Sunday, March 25, 2018

Episode 037: Committees of Correspondence & Vandalia




Last week, Rhode Islanders attacked and sank the British navy ship HMS Gaspee.  Despite some isolated events like that, the colonies seemed to lack a united front after the removal of soldiers from Boston and the repeal of most of the Townshend duties.  Without continuing outrages from London, some radical patriots grew concerned that the majority of the colonial population would grow complacent.  The North Ministry used the calm to make many small tweaks to the power structure.  This would give London a much greater advantage the next time officials provoked a showdown.

Gov. Hutchinson

Gov. Hutchinson
(from Wikimedia)
Following the trial of the Boston Massacre soldiers, acting Massachusetts Gov. Hutchinson submitted his resignation to Secretary of State Hillsborough in London.  Hutchinson had decided he simply was not up to the task of enforcing law and order in the colony.

As his letter of resignation traveled across the Atlantic, another commission headed the other direction, granting acting Governor Hutchinson a commission as the actual Governor.  When his resignation arrived on London, Hillsborough refused to accept it.  London needed a man who knew the colony well and had shown his loyalty to the crown.  So congratulations Governor.  I’m sure the next few years will be so much fun for you!

Salary Disputes

In late 1771, London began paying Hutchinson’s salary directly.  Until then, most colonial legislatures had paid governors.  Although Parliament had repealed the Townshend duties, the part of the Townshend Act that called for direct payment of colonial officers remained in effect.  To many members of the public, it seemed perfectly reasonable that the crown would pay a crown appointed governor.  To the radicals in the legislature, it was another attempt to undermine their power.  A governor paid from London would have less incentive to stay in the good graces of the legislature.  He could also suspend the Assembly if it got unruly without risking his own income.  The following year, Hillsborough issued further orders paying the salaries of colonial judges, and other government officials.  It did not help matters that the much of the money to pay these officials came from the hated tea tax.

Lord Hillsborough
(from Tampa Bay History)
London officials also debated changing the colonial council in Massachusetts from an elected body to one appointed by the Governor.  This was the normal system in most royal colonies.  The Massachusetts Charter, however, called for an elected council.  The Council had been a barrier that prevented the Governor from acting on issues, like calling out the army to suppress riots.  The elected Council in Massachusetts almost always stymied the Governor.  Changing to an appointed council however, would require an amendment to the colonial charter.  Given the tensions, London officials decided not to pursue this reform at this time.

Still, Samuel Adams saw these changes as part of a broader effort bring the colonies more firmly under London’s control.  In another such move, Hillsborough had refused to accept Benjamin Franklin as the colonial agent for Massachusetts. While the Massachusetts Assembly had approved his agency, the Governor had not.  To Hillsborough, this meant Franklin had no legitimacy.  This was another subtle attempt to shift power to the King and his appointed ministers in the colonies, and away from the elected legislatures.

These were all minor disputes though.  For most colonists, London’s changes in government pay structures were insignificant behind the scenes matters.  They bothered some politically astute radicals but few others.  From late 1770 until early 1773, England and her colonies returned to relative normal.  The big sticking point for most was the non-importation agreements on tea.  We’ll get into that more in a few weeks.  But while it remained a political issue, it had very little impact on the economy overall.

During this time, several moderates began to drift away from the movement.  John Hancock reduced his association with the radicals.  Gov. Hutchinson, hoping to pull him back to the other side, gave him back command of the Corps of Cadets.  He also offered to help Hancock get a seat on the Governor’s Council.  Hancock though, declined the Council seat, saying he wanted to focus more on his business and less on politics for either side.

Similarly, men like John Dickinson in Pennsylvania and George Washington in Virginia, turned back to their professions.   Both remained members of their state legislatures.  That work though took a backseat to other matters, like land speculation and building their businesses.

Committees of Correspondence

Samuel Adams’ concerns that London apparently was making little changes all over the continent encouraged him to begin the Committees of Correspondence.  Men across Massachusetts and across the continent agreed to write each other regularly to let everyone know what political changes were happening everywhere.  This way, they could determine if minor changes were part of a larger coordinated long term attempt to control the colonies.  These committees also allowed the radicals to develop a coordinated response to any noteworthy activities and build joint strategies to resist them.  Over the next few years, the committees would expand, creating a communications network that helped the radicals organize beyond the confines of each individual colony.

Colonial legislatures had used committees of correspondence before, both for communications with London as well as with other colonies and towns.  Most were for a limited time and purpose though, such as coordination of opposition to the Stamp Act a decade earlier.

Many of the committees this time were created outside of the legislatures.  They did not have one specific purpose, but were designed to keep radical politicians all over the continent informed about policy changes and other concerns on any issue that might arise.  The Massachusetts Committee was not part of the State Assembly, but rather from the Boston Town Meeting.  This prevented the Governor from having any control over it.

Samuel Adams drafted Boston’s first letter in November 1772.  What became known as the Boston Pamphlet went mostly to other towns in Massachusetts.  However, it later circulated more widely and got published elsewhere.  It sought to gain consensus on 12 complaints:

The Boston Pamphlet, 1772
(from Mass. Historical Society)
1. “British Parliament has assumed power of legislation for the colonists without their consent.”
2. “Parliament has raised illegal revenues.”
3. “Tax collectors have been appointed by the Crown, a right reserved to the province.”
4. “Tax collectors are entrusted with power too absolute and arbitrary. Private premises are exposed to search.”
5. “Fleets and Armies are quartered on the townsfolk in time of peace without their consent.”
6. “Tax revenue has been used by King to pay provincial government officers, making them dependent on him, in violation of the charter.”
7. “General assemblies are forced to meet in inconvenient places. Activities of the council have been limited.”
8. “Colonists accused of crimes are to be tried in admiralty courts.”
9. “Restraints are placed against iron mills, hat manufacture, and transport; wool cannot be carried over a ferry; many other businesses are curtailed.”
10. “Colonists accused of destroying any British naval property are to be transported to England for trial.”
11. “Parliament is attempting to establish an American Episcopate.” (in other words bringing Anglican Bishops to America).
12. “Parliament is making frequent alteration of the bounds of the colonies, not according to charter.”

I had mentioned that Hancock had been moving away from the radicals.  However, he had served as moderator of the town meeting that approved the Boston Pamphlet.  As moderator, he had to sign it to indicate the meeting’s approval of the document. Had he refused to sign, he would have been shunned for his Tory sympathies.  Since Gov. Hutchinson and others considered the document seditious, signing meant another break with the establishment.  Forced to take sides, Hancock signed the document, meaning his name became associated once again as a leader in the patriot cause.

In Virginia, before the House of Burgesses could vote on the creation of a Committee, Lord Dunmore dissolved the House.  Most of the representatives moved across the street to a tavern, where they agreed as private citizens to create a group to correspond with other colonies.

One way or another, active committees began in eleven colonies, typically with the more radical political leaders in charge of them.  Most correspondents were members of the Sons of Liberty.  Letters supplemented newspapers as a way of learning intelligence.  It also gave leaders an opportunity to share ideas and coordinate opposition.  Probably most importantly, the committees gave like minded leaders throughout the colonies a chance to get to know one another.

Franklin Letters

Although not officially part of any committee of correspondence, Benjamin Franklin was still working as a colonial agent in London, despite Hillsborough’s refusal to acknowledge him.  Franklin regularly corresponded with various colonial leaders and officials in London as his work required.

Somehow, Franklin obtained a number of letters from Governor Hutchinson in late 1772.  It is still unclear exactly how he got them, but they appear to have come from an anonymous member of Parliament.  He also had a few letters from Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver and other leading colonial Tories.  The letters bad mouthed opposition leaders and recommended that London had to limit British liberties in the colonies if officials ever wanted to restore order.  Similar letters had doomed Gov. Bernard’s administration a few years earlier.

Benjamin Franklin in London
(from Franklin Institute)
It does not appear that Franklin was trying to destroy Hutchinson.  He sent the letters to Thomas Cushing in Boston, with the instructions that Cushing keep them confidential and only share them with a few members of the patriot leadership.  Franklin’s purpose in sending the letters was to try to convince Patriot leaders that colonial problems were not the result of London officials inclined towards tyranny.  Rather, officials like Hutchinson were painting a poor picture of the colonial situation.  Patriots needed to get their side of the story to London, perhaps by providing more support and resources to their agent, Mr. Franklin.

Cushing, however, working closely with Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren, decided not to keep the letters confidential.  In the summer of 1773, they published the letters in the newspaper.  The release of the letters followed on Hutchinson’s speech to the Assembly a few months earlier, proclaiming that the Parliament was the supreme legislative authority, and that unless the colonies were considering something crazy like independence, they needed to get over themselves and accept Parliamentary authority.

