Maryland towns—Baltimore, Elk Ridge, Fredericktown—burned him in effigy. Hood fled to New York City, then Flushing. Tracked down by local activists in a show of continental solidarity, he finally resigned as Maryland’s stamp agent on 28 November.

Historic Annapolis will commemorate those events with Sons of Liberty Week on 19-25 October. The schedule includes:
  • Lecture and panel discussion on “Freedom of the Press Then and Now,” with historian Glenn Campbell and several present-day journalists.
  • Revolutionary Annapolis Walking Tour.
  • Reenactment march up Main Street on Sons of Liberty Day, 25 October.
  • Revolutionary Festival at the William Paca House and Garden.
  • Exhibit of the Maryland Gazette at the Historic Annapolis Museum.
  • Hand-printed broadsides from the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
In addition, the organizers promise “Public Outbursts” throughout the week: “costumed re-enactors will appear at random throughout the Annapolis historic district in October to exhort townspeople and visitors to join the rebellion.”

Monday, October 12, 2015

Talks by Anderson and Kamensky at the B.P.L.

This month the Boston Public Library will host two lectures on the American Revolution, one by a novelist whose latest book is nonfiction, and one by a history professor who has cowritten a novel.

Wednesday, 14 October
M. T. Anderson, “A Revolution Within the Revolution: The African-American Struggle for Freedom”
Anderson has written stories for adults, picture books for children, adventure novels for young readers, and award-winning books for older readers. His highly praised Octavian Nothing saga is set in Boston during the American Revolution; the first volume, The Pox Party, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2006 and both the first and second volumes of that two-part series were Printz Honor Books. Meticulously researched and presented in 18th-century prose, Anderson’s sweeping 900-page epic explores race, science, morality, and the darker facets of America’s quest for liberty.
Wednesday, 28 October
Jane Kamensky, “John Singleton Copley and the Sideways American Revolution”
Professor of History and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute of Advance Study, Kamensky is a historian of early America, the Atlantic world, and the age of revolutions, with particular interests in the histories of family, culture, and everyday life. Kamensky’s major publications include The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse (Viking, 2008), a finalist for the 2009 George Washington Book Prize; and Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England (Oxford U.P., 1997). With Edward G. Gray, she edited the Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution (Oxford U.P., 2012). Her next book, Copley: A Life in Color, will be a history of painting and politics in the age of revolution centered on the life of John Singleton Copley.
Both talks are scheduled to begin at 6:00 P.M. in the Abbey Room. That’s the one with the impressive murals.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chasing Down an Unsuccessful Suitor

After I read the exchange of letters between Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and William Fitzwilliam on 6 Apr 1771, I decided to track down who this young suitor was.

For a long time I was stymied because the most prominent “Lord Fitzwilliam” of the time was the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), an active member of the House of Lords who voted with the Rockingham Whigs. He was a nephew and, in 1782, heir of the Marquess of Rockingham. He was also some sort of cousin to Gov. John Wentworth of New Hampshire. He appears here in a portrait by Joshua Reynolds.

But in 1771 the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam was only in his twenties and therefore couldn’t have had a son seeking a bride in Boston.

Then in the Irish peerage I came across the sixth Viscount Fitzwilliam of Meryon or Merrion (1711-1776), and the puzzle pieces fell into place. That less prominent and lower-ranking Lord Fitzwilliam had four sons; according to Wikipedia (but not older print sources), all but one of those men eventually succeeded to the title without leaving more sons, so the peerage disappeared.

The only son of the sixth viscount who never got to be a viscount was the second, the Hon. William Fitzwilliam (1749-1810). He was the right age for the Boston wooer, though I can’t confirm that he was in Boston in 1771. Some Hutchinson biographers who have written about Fitzwilliam have assumed he was an officer in the Royal Navy, but I haven’t found evidence for that.

I did confirm a connection between the Hon. William Fitzwilliam and George Onslow, the British politician who thanked Gov. Hutchinson for how he’d handled this affair. Hutchinson wrote that Onslow was Fitzwilliam’s uncle. The relationship wasn’t that close. Onslow’s wife was Henrietta Shelley, a granddaughter of Sir John Shelley, third baronet of that line. Sir John’s only daughter, Frances, had married the fifth Viscount Fitzwilliam, the grandfather of the young wooer. That makes Onslow the husband of the Hon. William Fitzwilliam’s first cousin, once removed.

The Hon. William Fitzwilliam eventually did marry, in August 1782, to the only daughter of John Eames (c. 1716-1795), a master of chancery and tax commissioner. Aside from that marriage and his death, I haven’t been able to nail down any more facts about the man.

Fitzwilliam’s unsuccessful proposal of marriage was first published in James K. Hosmer’s 1896 biography of Hutchinson, then reprinted as a curiosity in several American newspapers. Probably not how he’d have wished to be remembered.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

“A person more suitable to your birth & rank”

Yesterday I quoted a letter that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson received from William Fitzwilliam on 6 Apr 1771, asking for his youngest daughter Peggy’s hand in marriage.

As I said, Hutchinson knew that that young man was the son of a nobleman back in Britain. For many colonial politicians, the prospect of allying his family with the imperial aristocracy would have been very enticing.

Hutchinson wasn’t that sort of person. He loved his daughter dearly, and he also loved his late wife, who had died giving birth to her. He no doubt knew that the marriage of two young people who had never even spoken was unlikely to lead to happiness. A native Bostonian, Hutchinson collected offices at home but showed no ambition to join the noble class in Britain.

