Governor Thomas Hutchinson

A FEW years ago, upon the crown of Milton Hill, seven miles south of Boston, there stood — and still stands, though reconstructed — a sightly mansion, upon which those who knew its history and associations have gazed for more than a century with interest. In the latter part of that period of time, it is safe to say that the memories and thoughts of many who have looked on it were mingled with sad and regretful feelings, as if from a reproaching reminder. The edifice, with its substantial and numerous outbuildings, had much of the aspect of an English manor-house. Though not ornate, it was comely, and had an air of comfort and dignity. The site of it and the outlook from it mark it as unsurpassed in loveliness, and many charms, by any other of the beautiful suburban attractions of the environs of Boston. The ancient trees, with fair openings between them, the rich lawns, and, above all, the superb and far-reaching views over the not distant harbor and bay, with the numerous fair islands, give to the spot a combination of charms, of which, by night or day, by sunlight or moonlight, the eye does not weary.

A hundred acres of that site were purchased in 1743, and the mansion was erected by Thomas Hutchinson, the last of the civic chief magistrates of this province commissioned by the British crown. Descended from a family of the earliest Puritan stock in this colony, serviceable and honored in all its generations, he was born in Boston, September 9, 1711, graduated at Harvard College in 1727, and, having for a while pursued general studies, he devoted himself to mercantile interests. He inherited wealth, to which he largely added. All his relations and associations identified him with the traditional spirit of his birthplace and home. He was received as a member of one of the Congregational churches of Boston in 1735. The pastor had married his sister. He had line natural abilities, graceful and attractive manners, scholarly tastes, oratorical powers, and great business capacities. He became the idol of the people, who bestowed upon him successively all the honors within their gift. He was chosen one of the selectmen of Boston in 1737 ; was sent in 1741 as an agent of the province on important business to London, managing it successfully ; was ten years a representative of the town, — during three of them the speaker, — doing most valuable service in the settlement of the province debt in 1749 ; he was a member of the royal council from 1750 to 1766; in 1752 he succeeded his uncle as judge of probate; he was commissioned lieutenant-governor in 1758, and chief justice in 1760. Thus he was at the same time the incumbent of the offices of judge of probate and chief justice, of councillor and lieutenant-governor. Strong objection was made to his retaining the place of councillor when commissioned lieutenant-governor, but we remind ourselves that the same arrangement is provided for in our state constitution.

We have, however, just passed from mentioning the honors for which Hutchinson was indebted to his own people, as tokens of their regard, to the first of those which made him a servant of the king. Before we proceed further in this direction, we must return for a moment to Milton Hill. This was for many years the residence of Hutchinson only in the summer. He had a sumptuous house at the northern end of Boston, then the centre of the aristocracy. In the turbulent and disgraceful outbursts of popular mob spirit preceding the Revolution, this fine dwelling was sacked and gutted, August 26, 1765, though it is a relief to add that full compensation was afterwards made for the loss. Hutchinson, during his remaining years in the province, lived mostly at Milton. His house, furnished with all the appliances of comfort and luxury, was the scene of a generous and lavish hospitality. Here the owner, with his family, relatives, and congenial guests, tried to find intervals of quiet and solace during the troublous times of popular discontent and brooding rebellion. He was a florist and a farmer, and loved to employ himself among his laborers.

After his accession to the chief magistracy, under circumstances soon to be noted, the anxieties and vexations of his office led him, June 26, 1773, to ask permission of his sovereign — which was granted — for absence for a few months on a visit to England, that he might confer with the government on the state of affairs. Leaving his charming home and its contents in the care of his eldest son, Thomas, judge of probate, he sailed from Boston on June 1, 1774, the day on which the ire of the ministry closed and shut up the port, as a retribution for the destruction of the tea in the previous December. The governor had not conceived that his removal was to be a final one. During the six remaining years of his life he was an exile in England. The image of his delightful home was ever before his eyes, and the longing for it was in his heart, through those sad years. It is speaking but the simple truth to say that when Hutchinson sailed away from Boston, and for the years ensuing, during and immediately after the Revolutionary War, there was not a man in the province more bitterly hated, more heavily laden with reproach, contempt, and every form of slander and vituperation, than himself. He was charged with having devised and prompted the oppressive measures of the ministry while he was in office here; and as the severest of the socalled tyrannical acts of the British government followed swiftly upon Hutchinson’s presence in England, he was of course accused—how unjustly we shall soon see — of having instigated them. These burdens of abuse and infamy have attached to him in most of our current histories. The very excess of this severity and contumely would of itself suggest to the fair-minded a possible injustice and a probable exaggeration. And in the calmer years of retrospect, and of the keener study of the men and events of our troublous times, there have not been wanting those of intelligent and impartial spirit who have been thoroughly assured that Hutchinson has been misrepresented and grossly calumniated. Never was there born here a man who loved his native country with a fuller, warmer affection than did he, nor one who, in various spheres of activity and place and occupation, had done it better service. The crisis in his career is marked by his transition from receiving all possible trusts and honors from his own people to having new ones imposed upon him from the king. These, we now know, he did not seek : he accepted them with reluctance ; he sought to be relieved of them. But, as we have said, his acceptance of a royal trust marked a crisis in his career. It presented to him, under circumstances soon to be noted, the sharp alternative, either to be faithless to his official oath, or to incur the exasperated odium of his fellow citizens, or at least that portion of them called “ the people.” He chose to be faithful to his king, and in his heart he believed that in so doing he could best serve his fellowcitizens. Had he conformed to the will and temper of our patriots, he would have been to his king what Arnold proved to our Congress. Any rightful condemnation of him would need to rest on charging and proving that he was blinded by some lure of ambition or meaner passion, in his decision, when the alternative was before him. The way is open, however, to show that he made mistakes; that he was not always on fair and clear terms with himself. But that he ever merited the hate, vituperation, and obloquy heaped upon him, and on the strength of the grounds assigned for it, is a falsity the exposure of which all just men will rejoice to welcome.

