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, September 27, 2018

Contrasting Reactions to the Massachusetts Convention

Massachusetts towns had a range of responses to Boston’s invitation in September 1768 to come to a Convention in Faneuil Hall and discuss the province’s grievances.

The 26 Sept 1768 Boston Gazette proudly ran a dispatch from Petersham in Worcester County. On 19 September, the town’s “Sons of Liberty” had met to choose Theophilus Chandler to attend that Convention. But they didn’t stop there.

The following day, those men of Petersham had a ceremony to “dedicate a Tree to that most amiable Goddess,” Liberty, choosing the Wilkesite time of “45 Minutes past two o’Clock, P.M.”
Accordingly they met at the Time appointed, and having made Choice of a beautiful young Elm, they cut off 17 useless Branches (leaving 92 thereon) and one of them taking hold of the Tree uttered the following Words, “O Liberty! thou divine Goddess! may those that love thee flourish as the Branches of this Tree! but those that hate thee be cut off and perish as these 17, which we are now about to commit to the Flames?[”] And a Pile of condemn’d Shingles being instantly set on Fire, the amputated Branches, together with the Effigies of the 17 strong Asses were cast therefore and consum’d, while the well known Song of Liberty was sung; and having scatter’d their Ashes towards the four Winds of Heaven, they gave three Cheers, and then walked back in Procession, where a Dish of Barley Coffee was prepared for them:
The 92 branches and the 17 lopped off referred to the Massachusetts assembly’s vote not to rescind the Circular Letter. The “Barley Coffee” might have been an early example of eschewing taxed tea.

The Petersham celebrants then drank thirteen “constitutional Toasts,” starting with the royal family and moving on to “Lord Chatham—[John] Wilks,…The brave Corsicans…our glorious intrepid Ancestors,” John Dickinson, James Otis, and “A speedy Repeal of all unconstitutional Acts.”

In contrast, the Connecticut River town of Hatfield met on 22 September, “calmly and fully deliberated and considered” Boston’s invitation, and voted unanimously not to participate.

What’s more, the next day Hatfield approved a long reply to Boston. This document was written mainly by Israel Williams (1709-1788), a wealthy landowner and militia officer who strongly supported the royal government. In the House he had been one of the 17, not one of the 92.

Williams and his neighbors produced a detailed rebuttal to Boston’s points about the danger of the army regiments being stationed in town. They expressed confidence that the regular process of petitioning Parliament would resolve Massachusetts’s problems. Hatfield’s reply ended:
Suffer us to observe that in our Opinion the Measures the Town of Boston are pursuing and proposing to us and the People of this Province to unite in, are unconstitutional, illegal, and wholly unjustifiable, and what will give the Enemies of our Constitution the greatest Joy, subversive of Government, destructive of that Peace and good Order which is the Cement of Society, and have a direct Tendency to rivet our Chains, and deprive us of our Charter Rights and Privileges, which we the Inhabitants of this Town desire may be secured to us, and perpetuated to our latest Posterity.

Thus we have freely expressed our Sentiments, having an equal Right with others, tho’ a lesser Part of the Community, and take this first Opportunity to protest against the proposed Convention;—and hereby declare our Loyalty to His present Majesty, and Fidelity to our Country; and that it is our firm Resolution, to the utmost of our Power, to maintain and defend our Rights in every prudent and reasonable Way, as far as is consistent with our duty to GOD and the KING.
The town clerk who signed off on that message on behalf of Hatfield, Oliver Partridge, was appointed a county judge in October. Every town had its own story.

TOMORROW: Politicking in Cambridge.

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