Relations between Gov. Hutchinson and the the colony’s elected leaders were never good.  But the speech and the letters made things downright poisonous.

The Vandalia Colony

But despite the continued bickering among politicians, many moderates in the colony turned their focus back to business.  And for quite a few colonists, business meant speculation in western land.  This returns us to the issue that started much of this whole course of events: the colonists’ desire to settle the Ohio Valley.

We last left the Ohio Valley back in Episode 19, with the end of Pontiac’s Rebellion and King George’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 that colonists could not move west of the Appalachian Mountains.  The colonists were not happy about the decree then, and a decade later still wanted either to subvert it or get it repealed outright.

Several Pennsylvania Indian traders who had lost property during Pontiac’s Rebellion sought compensation.  Eventually the traders formed the Indiana Company to recover their losses. Owners received stock in the company based on the value of their losses.  Once they had the stock though, they were free to sell it to speculators. The value of the stock varied based on the chances that the owner or his assignee would ever get compensation from anyone.  Much of the stock ended up in the hands of a few wealthy speculators, including Samuel Wharton and sons in Philadelphia and William Franklin, Governor of New Jersey and son of Benjamin Franklin.

After officials in London refused to consider any requests, the group focused on the Indians.  They worked with Indian agent William Johnson, eventually hammering out the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.  In that treaty, the Iroquois turned to their old favorite practice of trading land that other tribes inhabited.  In this case, the Iroquois sought to protect their land in Western New York by offering up land which covers what is today West Virginia, and some surrounding areas.

With treaty in hand, the Company sent agents to London to obtain royal approval.  Since the land was west of the Alleghenies, they needed the Privy Council to amend the Royal Proclamation of 1763, you remember, the King’s promise to the Indian tribes that he would keep European settlers from moving into the very land that European colonists now wanted to settle.  The Company hoped to convince officials in London that the Iroquois agreement to give the land would eliminate any concerns about Indian opposition.  Never mind that none of the tribes actually living on the land had approved the deal.

Proposed Colony of Vandalia
(from Wikimedia)
The agents worked with Benjamin Franklin, who was already well connected as a colonial agent in London.  Since his son William had major investments in the company, Benjamin had a strong interest in advancing this project.

Although he never had a good relationship with Lord Hillsborough, Franklin knew that getting this done would require the approval of the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs.  Hillsborough met with the agents and seemed surprisingly approving.  He even encouraged the group to ask for more land to make it the size of a real colony.  The group planned to create a new royal colony, with a crown appointed governor and an elected legislature.  Like earlier colonies the group would bear all the costs and risks of settling the colony.  Unlike earlier colonies, the group would also make a one time payment of over £10,000 as well as an annual quitrent to London based on the number of acres granted.

Everything seemed to be headed in the right direction.  The Indiana Company merged with the Illinois Company, and provided shares to the Ohio Company of Virginia, both of which had competing claims to the land.  They took on several partners in London, including Thomas Walpole, son of a former Prime Minister and an important member of Parliament himself.  They changed the company’s name to the Grand Ohio Company.  Initially, they planned to name the colony Pittsylvania, after William Pitt.  Later, however, they adopted the name Vandalia, in honor of Queen Charlotte, who was descended from the Vandal tribes of Europe.

In 1772 with their petition before the Privy Council, Lord Hillsborough issued a report recommending that the Council reject the petition.  The report stunned everyone involved.  It is unclear why Hillsborough turned on the group.  It may have been that he adopted the concerns of Gen. Gage that the inland colony would run the risk of another Indian uprising.  He also expressed concerns about allowing colonists to set up inland colonies where it would be harder for the military to control them, away from the British Navy.  It may have been because the group failed to give Hillsborough any shares in the company, in other words a bribe, to let it go forward. Benjamin Franklin though, suspected Hillsborough of setting up the group for failure from the beginning, just because he was a pompous jerk who liked to mess with people.

Whatever the reason, the group’s effective lobbying and other politically influential London investors got the Privy Council to overrule Hillsborough and approve the plan anyway.  And this is the main reason I decided to discuss the Vandalia project now.  Hillsborough was so flustered by the Council’s decision to reject his recommendation that in August 1772, he resigned as Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs.  The Colonies happily received news of his resignation.  Probably no one was happier than Benjamin Franklin, who never liked the man.

The Grand Company of Ohio would spend the next few years trying to get final authorization for the colony.  But infighting between stockholders and competing claims by other colonial land speculators, including George Washington, continued to delay the project.  After the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, the project had to be put on hold and went nowhere. Nearly a decade later, in 1781 Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Wharton tried to resurrect their claims before the Continental Congress, arguing that the now independent United States was bound by the contractual rights to the land that Britain had given the investors.  This was around the same time Virginia was ceding its claims to most of what we consider today the midwest.  But Virginia maintained its claims to most of the land that would have become this new State of Vandalia and objected strongly to the competing claims.  Congress rejected the claims of the Ohio Company investors and ratified Virginia’s claims to the land.  All of the investors lost their money, unless they had sold out earlier to speculators.

Dartmouth takes control

Back in London, William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth replaced Hillsborough as Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs.  Dartmouth had been a member of the House of Lords since 1750, when, at age 19, he inherited his grandfather’s title.  His father had died when he was only a year old.  His mother remarried a widower named Lord North, who had a son Frederick.  William’s step-brother would grow up to be Prime Minister Lord North.  Since nepotism was a big part of the British government, North had no trouble appointing his step-brother to this key position in his ministry.

Earl of Dartmouth
(from Wikimedia)
Dartmouth seemed much more accommodating of colonial interests.  Unlike Hillsborough, he did not seek not to crush them into submission.  Instead, he would try to work out political compromises that would satisfy all.  Dartmouth, by London terms, was a moderate who had supported the repeal of the Stamp Act.  He had also contributed to the establishment of a college for Indians in New Hampshire, which still bears his name today.

Franklin and others thought that Dartmouth’s replacing Hillsborough would lead to better relations between England and the colonies.  Sadly, things would not work out that way, but in 1772, everyone remained optimistic about the new appointment.  Dartmouth, at least seemed much more reasonable and accommodating.

Next Week, The dispute over the border of New Hampshire and New York flares up again as residents of both colonies attempt to assert their property claims. This gives rise to a militia army known as the Green Mountain Boys.

Next Episode 38: The Green Mountain Boys

Previous Episode 36: Sinking the HMS Gaspee

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading

Web Sites

The Boston Pamphlet of 1772: http://www.constitution.org/bcp/right_col.htm

Committees of Correspondence: http://www.bostonteapartyship.com/committees-of-correspondence

Franklin's Hutchinson Affair: http://www.benjamin-franklin-history.org/hutchinson-affair

Franklin Tract Relative to Hutchinson Affair: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-21-02-0227

Smith, John L. "Benjamin Franklin, America's First Whistleblower" Journal of the American Revolution, 2013: https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/12/benjamin-franklin-americas-first-whistleblower

Anderson, James D. "Vandalia: The First West Virginia?" West Virginia Archives and History (1979), pp. 375-92: http://www.wvculture.org/history/journal_wvh/wvh40-4.html

Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: http://amesfoundation.law.harvard.edu/ColonialAppeals

Marshall, Peter, "Lord Hillsborough, Samuel Wharton and the Ohio Grant, 1769-1775"
The English Historical Review, 1965, pp. 717-739: http://www.jstor.org/stable/559309

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Bailey, Kenneth The Ohio Company of Virginia and the westward movement, 1748-1792, Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1939.

Cushing, Harry (ed) The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 2, New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1906.

Cushing, Harry (ed) The writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 3, New York: G.P. Putnum's Sons, 1907.

Hosmer, James Samuel Adams, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1913.

Hull, Anna L. The proposed colony of Vandalia, Univ. of Illinois, thesis project, 1914.

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, John (ed) The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774,  London: John Murray 1828.

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, Peter Orlando (ed) The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1884.

Spencer, Henry Constitutional conflict in provincial Massachusetts,  (1905) (contains a thorough background on disputes over the charter and salaries of officials prior to the revolutionary era).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Galvin, John Three Men of Boston, Potomac Books, 1976

Isaacson, Walter Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, New York: Simon & Schuster (2004).

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Zobel, Hiller The Boston Massacre, New York: WW Norton & Co. 1970.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Episode 036: Sinking the HMS Gaspee




Last week, we looked at a few of the internal colonial disputes in the Carolinas.  Those issues involved fights between the people and the colonial government.  This week, Rhode Island takes on the British Navy directly by sinking the HMS Gaspee.

