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, July 07, 2016

Marshfield Town Meeting “penetrated with the highest sense of gratitude”

In February 1775 Marshfield’s Loyalist community was feeling emboldened by the presence of a hundred British regulars, and perhaps upset by the complaints from neighboring towns about those troops.

At that time, local historian Lysander Salmon Richards later wrote, Marshfield had only three selectmen: Dr. Isaac Winslow, Abijah White, and Ephraim Little. And they were all in the Loyalist camp.

Thus, those men could call an official town meeting on the terms they chose. Which started with applying to Gen. Thomas Gage for permission to hold such a meeting. The Massachusetts Government Act had forbidden towns from meeting more than once a year without the royal governor’s approval, which was a big strike at local self-government and thus a big grievance for the Patriot side.

According to Boston businessman Harbottle Dorr, Marshfield was the first town to approach the governor under the new law. Most towns were either claiming to meet by adjournment from a previous session or just gathering without official sanction.

Marshfield’s meeting took place on 20 February. The attendees chose Dr. Winslow to moderate. The records of that meeting say:
A vote was put to know the mind of the Town, whether they will adhere to, and abide by the Resolves and Recommendations of the Continental and Provincial Congresses, or any illegal assemblies whatsoever? and it passed in the negative.

Secondly, The vote was put to know the mind of the Town, whether they will return their thanks to General Gage, and Admiral [Samuel] Graves, for their ready and kind interposition, assistance, and protection from further insults and abuses with which we are continually threatened? and it passed in the affirmative.

Thirdly, They voted that a Committee be chosen to draw up and send the same to General Gage, and Admiral Graves, said Committee consisting of 23 persons.
Dr. Winslow chaired that large committee and probably drafted the addresses in the home he had recently inherited. (That home is shown above; now the 1699 Winslow House, I’m speaking there this evening.) Marshfield’s address to Gen. Gage matches the neighboring towns’ complaint in its high-flying rhetoric:
We, the Inhabitants of Marshfield, in legal Town Meeting assembled, this 20th day of February, 1775, beg leave to return your Excellency our most grateful acknowledgments for your seasonable assistance and protection, in sending a detachment of his Majesty’s Troops to secure and defend the loyal people of this Town, from the threats and violence of an infatuated and misguided people. We assure your Excellency (whatever may have been surmised to the contrary) that there were sufficient ground and reasons for making application; and we are fully convinced that this movement has preserved and promoted, not only the peace and tranquillity of this Town in particular, but of the County in general; owing, in great degree, to the prudence, firmness, and good conduct of Captain [Nisbet] Balfour, who, with pleasure as well as justice we say it, has done every thing in his power to obtain those laudable ends and purposes.

Thankfully we acknowledge our obligations to our Sovereign, for his great goodness and wisdom, in placing at the head of affairs, in this Province, in this day of difficulty, confusion, and discord, a gentleman of your Excellency’s well known humanity, moderation, capacity and intrepidity, and shall constantly implore the Supreme Governour of the universe to assist and direct you in the faithful discharge of the various functions of your exalted station, with fidelity to your King, with honour to yourself, and with happiness to the people committed to your charge.

With pleasure we embrace this opportunity of expressing our detestation and abhorrence of all assemblies and combinations of men (by whatever specious name they may call themselves) who have or shall rebelliously attempt to alter or oppose the wise Constitution and Government of Great Britain.

Furthermore, we beg leave to inform your Excellency, that in the most critical and dangerous times, we have always manifested and preserved our loyalty to the King, and obedience to his laws; carefully avoided all constitutional covenants and engagements whatsoever, that might warp us from our duty to our God, our King, and country; and as we are determined to persevere in the same course, we flatter ourselves that our endeavours and exertions will meet with our most gracious Sovereign’s approbation, as well as your Excellency’s, and that under his and your gentle and humane government and kind protection, we may peaceably and quietly sit under our own vines and fig-trees, and have none to molest or make us afraid.
(Fans of Hamilton will recall how George Washington also liked to quote Micah 4:4.)

The address to Adm. Graves was shorter but similar in tone:
We, the Inhabitants of Marshfield, in Town Meeting legally assembled, the 20th of February, A.D. 1775, penetrated with the highest sense of gratitude, present our sincere and hearty thanks to you sir, for your ready compliance with a request of a number of our inhabitants, in ordering an armed Vessel to protect and defend us from the lawless insults and abuses with which we were threatened by numbers of seditious and evil-minded people, for no other reason (that we can conceive) but our loyalty to the best of Kings, and firm adherence to the laws of Government. With hearts replete with gratitude, we contemplate the paternal care and goodness of our most gracious Sovereign, in the appointment of a gentlemen to command his Navy in America, at this critical juncture, whose duty, inclination, and abilities, so happily coincide to answer the good purposes of his department.

Permit us to acquaint your Honour, that we have always endeavoured to comport ourselves, and regulate our conduct agreeable to the laws of England and this country; that we have not been guilty of any riots or illegal assemblies, or adopted or subscribed any unconstitutional resolves, covenants, or combinations whatsoever, but have constantly and uniformly borne, our testimony against such measures and proceedings; that it is our serious intention and firm resolution to respect the English Constitution; and demean ourselves like true, loyal and obedient subjects, by doing which we apprehend we shall entitle ourselves to the continued protection of our most gracious King, your Honour, and every friend to peace and good Government.
Dr. Winslow and his Loyalist colleagues weren’t the only men at that meeting, however. Marshfield’s longtime town clerk, Nehemiah Thomas, also attended to keep the official record. And he surely didn’t like what was going on.

TOMORROW: The Patriot party objects.

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