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, September 28, 2018

Mixed Reactions to the Massachusetts Convention

The Boston Whigs weren’t surprised there was pushback against their Convention from Massachusetts towns where friends of the royal government dominated local politics—such as Hatfield, as I quoted yesterday.

But they may have hoped for a positive response from Marblehead and Salem, two of the largest towns in the province with a mercantile communities also hit by the Townshend Act and stricter Customs enforcement. Instead, both those towns were in political turmoil, so they didn’t make a clear response.

Salem’s representatives to the Massachusetts General Court in the spring of 1768, William Brown and Peter Frye, had both voted to rescind the body’s Circular Letter. Neither would be reelected. The new representatives for May 1769 were strong Whigs Richard Derby, Jr., and John Pickering. But the Convention came in the midst of that shift.

Likewise, of Marblehead’s representatives, Jacob Fowle had voted to rescind and William Bourne had sat out that vote; neither would be reelected. Richard Brown found that Marblehead didn’t even meet to consider Boston’s invitation. George A. Billias suggested that the loss of several fishing vessels that summer gave the town bigger things to worry about.

Another notable result came from Northampton, to the west. That town regularly sent Joseph Hawley, a respected lawyer and strong Whig, to the General Court. But its citizens voted overwhelmingly—66 or 65 to 1—not to send Hawley or anyone else to the Convention. At the same time, little Montague, which often sat out the regular legislature, sent Moses Gunn to the Convention.

Cambridge was a politically active town, and so close to Boston that it wouldn’t have been much expense to send a delegate. But it also had a relatively large and very wealthy Anglican community, and those citizens kept the town from responding quickly.

The citizens of Cambridge didn’t meet about Boston’s invitation until 26 September, four days after the Convention had started. Katie Turner Getty kindly shared her notes on that meeting, which show that attendees chose Samuel Whittemore, a septuagenarian militia captain from the western part of town, as moderator. But the meeting’s only recorded action was to adjourn “to Tuesday next at three of the clock in the afternoon.”

That would seem to put the next session of the meeting in early October, but that same Monday the Boston Gazette reported:
The Torries [sic] in Cambridge have had the Address, with the Aid of a veering Whig, to get the Town Meeting adjourned to Thursday next.
That would be Thursday the 29th, which is indeed when the men of Cambridge came together again. By then the Convention was nearly over, but Lucius Paige’s town history said the meeting considered
whether it be the mind of the inhabitants of this town to proceed on the article in the Warrant, relating to the choosing a person to join with the committees of Convention of the other towns in this Province, now sitting in Boston, and it passed in the afiirmative.
The town voted to send two delegates to the Convention—more than it had sent to the last General Court. The local Whigs may have been trying to make up for lost time.

Cambridge’s first choice was Andrew Bordman, who had represented the town in that last legislature. He “declined the service.” The town asked Deacon Samuel Whittemore (1721-1784), son of the meeting moderator. He also declined. The town then asked Capt. Whittemore, who said yes. Finally the town chose Thomas Gardner as the second delegate, and he agreed as well.

But neither Whittemore nor Gardner arrived in time to be listed among the Convention attendees by Robert Treat Paine. Both remained politically active, with Gardner taking over for Bordman in the General Court. Whittemore is famous for being wounded during the Battle of Lexington and Concord; Gardner died of wounds suffered at Bunker Hill.

Getty and I are both curious about the identity of the “veering Whig” who delayed Cambridge’s response. Was it Bordman, who had been one of the “Glorious 92” but didn’t want to attend the unofficial Convention? Was it old Samuel Danforth, a Council member who lived in Cambridge and was voting with Gov. Francis Bernard on a couple of issues that week? (Another Council member from Cambridge, William Brattle, voted firmly against Bernard and therefore hadn’t started “veering” yet.) Whittemore as moderator might have had the influence to adjourn the meeting, but he probably wouldn’t have been chosen as delegate after that. Absent a more revealing local source, we’ll never know.

(Read Katie Getty’s Journal of the American Revolution article about Samuel Whittemore here.)

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

The 3 Oct 1768 Boston Gazette included a small-type item acknowledging Cambridge’s late activity in the very best way (from a Whig point of view): “The Town of Cambridge, by a very great Majority, on Thursday last chose a Committee to meet in the late Convention; but the Business being done, before the Gentlemen chosen could join, we have their Desire to acquaint the Public, that they have carefully read the printed Proceedings and Results of the Committees, and highly approve of the same.”