Follow by Email

Monday, July 17, 2017

"They Performed the Manual Exercise and Filings" - The Independent Marines Prepare for War.

When war with England appeared inevitable, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress looked to the colony’s militia to serve as its military arm. The origins of the Massachusetts militia can be traced back to the reign of Edward I, when Parliament enacted legislation decreeing that every freeman between the age of fifteen and sixty was to be available to preserve the peace within his own county or shire. In the towns where the freemen were located, they were organized into military units known, by the virtue of their periodic training, as “trained bands”. However, when Parliament, under the rule of Charles II, revised membership requirements, established payment protocols and appointed officers, trained bands became known as militias. By the 17th century, militias had become one of the cornerstones of English society. Thus, when Plimouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were founded, the establishment of the militia followed naturally. In both colonies, every man over sixteen automatically became a member. Musters were frequent and mandatory, and punishments were doled out for being absent or not properly equipped. The governor maintained the sole authority to activate the militia in the time of crisis. Each time a new town sprung up, a militia company was formed. As the town expanded, additional companies often were created. When counties were formed, the various town militias within the borders of each county were organized into regiments. The governor held the sole authority to activate the militia in the time of crisis. However, with the elimination of the French threat as a result of the French and Indian War, the need for a militia decreased significantly. After 1763, companies and regiments of Massachusetts militia rarely assembled to drill and as a result, were of little military value. By the eve of the Boston Tea Party, a militia muster was not viewed as a military gathering, but rather as a sort of town holiday offering an opportunity for families and friends to get together.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress recognized it had to “consider what is necessary to be done for the defence and safety of the province.” Quickly, it resolved to wrest control of the militia away from the group of loyalist officers who commanded it. To achieve this, the Provincial Congress first ordered the militias to “meet forthwith and elect officers to command their respective companies; and that the officers so chosen assemble as soon as may be . . . and proceed to elect field officers.” Congress also recognized the need to revitalize and further strengthen the colony’s militia system as quickly as possible. On October 26, 1774, the delegates set into motion the formation of minute companies within Massachusetts. As part of its resolution, it declared "[The] field officers, so elected, forthwith [shall] endeavor to enlist one quarter, at the least, of the number of the respective companies, and form them into companies of fifty privates . . . who shall equip and hold themselves in readiness, on the shortest notice from the said Committee of Safety, to march to the place of rendezvous . . . said companies into battalions, to consist of nine companies each."

Emphasis on proper military skill and supply was strongly encouraged by the delegates. On the same day as the creation of minute companies, the Provincial Congress resolved "That, as the security of the lives, liberties and properties of the inhabitants of this province, depends under Providence, on their knowledge and skill in the art of military, and in their being properly and effectually armed and equipped, it is therefore recommended, that they immediately provide themselves therewith; that they use their utmost diligence to perfect themselves in military skill; and that, if any of the inhabitants are not provided with arms and ammunition according to law, and that if any town or district within the province is not provided with the full town stock of arms and ammunition . . . that the selectmen of such town or district take effectual care, without delay, to provide the same."




Methuen and Haverhill appear to be the first two towns in Northern Essex County to take steps towards preparation for war. Approximately twenty days before the resolutions of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, a Methuen Company of Militia declared "Whareas milartrary Exercise hath been much nelicked we the Subcrbers being the first comptrey in methuen Do Covenant and Engage To from our Bevels in to a Bodey in order to Lam the manual Exercise. To be Subegat To Such officers as the Comptrey shall chuse by Voat in all constutenel marsher according to our Chattaers . . .[list of sixty eight men] . . . the ferst Compyney in Methuen meat att Mr. Eben Carlton's in order To Chuse officers, and thay chose Lieut. Benj'm Hall Moder ator, they Chose Mr. James Jones for thar Capt. Mr. Ichobied Perkins furst Leut. Mr. James Wilson Sonent Leut. Mr. Sam Messer Ens. Mr. Nath Messer Jr. Clark for said Compyney."