Trade Enforcement

Following the repeal of the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend Acts, Parliament focused its attempts to assert authority over the colonies through tougher trade enforcement.  Smuggling had always been common in the colonies, as historically London had not made much of an attempt to enforce trade laws.  Almost no colonists argued that Parliament lacked authority to create and enforce some trade laws, but strict enforcement of existing laws made profitable trade almost impossible.

After the end of the Seven Years War, the British began focusing more on enforcement.  It began as a way to raise revenue, but by 1770, enforcement seemed more about asserting authority than raising any money.  As we saw back in Episode 29, London had placed an American Board of Customs in Boston, responsible for enforcing trade laws and collecting tariffs.  It then sent in Regulars to back up the board, leading to the Boston Massacre (See, Episode 33) and pulling the soldiers out of the city.

The withdrawal of troops did not mean that officials had given up on trade enforcement.  The North Ministry, and Parliament, with the agreement of the King, all felt that colonists could no longer get away with ignoring the laws of the Empire.  Even if authorities had to watch their step on land, the British navy still controlled the seas.

British Dockyard at Woolwich,18th Century (from ipfs.io)
Throughout the 1700s, Britain had been regularly at war with one country or another.  The down time between wars presented its own problems.  A peacetime military was expensive.  Yet keeping ships and crew active meant they would be ready for the next war. Otherwise, ships sat in dock, rotting away.  Sailors found other jobs, and officers sat at home on half-pay with little to do.  Putting a few naval vessels to work controlling smuggling seemed like a better alternative.  It kept the ships and men active, raised some revenue, and reminded the colonies who was in control.  Since the end of the Seven Years War, the Navy headquartered in Halifax, deployed dozens of ships patrolling around all the major North American ports.

Despite increased enforcement, many merchant ships still found smuggling profitable, either bringing in goods from foreign ports in violation of trade laws, or simply trying to avoid customs duties.  If caught, officials could seize a ship and its cargo.  If condemned by the Admiralty Court it would be sold at auction, along with additional fines for the ship’s owner.  Since the officers and crew of the naval vessel capturing such a prize received a share of the sales price, they had good incentive to pursue smugglers with zeal.

Rhode Island’s Radicals

Although Boston was the largest port in New England, the coast was dotted with many ports, large and small.  Merchant vessels could land at any of them, or even try to offload their ships via smaller boats at some remote beach.  Rhode Island had a busy port at Newport, and also had a fair share of merchants who made every effort to avoid paying tariffs, or who wanted to trade with foreign colonies in violation of British trade laws.

The people of Rhode Island had a history of challenging British authorities in their waters.  In 1764, following passage of the Sugar Act, a British Navy ship, the HMS St. John  patrolled the waters around Newport looking for smugglers.  While the ship was docked in Newport, some event happened, that is rather vague.  Different accounts say that some of the ship’s crew stole property.  Others say the crew came ashore either to impress local sailors or to capture deserters, resulting in a massive brawl with local sailors on the docks.

Fort George, Newport Harbor (from NewportHistory.org)
As local authorities attempted to make arrests, the St. John attempted to leave port.  Locals occupied Fort George on an island in Newport Harbor.  From there they fired the fort’s cannon at the St. John.  No one was hit, and the locals fled the island before a larger navy ship came in range.  But the incident made clear that colonists in Rhode Island were not afraid to attack authorities if provoked.

The following year, in June 1765, shortly after passage of the Stamp Act, the HMS Maidstone landed a press gang in Newport harbor.  Locals fought with the press gang.  A mob of about 500 men seized the launch craft that had landed, dragged it to the commons, and burned it.

I’ve already mentioned the Liberty, the ship authorities seized from John Hancock in Boston.  The seizure had led to the Liberty riot of 1768 that I discussed back in Episode 29.  By 1769, the British navy was using the HMS Liberty to enforce trade laws.  The crew of the Liberty forced two small Connecticut boats to land at Newport for suspected smuggling violations.  The Captain of the boats accused the crew of the Liberty of abusing him and his men.  Witnesses from Providence had seen the Liberty fire on the unarmed boats after the captain apparently resisted allowing the navy to board his ships.  An outraged mob formed, forcing the crew of the Liberty off of the ship.  They took the ship out into the harbor and set it on fire.

In all of these cases, authorities attempted to bring criminal charges, but no one would identify any of those involved.  Like Boston, the local courts in Newport were stacked with people who would not indict or convict anyone for criminal acts against the hated authorities.  Further, if anyone attempted to cooperate with prosecutors, they might find themselves with a new suit of tar and feathers, or some other punishment.  As a result, locals felt comfortable using violence against the navy when provoked.

William Dudingston

Naval officers tended not to be the most politically sensitive individuals.  A ship’s captain ruled his crew by fear.  He kept his men in line by flogging or other painful punishments for infractions of the rules.  Officers tended to show the same authoritarian contempt for civilians as well.  British crews were not afraid to use violence against civilian crews that displayed any resistance to their orders.  Even for legitimate merchants, a stop at sea could delay a voyage for hours.  A decision to force the ship into docks could mean a delay of several days.  The level of harassment, or strict adherence to the rules, was a largely a matter of discretion for the ship’s captain.  Different officers handled their responsibilities in very different ways.

Lt. William Dudingston, commander of the Gaspee, quickly gained a reputation as being one of the worst, at least from the perspective of the colonists. Dudingston was in his early 30’s.  He came from minor Scottish aristocracy, that had fallen on hard times.  He took command of the Gaspee in 1768 and had been using Philadelphia as a base as he patrolled the waters up and down the east coast.

HMS Gaspee (from gaspee.org)
It’s not clear why Dudingston acted especially aggressively in his enforcement of trade regulations. Perhaps he was bucking for promotion.  Perhaps he appreciated the prize money from seized vessels.  As a Lieutenant, he made only £100 per year.  In some years, he nearly doubled his annual income with prize money from seized ships and cargo.  Whatever the reason Dudingston went after everyone.  Even the most politically powerful families and operators of the smallest ships did not escape his strict enforcement of customs laws.

Dudingston also apparently had an attitude, treating all civilians with contempt.  On several boardings, his men beat up ship captains and crew, presumably for resisting in some way.  He quickly developed a reputation for harassing local ships, boarding even small packet boats moving around the bay, demanding papers and wasting everyone’s time.  A British board of inquiry later described it as “intemperate, if not reprehensible zeal to aid the customs service.”

While in the waters around Philadelphia, Dudingston apparently got into several fights.  There is one article about him beating up a fisherman, unprovoked, though the article is written by the fisherman, so we only have that side of the story.  Given that there are many such stories, though, it seems that Dudingston was quite comfortable beating up locals if he thought they did not give him the respect he deserved.

The Gaspee 

The HMS Gaspee itself was a rather small schooner with a crew of only around 20-25 men and six cannon, as well as a few swivel guns.  It was built as a small fast ship, designed to run down merchant vessels, not fight with other ships of war.  It was able to move at a good speed for the day, travel through relatively shallow water and was sufficiently armed to intimidate any merchant vessel it encountered.

The Admiralty had ordered the Gaspee and five similar ships built in the colonies in 1764 for the purpose of customs enforcement.  The Gaspee had been in continuous use since that time, patrolling waters from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia.  It only had one other commander before Dudingston took command in 1768.

Patrolling Rhode Island

In early 1772, Dudingston began to focus his attention on the waters around Newport.  In addition to treating merchants and captains with contempt, he liked to show his contempt for local government officials.  Naval vessels patrolling colonial waters typically presented their credentials to local authorities before searching and seizing merchant vessels.  Dudingston never bothered with this.

Nathanael Greene
(from Wikimedia)
Some who had encountered the Gaspee at sea claimed that there was nothing to identify it as a naval vessel.  Some merchants initially thought they were being attacked by pirates.

In February, the Gaspee seized the Fortune a small sloop illegally carrying sugar and rum from the West Indies.  Dudingston determined this was illegal smuggling and ordered the ship and its cargo seized.  There was nothing particularly remarkable about this seizure other than the fact that the ship was owned by the Greene family, a wealthy and powerful merchant family in Rhode Island.  One of the owners was Nathanael Greene, a future General in the Continental Army.  Some point to this event as one that help set Greene on the path toward joining the patriot cause. The Gaspee spent the spring harassing ships, even small fishing vessels, often seizing ship and hauling the occupant to Boston for trial.

As merchants began reporting more seizures of ships, they looked to the colonial government for some relief.  Unlike most colonies, Rhode Island had an elected governor, who had to be responsive to the people, or suffer the consequences at the next election.

