In the past, we at Historical Nerdery have discussed the various activities of “patriots” that hailed from Newburyport. But what about the Loyalists from that town? A quick review of the historical work The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims reveals there were five identified Loyalist families and individuals in a town of three thousand on the eve of the American Revolution.
One such individual was Henry Atkins. Mr. Atkins was born in Boston and until 1772 clerked for the Secretary to the Commissioners of American Customs, Richard Reeve. On May 1, 1772, he was appointed a “weigher and gauger of Customs at Newburyport.” Prior to the construction of a custom house in 1835, there had been at least two previous custom houses located in Newburyport. The first was owned and operated by the English government. After the war, American custom officers occupied the building and remained there until the early 1820s. Afterwards, custom officers moved to an abandoned brick store.
The position was a lucrative post and yielded Atkins an annual salary of £80. Unfortunately, Atkins was “openly in favor of Gt. Britain.” As a result, on July 27, 1775, a Newburyport mob greeted him at the custom house. This “revolutionary party” blocked Atkins from performing his duties and demanded he renounce the policies of the British government. When he refused, Atkins was promptly arrested and confined to a local jail. He remained incarcerated for over two months. After appearing before the Newburyport Committee of Safety, he was released on bail and confined to his home and gardens.
When Burgoyne launched his invasion from Canada in 1777, Henry Atkins was again asked to renounce his allegiance to the Crown and take up arms against the British government. When he refused, he was promptly arrested and thrown in jail again. Shortly thereafter, Atkin’s son was also imprisoned for being a Loyalist
During both occasions of incarceration, Atkins was treated somewhat poorly by his jailers. According to his cell mate, Captain Edward Barron of the 4th Regiment of Foot, the Loyalist was “denied all communications with friends by letter or otherwise and not suffered even to receive visits from his own children.”
In April, 1778, Atkins and his son successfully escaped and eventually made their way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Somehow, Atkins was able to secure safe passage from Newburyport to Canada for the remainder of his family.
Facing financial ruin, Henry and his son left Nova Scotia in 1780 and travelled to England to secure compensation for his losses during the American Revolution. He took up residence in Walthamstow, England. While there he was supported financially by his neighbor Henry Goldthwait.
The Newburyport Loyalist spent the next six years petitioning the English government for restitution. Ultimately, his health began to deteriorate and on May 24, 1786 he died in England. His son continued to petition the government for compensation. In the end, the Atkins family was only paid a lump sum of £40.