The governor was also a firm believer in the social order, and that gave him a way to let Peggy’s suitor down easy. He wrote back the same day:
I am not insensible that such an Alliance as you have proposed would be doing the greatest honour to me & my Family.

I am at the same time very sensible that it cannot be approved of by the Noble Family to which you belong—In my station, from Respect to My Lord FitzWilliam I should think it my duty to do all in my power to discourage one of his Sons from so unequal a match with any person in the Province and I should most certainly be highly criminal if I should countenance & encourage a match with my own daughter

I hope Sir you will think this a sufficient reason for my not acceding to your proposal & sincerely wish you happy in a person more suitable to your birth & rank & who may be approved of by your Honorable Parent

I have the honor to be
Sr. Yr. most obedt.
humble Sert.
Thomas Hutchinson
This action turned out to benefit Gov. Hutchinson in a small way. On 8 Nov 1774, after moving to London, he visited the British politician George Onslow. At the end of that conversation, which seems to have been full of mutual flattery, came this exchange, as Hutchinson recorded it in his diary:
He thanked me for conducting an affair of his nephew, Ld FitzWilliam’s son, in America. I had forgot he was his nephew. He hoped to cultivate an acquaintance, &c.
Peggy Hutchinson joined her father in London. She died three years later, never having married.

TOMORROW: Who was William Fitzwilliam?

Friday, October 09, 2015

“I have had the honor of seeing miss Hutchinson”

Among the creepier items in the Massachusetts Archives is this letter to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson from 1771:

The various methods there are of writing on the following subject, makes me rather at a loss which to take, as I am a stranger to you,—but as the nature of it requires plain dealing, I shall take the liberty to consider you as a friend, and write to you as such:—

You will prehaps Sir think it rather strange, and be much surprised at the receipt of this letter; particularly as I am going to ask a great favor;—no less Sir than the honor of an alliance to your family;—

I have had the honor of seeing miss Hutchinson, but never in my life spoke to her—I need not tell you I admire her, when I say I wish to call her mine;—on seeing her the first time, I determin’d to endeavour to cultivate her acquaintance, but have not been so happy as to succeed;—therefore I should wish as the most honorable method of proceeding, to get acquainted with her through the means of her Father; and I should be happy in obtaining your permission Sir to visit her:—

I would more on the occasion, but yet not near so much as what I could say to you in person;—therefore Sir if you’ll favor me with a line, directed to me at Mr Perkins near the old Brick meeting House, I will do myself the honor of waiting on you, any time you’ll apoint.

You will find me act, from beginning to end, as a man of honor, and I am very certain that you, on your part, will do the same:

I have the honor to remain with the utmost esteem and respect
Your very obedient and
most hble Sert.
Wm. Fitzwilliam

April ye. 6th 1771
“Miss Hutchinson” was the governor’s favorite daughter, Peggy, born in 1754 and thus only in her late teens. What were Hutchinson’s thoughts as he read this young man’s expression of interest in marrying her when he’d never even spoken to her?

Complicating matters was Fitzwilliam’s social standing—he was the son of a British peer, and thus an enticing prospect for a colonial politician with social ambitions.

TOMORROW: The governor’s reply.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Choice between Ruggles and Otis

One of the first acts of the Stamp Act Congress when it convened in New York in October 1765 was to elect a chairman.

Arguably, that was the first political office to derive its authority from the thirteen colonies that would form the U.S. of A. eleven years later. Even if only nine of them had actually sent delegates to that congress, the others (plus Nova Scotia) at least got an invitation.

The winner of the vote was Timothy Ruggles (1711-1795, shown here), brigadier in the Massachusetts militia. According to the New York merchant John Watts, writing to a friend:
Brigr. Ruggles is Chairman, [James] Otis aimed at it and would have succeeded but they thought as he had figured much in the popular way, it might give their meeting an ill grace, but it is observed Otis is now a quite different man, and so he seems to be to me, not riotous at all.
Nearly forty years later, delegate Thomas McKean of Delaware recounted his version of events to John Adams, starting:
In the congress of 1765 there were several conspicuous characters: Mr; James Otis appeared to me to be the boldest and best speaker.—I voted for him as our President, but Brigadier Ruggles succeeded by one vote, owing to the number of the committee from New-York, as we voted individually
The record of the Stamp Act Congress states that the delegates chose Ruggles, and suggests the vote wasn’t unanimous, but it doesn’t mention any other candidates or any vote count. No delegates kept diaries or sent gossipy letters that have survived. Thus, there’s no contemporaneous evidence to confirm or refute McKean’s recollection. (More on his claims to come.)

As its clerk, the congress chose John Cotton (1728-1775), who was deputy secretary of the province back in Massachusetts, as well as registrar of wills in Suffolk County. Cotton was also half-brother to Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s late wife and to the wife of former stamp agent Andrew Oliver, who was also his boss in the secretary’s office. In 1770 Hutchinson called Cotton “attached to Government and serviceable so far as his Sphere would permit.” He continued to hold offices in the royal bureaucracy until he died of the flux inside besieged Boston.

Cotton’s record of the congress is very spare, recording only the actions the body agreed to and not the preceding proposals, debates, and amendments. As their first procedural decision, later that first day, the delegates decided that each colony should have one vote, a precedent that remained for the Continental Congress of the 1770s. If McKean’s memory was accurate, then that form of voting would have made Otis the chairman instead of Ruggles.