Adm. John Montegu
(from Royal Museum Greenwich)
Rhode Island Governor Joseph Wanton sent Dudingston several letters demanding he produce his commission to engage in Customs service.  As an elected Governor, Wanton was more inclined to back the popular will rather than dictates from London.  It also meant that British officers saw him as a colonial political hack rather than a representative of the crown.

Dudingston simply forwarded the Governor’s letters to Admiral Montegu, his commander in Halifax without responding directly.  Montegu backed him up, essentially telling the Governor that Dudingston was doing his duty, and that the Governor should do his duty by assisting the Navy, not annoying its officers.

Both the Governor and Admiral sent copies of all correspondence back to London trying to get support for their positions.  But before London could act, the colonists decided to put an end to the Gaspee’s activities.

The Attack

On June 9, 1772 a small packet sloop named the Hannah made a run from Newport to Providence.  The Gaspee attempted to approach and board her.  The Hannah’s Captain Benjamin Lindsey, knew the Bay much better than Dudingston.  He took the Hannah over a shallow area that his ship could clear but the larger Gaspee could not.  The Gaspee became stuck on the sandbar.  The Hannah escaped while the Gaspee waited for high tide.

Captain Lindsey arrived in Providence and informed others about what happened.  They sent out a town crier to call a meeting of locals.  A group of men assembled at a tavern to discuss how to deal with the Gaspee once and for all.

Burning of the Gaspee (from navalhistory.org)
Around 10:00 that night, a group of armed men in eight longboats rowed out to the Gaspee, using muffled oars to avoid detection.  A sentry aboard the still grounded Gaspee hailed the men, who did not respond.  However, the sentry’s actions alerted Lt. Dudingston who appeared on deck only half dressed to demand an answer from the approaching boats.  The response he got was a bullet in the gut.

Some accounts say the attackers announced that the Sheriff was in the party and that he had a warrant for Dudingston’s arrest.  They shot Dudingston only after he refused to allow the party to board and serve the warrant. They only shot Dudingston after he struck one of the attackers with his sword.

Whatever the initial encounter, the men then stormed the ship before the crew could mount any resistance.  They forced the crew below deck. At first, Dudingston remained on deck, bleeding to death.  But after a short time, they removed him below deck and treated his wounds.   They also removed some of the ship papers.  The attackers then collected Dudingston and his crew, and removed them from the ship.  They left them on the shore near Pawtuxet Village, the nearest settlement to the ship.

Later that night, shortly before dawn, the attackers set the Gaspee on fire.  The burned it to the water line.  The exploded powder magazine assured the ship’s complete destruction.

The Consequences

Now, burning a naval vessel and shooting a British officer were not things that authorities took lightly.  Such an attack was treason.  Earlier attacks on British naval property had not involved shooting an officer.  So the Gaspee incident created a whole new level of concern about law and order in the colonies.

Gov. Wanton, eager to stay in the good graces of those in London, but not overly concerned about bringing the criminals to justice, issued an reward offer of £100 to anyone with information leading to the arrest of anyone involved.  Later, King George issued a proclamation offering a reward of £500. Although many were well aware of those involved, no one came forward to implicate anyone. Even if someone objected to the attack, knew the perpetrators, and wanted the reward money, they knew that snitching would result in a mob attacking them and destroying their property, if not causing bodily harm.  No one seem willing to risk that for the possibility of even a rather generous reward.

Gov. Joseph Wanton
(from Wikimedia)
Lt. Dudingston refused to speak with any local officials about the attack.  He probably did not trust them to do anything anyway. Since he had lost a ship, he faced an automatic court martial.  He knew any statements he made could be used against him.  Dudingston’s court martial took place a England a few months later.  The Court completely acquitted him and Dudingston received a promotion to Captain shortly thereafter.  Dudingston did apply for a pension that year. His wound required time for rest and recuperation.

A month after the attack, one of sailors on the Gaspee got a job on another ship and recognized Aaron Briggs as one of the men who had seized the Gaspee.  The ship’s captain got Briggs to confess and to implicate two other leading merchants.  Gov. Wanton attempted to arrest Briggs, but the captain refused to allow the Sheriff to board his ship.  I suspect the Captain feared that once in the hands of the colonists, Briggs would recant or suddenly disappear.

The King ordered a Royal Commission in Rhode Island to resolve this matter.  The Commission was supposed to find out who was involved and ship them back to London for a treason trial.  After six months investigating the matter it came up relatively empty.  It even dropped charges against Briggs.  It turned out the Captain had extracted a confession from Briggs by threatening to hang him if he did not confess.  Under such circumstances, the Commission deemed the confession invalid.  Further, the Commission could not identify a single person involved in the incident.

One of the big problems for the Commission is that Gov. Wanton served as one of the commissioners.  He attacked every witness and seemed to shut down every line of investigation as best he could.  As an elected Governor, he knew his political future meant trying to keep prominent citizens from getting caught up in a legal mess over this incident.  He wanted the matter to go away as quickly as possible.

In the end, the Commission reprimanded virtually everyone involved.  The Governor for not pursuing the criminal investigation with enough zeal (prior to his sitting on the commission), the Captain who extracted Brigg’s confession and then refused to turn him over to lawful authorities, and Dudingston for exercising too much zeal in enforcing customs laws.  The Navy, however, did not seem to blame Dudingston for anything.  After a mandatory court martial for losing his ship, the Navy acquitted Dudingston and soon promoted him to Captain.  He would return to active duty in 1776 and go on to become an Admiral years later.

While very little came from the incident directly, the Gaspee affair created even more divisions between England and the colonies.  London saw the incident as yet another egregious example of colonists’ refusal to accept lawful authority, instead engaging mob rule.  The incident increased colonial fears that England was willing to remove accused criminals to London for trial, denying them the right to a local jury trial.  The sinking of the Gaspee itself turned out to be a relatively isolated incident in 1772.  It did not inspire any copycat attacks on the Navy, nor did London overreact by implementing punitive measures against the colony.  This allowed the relative calm to continue for another year and a half.

Next Week: We take a look at the Committees of Correspondence, and the Colony of Vandalia.

Next Episode 37: Committees of Correspondence & the Colony of Vandalia

Previous Episode 35: Carolina Regulators and the Battle of Alamance

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:
Web Sites

For anyone interested in learning more about the Gaspee, this is the most thorough and authoritative website on the topic: http://www.gaspee.org

The Story of the Gaspee Attack: http://www.gaspee.info/history/GaspeeStory.htm

The Gaspee Affair: https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Gaspee_Affair.html

Armstrong, Benjamin F. “An Act of War on the Eve of Revolution” Naval History Magazine, 2016: https://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2016-02/act-war-eve-revolution

Watch Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse discuss the Gaspee Affair on the floor of the Senate (June 9, 2015): https://www.c-span.org/video/?326431-3/discussion-1772-gaspee-affair


William Dudingston: http://www.gaspee.org/WilliamDudingston.htm

Admiral John Montagu (1719-1795): http://www.gaspee.org/JohnMontagu.htm

Bryant, Samuel W. “HMS Gaspee - The Court Martial” Rhode Island History, 1966: http://www.rihs.org/assetts/files/publications/1966_July.pdf

Park, Steven “Revising the Gaspee Legacy” Journal of the American Revolution, 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/07/revising-the-gaspee-legacy

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Bartlett, John A history of the destruction of His Britannic Majesty's schooner Gaspee, in Narragansett Bay, on the 10th June, 1772, Providence: A. Crawford Greene, 1861.

Staples, William R. The Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee, Providence: Knowles, Vose, and Anthony,1845.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2015.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Nelson, James George Washington’s Secret Navy, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Park, Steven The Burning of His Majesty's Schooner Gaspee: An Attack on Crown Rule Before the American Revolution, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Raven, Rory Burning the Gaspee: Revolution in Rhode Island, Charleston: History Press, 2012.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links). 






Sunday, March 11, 2018

Episode 035: Carolina Regulators and Battle of Alamance




Last week we discussed the decision to pull the British troops out of Boston following the Boston Massacre, as well as the repeal of most of the Townshend Duties.  These pullbacks ushered in several years of relative calm, from the end of 1770 until the end of 1773 when the Tea Party broke the peace once again.  Of course, those years were not entirely trouble free.  Today I want to cover the Regulator movement in the Carolinas.

I find the political evolution of South Carolina and North Caroline particularly fascinating.  In both cases settlers of the western part of the colony tended to be German, Scotch, or Irish, as compared to the English who settled along the east coast.  However, when the Revolution broke out, the western North Carolina settlers tended to support the patriot cause while easterners tended to maintain stronger support for the king. In South Carolina the opposite happened. Easterners joined the patriot cause, while westerners tended to remain loyal to the king.