The revising and rewriting of history and biography find their best if not their sole reason in a prompting to substitute truth for erroneous judgments, impressions, and false traditions, and to relieve those who wrongfully stand under reproach of all that is unfair and unjust. To go beyond this, by any artifice or special pleading, is only to work new mischief. It is not, as it is often said to be, a mere fond relenting of weak sentiment that prompts an attempt to rectify a false historical judgment against a man who was sorely tried by position and office. It is but a generous concession to strict justice. If Hutchinson is now, in his turn, to be the subject of a truthful and impartial revision of judgment, the occasion for it is most opportune, as new materials, of prime interest and importance and of full authenticity, are now before us for use. The first requisite for this, which ought to be a grateful task, is to have from the man himself, who is brought back for our study, a clear and frank disclosure of his position, aim, and sense of obligation, apart from any cloudings of his own inclination and interest. Governor Hutchinson took with him to England, and had sent after him, many important papers necessary to present his case to the British government. He was most industrious with his pen during his melancholy exile ; writing unnumbered letters, of which he kept copies, preserving those which he received, and also keeping a very detailed journal of events, conversations, and reflections. The first efforts made by historical students in this country to obtain some of those papers were unsuccessful, his descendants and kinsfolk being still influenced by their natural resentment at the indignities which had here been visited upon the governor. Through the solicitation of James Savage, Judge Davis, President Kirkland, and Governor Gore, the Rev. John Hutchinson, of Trentham, Staffordshire, a grandson of the governor, consented to edit for publication, in England and in this country, a manuscript volume written by the governor in England. This volume contains a rehearsal of his own administration and of that of his predecessor, Governor Bernard. It is a manly, dignified, and thoroughly truthful record, though the harassments and vexations of spirit, the jealousies and provocations and sometimes petty insults, all too faithfully exposed in it, as marking the governor’s struggle against acute and embittered opponents, make the volume anything but enjoyable in the perusal. Of this something by and by. But more engaging matter, of rich and varied interest, and of such a sort as will go far to relieve and rectify the aspersions burdening the character and career of Governor Hutchinson, is now within the reach of many who will be sure to welcome it. A great-grandson of the governor, Peter Orlando Hutchinson, residing in England, has assumed the editorship, with careful and elaborate annotations, of letters, journals, and other papers, which cover the whole period of the governor’s residence abroad.1

Before dealing with these valuable materials we must briefly rehearse the governor’s experience and discomfiture in office here.

The sagacious judgment of consenting minds, as uttered on both sides of the water during the last two score of years, is that at the period of our revolutionary strife the fitting time had nearly come for the colonies to drop away from the mother country by a natural, unaided, unimpeded ripening, as mature fruit drops from the tree. Some idealists have ventured to assert that this process of severance might have been peaceful and propitious. We have emphasized the adverb nearly, which in its place is significant. For the question left now is whether the process, a little premature, was violently hurried by one party, by pounding and shaking the tree, to anticipate the fruit before it was ripe ; or whether the process was blindly and perversely, and also violently, resisted by the other party, in an obstinate refusal to allow the natural and the inevitable. He must be quite an opinionative person who, after balancing this alternative, ventures to assign the burden of blame to either party. That the patriot party did throw stones at the tree to anticipate and hurry the severance of the fruit would seem proved by several of the incidental accompaniments of our rupture with the mother country. There were acts of utter lawlessness, of iniquitous outrage, of tolerated havoc by mobs, and of wanton destruction of property which caused a reign of terror in this province, and in the prostration of all legal authority rendered redress impossible. There were artifices resorted to in debate and legislation which could hardly consist with sincerity and candor, when taken in connection with professions of loyalty that accompanied them. Large numbers of intelligent and excellent persons, who dearly loved their country, were subjected to scorn and insult, and to the most vengeful and cruel treatment, because they halted hesitatingly about taking the first steps in rebellion.1 The inconstancy, inconsistency, and seeming duplicity in our congresses, in their most solemn protestations, disclaiming all thoughts of independency of the mother country, as uttered up to the last moment before declaring it, were not as easily explained in those days as they are in our own. Franklin, John Adams, and Washington were fairly quoted in England, by those in the opposition to the British ministry who sympathized with our cause, as still loyal to the crown, and these sympathizers were confounded when the Declaration went abroad. It was not known in England at the time that that Declaration— when perhaps fifty members were in Congress, representing twelve colonies — passed simply by a majority of one, though an agreement had previously been made that whichever side carried the vote it should be declared to have been unanimous. And when our sympathizers in England learned that we had renounced our parentage and entered into alliance with France, the hereditary enemy of England, many of them shrank from giving us any further countenance. The English were sure not to lack full information of the backwardness of our enlistments, the powerlessness of Congress in its requisitions, the poverty of our armies, and the worthlessness of our currency. In December, 1780, there were eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-four loyal “ provincials ” in the British forces in America, being more than twice the number that had been in Washington’s army. Taking these and other facts into view, it is not strange that our patriots were thought to have hurried our riddance of England before we were quite ripened for the process.

