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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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Marshfield’s Special Spot on the Road to Concord, 7 July

On Thursday, 7 July, I’ll speak on “The Road to Concord: How Massachusetts Moved Toward War in 1774-75” at the Winslow House in Marshfield. There will be a book signing and light refreshments afterwards. Admission is $5 for members of the Historic Winslow House Association, $7 for others. If you’re on the South Shore, please come!

In The Road to Concord, and in my talks about it, I say that after the “Powder Alarm” on 2 Sept 1774, Gen. Thomas Gage’s authority as royal governor of Massachusetts stopped at the gates of Boston. That was of course more than seven months before actual war broke out.

In the fall of 1774 Gage held power in Boston and in nearby Castle William. In every other town of the province, people were free to ignore the Massachusetts Government Act, and they did. They kept the courts closed and the Provincial Congress open, and there was almost nothing the governor could do about it.

There was one exception to that pattern, however. In 1775 Gen. Gage wrested back some control over Marshfield, a coastal town in Plymouth County.

That episode started with a call by Timothy Ruggles, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House and militia general, for men to form a military Association to support the royal government. A large contingent of Loyalists from Marshfield answered that call, led by Nathaniel Ray Thomas, one of the mandamus Council. A letter sent from Boston on 26 Jan 1775 described how folks in the neighboring towns responded in turn:
About a week ago, one hundred and fifty of the principal inhabitants of the Town of Marshfield entered into General Ruggles’s Association against the Liberty plan. When this was known at Plymouth, the faction there threatened to come down in a body and make them recant, or drive them off their farms; on this the Marshfield Associators sent an express to General Gage, to acquaint him with their situation and determination, and to beg his support.
On 23 January, the governor detached Capt. Nisbet Balfour of the 4th Regiment to support the Marshfield Loyalists. The letter described him as bringing “three Subalterns, and a hundred private men,” plus “three hundred stand of Arms for the use of the gentlemen of Marshfield.” Those companies landed near the mouth of the North River and moved into buildings on Thomas’s estate.

The next day, one of those supporters reported on the regulars’ arrival in a letter which James Rivington later printed in his newspaper in New York:
Two hundred of the principal inhabitants of this loyal Town, insulted and intimidated by the licentious spirit that unhappily has been prevalent amongst the lower ranks, of people in the Massachusetts Government, having applied to the Governour for a detachment of his Majesty’s Troops to assist in preserving the peace, and to check the insupportable insolence of the disaffected and turbulent, were happily relieved by the appearance of Captain Balfour’s party, consisting of one hundred Soldiers, who were joyfully received by the Loyalists.

Upon their arrival, the valour of the Minute-Men was called forth by [Samuel] Adams’s crew; they were accordingly mustered, and to the unspeakable confusion of the enemies of our happy Constitution, no more than twelve persons presented themselves to bear Arms against the Lord’s anointed. It was necessary that some apology should be made for the scanty appearance of their volunteers, and they coloured it over with a declaration that “had the party sent to Marshfield consisted of half a dozen Battalions, it might have been worth their attention to meet and engage them; but a day would come when the courage of their Minute host would be able to clear the country of all their enemies, howsoever formidable in numbers.”

The King’s Troops are very comfortably accommodated, and preserve the most exact discipline; and now every faithful subject to his King dare freely utter his thoughts, drink his Tea, and kill his Sheep as profusely as he pleases.
The Patriot movement was encouraging Americans to make as much wool as possible so as to supply American spinners and weavers and cut down the need for imported cloth. Killing a sheep for meat had therefore become a political act.

On 27 January, Gen. Gage reported to the Earl of Dartmouth in London:
The town of Marshfield, with part of that of Scituate, having been lately under terrors…from the threats of their neighbours, for having formed some associations amongst themselves, applied to me for protection; and I have sent a detachment of one hundred men to their relief. It is the first instance of an application to government for assistance, which the faction has ever tried to persuade the people they would never obtain, but be left to themselves.
Three weeks later he confidently added, “The sending a detachment to Marshfield has had a good effect in that quarter of the country, and I hope will encourage other places, where oppression is felt, to make applications of the same nature.”

TOMORROW: Protests from the neighboring towns.

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