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Chapter 2: the historians, 1607-1783

John Spencer Bassett, Ph.D., Professor of American History in Smith College.

“In these five moneths of my continuance here,” wrote John Pory, of Virginia, in 1619, “there have come at one time or another eleven sails of ships into this river; but fraighted more with ignorance, than with any other marchansize.” The writer was a Cambridge graduate, a man of good standing in England, and had crossed the Atlantic to find that Virginia was not the Virginia of his dreams. Ten years earlier all the incoming ships brought well-born adventurers to Jamestown; now they held only those who intended to produce tobacco. Henceforth the future of the colony was with those who could clear the forests, establish plantations, and withstand the agues of the mosquito-infested lowlands. The leaves of fate for Virginia were not to be thumbed in a book. They stood broad and strong over the rich bottom-lands, where the summer sun seemed to the onlooker to deck their oily surfaces with a coat of silver. In the days of the gentlemen adventurers nine men wrote about the history of the colony; in the days of the tobacco growers a century could not show as many.

The earliest Virginians were full of enthusiasm and wished to tell the coming generations how the colony of Virginia was founded. Their enterprise was popular in England, and he who wrote about it was sure of readers. The men who planted tobacco were prosaic. They were poor men become rich, or well-born men become materialistic, and it was only after many years that any of the forms of culture appeared among them. One of these forms was literature, but it was ever a plant of spindling growth.

The first historian in Virginia, the first in the British colonies, [15] was Captain John Smith. He was twenty-seven years old and a soldier of fortune when he landed at Jamestown in 1607. He was a member of the council, and the council was lawmaker, executive, and judge under the authority of the Company which sent the colony out. According to the enthusiasts who preached colonization three tasks awaited the men of Jamestown: to discover mines as the Spaniards had discovered them in Mexico, to convert the Indians to Christianity, and to plant another England in the New World. The third only was accomplished, and it was accomplished chiefly through the efforts and good sense of Smith.

Of the one hundred and five colonists thirty-five were gentleman adventurers, leaders of the enterprise but useless in the forest. They waited in idleness while labourers built houses and constructed a fort. Then illness came, agues and fluxes, and it seemed that Jamestown would share the fate of Roanoke Island. Smith saved it by turning trader. Going to the Indians with trinkets he secured enough corn to last through the critical years of 1607 to 1609. Some of the high-born adventurers approved of Smith's leadership, but others found him intolerable. He was the son of a Lincolnshire copyholder; and how should he give orders to his betters? Moreover, he was boastful. From mere boyhood he had been seeking his fortune with sword in hand, in France, Italy, and southeastern Europe. He told many stories of what he had done, romantically coloured and tending to proclaim his glory. Posterity does not accept them as true, and we may not be surprised if his companions in the colony found them unbelievable. Thus he had his enemies as well as his friends. In the shifting of parties his own friends became triumphant and Smith was recognized as president for more than a year.

Late in 1609 he returned to England. He had lost the confidence of the Company, and nothing he could do sufficed to regain it. In 1614 he induced some London merchants to send him to the northern coasts with a fishing expedition. While the sailors sought the cod at Monhegan, he sailed along the coast, making an excellent map, and giving names to bays headlands, and rivers. At his request the Prince of Wales gave the name New England to this region, and to New England Smith transferred his affections, seeking support for [16] a colony he wished to plant there. A large expedition was promised, and he received the title “Admirall of New England” ; but nothing came of his hopes save the title, which he invariably attached to his name thereafter.

It was evidently by accident that Smith became a historian. In the spring of 1608 Wingfield, one of his opponents at Jamestown, a cousin by marriage to the Earl of Southampton, departed for England, his mind full of his wrongs. Two months later another ship departed, carrying a long letter from Smith to his friends filled with a hopeful account of the colony. This letter was handed about among the members of the Company and late in the year came into the hands of one who had it published with the title, A true relation of such Occurrences and accidents of Noate as Hath Hapned in Virginia since the first planting of that Collony. A preface explained: “Somewhat more was by him written, which being as I thought (fit to be private) I would not adventure to make it publicke.” The True relation is the first printed American book, and of all Smith's writings it is the one which posterity most esteems. It is not boastful, or controversial, although it is very personal. The style is direct, vivid, and generally simple. It was well received, and seems to have awakened literary ambitions in its author.

Smith's second effort was made in 1612, when he published A map of Virginia. With a description of the Countrey. It contained a good map of the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, and an account of the natural history of Virginia, together with supplementary chapters on events in the colony from June, 1608, to the end of 1609. These accounts were written by some of his friends and are in his praise. Smith calls them “examinations” and had them taken down while their authors were in London. They were evidently prepared to revive his waning fortunes. In 1616, after his return from New England, he published A description of New England, and in 1620 New Englands Trials, a tract on the fisheries. The Trials was brought down to date in 1622, and an account of the colony at Plymouth was included in it.