And when we, from our side, look across the water to judge if the king and his ministry were not stupidly and obstinately setting themselves to retard and baffle the natural dropping off of the colonies that had come to full age, we seem to see evidences of extreme obstinacy and folly in their course. Only England was not able to see them. She well knew that it would not have been wise for her or safe for us that we should have been weaned from her at any earlier date, while France still held her actual sway, and was seeking for conquest on this continent. Indeed, when it became known in England that the colonies were bent upon a severance from the mother country, a reasonable fear was expressed by our friends and enemies alike that we might be pounced upon by France, or Spain, or the Dutch. We can now see clearly that all the measures and schemes of the ministry and of Parliament were bewildered, tentative, and inconstant : instituting and then reversing a policy ; imposing burdens, with conditional offers of release from them ; and inflicting acts of spiteful severity, followed by wily solicitations that the colonies should seek relief from them by avowals of penitence. England mistook a teasing, fretting interference and a threatening announcement of her reserved indignation for a sagacious policy, dictated by a consciousness of being right and a willingness to be lenient and just. While the conflict was midway in its progress, her peace commissioners, and her humiliating proffers to concede the utmost which the colonies had ever demanded, if they would but stand by “ the integrity of the empire,” gave full proof that she had been pursuing a course of blind experimenting in resistance to a result which time and circumstance had well - nigh matured. The pages now before us, among their many other most significant revelations, disclose the haltings, confusion, indecision, with which that resisting policy of England was devised and pursued. Our space will permit us only briefly and concisely to state the condition and circumstances of the time and the situation when Hutchinson came into his arduous trust, to exchange the admiring regard and the unqualified confidence of his fellow citizens for alienation, hate, and obloquy.

Governor Bernard, after his harassed and stormy administration, though still retaining his office, left Boston August 2, 1769, to report himself in London. The lieutenant-governor, Hutchinson, acting in his absence, well says that he “entered upon his office under circumstances peculiarly difficult and discouraging. He was bound by a solemn oath, as well as by the nature of his office, to support an authority to which the body of the people refused to submit, and he had no aid from any of the executive powers of government under him.” The house and the council were alike strongly in the opposition, and Boston was the chief seat of disaffection.

And here, though it may seem to be in defiant reversal of the contemporary and the historically renewed and popularly accepted judgment passed upon Hutchinson, the writer will plainly and frankly express the opinion which a careful and candid study of the subject has led him to adopt. Having accepted his office, and bound himself by his official oath to his sovereign, no charge of faithlessness, self-seeking, inconstancy, duplicity, or intentional wrong of any kind can be sustained against him. He neither said nor did, proposed nor advised, adopted nor pursued, anything beyond or inconsistent with the purpose and the duty of a thoroughly upright, well-intentioned, and kindly hearted man. For the most part, hecontrohed his temper and guarded his utterance under exasperating provocations. He tried to follow the rule of moderation. He took time for thought to calm excitement. He was ready to accept advice and to be influenced by it when he had good assurance that the source of it was sincere and wise. Still, we have a word, and a very emphatic one, to speak in abatement of a full approval of the course of Governor Hutchinson. We hold him censurable — that is not too strong a word — even for consenting to accept, and still more if ambition led him to crave, an office in which he knew he must be in sharp antagonism with and draw on himself the odium of those who had heaped upon him honors and trusts, and who would necessarily regard him henceforward as an instrument for oppressing them. Better than any other man then living Hutchinson knew the inheritance and temper of the Puritan lineage of Massachusetts. He knew that civil as well as religious independence of the mother country germinated in the first field-planting of the colony, and had been bearing and resowing its own crops, strengthening on their stalks through the generations, He knew that there was entailed here a jealousy of all oversight, interposition, and interference by the mother country, which had even become an antipathy. We say this very positively, because Hutchinson was so thoroughly read in the history of Massachusetts. Its original records and illustrative papers had all been in his hands, faithfully studied by him, and admirably digested by his own pen in those volumes of his for which we are so greatly indebted to him. Whether he, as have many of us of later generations, took in the humor and the sly impertinence, the effrontery and the cajoling hypocrisy, of some of those addresses, compliments, and professions offered to the monarchs of England in our early records, while their advice and injunctions were utterly evaded and defied, it might be difficult to decide, for Hutchinson was a grave and serious man. But his own historical volumes, written before his time of trial came, afford abundant evidence that he had well apprehended not only the latent but the frankly avowed conviction of the colonists here, and of their children, that they had set up for themselves, had formed a constitution of their own, and a parliament too, with a civil and military chest, which they had filled from their own resources, and from which they would draw only for such expenditures and such paid officials as suited their good pleasure. Here are some sentences from Hutchinson’s historical pen. Speaking of the plans of the first intending colonists, he says they seem to have had “ very strange apprehensions of the relation they should stand in to Great Britain, after their removal to America.” “ That they thought themselves at full liberty, without any charter from the crown, to establish such sort of government as they thought proper, and to form a new state as fully, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been in a state of nature and were making their first entrance into civil society,” — “ this will in a great measure excuse the same mistake, which will appear to have been made by our first settlers, in many instances in the course of our history.” “ Such a scheme would have consisted very well with their notions of civil subjection, as we shall see in many instances. I do not say their notions were just. Allegiance in an English-born subject is said to be perpetual, and to accompany him wherever he goes.” The excellent historian was entitled to his opinion on this subject; only those of whom he was writing came to hold another opinion of their own.2 “ However pleasing these principles were in speculation, or whatever foundation they may have in nature, yet they could not continue to practice upon them, nor would they bear the test when adopted by English subjects.”3 Writing of “ the ecclesiastical constitution of Massachusetts,” the historian says,4 “It was one great design of the first planters of the colony to obtain for themselves and their posterity the liberty of worshiping God in such manner as appeared to them to be most agreeable to the sacred Scriptures. Upon their removal, they supposed their relation both to the civil and ecclesiastical government, except so far as a special reserve was made by their charter, was at an end, and that they had right to form such new model of both as best pleased them.” 5