South Carolina Regulators

I have not paid much attention to South Carolina since Episode 15, when the British crushed the Cherokee Uprising of 1761.  After the Cherokee gave up a large amount of territory to settle that dispute, colonial settlers moved in and set up farms.  Although parts of what is known as the Piedmont region of the colony had white colonists who had already lived there for a generation or two, the 1760’s saw a period of substantial growth.

Land settlement came quickly, but government in the new settlements did not keep up with the population boom.  This led to what we call the Regulator movement.  South Carolina Regulators were generally farmers and men of property who lived in the western part of the State.  These new settlers primarily, were not South Carolinians moving west. Rather they were immigrants moving into the colony.

South Carolina had a Governor and Council appointed by the King.  The colonists elected a House of Commons, although property requirements greatly limited voting to a relatively small minority of planters.  Elected officials had even more stringent requirements.  Members had to own 500 acres of land or more, at least 10 slaves or equivalent property, and belong to the Anglican Church.

Most of the western settlers were not Anglicans.  They were recent immigrants from Western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina.  Their families tended to be German, Scotch-Irish, or Welsh.  As in England, the colonial legislature did not see any need to redistrict on a regular basis.  So even the few men who might qualify to vote, did not have any representation in Charleston.

The Piedmont region also had no sheriffs, courts, or jails to maintain law and order.  The local property owners formed themselves into vigilante groups, known as Regulators, which enforced their view of law.  Mostly, they targeted what they called hunters.  These were essentially homeless people with guns.  They roamed the back country, killing animals, often farm animals.  They left half eaten carcasses, which attracted wolves and other undesirable wildlife.  They would sometimes start fires to chase game at night. They often wandered into Indian reserves, potentially stirring up another war.  Sometimes they would steal directly from farmers or even raid isolated farms.  There are stories of some brutal home invasions during this time.

War of Regulation (from Wikipedia, artist's conception)
The Regulators first organized to drive these undesirables out of the area.  Regulators would go after anyone believed to be guilty of a crime or other undesirable behavior.  If a suspect was captured, the Regulators would most commonly dispensed punishment with a whipping, sometimes with a demand that the accused leave the area.  Property owners who did something to displease the Regulators might find their barn or home burned to the ground.  Even suspected prostitutes were subjected to whippings as the regulators attempted to make their territory more respectable.

Regulators also had to deal with escaped slaves.  The Regulators tended to be wealthy property owners, many of whom owned slaves.  The communities of ruffians living in the back country often provided asylum to escaped slaves which not only made it easier for slaves to escape, but created a core that might eventually organize into a slave rebellion.

The Regulators operated for most of the 1760s, providing the only source of law, frontier justice for the region.  But even the Regulators wanted a more official and permanent form of law enforcement.  They lobbied the Governor and assembly for influence in the government.  They wanted representation to put in place a more legitimate and stable government in the west.  In 1768, the government obliged by creating new Judicial Districts for the western regions.  It also organized new electoral districts.  Finally, after elections, the western districts sent representatives to the legislature in Charleston in 1770.

By then it was pointless.  I mentioned a few episodes back, after the legislature sent money to John Wilkes in 1769, the Governor prevented the legislature from appropriating any more funds, and in 1771, the Governor stopped all legislation.  So, the 1770 victory got the westerners representation in a legislature that could not pass any legislation, yay!

Even so, the creation of judicial districts, along with sheriffs and courts, largely put an end to the Regulator movement in South Carolina.  Landowners could still serve as posses when the sheriff needed them, but law enforcement system was at least administered by government officials.

Despite bringing the westerners into colonial politics, the east coast elites and the back country Regulators remained divided in many ways, religious, social, and cultural.  When the eastern colonists largely joined in the rebellion against Britain a few years later, the inland groups tended to join the Loyalist side and fought with the British when the war came to South Carolina.

North Carolina Regulators

The North Carolina Regulators evolved in a very different way.  If South Carolina Regulators complained about not enough government, the North Carolina Regulators complained about too much, or at least too corrupt.  Settlers in the western parts of North Carolina came from similar backgrounds as their western South Carolina neighbors.  They also encountered some of the same fundamental differences from those controlling the colony along the east coast.

Like its southern neighbor, North Carolina had a crown appointed Governor and Council, as well as an elected legislature.  Voting was limited to free men of property and districting strongly favored those living along the coast.  The eastern dominated colonial government appointed tax collectors, sheriffs, and judges to administer the inland counties.

Now I know it’s hard to believe today, but in the mid-1700’s North Carolina often had corrupt local officials who harassed and ripped off the residents.  The tax system was bad enough. The colony had a poll tax, which unlike an income or property tax, meant that every person paid the same amount.  It did not matter if you were a subsistence dirt farmer or a plantation owner with 10,000 acres.  As you might guess, such a system was particularly tough on the poor.

Government officials earned a living by going out and extracting money from tax delinquents by any means necessary.  Some had a nasty habit of collecting a tax, then “losing” the paperwork and demanding they pay a second time.

Another big problem was the lack of cash in the economy.  As I discussed in earlier episodes, the lack of gold and silver in the colonies caused serious economic problems.  Some colonies had tried to circulate paper money, but London usually did not allow that.  In North Carolina, especially in the west, most people operated on a barter system, with very little cash circulating.  Keeping money in your home was actually dangerous as it made you a target for theft.

Taxes, however, had to be paid in gold or silver.  If a taxpayer did not have enough ready cash when the tax man came around, the tax collector would put a distrain on the property, effectively seizing it.  The tax collector received fee for doing so, and therefore had every incentive not to give the taxpayer any time to come up with the cash.  Within days, the state would sell the owner’s property, usually at a cut price to a friend of the tax collector, who again collected a fee for his work on the tax sale.  Collectors also added fees if they had to visit the home of a taxpayer who did not show up to pay taxes at a designated time and place.  Tax collectors often would not give much of any notice when they would arrive.  Often, colonists would find the original tax bill to be only a small portion of the total fees added to their bill.

Some locals attempted to take the tax collectors to court.  But the tax collector was the local sheriff or deputy.  He often colluded with judges and lawyers to extract even more court fees and legal costs before finding against the taxpayer anyway.

Westerners did not have many political options either.  Local citizens held town meetings and sent petitions to the Governor for reform, but these all seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Like South Carolina, North Carolina apportioned most of its representatives in the east, meaning the westerners were very underrepresented in the legislature.  For example, two western counties contained 6000 people and had four representatives.  At the same time, five small counties along the coast had a total of less than 2000 people and had 25 representatives.  Although they had some representatives, they did not have enough to convince the legislature to initiate any sort of reform.

Gov. Tryon

In 1764 William Tryon arrived as the new Lt. Governor.  Tryon was a British military officer with close ties to the top of London’s power elite.  His wife had been maid of honor to Queen Charlotte.  She was also a family friend of Lord Hillsborough, the Secretary of State, who appointed him as Lt. Governor.  Tryon became Governor when his predecessor died the following year.

One of his first controversies came with the Stamp Act protests of 1765-66.  His strong support for the Act and its enforcement made him enemies throughout the colony.  After the Stamp tax repeal in 1766, the Governor tried to reduce tensions and rebuild relationships in a customarily North Carolina way: he held a barbecue.  He roasted three whole oxen, brought in wagon loads of beer and bread and invited just about the whole colony to attend.  Many people came, but they were not ready to make nice.  They protested by taking the food and beer and dumping it on the ground or in the river.  A massive fight ensued which included a relative of the Governor’s wife being killed in a duel.

Tryon's Palace (from Eastern Carolina Univ.)
(artist's conception from 1910)
This incident poisoned any chance of a good relationship between the Governor and the colonists.  The following year, he made things worse by demanding £20,000 to build a Governor’s Palace for himself.  For many taxpayers, especially in the west “Tryon’s Palace” was the final straw.  Rather than reforming the burdensome and corrupt tax system, the Governor was adding a huge new expense that would result in even higher taxes.

To protest the corrupt system of tax collection, the citizens of Orange County refused to pay any of their taxes in 1768.  Instead, they gave it to their representative in the legislature, Harmon Husband (sometimes Herman Husbands).  When the Assembly met, the Governor demanded to know why no one had paid taxes.  Husband threw a bag of gold and silver on the table and told the Governor that he had all the taxes.  He was prepared to pay the treasury in exchange for a receipt showing the taxes had been paid.  Husband announced that he had acted as tax collector to keep much of it from "disappearing," as always seemed to happen.

