The New-England Revolution of the Seventeenth Century

IN the first week of March, 1689, Sir Edmund Andros returned to Boston from an expedition against the Indians of Maine. He had now governed New England more than two years for King James II., imitating, in his narrow sphere, the insolent despotism of his master.

The people had no share in the government, which was conducted by Andros with the aid of Counsellors appointed by the King. Some of these were the Governor’s creatures, — English adventurers, who came to make their fortunes. Their associates of a different character were so treated that they absented themselves from the Council-Board, and at length not even formal meetings were held. Heavy taxes were arbitrarily imposed on the inhabitants. Excessive fees were demanded for the transaction of business in the courts and public offices. Town-meetings were forbidden, except one to be held in each year for the choice of assessing-officers. The ancient titles to land in the Colony were declared to be worthless, and proprietors were required to secure themselves by taking out new patents from the Governor, for which high prices were extorted. Complaint of these usurpations was severely punished by fine and imprisonment. An order that “no man should remove out of the country without the Governor’s leave ” cut off whatever small chance existed of obtaining redress in England. The religious feelings of the people were outraged. The Governor directed the opening of the Old South Church in Boston for worship according to the English ritual. If the demand had been for the use of the building for a mass, or for a carriage-house for Juggernaut, it would scarcely have given greater displeasure.

Late in the autumn of 1688, the Governor had led a thousand New-England soldiers into Maine against the Indians. his operations there were unfortunate. The weather was cold and stormy. The fatigue of long marches through an unsettled country was excessive. Sickness spread among the companies. Shelter and hospital-stores had been insufficiently provided. The Indians fled to the woods, and there laughed at the invader.

The costliness, discomforts, and miserable ill-success of this expedition, while they occasioned clamor in the camp, sharpened the discontents existing at the capital. Suspicions prevailed of treachery on the Governor’s part, for he was well known to be without the excuse of incompetence. Plausible stories were told of his being in friendly relations with the murderous Indians. An apprehension that he was instructed by his Popish master to turn New England over to the French, in the contingency of a popular outbreak in England, was confirmed by reports of French men-ofwar hovering along the coast for the consummation of that object. When, in mid-winter, Andros was informed of the fears entertained at Court of a movement of the Prince of Orange, he issued a proclamation, commanding His Majesty’s subjects in New England, and especially all officers, civil and military, to be on the alert, should any foreign fleet approach, to resist such landing or invasion as might be attempted. Not causelessly, even if unjustly, the Governor’s object was understood to be to hold New England for King James, if possible, should the parent - country reassert its rights.

Of course, no friendly welcome met him, when, on the heels of his proclamation, he returned to Boston from the Eastern Country. He was himself so out of humor as to be hasty and imprudent, and one of his first acts quickened the popular resentment. The gloomy and jealous state of men’s minds had gained some degree of credit for a story that he had furnished the hostile natives with ammunition for the destruction of the force under his command. An Indian declared, in the hearing of some inhabitants of Sudbury, that he knew this to he true. Two of the townsmen took the babbler to Boston, ostensibly to be punished for his license of speech. The Governor treated the informers with great harshness, put them under heavy bonds, and sent one of them to jail. The comment of the time was not unnatural nor uncandid : — “ Although no man does accuse Sir Edmund merely upon Indian testimony, yet let it be duly weighed whether it might not create suspicion and an astonishment in the people of New England, in that he did not punish the Indians who thus charged him, but the English who complained of them for it.”

The nine-days’ wonder of this transaction was not over, when tidings of far more serious import claimed the public ear. On the fourth day of April, a young man named John Winslow arrived at Boston from the Island of Nevis, bringing a copy of the Declarations issued by the Prince of Orange on his landing in England. Winslow’s story is best told in the words of an affidavit made by him some months after.