If the first comers here started with such principles, it was hardly likely that their descendants, steadily enjoying self-government in the free air of the wilderness, would do otherwise than grow up in the confirmation and practice of them. Evidence that they did so is presented by the historian in his successive pages. He faithfully recognizes the not always latent spirit working through all the religious, civil, military, and commercial energies of the colony and the province as indicating an intent and habit of managing all their own affairs and serving their own interests as assuredly as if they were simply guided by a law of nature. The less, then, should he have been surprised by any self-asserting or truculent manifestation, in his own day, of this familiar willfulness of spirit. One is almost tempted to suspect him of disingenuousness when he speaks of some single exhibition of disaffection as if it were not in the line of everything that had gone before it. His predecessor, Governor Pownall, had wisely interpreted the temper of this people, and had frankly given Parliament a warning from it. Hutchinson well knew that his official duty would require him to dam a current that had already become dangerously swollen. For we must take note of the significant fact that the period and circumstances of his accession to the highest ollice were precisely those in which parliamentary and ministerial authority were asserted for the first time, in most obnoxious ways, over this province. A novel policy, involving measures most offensive and most hostile to the traditional and wonted usages, principles, and, if we must in candor admit the term, the assumptions of its inhabitants, had just been inaugurated. Its novelty as well as its coerciveness roused antagonism to it. The extinction of French empire on this continent, after a severe seven years’ war, fought by the united British and provincial forces, has been recognized as marking the year 1763 as a period of more cordial relations between Massachusetts and the mother country than had ever existed previously. The province had received a large sum from the British exchequer, in partial reimbursement of its expenses in the war.6 But the same date marked the device of oppressive and alienating measures by the mother country. She had become jealous of the increasing wealth and power of her colonies, which she sought to repress, or to turn to her own account. The ministry planned for establishing here a standing army, to be supported by, but independent of, the colonies ; to forbid all manufactures here, so that all cloths, hats, implements and tools of every kind, should come only from Britain ; to prohibit commerce in goods of all countries except through British ports, or submitting such commerce to exacting duties; and this condition was enjoined in all traffic between one colony and another. All moneys thus raised were to go into the English exchequer, to be at the disposal of Parliament. This was the first attempt to raise a revenue from the colonies. It came to be called an internal tax, as distinguished from the external duties, which had been willingly paid — bating a vast amount of smuggling — as rightfully required in the regulation of the commerce of the whole empire. The colonies refused to pay an internal tax in any form in which it could be defined. They had come to regard their local legislatures as organic constitutions, as in fact Parliaments of their own, where they were represented in all their domestic affairs, in raising and spending all colonial revenues at their own pleasure, as they had done before the French war, and as is now done in the Canadian provinces. Then began among us, in our legislatures and our congresses, the ingenuity and subtilty of trying to distinguish between owning “ allegiance to the crown ” and denying any “ subjection to Parliament.” Hence came the Stamp Act, with the mobs, resistance, and protests which made it null. When Parliament, though mortified and provoked, repealed it, it accompanied the concession with a Declaratory Act that “ Parliament had a right to bind the colonies in all cases whatever.” This assertion of power utterly annulled the right, heretofore maintained and exercised by the colonies, of exemption from all taxes not self-imposed. Pitt, in the House of Commons, defined the distinction between an external tax for regulating commerce, which he said was right, and an internal tax, extorted for revenue, which he condemned. When Franklin was asked, at the bar of the Commons, how the colonies would regard this general, sweeping “ Declaratory Act,” he shrewdly answered, “The resolutions will give them very little concern, if they are never attempted to be carried into practice.” So Fox, in the debate on the Remonstrance, said, “The right simply is not regarded; it is the exercise of it that is the object of opposition.” An attempt was made to exercise the right, and the consequence was that the British customs officers in Boston were left to collect from the fishes in the harbor the duties on nearly four hundred chests of tea, valued at about one hundred thousand dollars. Such was the crisis in the dispute when there came upon Hutchinson the responsibility attaching by his oath as the viceroy in this province. About three fourths of the representatives of the people opposed the prerogative. Their nominations for the council were subject to the governor’s veto. But he would have had no council at all, or not one for business, if he had rejected all objectionable nominations. So he had no executive reinforcement. Magistrates and juries would not bring legal processes to bear on mobs and rioters. The single stay for confidence or authority which the royal magistrate had was the stoutly reiterated avowal of all the disaffected parties that they cherished a loyal allegiance to the king, and disclaimed all purpose of independence. Could Hutchinson, as a wise observer, have thought these professions thoroughly sincere, seeing that no practical method was proposed for proving allegiance, and that resistance to every scheme and measure which assumed allegiance seemed to proceed upon a certified independence ?