In Haverhill, the town took the extraordinary step of establishing an artillery company:

Haverhill Sept, 5th. 1774. We the Subscribers, sensible of the importance of a well regulated Military Discipline, do hereby covenant and engage, to form ourselves into an Artillery Company at Haverhill according to the following Articles, — First, That there shall be four officers (viz) a Capt, Lieut, Ensign and Sergeant, who is to act as Clerk, To be chosen by a majority of the Company when met together, 2d. That we will meet together (on the first and third Mondays of September, October and November following, and on the first and third Mondays of the six Summer months annually till the Company shall agree - to dissolve the same) for the exercise of Arms and Evolutions, And that the role shall be called two hours before Sunset, and the Company shall be dismissed at Sunset N. B. If it be fowl weather the Day appointed, the Company shall meet the next fair Day — 3dly. Any one neglecting Due attendance shall be subject to a fine of eight pence, for the use of the Company; unless on a reasonable Pica; excused by the Company, 4thly. That no new member be admitted without the vote of the Company, That each member shall be Equiped with Arms, Accoutriments and Dress, according to Vote of Company, 6thily. That each member shall be supply'd with one Pound of Powder and Twenty Balls ; to be reviewed twice a year ; upon the Days of a chusing Officers, to commence the first Monday in October, from that time, the first Monday in May and August annually.

However, the first Massachusetts independent organization to possibly prepare for war with England may have been Newburyport’s Marine Society. Independent organizations in 18th Century New England were private social or charitable organizations that were often composed of males from the upper echelon of a community. The Newburyport Marine Society was founded on November 5, 1772 by ship captains and merchants.

In September, 1774, the members formed their own military unit known as the “Independent Marines”. As with the Haverhill artillery company and the Methuen militia, it appears the Independent Marines were drilling well over a month before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress issued its orders.

According to the September 21, 1774 edition of Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet, “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition: After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

What is also interesting about this particular account is it describes the Independent Marines as being properly armed and equipped. The term “compleat in arms and ammunition” suggests the Independent Marines attended the September drill with muskets, cartridge boxes, packs and edged weapons (either bayonets or swords). In otherwords, the Independent Marines were fully equipped for war.

This is highly unusual. In September, 1774, most Massachusetts towns and independent military companies had not yet adopted measures to properly supply or equip its minute and militia companies. Newburyport did not address the matter until October 21, 1774 when it resolved to put itself on a wartime footing. “Voted that all the Inhabitants of this Town be desired to furnish themselves with arms and ammunition according to Law, and that they have, also, Bayonets fixed to their Guns as soon as may be.” It would be months later that its military companies actually received bayonets and cartridge boxes.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"To Prepare Reasons for Our Present Conduct" - Lexington's Reaction to the Townshend Acts

We at Historical Nerdery have to make a confession...we have a secret history nerd crush on Boston 1775. If you haven’t visited Mr. Bell’s blog, please do so. It contains everything and anything relevant to Colonial New England. In short, the site is simply amazing.

Late last week, Boston 1775 posted two articles about the passage of the Townshend Acts. Of course, this inspired us to look at how Lexington reacted to the passage of this economic program.

In 1767, England faced a financial crisis. To defray imperial expenses in the colonies, Charles Townshend, the impetuous Chancellor of the Exchequer, of whom it was said, “his mouth often outran his mind”, suggested a series of laws directed at raising revenue from the American colonies. The Townshend Acts, as they became known, provided for an American import tax on paper, painter’s lead, glass and tea. The acts also tightened custom policies and revived the vice-admiralty courts. Although a minority within the House of Commons opposed such a measure, the majority rationalized it would “raise colonial revenue, punish the colonists for their ill-behavior after the repeal of the Stamp Act, and exercise the rights to which Parliament laid claim in the Declaratory Act.”

Once again, Boston stood at the forefront of opposition. On October 28, 1767, the citizens resolved, at a town meeting, to oppose the acts by refusing to import English goods and to encourage American manufacture instead. Lexington followed Boston’s initiative. On December 28, 1767, Lexington “Voted unanimously, to concur with the town of Boston respecting importing and using foreign commodities, as mentioned in their votes, passed at their meeting on the twenty-eighth day of October, 1767.”