“ Being at Nevis,” he says, “ there came in a ship from some part of England with the Prince of Orange’s Declarations, and brought news also of his happy proceedings in England, with his entrance there, which was very welcome news to me, and I knew it would be so to the rest of the people in New England; and I, being bound thither, and very willing to convey such good news with me, gave four shillings sixpence for the said Declarations, on purpose to let the people in New England understand what a speedy deliverance they might expect from arbitrary power. We arrived at Boston harbor the fourth day of April following; and as soon as I came home to my house, Sir Edmund Andros, understanding I brought the Prince’s Declarations with me, sent the Sheriff to me. So I went along with him to the Governor’s house, and, as soon as I came in, he asked me why I did not come and tell him the news. I told him I thought it not my duty, neither was it customary for any passenger to go to the Governor, when the master of the ship had been with him before, and told him the news. He asked me where the Declarations I brought with me were. I told him I could not tell, being afraid to let him have them, because he would not let the people know any news. He told me I was a saucy fellow, and bid the Sheriff carry me away to the Justices of the Peace; and as we were going, I told the Sheriff I would choose my Justice. He told me, No, I must go before Dr. Bullivant, one picked on purpose (as I judged) for the business. Well, I told him, 1 did not care who I went before, for I knew my cause was good. So soon as I came in, two more of the Justices dropped in, Charles Lidgett and Francis Foxcroft, such as the former, fit for the purpose. So they asked me for my papers. I told them I would not let them have them, by reason they kept all the news from the people. So when they saw they could not get what I bought with my money, they sent me to prison for bringing traitorous and treasonable libels and papers of news, notwithstanding I offered them security to the value of two thousand pounds.”

The intelligence which reached Winslow at Nevis, and was brought thence by him to Boston, could scarcely have embraced transactions in England of a later date than the first month after the landing of the Prince of Orange. Within that time, the result of the expedition was extremely doubtful. There had been no extensive rising against the King, and every day of delay was in his favor. He had a powerful army and fleet, and it had been repeatedly shown how insecure were any calculations upon popular discontent in England, when an occasion arose for putting English loyalty to the last proof. Should the clergy, after all, be true to their assertions of the obligation of unqualified obedience,—should the army be faithful,—should the King, by artifice or by victory, attract to his side the wavering mass of his subjects, and expel the Dutch invader, — there would be an awful reckoning for all who had taken part against the Court. The proceedings after the insurrection under Monmouth had not entirely shown how cruel James could be. His position then had been far less critical than now. Then he enjoyed some degree of popular esteem, and the preparations against him were not on a formidable scale. Now he was thoroughly frightened. In proportion to his present alarm would be his fury, if he should come off victorious. The last chance was pending. If now resisted in vain, he would be henceforward irresistible. Englishmen who should now oppose their king must be sure to conquer him, or they lost all security for property, liberty, and life. Was it any way prudent for the feeble colony of Massachusetts, divided by parties, and with its administration in the hands of a tool of the tyrant, to attempt to throw itself into the contest at this doubtful stage ?

It is unavoidable to suppose that these considerations were anxiously weighed by the patriots of Massachusetts after the reception of the intelligence from England. It is natural to believe, that, during the fortnight which followed, there were earnest arguments between the more and the less sanguine portions of the people. It seems probable that the leaders, who had most to fear from rashness, if it should be followed by defeat, pleaded for forbearance, or at least for delay. If any of them took a different part, they took it warily, and so as not to be publicly committed. But the people’s blood was up. Though any day now might bring tidings which would assure them whether a movement of theirs would be safe or disastrous, their impatience could not be controlled. If the leaders would not lead, some of the followers must take their places. Massachusetts must at all events have her share in the struggle,—and her share, if King James should conquer, in the ruin.

It may be presumed that Andros saw threatening signs, as, when next heard of, he was within the walls of the work on Fort Hill. Two weeks had passed after Winslow came with his news, when suddenly, at an early hour of the day, without any note of preparation, Boston was all astir. At the South end of the town a rumor spread that armed men were collecting at the North end. At the North it was told that there was a bustle and a rising at the South ; and a party having found Captain George, of the Rose frigate, on shore, laid hands on him, and put him under a guard. “ About nine of the clock the drums beat through the town, and an ensign was set up upon the beacon.” Presently Captain Hill marched his company up King [State] Street, escorting Bradstreet, Danforth, Richards, Cooke, Addington, and others of the old Magistrates, who proceeded together to the Council-Chamber. Meantime, Secretary Randolph, Counsellor Bullivant, Sheriff Sherlock, and “many more” of the Governor’s party, were apprehended and put in gaol. The gaoler was added to their company, and his function was intrusted to “ Scatcs, the bricklayer.”