As an opinion of our own, we have held Hutchinson wholly blameless in the discharge of his office, but as censurable for having accepted it, and more so if he had sought it. Did he seek it ? We have his own plain assertions that he had serious misgivings as to accepting it, and that he first declined and afterwards sought to resign it. That he did not at once relieve himself of a position which it was utterly impossible for him to hold without incurring the opposition, scorn, and hate of those who had highly honored him shows at least his weakness in some element of character. He could have retired into private life —■ as he afterwards so earnestly wished he had done — with dignity and respect. He would then have been just the man and in just the position to serve any uses of mediation, if that were possible. If then the people had visited upon him insult, confiscation, and banishment, the act would have been one of dastardly meanness. We turn now to some of his own avowals as to his office. We have already quoted his words on his entrance, as lieutenant-governor, upon the duties of the chair, during the supposed temporary absence of Bernard. He says that he “stood absolutely alone,” knowing well the vexations and animosities encountered by his predecessor, and seeing that the opposition to government was steadily strengthening. He wrote within the year to the royal secretary, asking to be excused from his office, and also from that of lieutenant-governor. His wish was again to become the chief justice, as in that high trust he had enjoyed universal approbation for ten years. Before his letter seeking relief from all further share in the administration reached the secretary, commissions were in preparation constituting him governor, and Andrew Oliver, who had been secretary of the province, lieutenant-governor.7 Instead of sending the commission, the secretary wrote to him that opportunity should be left to him for further consideration, no other person being appointed in the mean while. The promise of support by his friends and a temporary lull of the turbulent spirit led him, unfortunately, to accept this commission, which arrived in March, 1771.

We have spoken above of the matter, tone, and temper of the volume written in England by Hutchinson, covering his own administration. On perusing it now, most readers will be likely to marvel at the self-control and the constancy of the writer, under the provocations, the hectorings and badgerings, and what he calls the “ disingenuity and low craft ” which were brought to bear against him in such variety of form and aggravation. So, at least, did all the ingenious and potent devices and methods of his opponents appear to him. But these devices and methods appeared quite otherwise to those who plied them, as they have appeared to the common popular judgment in the review of them ever since. They are regarded as the watchful, adroit, acute, perhaps occasionally subtle, efforts and resolves of a few of the ablest of the patriot party, who had sternly purposed to stand for the popular cause against all the ingenuities and wiles of tyranny. The measures and workings alike of the “ prerogative ” and of the “ patriot ” party seemed to each other insidious, artful, disguising treachery by false professions. To the last day of Hutchinson’s presence here the patriots protested against any wish or purpose of severance from the mother country, while they resisted every injunction that carried with it authority in king, ministry, or Parliament. The grievances against Hutchinson were such as these : that he called the General Court to assemble at Cambridge to keep it clear from the “pestiferous influence of Boston ; ” that he prorogued or dissolved it when its debates or resolves were “insufferable;” that he received “ instructions ” from the king which he did not always communicate, some of them leaving him to exercise his own judgment in an alternative ; that he tried to break up legal town meetings when turned to “ illegal ” uses ; that he received a salary from the king instead of trusting the people for due compensation, etc.

On the other hand, Hutchinson observed the steady advances of a disloyal, defiant, and independent spirit. The dissolution of the General Court did not arrest mischief, tor this was kept alive by the ingenious device of committees of correspondence between towns and colonies, facilitating agreements for non-importation, etc. The representatives had come to speak of themselves as “ his majesty’s commons ; ” of their debates as “parliamentary debates,” distinct from those of the “ British Parliament ; ” of the old court or town house as their “ state house ; ” and of the province charter as a “contract,” they being the one party and the king the other. The controversial papers, arguments, and manifestoes of the patriot party were prepared with consummate skill by master minds and pens, gifted with an adroit ingenuity and power of adaptation to popular effect. Of these Samuel Adams was easily the chief.

There was an episode in this embittered fence between one man and a people that must have place here. One of the most grievous imputations upon Hutchinson’s honor and patriotism was that he had misrepresented and slandered the province to the ministry, and had suggested the oppressive and humiliating measures against it. How wide of the truth this charge is his private journals, now in print, make fully to appear. He had wholly disapproved of the Stamp Act, and had written a remonstrance against it. But any evidence, however shadowy, of his alleged hostility to his country would be made the most of.