However, by 1768, Boston was once again resorting to violence to indicate its opposition to British policy. In March, rioters went to “Commissioner Burch’s home and with clubs assembled before his door a great part of the evening, and he was obliged to send away his wife and children by a back door.” Inspector William Woolton returned home one evening to find “4 men passing him, one with a stick or bludgeon in his hand accosted him saying, ‘Damn your Blood we will be at you to Morrow night.” The victims of the mob begged Governor Bernard to apply for military protection so the Townshend Acts could be enforced. The governor struggled with the decision, but ultimately applied to the king for troops. At the same time, however, British merchants pleaded with Parliament and the King to repeal the act before they were brought to financial ruin. Yet their pleas went unanswered. In 1768, Governor Bernard was ordered to dissolve the Massachusetts legislature, and two full regiments of British regulars were dispatched to Boston to protect the custom officials and help to enforce the Townsend Acts.


Lexington’s inhabitants reacted with dismay. On September 21, 1768, they assembled “to take into their serious consideration the distressed state of the Province at the present day, and to pass any vote thereto.” Isaac Bowman, William Reed, Esq., and Deacon James Stone were selected “to prepare reasons for our present conduct.”

After much consideration, the three men presented a series of resolves to the town. The resolves looked for precedent to the act passed by Parliament during the first year of the reign of William and Mary, settling the succession of the crown and declaring the rights and liberties of their subjects. In particular, they appealed to the Massachusetts Royal Charter, for the authority to forthrightly defend their rights as Englishmen. The residents of Lexington, through their resolves, argued that it was explicitly stated in the charter of Massachusetts that as inhabitants of the colony they possessed “Certain rights, Liberties & privileges therein Expressly mentioned: Among which it is Granted, Established and ordained That all and every ye Subjects of Them, their heirs and Successors, which Shall Go to inhabit within Sd Province & territory, & Every of their children which shall happen to be born there . . . Shall have & injoy all the Liberties and Immunities of free & Natural Subjects . . .as if they & every of them were Born within the Realm of England.”

As was the practice at this time, the people of Lexington acknowledged “their firm & unshaken allegiance to their alone rightful Sovereign King George the Third.” However, they went on to assert “[That] the freeholders & other Inhabitants of the Town of Lexington will, at the utmost peril of their Lives and Fortunes, take all Legal and Constitutional measures to Defend and maintain ye person, Family, Crown and Dignity of our Said Sovereign Lord, George ye Third, and all and Singular the Rights, Liberties, privileges and Immunities Granted in said Royal Charter as well as those which are Declared to be Belonging to us as British subjects, by Birthright as all others therein Specially mentioned.”

The resolves concluded by condemning as infringement of the Royal Charter both the policy of levying taxes without consent of the people of Massachusetts or their elected representative, and the quartering of troops in Boston. “Therefore, Voted as ye opinion of this Town, that levying money within this Province for the Use and Service of ye Crown in other manner than ye same is Granted by the Great and General Court or Assembly of this province is in violation of ye Said Royal Charter: and . . .the Raising & keeping a Standing Army among them . . . without their consent in person or by representatives of their own free Election, would be an Infringement of their Natural, Constitutional and Charter rights.”

The resolves of 1768 represented a departure from the town’s earlier position as stated during the Stamp Act crisis. Gone was the tone of deferential disagreement, along with the expressed desire to avoid the violence that had plagued Boston. No longer was the argument focused primarily on the economic impact of British taxation policies. Although stopping short of justifying a resort to arms, the 1768 resolves demonstrated the town’s unwavering devotion to their constitutional rights and its willingness to defend those liberties at all costs within legal bounds. The residents noticed the change in tone as well. The report was debated and read several times before it was finally accepted with a unanimous vote. Still, Lexington knew they had taken a momentous step and now could not turn back. At the conclusion of the town meeting, they voted “to keep a day of prayer on the occasion, and left to the Rev. Mr. Clarke to appoint the time.”