In response, the Governor had Husband arrested and thrown in jail.  He released him several days later after learning that 2000 Regulators were advancing on the jail to free him by force.  Not wanting to have an organized political force against him, the Governor divided Orange County into three separate counties.  He also forced through legislation prohibiting the sale of gunpowder or shot to anyone in those three counties until further notice.

With the Government refusing to consider any reforms, the Regulators simply shut down the government in the western counties.  Armed militia prevented any sheriffs, tax collectors, or judges from operating.  One particular target of the Regulators was a man named Edmund Fanning, a friend of the Governor, responsible for tax collection in Orange County, and also sheriff of Hillsborough.  Fanning was the personification of the corrupt tax collector for the Regulators.  He had also built up large land holdings in the area, much of it from land sold at tax sales.

In 1770, in what became known as the Hillsborough Riot, Regulators shut down the local court, seized Fanning and another lawyer, and beat the men.  They ran Fanning out of town, paraded an effigy of him through the streets, and damaged his home and other property.

Essentially the demands of the regulators were twofold and quite reasonable.  First, they wanted to put an end to the corrupt local government that was cheating them out of their property.  Second, they wanted a reapportionment of the legislature, which currently benefitted the east.

Battle of Alamance Creek

Tryon was not ready to make peace with troublemakers.  Rather than compromise, he got the legislature to pass the Riot Act of 1771. The Act effectively redefined protest as treason.  It made it a felony for 10 or more people to assemble after being warned to disperse.  It exempted officials from prosecution for the murder or injury of any rioters.  Any accused rioters who did not submit to arrest within 60 days were declared outlaws, who could be shot on site.  It also permitted the government to seize and sell any of their property.  Although the law would expire after one year, they made it retroactive to prosecute rioters from earlier events.  Finally, the law authorized the Governor to raise a militia at public expense to execute the new policies.

In March 1771, Gov. Tryon assembled a 1000 man militia and marched them into the heart of the Regulator country.  The two sides played a game of cat and mouse for several months.

Finally, in May, the two sides formed for a showdown.  The judges in Hillsborough informed the Governor that they could not hold a court session due to the Regulators.  Gov. Tryon assembled a militia of over 1000 officers and men to move on Hillsborough and protect the court.  Another militia force of about 300 under Gen. Hugh Waddell advanced on Hillsborough from another direction.  The Regulators blocked Wadell’s advance, and captured part of his supply train, including ammunition.

Tryon moved his larger force to join with Wadell and confront the Regulators.  The two groups met near Alamance Creek on May 16, 1771.  By most estimates, the Regulators had about 2000 men under arms, well outnumbering the militia.  But Gov. Tryon was a professional officer by training, and also had several artillery pieces with him.  By contrast, the Regulators did not have any officers in overall command.  They were far too disorganized to make effective use of their numbers.

By some accounts, the militia were reluctant to fire on the Regulators who were in many cases their friends and neighbors.  Tryon, however, ordered them to fire, at one point allegedly saying “fire on them or on me!”  The militia engaged the regulators in a heated battle lasting several hours.  Some stories say that many regulators fought until they ran out of ammunition, then simply got up and went home.

The Regulator lines broke and the militia spent much of the battle chasing down Regulators through the woods.  In the end, Gov. Tryon and his militia controlled the field and completely dispersed the Regulators.

Battle of Alamance (from Wikimedia) (artist's conception circa 1910)
The militia reported nine dead and 61 wounded.  The number of Regulators killed and wounded is not reported in any official records.  Some reports indicate they also lost a similar number of killed and wounded.  Others report the Regulators took as many as 300 killed and wounded. The militia captured only 15 prisoners, one of whom they hanged that evening.

The following day, Governor offered amnesty for most of the Regulators, as long as they agreed to end their resistance and swear loyalty to the colony.  Eventually, more than 6000 people took advantage of this, taking an oath of allegiance and receiving pardon.

Tryon did not give amnesty to the leaders of the revolt though.  He tried twelve leaders under the Riot Act, and hanged six of them.  Many Regulators took their families and left the colony shortly thereafter.

Among those leaving the colony was Harmon Husband, who had led the political opposition to the governor and was with the regulators shortly before the battle of Alamance.  As a Quaker, he did not participate in the fighting.  Even so, as a leader of the resistance, he decided his time in North Carolina was over.  Husband fled to Maryland and eventually settled in what became western Pennsylvania, around Pittsburgh.  He wrote an account of the Regulator movement, which unfortunately, I cannot find in an available electronic format.  As a pacifist, Husband sat out the Revolution, but would have one more act near the end of his life as a leader in the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s.

London generally credited Tryon with his firm and successful termination of back country resistance.  Later that year, Hillsborough promoted him to Governor of New York and he headed north, taking Fanning along with him as his personal secretary.  His successor, Governor Martin, tried a radical new approach and actually investigated the complaints of corruption in the western counties.  He instituted some reforms, and even prosecuted a few corrupt local officials.

Some historians say the Battle of Alamance Creek should be considered the first battle of the Revolutionary War.  I am not convinced that is a fair characterization.  The Regulator war did not involve the British Army.  The regulators continued to profess loyalty to the King and British rule.  Their dispute was more about local internal colonial corruption, not British taxes or trade.  Still, the Regulator movement stands as evidence that Americans throughout the continent would stand up and fight for their rights, with guns if necessary.

Next Week: Rhode Island colonists attack and sink a Navy Ship, the HMS Gaspee.

Next Episode 36: Sinking the HMS Gaspee

Previous Episode 34: Massacre Fallout & Townshend Acts Repealed

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web Sites

South Carolina 1769 districts:  http://www.carolana.com/SC/Royal_Colony/sc_royal_colony_new_districts_1769.html

Klein, Rachel “Ordering the Back Country: the South Carolina Regulation” The William and Mary Quarterly, Oct., 1981, pp. 661-680 (available to read free online with registration): https://www.jstor.org/stable/1918909

North Carolina War of Regulation: http://www.carolana.com/NC/Royal_Colony/nc_royal_colony_war_of_regulation.html

Sadlier, Sarah "Prelude to the American Revolution? The War of Regulation: A Revolutionary Reaction for Reform" from The History Teacher, Nov. 2012: http://www.societyforhistoryeducation.org/pdfs/N12_NHD_Sadlier_Senior.pdf

Kickler, Troy Hillsborough Riot (1770): http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/hillsborough-riot-1770

Carney, Richard Herman Husband (1724-1795): http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/herman-husband-1724-1795

Engstrom, Mary Clair Edmund Fanning, 1986: https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/fanning-edmund

A 1769 call to join the Regulator movement: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=3878

VIDEO: C-SPAN visits the Alamance Battlefield: https://www.c-span.org/video/?63846-1

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Basset, John “The Regulators of North Carolina (1765-1771)” from Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1894, pp. 141-212.

Haywood, Marshall De Lancey Governor William Tryon, and his administration in the province of North Carolina, 1765-1771, Raleigh: E.M. Uzzell, 1903

Fitch, William Some neglected history of North Carolina; being an account of the revolution of the regulators and of the battle of Alamance, the first battle of the American Revolution, New York, Neal Publishing, 1905.

Otis, James With the regulators. A story of North Carolina in 1768, New York: A.L. Burt Co. 1901 (story based on the NC Regulator events).

McCorkle, Lutie Andrews Was Alamance the first battle of the Revolution? Raleigh: E.M. Uzzell & Co., 1903.

Stockard, Sallie Walker The history of Alamance, Raleigh: Capital Printing, 1900.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Brown, Richard M. The South Carolina Regulators, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1963.

Kars, Marjoleine Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Klein, Rachel N. Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808,  Chapel Hill: Univ of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Nash, Gary The Unknown American Revolution, New York: Viking, 2005.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Troxler, Carole W. Farming Dissenters: The Regulator Movement in Piedmont North Carolina, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2011.

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links). 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Episode 034: Massacre Fallout, Townshend Repealed




I ended last week with British Regulars having opened fire on a crowd leaving five colonists dead or dying.  The small squad of soldiers then hurried back to their barrack to await the consequences.

Soldiers Leave Boston

As soon the threat of continued imminent violence ended, officials moved to arrest those responsible.  By 2 AM that night, the Sheriff had arrested Captain Preston.  He arrested the other soldiers the following morning.

On the morning of March 6, 1770 about 3500 Bostonians met at Faneuil Hall to discuss the next steps.  A group of radical leaders, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock, met with Gov. Hutchinson to demand the removal of all soldiers from Boston.  Hutchinson did not want to remove the soldiers and leave Boston in the hands of mob rule.  At the same time, he did not want to be the one responsible for keeping the standing army in town.  Hutchinson simply punted, saying he had no authority to order the troops anywhere.