Few, if any, fair-minded persons of this day can read without wincing, as from a twinge of mortification, the calm and dignified statement given by Hutchinson, now illustrated and confirmed by other authorities, concerning the means by which some of his private letters were obtained, and the use made of them to blacken his character and official course, He had been to Hartford, in 1773, with commissioners, to settle a long-existing controversy between Massachusetts and New York about western boundary lines. His knowledge and ability in the case had accrued vastly to the advantage of this province, and he received a just recognition of his services. He returned to Boston to meet the development of a plot, “ managed with great art,” as he well says, and which was turned to his sore abuse. He had written some half dozen letters to his friend, Thomas Whatley, Esq., London, who, so far from being in the government, was in the opposition to the policy pursued towards America. Lieutenant-Governor Oliver and two other persons had written as many more letters to the same correspondent. In some secret way, never explained, — perhaps it may as well remain in the dark,8 — Dr. Franklin, then in London, had got possession of these letters, and had sent them to the speaker of our Assembly, Mr. Cushing, with injunctions that they should be shown to only five other persons, should not be copied, and should be returned. These restrictions were enjoined that, as the doctor wrote, “ as distant objects seen only through a mist appear larger, the same may happen from the mystery in this case.” When Franklin’s agency in this matter was disclosed it cost him his place in the post-office, drew on him the scathing reproach of Wedderburne before the privy council, and put him under the ban of society and of the philosophers while he remained in England.

The letters were kept in secrecy for six or eight months, when permission was obtained to show them to a few more persons. The awful mystery was well worked up to excite intense curiosity, through oracular utterances, vague disclosures of some dreadful covert treacheries, and then most alarming rumors that proofs and revelations had come to town of a long-working and an abominable conspiracy concocted here “ for enslaving America.” After these mutterings and dark revealings had wrought to the highest pitch the expectancy of the people, the letters were read, with scenic accompaniments, in a secret session of assembly, and a committee, chosen for the the purpose, reported on them as “designed to overthrow the constitution of the province, and to introduce arbitrary power.” Then, by a further device, which Hutchinson describes as “a pitiful expedient ” and a “ puerility,” a member of the house announced “ that a person in the street had put into his hands a number of papers, which appeared to him to be copies,” etc. He suggested that they be compared with the originals. As the secret had thus become public, the letters were of course ordered to be printed and put in circulation. A certain “ Tewksbury ” pamphlet, under gubernatorial auspices, was recently the occasion of a strong excitement in this State, but that excitement was feeble compared with the clamor and indignation caused by the publication of the mysterious letters. A copy of the time-stained pamphlet is before me as I write, and the perfect harmlessness of its contents raises a sort of ludicrous wonder, relieving other soberer feelings which it might stir up. Phrases and sentences in the letters are italicized to give them an ominous significance, which otherwise they would not suggest. The whole affair is a marvelously strong illustration of the most vehement possible cry, with the slightest possible amount of wool. There is not a sentiment, suggestion, or avowal in the letters which Hutchinson had not publicly uttered here in speech and message. Indeed, there is even much of a friendly and interceding tone in them. The attorney-general, Sewall, in a series of papers, exposed the utter folly and artfulness of the excitement. Nevertheless, the purpose of the scheme had been effected, and it was made the ground of an appeal to the king for the removal of the governor and the lieutenant-governor. But Hutchinson had the start in this matter. He was delayed for some months in availing himself of a permission which he had received for a temporary visit to England, by the illness and the death of the lieutenantgovernor, as he hesitated to leave the administration in the hands of a distracted council.

General Gage, commissioned as both governor of the province and commander of the king’s forces, arrived in Boston May 13, 1774, to serve during Hutchinson’s absence. He had four days’ conference with Hutchinson at Castle William. The governor says lie did not receive, as he could not have expected, any marks of respect, on his departure, from the house, the council, or the people. He did, however, receive addresses of respect, confidence, and approval from some merchants, barristers, three Episcopal clergymen, and other gentlemen. For this, however, such of the signers as did not afterwards recant and apologize paid dearly, in proscription, banishment, and the confiscation of their property.

Before following Hutchinson to England we may mention here what is further to be said of his family and his possessions in Massachusetts. On May 16, 1784, in his twenty-third year, he had married a daughter of a Rhode Island minister. After nineteen years of a peculiarly happy domestic life, she died, March 12, 1753, leaving five children. He remained a widower. His eldest son, Thomas, Jr., judge of probate, with his family, abode here for a while after the father, as did also his daughter Sarah, wife of Dr. Peter Oliver. His son Elisha —leaving his wife, then unable to accompany him, with her family at Plymouth — and his daughter Peggy sailed with Hutchinson. His son William, called Billy, had gone abroad in 1772, and soon joined his family on their arrival. Elisha’s wife, after three years of forced separation, during which she met with many troubles, went to her husband. Thomas, Jr., keeping himself close, remained at Milton while the country around was in a state of confusion and lawlessness. Leaving everything in the Milton house, plate, furniture, etc., as if he might afterwards pass to and fro freely, he made a visit to Boston with his wife and two young children, us did also his sister Oliver and her husband and his father, the chief justice. The British troops made the town a “ city of refuge.” Confined here eighteen months, through the whole period of the dreary, pinching siege, the woe-begone group sailed off on the Evacuation, March, 1776. Thomas’ wife gave birth, in the harbor, to a son, on board a small vessel crowded with sailors and passengers. This son, Andrew, was the father of Peter Orlando Hutchinson, whose editorial work we have so greatly enjoyed. All the family were cast upon the care of the governor, — five children, and the wives and children of three of them. His household at one time numbered twenty-five. His daughter Peggy died September 21, 1777. She was buried in Croydon Church, Surrey, as was also his son William, who died February 20, 1780. The father had died on June 3d of that year, at Brompton, near London ; falling in apoplexy into the arms of his servant, as he was about getting into his carriage. He was committed to the tomb where his children rest.

