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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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Evacuation Day Lecture Now Online

I’ve put “The End of Tory Row,” my Evacuation Day talk for Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, online at YouTube.

Because this was an online talk, I loaded my PowerPoint up with more graphics. I hope those survive my clicking while speaking, the Zoom recording, and finally the compression for YouTube.

One thing I said in the talk is that no one could figure out why the Crown chose Thomas Oliver to be Massachusetts’s new lieutenant governor in 1774. At forty years old, he was hardly a senior figure among supporters of the royal government, and he hadn’t been active in politics. The best explanation seemed to be, I said, that bureaucrats in London got him mixed up somehow with the family of his predecessor, Andrew Oliver.

After the talk, John W. Tyler, currently editing The Correspondence of Thomas Hutchinson for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, sent me the text of Gov. Hutchinson’s letter to the Earl of Dartmouth on 29 Mar 1774. That document shows that I wronged Thomas Oliver—at least one person in Massachusetts thought he could be a capable lieutenant governor.

This letter shows that after Andrew Oliver’s death Hutchinson sent four names of possible stand-ins to the Secretary of State’s office. The governor wanted someone who could back him up, not knowing that he would soon be superseded by Gen. Thomas Gage.

The four names Hutchinson proposed were:
  • William Browne of Salem. As of 29 March, he asked to be considered for a seat on the Massachusetts Superior Court instead, and was indeed appointed to that bench just in time for the courts to be shut down.
  • William Burch, a Customs Commissioner born in England and based in Massachusetts since 1767—Hutchinson’s top choice.
  • Thomas Flucker, the provincial secretary.
  • Thomas Oliver.
About the last, Hutchinson wrote:
There is a gentleman of the same name with the late Lieut. Governor but of another family Thomas Oliver Esq. of Cambridge, now Judge of the Provincial Court of Admiralty which he must quit in case of his appointment. He has a handsome Estate, is a very sensible man & very generally esteemed. He is Cousin German to Mr. [Richard] Oliver the Alderman and City Member. I know not how the Alderman stands affected to Government but this Gentleman has been steady in his opposition to all the late measures and I think the Administration in case of the absence of the Governor may be safely trusted with him.
Lord Dartmouth’s office thus had a little information about Thomas Oliver and knew that he wasn’t from the same family as Andrew and Peter Oliver. His distant cousin Richard Oliver was about to speak out against the Boston Port Bill in Parliament, but the government didn’t hold that against Thomas.

Hutchinson was anxious to have a lieutenant governor in place because if he died, became ill, or left the province without one, the power of acting governor would fall to the Council, led by its senior member, and the Council was more and more ranged against him. Again, Hutchinson didn’t know that in August that elected Council would be replaced with one appointed from London.

Thus, I was mistaken in saying no one in Massachusetts considered Thomas Oliver to be lieutenant governor material. He was at the bottom of Hutchinson’s short list, but he was on the list.


Charles Bahne said...

Interesting that Thomas Oliver (of Cambridge) had been a judge. I had always heard that he had absolutely no experience in Massachusetts politics or government.

J. L. Bell said...

Oliver had been appointed to the Vice Admiralty Court for Massachusetts and New Hampshire in May 1773, so he had been at that job less than a year. Furthermore, it wasn’t much of a job, I bet. Much less to do in peacetime.

Other documents show that Hutchinson didn’t tell Oliver that he’d included the man’s name in the list of possible lieutenant governors, so the higher appointment came as a surprise to Oliver.