Following the Lexington resolves, the town also adopted a boycott of all British goods. Women organized spinning bees to decrease dependence on imports. As the Boston Gazette observed on August 31, 1769 “very early in the morning, the young Ladies of [Lexington], to the number of 45, assembled at the house of Mr. Daniel Harrington, with their Spinning Wheels, where they spent the day in the most pleasing satisfaction: and at night presented Mrs. Harrington with the spinning of 602 knots of linen and 346 knots of cotton. If any should be inclin’d to treat such assemblies or the publication of them in a contemptuous sneer as thinking them quite ludicrous, such persons would do well first to consider what would become of one of our (so much boasted) manufactures, on which we pretend the welfare our country is so much depending, if those of the fair sex should refuse to “lay their hands to the spindle” or be unwilling to “hold the distaff.”

Monday, July 3, 2017

"The Most Calm, Decent and Dispassionate Measures" - Lexington's Reaction to the Stamp Act Riots

Following the conclusion of the French and Indian War, England attempted to curb the financial burden created as part of its war time effort of the 1750s.  The government implemented a series of economic programs aimed at having those it considered to have benefited most by the successful conclusion of the war, the American colonies, share in the burden of debt.

The first two revenue raising measures that Great Britain imposed on her American colonies were the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765. The Sugar Act established tariffs on colonial trading and also attempted to curb the American practice of smuggling sugar and molasses from the West Indies by placing a three pence per gallon tax on foreign molasses. The act established a list of “enumerated goods” that could be shipped only to England, including lumber, and set forth procedures for the accounting, loading and unloading of cargo in port. Violations of the act were prosecuted in a vice admiralty court, where defendants would be denied the right to a jury trial and where the presumption was of guilt rather than innocence. The second revenue raising measure was the Stamp Act, which levied an unprecedented direct tax on almost every piece of public paper in the colonies. Newspapers, almanacs, deeds, wills, custom documents, even playing cards were among the many papers subjected to the tax. The Stamp Act went so far as to impose a tax upon tax receipts.

The Sugar and Stamp acts brought on an explosion of riots, boycotts and protests throughout the colonies, particularly in Massachusetts. At first, Massachusetts’ response was peaceful, with the inhabitants merely boycotting certain goods. However, resistance to the taxes soon became more violent. Under the guidance of Samuel Adams, Bostonians began a campaign of terror directed against those who supported the Stamp Act. It began on August 14, 1765 with an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the appointed stamp distributor for Massachusetts, being hung from a “liberty tree” in plain view by the “sons of liberty.” That evening, the Oliver’s luxurious home was burned to the ground. A chastened Oliver quickly resigned his commission. The following evening, incited by a rumor that he supported the Stamp Act, the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor of the colony, was surrounded by an unruly mob. When Hutchinson refused to accede to the demand that he come out and explain his position, the mob broke several windows and then dispersed. Two weeks later, on August 28, 1765, an even larger mob assembled and descended upon the homes of several individuals suspected of favoring the Stamp Act, including again that of the Lieutenant Governor. Hutchinson managed to evacuate his family to safety before the mob arrived. Then, as Hutchinson later described it, “the hellish crew fell upon my house with the rage of divels and in a moment with axes split down the door and entered. My son heard them cry ‘damn him he is upstairs we’ll have him.’ Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house, others filled the rooms below and cellars and others remained without the house to be employed there. I was obliged to retire thro yards and gardens to a house more remote where I remained until 4 o’clock by which time one of the best finished houses in the Province had nothing remaining but the bare walls and floors.”



The mob’s show of force had the desired effect. With Oliver’s resignation, the stamps could not be properly distributed. Additionally, no other stamp officer was willing to step forward to assume Oliver’s legal role. In short, Boston was crippled and could not enforce the act. The town standoff between Boston and the Crown continued through the fall and winter of 1765.