Before Thomas, Jr., left Boston his father had been writing to him of his intention to return, now in the summer, now in the autumn, when he expected all the strife would be ended, and sweet peace would settle over the land. He sent gooseberry cuttings and flowering shrubs, and suggested improvements for the endeared home for which he was longing. In a very touching letter he gave his son directions for building a tomb in the burial ground at Milton, to which were to be quietly transferred in the night, by a friendly sexton, the remains of his wife, which had rested for twenty-one years in his tomb on Copps’ Hill.9 A place was also to be reserved for himself beside her. So strong was his yearning for the Milton home ; so unconscious was he of the length and issue of the strife. On January 11, 1775, he wrote, “ I had rather die in a little country farmhouse in New England than in the best nobleman’s seat in Old England, and have therefore given no ear to any proposal of settling here. I think the controversy must be settled this summer.” The governor was desirous that his friends here should know that he had not been slighted, and that none of his reasonable expectations had been disappointed in England. He had declined the proffer of a baronetcy and a place in Parliament. His heart was here. He sent over kind gifts to the library and museum of Harvard College.

While the father was thus writing to the son shut up in Boston, the son had learned that the Milton home had been turned into barracks for troops, and that it had been ransacked and plundered. The governor writes in his journal, November 14, 1776, “My property which was at Milton sold at vendue. Washington, it is said, rides in my coach at Cambridge.” This coach had been imported by the governor at a cost of £105, just before his departure. The provincial congress at Watertown took orders to secure some of his plundered effects, and purchased a large collection of his papers, supposed to be treasonable, which are now in our state house. The historian Gordon, to whose care the papers were committed, says that one letter “ was suppressed, for the public good, as it had not a favorable aspect upon the staunch patriotism of Mr. Hancock.” A portrait of Hutchinson, pierced by bayonets in his house, repaired as well as possible, is now in the keeping of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In May, 1776, the provincial congress, on a petition from the inhabitants of the town of Hutchinson, in Worcester County, that it might “ no longer bear the disgraceful name of one who had acted the part of a traitor and a parricide,” substituted the name of Barre, our champion in the commons. Pearl was substituted for Hutchinson, as the name of a street in Boston.

While all this execration was visited here upon the exile, what was his course in England ? We have to remind ourselves that the series of arbitrary and exasperating royal measures which effected the final separation of the colonies was initiated as Hutchinson was leaving here, and followed on his arrival abroad. The shutting up the port of Boston, which he had neither advised nor approved, was the most mischievous possible measure, as it united the colonies in sympathy and resolve of action against foreign oppression. All sorts of substantial aid poured into the town from all parts of the continent, laying the grounds for that appeal for the return of favors by which Boston is first called upon for contributions when fire, flood, or pestilence ravage any section of the country. The port remained closed till Washington opened it from the inside. Two months after Hutchinson left Boston a futile attempt was made to enforce here a royal mandate, which, however it may have been provoked, was none the less arbitrary and tyrannical, and utterly subversive of the charter constitution of the province. The impossibility of obtaining a council of members., nominated by the house and subject to the governor’s veto, had compelled him either to accept for that body men who would not sustain the prerogative, or wholly to dispense with a council. An act of Parliament, to take effect here August 1, 1774, authorized the king, by mandamus, to commission thirty-six men, nominated by him as supposed to be in sympathy with the government, as councillors. Less than half of the nominees dared to brave the popular temper by taking the oath, and the whole device proved null. Still other arbitrary acts empowered the governor in office to commission and remove all judicial officers, to forbid all town meetings unless the proposed business should be subjected to his previous approval, to send to England for trial all arrant political intermeddlers, and to provide for the quartering of foreign troops in Boston. The revelations now made to us from Hutchinson’s private papers in England prove that, so far from prompting or encouraging these violent encroachments and vengeful measures, he disapproved of all of them. We must also remind ourselves that the first general congress was not convened till three months after his departure, and that that congress and its successors for nearly two years pursued the fast and loose policy of professing hearty loyalty, and denying all purpose of separation. And when at last " the birth of a new nation was screamed into the world by the declamatory rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence,” Hutchinson, with many other persons on both sides of the water, might well have been astounded. We must allow distinctly for two limiting conditions as guiding the opinions, the conduct, and the advice and influence of Hutchinson in England. First, he stood firmly and fondly for maintaining the unity and the integrity of the empire. The bond between the colonies and the mother country need not be a galling one ; he would have it soft and easy as possible, provided only it were strong. It should secure mutual interests, and be relieved of all strictures and restraints not actually essential. But separation was not to be thought of or allowed. Second, he knew and affirmed that England, ignorantly or with ill-advice, had entered upon some oppressive or vengeful measures of which she had become ashamed, which she would have to retrace, and which indeed she was even wishing and ready to nullify. But he desired that a conciliating spirit might manifest itself in a way consistent with the honor and self-respect of England, and not as compelled by bluster and defiance.