About noon, the gentlemen who had been conferring together in the CouncilChamber appeared in the eastern gallery of the Town-House in King Street, and there read to the assembled people what was entitled a “ Declaration of the Gentlemen, Merchants, and Inhabitants of Boston, and the Country Adjacent.” The document contains a brief narrative of the oppressions that had been suffered by the Colony, under the recent maladministration. Towards the end it refers in a few words to “ the noble undertaking of the Prince of Orange, to preserve the three kingdoms from the horrible brinks of Popery and Slavery, and to bring to a condign punishment those worst of men by whom English liberties have been destroyed.” One point was delicate; for among the recent Counsellors of the Governor had been considerable men, who, it was hoped, would hereafter act with the people. It is thus disposed of: — “All the Council were not engaged in these ill actions, but those of them which were true lovers of their country were seldom admitted to, and seldomer consulted at, the debates which produced these unrighteous things. Care was taken to keep them under disadvantages, and the Governor, with five or six more, did what they would.” The Declaration concludes as follows: —

“We do therefore seize upon the persons of those few ill men which have been (next to our sins) the grand authors of our miseries; resolving to secure them, for what justice, orders from his Highness, with the English Parliament, shall direct, lest, ere we are aware, we find (what we may fear, being on all sides in danger) ourselves to be by them given away to a foreign power before such orders can reach unto us; for which orders we now humbly wait. In the mean time, firmly believing that we have endeavored nothing but what mere duty to God and our country calls for at our hands, we commit our enterprise unto the blessing of Him who hears the cry of the oppressed, and advise all our neighbors, for whom we have thus ventured ourselves, to join with us in prayers and all just actions for the defence of the land.”

Andros sent the son of the Chief Justice with a message to the ministers, and to two or three other considerable citizens, inviting them to the Fort for a conference, which they declined. Meanwhile the signal on Beacon Hill had done its office, and by two o’clock in the afternoon, in addition to twenty companies in Boston under arms, several hundred soldiers were seen on the Charlestown side, ready to cross over. Fifteen principal gentlemen, some of them lately Counsellors, and others Assistants under the old Charter, signed a summons to Andros. “We judge it necessary,” they wrote, “ you forthwith surrender and deliver up the government and fortification, to be preserved and disposed according to order and direction from the Crown of England, which suddenly is expected may arrive, promising all security from violence to yourself or any of your gentlemen or soldiers in person or estate. Otherwise we are assured they will endeavor the taking of the fortification by storm, if any opposition be made.”

“ The frigate, upon the news, put out all her flags and pendants, and opened all her ports, and with all speed made ready for fight, under the command of the lieutenant, he swearing that he would die before she should be taken.” He sent a boat to bring off Andros and his attendants; but it had scarcely touched the beach when the crew were encountered and overpowered by the party from the Town-House, which, under the command of Mr. John Nelson, was bearing the summons to the Governor. The boat was kept, with the sailors manning it, who were disarmed. Andros and his friends withdrew again within the Fort, from which they had come down to go on board the frigate. Nelson disposed his party on two sides of the Fort, and getting possession of some cannon in an outwork, pointed them against the walls. The soldiers within were daunted. The Governor asked a suspension of the attack till he should send West and another person to confer with the Provisional Council at the Town-House. The reply, whatever it was, decided him how to proceed, and he and his party “came forth from the Fort, and went disarmed to the Town-House, and from thence, some to the close gaol, and the Governor, under a guard, to Mr. Usher’s house.”

So ended the first day of the insurrection. The Castle and the frigate were still defiant in the harbor. The nineteenth of April is a red-letter day in Massachusetts. On the nineteenth of April, 1861, Massachusetts fought her way through Baltimore to the rescue of the imperilled capital of the United States. On the nineteenth of April, 1775, she began at Lexington the war of American Independence. On the nineteenth of April, 1689, King James’s Governor was brought to yield the Castle of Boston by a threat, that, “ if he would not give it presently, under his hand and seal, he would he exposed to the rage of the people.” A party of Colonial militia then “ went down, and it was surrendered to them with cursings, and they brought the men away, and made Captain Fairweather commander in it. Now, by the time the men came back from the Castle, all the guns, both in ships and batteries, were brought to bear against the frigate, which were enough to have shattered her in pieces at once, resolving to have her.”