Smith was now a confirmed hack writer. Possibly he had Purchas and Hakluyt in mind when in 1624 he gave to the world a book containing all that he knew about Virginia. It [17] was a narrative drawn from several sources. First, he used his own works, and when they were exhausted he reproduced, or culled from, any relation he had at hand. The whole bore the title The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the summer Isles. Relatively an unimportant part of it is written by Smith, but he does not pretend to have written the parts he did not write. Three other books completed his literary career. One was called An Accidence or the path-way to experience, a tract which appeared in 1626 and was reissued several times, not always with the same title. It contained a description of the most observable features of a ship of war, and was designed for young seamen. In 1630 was published The true travels, adventures, and observations of Captaine Iohn Smith; and in 1631 came another tract, Advertisements for the Unexperienced planters of New-England. In the year it was published, 21 June, he died in London and was buried in St. Saviour's Church.

Two serious charges of falsification have been brought against Smith, one in connection with the Pocahontas incident, and the other in reference to his True travels. Late in 1607 he made a trading expedition among the Indians and was captured and carried before Powhatan. In the True relation he says he was well treated by the great chief and sent back to Jamestown with all kindness. In the Generall Historie, he says that he was about to be slain by the order of Powhatan, when Pocahontas, the chieftain's daughter, threw her arms over his prostrate body and begged for his life so effectively that he was set free. The case is unpleasant for Smith. Not only is the matter omitted from his early works, but it is not mentioned by any other writer of the comparatively large group of contemporary historians of Virginia. Even Hamor, who has much to say about Pocahontas, says nothing about a rescue of Captain Smith. It is conceivable that Smith may have omitted the story from the True relation, lest it should produce a bad effect in England, but he could hardly have kept it from the other settlers at Jamestown, and if the story was once current there, where Pocahontas was well known, it must have been repeated by one of the other writers. By every canon of good criticism we must reject the story. Smith has also been accused of inventing most of the incidents which [18] reflect his glory in the True travels. The charge rests on an alleged misuse of geographical names and on the alleged impossible form of a grant of a coat of arms which Smith said was given him by Sigismund of Transylvania and which was accepted as genuine at the Heralds' College in London. The criticism1 is very sweeping. If it is well taken our historian degenerated in the latter part of his career to a literary mountebank, but the matter may still await a more judicious investigation than it has yet received.

Turning from Virginia2 we shall not find any considerable early historian in another colony outside of New England. So far as the region south of the Hudson is concerned idealism in regard to planting colonies exhausted itself with the splendid dreams of Raleigh, Hakluyt, and Edward Sandys. Lord Baltimore and Penn, it is true, attempted to revive it in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but their colonists did not respond to their efforts. These colonies were settled by as practical a class of farmers and traders as those who brought the river bottoms of Virginia under the sway of King Tobacco. Throughout this region literature had to wait on material prosperity before it could find a home.

The New Englanders, however, were idealists from the beginning. This, of course, means that their ministers and leading men were idealists. The majority of the inhabitants were as matter of fact as the majority in any other colony. But the ruling class were committed to the defence of an idealistic theory, and they naturally wished its history preserved. Out of this impulse came several historical works which we could ill afford to lose. All things considered, the Puritans made better historians than the Virginians. It is true their writings abound in superstition, but the superstitions were honestly set down as they were honestly held by the people of the age. [19] They are, therefore, a necessary part of the history of the times. Moreover, the Puritans, ministers and godly laymen alike, wrote a solid and connected kind of history, and they wrote enough of it to furnish a good picture of the times.

Two minor authors introduce the early group of New England historians. The real name of the first is not known, but his book is called, from its publisher, “Mourt's” Relation, a description of affairs at Plymouth from its settlement until the date of publication, 1622. The other book, which appeared in 1624 with the title Good news from New England, was by Edward Winslow, one of the leading colonists. They are both short accounts of the daily doings of the men who planted the first permanent New England colony; and they are comparable in style and scope to Smith's True relation, and to any of the other early narrations of Virginia or Maryland. They were written to inform friends in England of the progress of the Pilgrim settlements.

After “Mourt” and Winslow we come to two historians whose excellence entitles them to first rank among the earliest writers of their kind. They wrote quite as much as Captain John Smith, and their writings are more to be esteemed. No one has cast doubts on the accuracy of William Bradford, of Plymouth, or of John Winthrop, of Massachusetts Bay. While not historical compositions as such, their books are, in vivid and sustained human interest, as well as in the power of depicting the conditions of the first settlements, a most adequate and successful kind of history. Each is a journal written by a man who stood at the head of affairs, whose life was so important in his day that we have in it a reflection of the progress of the important things of the colony in which he lived.

William Bradford was one of the Mayflower passengers whose sober judgment and integrity had won for him the confidence of the Pilgrims ere they sailed for America. In 1621 he was chosen governor, and he held the office by annual re-election until his death in 1657, except for five years when, as Winthrop said, “by importunity he gat off.” He believed it his duty to write about what he had seen and known of the trial and success of the men who, under divine guidance, had made Plymouth a fact. He began to write about 1630 and proceeded at so leisurely a gait that in 1646 he had only reached [20] the year 1621. Four years later his account had come to the year 1646, but here his efforts ceased. His work is known as The history of Plymouth plantation.