Allowing for these two conditions,— and they certainly do not imply either malevolence or obstinacy, — the reader of the diary and letters of Hutchinson, now generously put into our hands, will find full proof that all his advice and influence with king and ministry, officials and social friends, indicate a man of high integrity, of good judgment, and of noble magnanimity. Not one word or utterance of an embittered or resentful feeling comes from his pen. When he is brooding over the scrutiny to which his private correspondence for eight years of contention would be subjected by his heated enemies, he cheers himself with the thought that they would find nothing there untruthful, dishonorable, or malicious. London soon became crowded by a most forlorn company of refugees from America, — poor, melancholy, distressed about their future ; besetting the treasury for doles and pensions for their losses and sacrifices for their loyalty ; forming a club, with headquarters, for comparing their grievances ; and catching sadly or hopefully at every rumor of what was transpiring at home, or the measures which the government was to take for vengeance or peace. It would have been natural for these dismal exiles to have sought Hutchinson as their representative and patron. He was never inconsiderate of any of them. With some of them he was in cordial intimacy. But he did not identify himself with the class. Happily, he had other associates. His interview with the king, on his arrival, with the conversation reported very minutely, presents him to us with dignity and as a peacemaker. He was intimate alike with the ministers, the friends, and the opponents of government. Proposed bills and measures were often submitted to him for suggestion and amendment. Invariably and earnestly did he show himself as in heart and purpose a true friend of what he believed to be safest and best for his native country. Well might Hutchinson write, " I hear one and another of the king’s ministers say, There is no receding. And yet to think of going on makes me shudder.” We have other revelations in this volume, disclosing, in fuller detail of forms and instances, evidence of what in substance we knew before of the ignorance, the indecision, the haltings and vacillations, of the British ministry in their bewildered and inconstant policy. There runs through it all a smarting consciousness that they had gone on a wrong course too far to retract, and that what they did further was to escape humiliation and to save honor, rather than to enforce the right. Hence came the desperate resolve for vindictive measures, — to treat the colonists as they would enemies in France and Spain. Hence, too, the recourse to the petty principalities of the Continent for hiring men like cattle to fight against British subjects; failing of willing recruits in the realm of England, and being baffled in an appeal for mercenaries from Russia and Holland. Was this a more honorable course for England than was that of her colonies in seeking a French alliance ?

The contents of this volume close with the year 1775. It discloses to us the contempt uttered in England over our first general congress, and the alternations of feeling, quickened by the rumors and the full accounts from Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. The siege of Boston was midway in its course, a “ mob of peasants” organizing into an army. The governor was suffering a distressing anxiety about his children, shut up there, he feared in a state of starvation. His lot was indeed a hard one. His honors had cost him dear. He had proved that the office of royal governor of Massachusetts, which, in time and circumstance, was an impracticable one for an alien, was an intolerable and an impossible one for a native of the province.

We should utter a word of grateful recognition of the industry and zeal given by the editor to the preparation of this volume. A kindly, considerate, and impartial spirit is manifested in his own comments, which have often the charm of the old-time moralizing and sentiment. Loyal as was his great-grandfather to the noble realm of Britain, the editor exhibits some fine inherited traits of his good old Massachusetts and Boston lineage.

George E. Ellis.

  1. The Diary and letters of his Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Esq., etc. Compiled from the Original Documents still remaining in the possession of his Descendants. By PETER ORLANDO HUTCHINSON, one of his great-grandsons. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1884.
  2. John Adams, with his wonted energy of expression, has left for us his opinion of the “ Tories.” In a letter written by him in Amsterdam, December 15, 1780, which was intercepted, and published next year in the Annual Register, he says that he thinks the king would have given up the contest had he not been reinforced by recusant Americans in England and their sympathizers at the court. He adds that the Tories, as he had recommended at first, should have been fined, imprisoned, and hung. “I would have hanged my own brother had he taken a part with our enemy in the contest.”
  3. Hutchinson’s History of Massachusetts, vol. i. chap. i.
  4. Chap. ii.
  5. Chap. iv.
  6. In the sharp conflict between Hutchinson and the representatives, some of his own historical statements about the non-acquiescence of the colony in the authority of Parliament were quoted. He replied that the instances he had alleged were the effect, and about the time, of the anarchy in England.
  7. It is asserted that Britain, in defense of her colonies, had spent more than the gross value of all the property in them, real and personal.
  8. There were two lieutenant-governors named Oliver, nearly contemporaneous, but not of kin. Secretary Andrew Oliver, brother-in-law of Hutchinson, succeeded him in the second office, and on his death Thomas Oliver was, in 1774, commissioned as lieutenant-governor, but was not allowed by the people to occupy the place.
  9. Mr. Bancroft has exercised his ingenuity, largely aided by his imagination, in conjecture on this mystery. See Proceedings of Massachusetts Historical Society for February, 1878.
  10. The Hutchinson family tomb, with all the other property, among which were twelve houses and valuable wharves in Boston, passed, by confiscation, into the hands of strangers. Beneath the fine escutcheon on the tomb, another name takes the place of Hutchinson.