Captain George, who had long nursed a private quarrel with the arch-disturber of Massachusetts, and chief adviser of the Governor, “ cast all the blame now upon that devil, Randolph; for, had it not been for him, he had never troubled this good people ; — earnestly soliciting that he might not be constrained to surrender the ship, for by so doing both himself and all his men would lose their wages, which otherwise would be recovered in England; giving leave to go on board, and strike the top-masts, and bring the sails on shore.” The arrangement was made, and the necessity for firing on a ship of the royal navy was escaped. The sails were brought on shore, and there put away, and the vessel swung to her anchors off Long Wharf, a harmless and a ridiculous hulk. “ The country-people came armed into the town, in the afternoon, in such rage and heat that it made all tremble to think what would follow ; for nothing would satisfy them, but that the Governor should be bound in chains or cords, and put in a more secure place, and that they would see done before they went away ; and to satisfy them, he was guarded by them to the Fort.”

The Fort had been given in charge to Nelson, and Colonel Lidgett shared the Governor’s captivity. West, Graham, Palmer, and others of his set, were placed in Fairweather’s custody at the Castle. Randolph was taken care of at the common gaol, by the new keeper, “ Scates, the bricklayer.” Andros came near effecting his escape. Disguised in woman’s clothes, he had safely passed two sentries, but was stopped by a third, who observed his shoes, which he had neglected to change. Dudley, the Chief Justice, was absent on the circuit at Long Island. Returning homeward, he heard the great news at Newport. He crossed into the Narragansett Country, where he hoped to keep secret at Major Smith’s house ; but a party got upon his track, and took him to his home at Roxbury. “ To secure him against violence,” as the order expresses it, a guard was placed about his house. Dudley’s host, Smith, was lodged in gaol at Bristol.

To secure Dudley against popular violence might, well be an occasion of anxious care to those who had formerly been his associates in public trusts. Among the oppressors, he it was whom the people found hardest to forgive. If Andros, Randolph, West, and others, were tyrants and extortioners, at all events they were strangers ; they had not been preying on their own kinsmen. But this man was son of a brave old emigrant Governor; he had been bred by the bounty of Harvard College; he had been welcomed at the earliest hour to the offices of the Commonwealth, and promoted in them with a promptness out of proportion to the claims of his years. Confided in, enriched, caressed, from youth to middle life by his native Colony beyond any other man of his time, he had been pampered into a power which, as soon as the opportunity was presented, he used for the grievous humiliation and distress of his generous friends. That he had not brought them to utter ruin seemed to have been owing to no want of resolute purpose on his part to advance himself as the congenial instrument of a despot.

A revolution had been consummated, and the government of the King of England over Massachusetts was dissolved. The day after Andros was led to prison, the persons who had been put forward in the movement assembled again to deliberate on the state of affairs. The result was, that several of them, with twentytwo others whom they now associated, formed themselves into a provisional government, which took the name of a “ Council for the Safety of the People and Conservation of the Peace.” They elected Simon Bradstreet, the last Charter Governor, now eighty - seven years of age, to be their President, and Wait Winthrop, grandson of the first Governor, to command the Militia. Among the orders passed on the first day of this new administration was one addressed to Colonel Tyng, Major Savage, and Captains Davis and Willard, serving in the Eastern Country, to send certain officers to Boston, and dismiss a portion of their force. There was probably a threefold purpose in this order: to get possession of the persons of some distrusted officers; to gratify a prevailing opinion that the exposures of the campaign had been needless as well as cruel; and to obtain a reinforcement of skilled troops at the centre of affairs.

The Council felt the weakness of their position. They held their place neither by deputation from the sovereign, nor by election of the people. They hesitated to set up the Colonial Charter again, for it had been formally condemned in the King’s courts, and there was a large party about them who bore it no good-will; nor was it to be expected that their President, the timid Bradstreet, whatever were his own wishes, could be brought to consent to so bold a measure. Naturally and not improperly desirous to escape from such a responsibility, they decided to summon a Convention of delegates from the towns.

On the appointed day, sixty-six delegates came together. They brought from their homes, or speedily reached, the conclusion that of right the old Charter was still in force ; and they addressed a communication to that effect to the Magistrates who had been chosen just before the Charter government was superseded, desiring them to resume their functions, and to constitute, with the delegates just now sent from the towns, the General Court of the Colony, according to ancient law and practice. Their request was denied. Either the wisdom or the timidity of the Magistrates held them back from so bold a venture. The delegates then desired the Council to continue to act as a Committee of Public Safety till another Convention might assemble, of delegates bringing express instructions from their towns.