Lexington, being both close in proximity and tied economically to Boston, quickly became embroiled in the stamp crisis. A town meeting was held on October 21, 1765 to address the Stamp question, and determine what instructions should be given to William Reed, the representative of Lexington to the Massachusetts General Court. A committee was established, composed of the selectmen James Stone, Thaddeus Bowman, Robert Harrington, Benjamin Brown and Samuel Stone, Jr. Supervised by the Reverend Clarke, the committee drafted a series of instructions. Although stopping short of challenging Parliament’s right to pass laws regulating the American colonies, the instructions from Lexington did challenge the perceived results of the act:

"What of all most alarms Us is an Act Commonly Called the Stamp Act, the full Execution of which we Apprehend would divest us of our Most inestimable Charter Rights and Privileges, Rob us of our Character as Free and Natural Subjects, and of almost Everything we ought as a People hold Dear. Admitting that there was No Dispute as to the Right of Parliament to impose such an Act upon us, yet we Cannot forbear Complaining of it in itself considered, as unequal and unjust, and a Yoke too heavy for us to bear, And that not only as it falls heaviest on the poor, the widow and the fatherless and the orphan, not only will it embarrass the Trade and Business of this infant country . . . But more especially . . . it will quickly drein the Country of little Cash remaining in it, Strip Multitudes of their Property and reduce them to Poverty."

The committee further asserted that the act was in violation of the basic rights and liberties guaranteed to them as Englishmen, an opinion shared by many of the residents of Massachusetts. The prevailing view in Massachusetts during this crisis was that the power to tax rested not with Parliament, but with the colony’s General Court. Invoking the colony’s Royal Charter and the right to self-government guaranteed therein, the committee declared

"We humbly conceive this Act to be directly repugnant to those Rights and Privileges granted to us in our Charter, which we always hold sacred, as confirmed to us by the Royal word and Seal, and as frequently recognized by our Sovereign and the Parliament of Great Britain, wherein it is expressly granted to us and to our children--- That We shall have and enjoy all Liberties and Immunities of Free and Natural Subjects, within any of His Majesty’s Dominions, to all intents, and . . . Further, that the Full Power and Authority to impose and levy proportionable and reasonable Taxes, upon the Estates and Persons of all the Inhabitants within the Province, for the Support and Defense of His Majesty’s Government, are granted to the [Massachusetts] General Court or Assembly thereof . . . But by this Act a Tax, ---Yea, a heavy Tax, is imposed, Not only without and beside the Authority of Said General Court, in which this power, (which has never been forfeited nor be given up) is Said to be Fully and exclusively lodged; But also directly in opposition to an essential Right or Privilege of Free and Natural Subjects of Great Britain, who look upon it as their Darling and Constitutional Right never to be Taxed but by their own Consent, in Person or by their Representatives."

The resolution also chastised Parliament for its decision to eliminate the right to a jury trial by transferring prosecutions to admiralty courts. “By this Act we are most deeply affected as hereby we are debarred of being tried by juries in case of any breach or supposed breach of it, - a right which, until now, we have held in common with our brethren in England . . . This we apprehend will open a door to numberless evils which time only can discover.”

Yet, Lexington was not Boston. The citizens of the small dairy town rejected the use of violence and rioting. The resolutions even went to great lengths to “earnestly recommend . . . the most calm, decent and dispassionate measures for our open, explicit and resolute assertion and vindication of our charter rights and liberties . . . We take it for granted, therefore, that you will carefully avoid all unaccustomed and unconstitutional grants, which will not only add to the present burden, but make such precedents as will be attended with consequences which may prove greatly to the disadvantage of the public.”

With the riots receiving widespread coverage in London newspapers coupled with the successful boycott program undertaken by New York, Philadelphia and Boston, England finally yielded. Realizing the Stamp and Sugar Acts could never be enforced in America, the acts were repealed on March 4, 1766. However, before striking the laws, Parliament announced the Declaratory Act of 1766, which emphasized its authority to legislate for the colonies in all cases whatsoever.