Col. Dalrymple, the military commander in Boston, offered to remove the entire 29th Regiment to Castle William, the island out in the harbor.  On this, Adams pounced, saying if he had authority to order one regiment out of town, he also had the authority to order both of them out.

Dalrymple, however, did not want to take sole responsibility for removing all troops from Boston.  He demanded that the Governor at least provide him with a written request to remove the troops.  Eventually, Hutchinson submitted the request.  All British troops in Boston moved out to the Castle Island.

Gen. Gage, still in New York, tried to prevent the evacuation.  But due to the days it took for communications, the troops had moved before he could rescind the order.  Once complete, Gage decided trying to return the troops would only cause more problems.  In May, the 29th Regiment, which included the men responsible for the Massacre left Boston to a new post in New Jersey.  Of course, Captain Preston and the eight accused soldiers remained behind in a Boston jail awaiting trial.

The PR Campaign

Almost immediately after the shooting, both loyalists and patriots began trying to spin events in their favor.  Both sides immediately accused the other of an organized conspiracy - either a loyalist conspiracy to cow the radicals into submission by killing a few of them - or a patriot conspiracy to provoke a shooting in order to get rid of the soldiers.

The Boston Gazette published this
image representing the four victims
who were killed.  A fifth died a week
later.  (from Crispus Attucks Museum)
Loyalists portrayed the soldiers as defending their lives against an out of control mob.  Patriots portrayed the soldiers as wantonly shooting down innocent civilian engaged in simple protest of military occupation.  The Patriots also tried to bring the customs officials into it by claiming several shots came from windows in the Customs House, though there has never been any good evidence of that.  Paul Revere produced a famous engraving, published in papers throughout the colonies, showing the soldiers mowing down innocent civilians in volley fire.

Both sides also took depositions.  A town committee  headed by Samuel Adams, John Hancock William Molineaux and Joseph Warren sent witness accounts to former governor Thomas Pownall, now sitting in Parliament.  The Tory’s side, however, arrived first in London.  Customs Commissioner John Robinson boarded a ship for London on March 11.  He carried with him a series of military depositions and other information blaming the incident on the radicals.  In London someone published the accounts as a pamphlet.  In response the Patriots had their version and depositions published in London in another pamphlet.

The Patriots made the most of the funeral of the four dead (a fifth would die a few days later).  Estimates of the parade of mourners were 10 to 12 thousand, not bad for a town with a population of 16,000.   Samuel Adams and others spoke of the martyred victims and the ongoing struggle against British tyranny.  The anniversary of the massacre would continue as a public event with similar speeches until the outbreak of war.

The Trials

In addition to indicting Captain Preston and the eight soldiers present at the massacre, a grand jury indicted four civilians in the customs house, accusing them of firing from the windows.  Shortly after the indictments, the prosecutor, the Colony’s Attorney General, simply left town.  Apparently, he had Tory leanings and had little desire to prosecute the case against the soldiers.  This began a series of delaying actions, where judges also began leaving town or having illnesses or injuries that delayed trial.  As spring turned into summer and then fall, radicals grew frustrated at the delays.  Many of the witnesses were sailors who could not remain in port for months at a time waiting for a trial that seemed to take forever to get underway.

Samuel Quincy, Solicitor General for the colony, became the new prosecutor.  Despite most of the Quincy family supporting the Patriot cause, Samuel was a loyalist who supported the government.

Samuel Quincy
(from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Given his limited experience as a criminal prosecutor, Quincy brought in Robert Treat Paine as senior counsel for the prosecution. Paine, had a better reputation as a Patriot and would ensure a zealous prosecution.  Paine would also go on to play a more significant role in the patriot cause during the war.

Finally, on September 7th, Preston and his men were arraigned, entering pleas of “not guilty”.  Then came another delay.  On the day following the arraignments, the Court suddenly and without explanation adjourned until the end of October.  Both sides opposed this.  The Radicals had been fighting delays for months.  Hutchinson and the Loyalists believed that tempers had cooled as much as they were going to, and wanted time to send a pardon request after the trial before the winter weather stopped all shipping traffic to London.

Robert Auchmuty served as senior counsel for the defendants.  Auchmuty served as a judge on the Vice Admiralty Court.  He knew though that any chance of winning required some attorneys who had some credibility with the people of Boston.  He reached out to John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Samuel’s brother, to represent the accused soldiers.  Some may find it surprising that two ardent patriots would defend the alleged murderers of their fellow Boston Patriots.  Years later, Adams would say he simply wanted them to have a fair trial, and that politics should not enter into that.  Quincy, however, admitted speaking with key Patriot leaders, including Hancock, Molineaux, and Warren, before taking the clients.  Clearly neither of them was defying the Patriot leadership in defending the soldiers.

Robert Auchmuty
(from museums.fivecolleges.edu)
I have mentioned John Adams a few times now, and clearly he goes on to bigger things later in the Revolution.  But a brief background might be helpful here.  John Adams was a second cousin of Samuel Adams.  The two got along well, but were not particularly close growing up.  They did not have a strong familial bond.  John lived outside of Boston in Braintree.  As a lawyer, he found himself in Boston on a regular basis.  He associated and clearly seemed to align himself with the radicals.  But he did not attend most of the political rallies or events of the time.  He had represented clients in some high profile trials, including his defense of Michael Corbett for murder of the press gang officer two years earlier (see, Episode 30).

Despite his patriot leanings, Adams considered himself a lawyer first.  He threw himself into the defense with all the zeal of a good defense counsel.

As Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court, Gov. Hutchinson could have presided over the trial. He had no intention though, of going anywhere near that political mess.  Four other judges would preside.

Trial of Captain Preston

First, the defense moved to separate the trial of Captain Preston from those of the other soldiers.  Preston’s defense relied on the argument that he had not ordered the men to fire.  The defense of the soldiers was that they obeyed Preston’s command to fire.  Clearly the two defenses were not compatible.  Today legal ethics would prevent the same lawyer from representing both parties.  But colonial standards were not as strict.  Adams and Quincy represented both parties, but did succeed in getting their trials separated.

At trial, the defense challenged the wording of the indictments (overruled) and the selection of the jury.  They effectively used the jury selection to empanel a jury that had at least some very pro-soldier jurors, ensuring a unanimous conviction virtually impossible from the beginning.

Trials in this era rarely lasted for more than a day.  This trial became a rare exception, mostly because of the number of witnesses.  There was no system for sequestering juries

The prosecution presented 15 witnesses over two days.  They gave conflicting testimony about whether Preston ordered the men to fire.  Some were sure of it, others not so much.  Others admitted they heard people in the crowd shouting “fire.”  Many witnesses indicated Preston was standing in front of the soldiers, which is not where you want to be when ordering your men to fire.

The defense produced even more witnesses, including one who had been standing next to Preston during the events in question.  He testified that he never heard Preston order the soldiers to fire and saw Preston try to stop the firing by hitting the barrels of the soldiers’ muskets.  Preston himself could not testify according to the criminal rules of evidence at the time.

Finally, closing arguments finished around 5 PM on October 29.  The jury reached a verdict several hours later, but the court did not reconvene until 8AM the next day to hear the verdict: not guilty.  Once released, Preston quickly fled to Castle Island to avoid any potential lynching or other mob violence.  Soon thereafter, he resigned his commission and settled in Ireland.

Trial of the Soldiers

Robert Auchmuty declined to participate in the second trial, making John Adams the lead counsel.  He and Josiah Quincy brought in Sampson Salter Blowers, a young attorney with loyalist leanings, to round out the defense team. Blowers and Quincy were classmates at Harvard and had worked together a few months earlier on the defense of Ebenezer Richardson for the murder of Christopher Seider.  Samuel Quincy and Robert Treat Paine, continued to handle the prosecution.

Trial of Soldiers (artist's conception)
(from famous trials)
The case against the soldiers was a little trickier.  Typically, a group of men acting in concert are all criminally liable for any crimes committed.  However, that is only the case if the group is acting as an illegal conspiracy.  The soldiers were not acting illegally when standing on the street as ordered.  Therefore, they could only be held accountable for their individual actions.  It was nearly impossible for the prosecution to establish which soldier shot which victim.  Of course, there was no scientific evidence at that time that could match a bullet to a particular weapon.  Therefore the prosecution had to rely on eyewitness testimony that could establish a particular shot killing a particular victim.