Fifty-four towns were represented in the new Convention. All but fourteen of them had instructed their delegates to insist on the resumption of the Charter. In the Council, the majority was opposed to that scheme. After a debate of two days, the popular policy prevailed, and the Governor and Magistrates chosen at the last election under the Charter consented to assume the trusts then committed to them, and, in concert with the delegates recently elected, to form a General Court, and administer the Colony for the present according to the ancient forms. They desired that the other gentlemen lately associated with them in the Council should continue to hold that relation. But this the delegates would not allow ; and accordingly those gentlemen, among whom were Wait Winthrop, the newly appointed commander-in-chief, and Stoughton, whom the people could not yet forgive for his recent subserviency, relinquished their part in the conduct of affairs. They did so with prudence and magnanimity, engaging to exert themselves to allay the dissatisfaction ot their friends, and only avowing their expectation that the state-prisoners would be well treated, and that there should be no encouragement to popular manifestations of hostility to England.

Scarcely had this arrangement been made, when it became known, that, if dangers still existed, at least the chief danger was over. On the twenty-sixth of May a ship arrived from England with an order to the authorities on the spot to proclaim King William and Queen Mary. Never, since the Mayflower groped her way into Plymouth harbor, had a message from the parent-country been received in New England with such joyNever had such a pageant as, three days after, expressed the prevailing happiness been seen in Massachusetts. From far and near the people flocked into Boston ; the Government, attended by the principal gentlemen of the capital and the towns around, passed in procession on horseback through the thoroughfares; the regiment of the town, and companies and troops of horse and foot from the country, lent their pomp and noise to the show; there was a great dinner at the Town-House for the better sort; wine was served out in the streets; and the evening was made noisy with acclamations till the bell rang at nine o’clock, and families met to thank God at the domestic altar for causing the great sorrow to pass away, and giving a Protestant King and Queen to England.

The revolution in Massachusetts determined the proceedings in the other Colonies of New England. On learning what had been done in Boston, the people of Plymouth seized the person of their townsman, Nathaniel Clark, one of Andros’s Counsellors and tools, and, recalling Governor Hinckley, set up again the ancient government. When the news reached Rhode Island, a summons was issued to “the several towns,” inviting them to send their “principal persons” to Newport “before the day of usual election by Charter, .... there to consult of some suitable way in this present juncture.” Accordingly, at a meeting held on the day appointed by the ancient Charter for annual elections, it was determined “to reassume the government according to the Charter,” and “ that the former Governor, DeputyGovernor, and Assistants that were in place .... before the coming over of Sir Edmund Andros, the late Governor, should be established in their respective places for the year ensuing, or further order from England.” Walter Clarke was the Governor who had been superseded by Andros. But he had no mind for the hazardous honor which was now thrust upon him, and Rhode Island remained without a Governor.

On the arrival in Connecticut of the news of the deposition of Andros, the plan of resuming the Charter of that Colony, and reëstablishing the government under it, was immediately canvassed in all the settlements. Agreeably to some general understanding, a number of principal men, most of them elected as Deputies by their respective towns, assembled, on the eighth of May, at Hartford, to consult together on the expediency of taking that step. They determined to submit, the next day, to the decision of the assembled freemen three questions, namely : 1. “ Whether they would that those in place and power when Sir Edmund Andros took the government should resume their place and power as they were then; or, 2. Whether they would continue the present government ; or, 3. Whether they would choose a Committee of Safety.”

The adoption of any one of these proposals disposed of the others. The first of them was first submitted to a vote, and prevailed. A General Court after the ancient pattern was constituted accordingly. The persons just deputed from the towns made the Lower House. Governor Treat and Lieutenant-Governor Bishop resumed their functions, with ten Magistrates elected with them two years before, besides others now chosen to fill the places of Magistrates who had died meanwhile.

The first measure of the Court was, to order “ that all the laws of this Colony formerly made according to Charter, and courts constituted in this Colony for administration of justice, as they were before the late interruption, should be of full force and virtue for the future, and till the Court should see cause to make further and other alteration and provision according to Charter.” The second vote was, to confirm “ all the present military officers.” Justices of the Peace were appointed for the towns. The armament of the fort at Saybrook was provided for. The Governor was charged to convene the General Court, “ in ease any occasion should come on in reference to the Charter or Government.” It was soon convened accordingly, in consequence of the arrival of intelligence of the accession of William and Mary to the throne; a day of Thanksgiving was appointed; and the King and Queen were proclaimed with all solemnity.

Again Englishmen were free and selfgoverned in all the settlements of New England.