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, July 08, 2016

Marshfield Voters “greatly aggrieved at the conduct of the said Town”

As I described yesterday, in February 1775 Marshfield’s Loyalist selectmen led a town meeting in voting to publicly thank Gen. Thomas Gage and Adm. Samuel Graves for providing them with military assistance.

At the time there slightly more than one hundred regulars barracked in the town, and a Royal Navy gunship off shore.

As town clerk, Nehemiah Thomas (represented here by his gravestone, courtesy of Find-a-Grave) kept the record of that meeting, but he wasn’t a Loyalist. He was the town’s representative at the Massachusetts Provincial Congress that the meeting formally objected to. Thomas was most likely one of the sixty-four local men who signed a public protest against those proceedings:
We, the subscribers, inhabitants of the Town of Marshfield, being greatly aggrieved at the conduct of the said Town at their late meeting, on the 20th of February last, and sensible of the high colouring which the Tories never fail to bestow on every thing that turns in their favour, think ourselves obliged in duty to our King, our country, ourselves, and posterity, to remonstrate and declare,

First, That it is our opinion, that the Selectmen of the Town of Marshfield, with a design to answer a purpose, having previously raised the State Bill, which increased the number of voters in the Tory, more than in the Whig interest, so far availed themselves of it, that in the choice of a Moderator, who happened to be a Tory, there appeared about twenty-six or twenty-seven more Tory than Whig voters.

Secondly, that contrary to our minds, the Selectmen and others, inhabitants of this Town, have petitioned his Excellency, agreeable to a late Parliament Act, for leave to hold a meeting here (a thing so contrary to the general sense of the people in this Province) without the knowledge or advice of many in this Town.

Thirdly, That the vote which passed in the negative, whether the Town will adhere to, and abide by the Resolves of the Continental and Provincial Congresses, or any illegal assemblies whatsoever, we think was craftily drawn, and put as if these Congresses were illegal, when we suppose the present situation of our publick affairs makes them both legal and necessary.

Fourthly, That the Town voted thanks should be returned to General Gage and Admiral Graves, for their ready and kind interposition, assistance and protection, from further insults and abuses, with which we are continually threatened, when we do not know or believe that any of the inhabitants of this Town are threatened with insults and abuses.

Lastly, That the Selectmen gave but a single day’s warning for the said Meeting; ordered it to be held in a part of the Town where a Town Meeting was never before had, and that information was not given in the notification of the design of said Meeting.
In sum, those men wrote, the system had been rigged. Patriot newspapers made sure that protest got out to the public. However, it didn’t have the legal weight of the town meeting’s resolutions and communications. Marshfield remained the only Loyalist bastion of Massachusetts outside of Boston.

TOMORROW: London takes notice.


Charles Bahne said...

I'm curious about this petition's reference to "the State Bill, which increased the number of voters in the Tory, more than in the Whig interest". John, do you know anything more about this?

J. L. Bell said...

I was afraid someone would ask that question. I've tried to find the answer and come up empty so far.

My first thought was that the term “State Bill" was a common idiom, but I couldn't find other uses. Another possibility is that the phrase wasn't correctly transcribed since I haven't seen a period document or publication.

Assuming "State Bill" is the correct phrase, I can think of two possibilities:
1) It might refer to a recent measure to add a slice of Scituate to Marshfield, thus increasing the number of voters who leaned a particular way.
2) It might refer to the Provincial Congress's request for towns to send their taxes to its Receiver-General rather than the provincial Treasurer, and since no one likes to pay taxes that brought out more people to vote against sending the money anywhere.

J. L. Bell said...

I've now seen a reference guessing that the "State Bill" referred to the government-enforced charge for paying the local minister, which would have been particularly important to people who didn't worship in a town's largest congregation—which in Marshfield's case would mean Anglicans. Adherents of the Church of England in New England were much more likely to be Loyalist than their neighbors. I've got a full posting on Marshfield's Anglicans coming up.