The other legal question to answer was whether the soldiers fired out of self-defense, in other words, an immediate fear for their lives.  In such a case, they would be not guilty.  Another possibility was a finding that they fired after being attacked but not in immediate danger of death.  In that case, they would be guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. Finally, if they fired out of malice, the could be found guilty of murder.  Since the traditional penalty for both murder and manslaughter was death, it might appear not to make much difference.  But manslaughter could result in a lesser sentence in most cases.

Following Preston’s acquittal on October 30, the court adjourned yet again, leaving the soldiers to sit in jail for another month.  Finally on November 20, the court reconvened with the same four judge panel who had heard the Preston trial.  Again, both sides fought over the jury.  In the end, all twelve jurors came from outside Boston.

Opening arguments began on November. 27.  Like the Preston trial, the large number of witnesses meant that the trial would last far longer than one day.  Dozens of witnesses took weeks to testify.  The prosecution made every effort to provide witness testimony to specific soldiers firing.  The defense made the most of the confused and often contradictory testimony.  It also painted the mob as a dangerous threat to the soldiers.  Adams called them “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars.”  In his closing argument, Adams famously told the jury “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  Even though the jury might not like the soldiers, it could not ignore the fact that the men were under attack.
In the end, the jury found two soldiers, Privates Kilroy and Montgomery, guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.  In both cases the jury found compelling eyewitness testimony that both men fired their guns into the crowd, killing victims.  The jury found the other six soldiers not guilty, with lack of credible proof that they had even fired their guns.

The court gave Kilroy and Montgomery the benefit of clergy - a legal term to avoid the death penalty.  Instead the court ordered their thumbs branded as punishment.  The six soldiers found not guilty rejoined their regiment in New Jersey.  It appears that Kilroy and Montgomery also rejoined their unit, though it is possible they were assigned to another unit.  Both men appeared before a British Pension Board in 1776 seeking to be discharged.

Trial of the Customs Officials

The court impaneled the same jury for the soldiers to sit again in December to hear the charges against the four civilians in the customs house.  The witnesses in this case proved rather weak and pathetic.  The jury did not even leave to deliberate after the close of arguments before delivering a verdict of “not guilty.”  The court ordered the arrest of one of the prosecution’s witnesses, a 14 year old boy named Charles Bourgate arrested for perjury.  A court later convicted him and sentenced the boy to 25 lashes.

Parliament Repeals Townshend Duties (mostly)

Even before word of the Boston Massacre reached London, Lord North began pushing through Parliament a partial repeal of the Townshend duties.

North rejected proposals for a full repeal.  He believed that backing down would not solve anything.  During the 1769 debates on repeal, North allegedly said “America must fear you before she can love you …. I will never think of repealing it until I see America prostrate at my feet.”  Clearly he fell into the camp that required Parliament establish its dominance over the colonies before they could reach any resolution.

Lord North
(from Wikimedia)
For this reason, North adamantly opposed a full repeal.  He did, however, agree that the tax on manufactured goods, made little sense.  Over the three years the Townshend Acts had been in force, the total duties collected among all colonies on manufactured goods was less than £5000.  By comparison, the tea taxes had raised over £16,000.  That was true even though British tea imports to the colonies fell to less than half of what they were prior to the implementation of the Townshend Acts.

If a partial repeal could break the already wavering resolve on colonial nonimportation agreements, revenues overall would likely increase.  Britain benefited by promoting export of manufactured goods.  It created jobs in England and produced local revenue that was subject to taxation.

At the same time, North insisted on maintaining the tea tax.  This was the largest revenue producer by far of all the taxes.  It was not a locally manufactured good.  Most importantly, it would force the colonists once and for all to accept that they were subject to taxation.  Parliament had to establish that precedent through an actual tax, not some vague declaration of its authority.

As with many such proposals, members of Parliament attacked North’s proposal from both sides.  Radical Whigs like Isaac Barré and Henry Conway still called for full repeal.  Thomas Pownall, former Governor of Massachusetts and now member of Parliament also joined them in calling for full repeal.  On the other side Welbore Ellis, a member of the Grenville faction, argued that there should be no repeal of anything.  Regardless of any financial issues, any repeal would only show weakness to colonial temper tantrums.

Pownall offered an amendment to North’s bill, essentially making it a full repeal.  Parliament rejected that 204 to 142.  After that vote, North’s bill sailed through the Houses of Commons and Lords with voice votes.  The partial repeal became law on April 12, 1770.

Colonists End Non-Importation Agreements (mostly)

Word of North’s repeal had its intended effect in America.  Non-importation agreements had already faltered. Radical patriots still wanted complete non-importation of anything until all Townshend duties, and in some cases all duties including older sugar act and others, were repealed.

The problem was that these non-importation agreements affected different regions differently.  New England made up much of its trade through smuggled goods, which could continue despite non-importation agreements.  Many of the southern colonies were cheating on the agreements so much that they were not feeling much pain.  New York, however, had seen a massive drop in imports as a result of the agreements, now in their third year.

New York merchants sent around a circular letter calling for the agreements to be revised, so that they would only refuse to import items that were being taxed, at this point, primarily tea and sugar.  When other colonies rejected this change, New York decided in July 1770 to amend their own agreements anyway.  Over the next few months, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and others made similar revisions.  After all, if New York would import these items, merchants in other colonies could not be put at a disadvantage.  With the agreements collapsing, it appeared as if North’s gambit had been a success.  Yes, the colonists would still refuse to drink tea, but that would not impact any businesses in England, other than the East India Company.  Atlantic trade could get back to normal.

To ease tensions even further, North allowed the Quartering Act, which had to be reauthorized every year, to expire in 1770.  That was one less thing to remain a sticking point between Britain and her colonies.  North was well on his way to returning things to calm, normal, and profitable trade.

The radicals tried to point out that accepting these small taxes would set a precedent that meant Britain might levy greater taxes later.  But others argued that the colonies were still boycotting the taxed items.  They just didn’t want to continue boycotting everything they needed from Britain, whether it was taxed or not.

Through much of 1771 and 1772, things seemed to return to normal.  Governors once again allowed colonial legislatures to meet.  The fact that Massachusetts Assembly had to meet in Cambridge rather than Boston still irked the radicals, but it was not exactly a rallying point to set the colony aflame.  Peace returned, the economy improved and everyone seemed to relax.  It short, it looked like North’s strategy was succeeding.

Next week, We will look at regulator movements in the Carolinas as colonists along the western frontier fight for their rights.

Next Episode 35: Carolina Regulators and the Battle of Alamance

Previous Episode 33: The Boston Massacre

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com) for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web Sites

The Boston Massacre Trials: http://www.john-adams-heritage.com/boston-massacre-trials
Boston Massacre Trial Resources: http://www.bostonmassacre.net/trial/index.htm

Boston Massacre Trial: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/bostonmassacre/bostonmassacre.html

Boston Massacre Trials: http://www.famous-trials.com/massacre/196-home

The Adams Papers: http://founders.archives.gov/search/Project%3A%22Adams%20Papers%22

What happened to Privates Montgomery and Kilroy?  http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2013/03/don-hagist-on-pvts-montgomery-and-kilroy.html

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The trial of the British soldiers of the 29th regiment of foot, (1824) (detailed trial notes of the Boston Massacre Trials).

The trial of the British soldiers, of the 29th regiment of foot, (1807) (different version of Boston Massacre Trial notes).

A Fair account of the late unhappy disturbance at Boston in New England, London: B. White, 1770 Loyalist account of the Boston Massacre, written in the days following the event.

Boston Registry Dept. Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, Vol.  18, Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1887.

Orations, delivered at the request of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, to commemorate the evening of the fifth of March, 1770, Boston: Wm. T. Clapp, 1807 (collection of annual speeches remembering the Massacre on its Anniversary, 1771-1783)

Bowdoin, James; Warren, Joseph; & Pemberton, Samuel A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, New York: John Doggett, Jr., 1849 (this is a reprint of the original 1770 pamphlet produced in London by Patriot citizens of Boston).

Chandler, Peleg W. American criminal trials, Vol. 1, Boston: Charles Little & James Brown, 1844 (Boston Massacre Trials).

Cushing, Harry (ed) The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 2, New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1906.

Hosmer, James Samuel Adams, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1913.

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, John (ed) The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774,  London: John Murray 1828 (This book was edited and published using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

Hutchinson, Thomas & Hutchinson, Peter Orlando (ed) The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1884 (Editor is Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Kidder, Frederic History of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770, Albany: Joel Munsell, 1870.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Books Worth Buying

(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Archer, Richard As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, Oxford: Oxford  University Press 2010.

Fowler, William The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1980.

Galvin, John Three Men of Boston, Potomac Books, 1976.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775,  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Zobel, Hiller The Boston Massacre, New York: WW Norton & Co. 1970.


* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).