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, June 27, 2024

“Undertook to carry off Mr. Leonard”

As I’ve been discussing, in the middle of June 1774 Samuel Adams and his Whig colleagues had come up with a plan to have their colony represented at what would be the First Continental Congress.

But to give the Massachusetts General Court time to approve that plan before Gov. Thomas Gage learned about it and shut down the legislature, they needed to get around committee member Daniel Leonard. He had recently moved to the Loyalist side of the political divide.

Besides Leonard, the other representative from Taunton was Robert Treat Paine, one of Adams’s allies. Both Leonard and Paine were lawyers, and on Tuesday, 14 June, the Bristol County court of common pleas was due to sit in their town. The courthouse was quite close to Leonard’s house, in fact.

As Paine described his actions decades later, he told Leonard that

it had been usual for Years past, to adjourn the Common Pleas Court at Taunton which was to set the then next Tuesday in Order that the Members of the General Court from that County might attend the General Court; but that the Neglect of it always gave uneasiness to many persons; especially the Tavern keepers, who from the great Concourse of people Collected there (the days being long & the Season pleasant) reaped great profits &c., &c., & that we might agree to Shorten the Court by Demurrers & Continuances & get back to [the Massachusetts General] Court in Season to attend to all important business
It was important for politicians to keep local tavern-keepers happy, after all. They were influential men at election times.

But Paine revealed his real motivation when he wrote: “the writer hereof Undertook to carry off Mr. Leonard.”

This maneuver is sometimes described as Paine inducing Leonard to leave Salem just before the crucial legislative vote. But in fact the two men left the previous Saturday, attended the county court for a few days, and even agreed to sit on a county committee to write an address to Gov. Gage.

At the end of the week, Paine and Leonard headed back to the legislature in Salem—“in Season to attend to all important business,” Paine had promised. But Adams’s resolutions were already moving.

TOMORROW: Behind closed doors.


Anonymous said...

Dedham resident and older "son of liberty" dr john Sprague supposedly hatched the plan with RTP and adams

Sprague is an interesting character

J. L. Bell said...

What’s the source on Dr. Sprague’s involvement? I know he had ties to Robert Treat Paine, but I don’t see evidence Sprague was in Salem in 1774 when this difficulty arose.