Neither Bradford nor his immediate successors made an effort to publish the history. They seem to have considered it a document to be kept for the use of future historians. It was, in fact, freely used for this purpose by his nephew, Nathaniel Morton, in a book called New England's memorial, published in 1669. It remained in the hands of the family of the author for a hundred years and finally came into the possession of the Rev. Thomas Prince, who used it in writing his Chronological history, published in 1736. Hutchinson also used it in preparing his History. When Prince died he left the manuscript, with many other valuable writings, in the tower of the Old South Church, in Boston. During the Revolution the British troops used this church for a riding school, and Prince's carefully collected library was dispersed. The British gone, such books as could be found were gathered together, but no trace of Bradford's manuscript was discovered. It was long believed to be lost, but it found its way to London, where it came at last to the library of the Bishop of London, and for many years lay unnoticed at Fulham Palace. In 1844 Wilberforce published a book on the Protestant Church in America, in which he referred to the manuscript. Four years later appeared Anderson's History of the colonial Church, an English work, and in it also was a reference to the manuscript. Seven years later two gentlemen of Boston came across the reference in Anderson's book. An investigation was made, and the identity of the Fulham manuscript with Bradford's was completely established. The Bishop of London held that only an act of Parliament could restore it to the place whence it had been taken. He made, however, no objection to a request that the Massachusetts Historical Society be allowed to publish the manuscript, and in 1856 that society gave the world the first complete publication of Bradford's book. It was enriched with annotations by the learned Charles Deane. In 1867 another request was made that the bishop should surrender the manuscript, but the reply was the same as in the first instance. In 1896 the then Bishop of London relented, and Bradford's manuscript was given up without an act [21] of Parliament. It was received in Boston with high honour and much joy on the part of learned men and was placed in the State Library, a chief ornament of the archives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In 1912 it was published in a final and authoritative form by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The history of Plymouth plantation is a Puritan book in the best sense. Its author was a man of intelligence, whose moderate educational opportunities had been supplemented by earnest and industrious private studies. He knew the Latin, Greek, and Dutch languages, and in his old age taught himself Hebrew so that he might read the oracles of God in the form in which they originally appeared. His History is loosely annalistic, but a direct and simple style gives charm, as a sincere faith in Puritanism gives purity, to the entire book. He who would understand the spirit of old Plymouth would do well to read Bradford through.

What Bradford's History is to Plymouth, John Winthrop's journal is to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The author, more than any other man, was the founder of the colony. He was an earnest Puritan, a supporter of the ideas of Hampden and Pym, and by natural ability he was a leader of men. He left Cambridge before graduation, married at seventeen, became a justice of the peace at eighteen, and was soon a man of note in his shire, Suffolk, where he was lord of the manor of Groton. In 1630 he gave up all this, as well as a lucrative position as attorney in the Court of Wards, and threw in his lot with the men who were to settle Massachusetts. He was the colony's first governor, and through annual re-elections served it for twelve years, finally dying in office in 1649. Rev. John Cotton described him as

a governour . . . who has been to us as a brother, not usurping authority over the church; often speaking his advice, and often contradicted, even by young men, and some of low degree; yet not replying, but offering satisfaction also when any supposed offences have arisen; a governour who has been to us as a mother, parentlike distributing his goods to bretheren and neighbours at his first coming; and gently bearing our infirmities without taking notice of them.

[22] The life of John Winthrop was worthy of this tribute in all respects.

Introspection was a Puritan trait, and the first governor at Boston had his share. Early in life he kept a little diary which he called Experiencia, a record of very deep spirituality. His letters show that he thought God directed his love and marriage. It was in the spring of 1630 that he embarked for Massachusetts, and while aboard ship, “riding at the Cowes, near the Isle of Wight,” on Easter Monday, he began a journal which he kept faithfully until a few months before his death. It is filled with colony affairs, but its title, A history of New England, is misleading. It says little about any other colony than that over which the writer ruled, and the form is not that of history proper. Yet it is a valuable record of the life of the time, and presents good expositions of most of the problems of the early colony. While it is not written in so interesting a style as Bradford's book, it is in a fair diary manner, rarely becoming tedious to a reader who has the taste for the fine points of a contemporary document. It is Puritan in a liberal sense. Some New England writers can never forget their peculiar type of religion; but Winthrop discusses business matters like a man of business and public affairs like a man accustomed to weigh the fortunes of state in an even scale.

Like the early Virginia historians, Bradford and Winthrop were English-bred. Their culture was English and it was superior to that which the succeeding generation, born in America, could be expected to have. Two historians, however, Captain Edward Johnson and Nathaniel Morton, stand between them and the historians who are of purely American birth and training. Both were born in England, but they arrived in Massachusetts at such an early age that they were colony-trained to all intents and purposes.

Johnson was a man of strong natural traits, self-made, and representing the middle class in colonial society. He was a ship-wright by trade, and showed ability in leadership. He was the chief founder of the town of Woburn and its representative in the General Court. He gave loyal allegiance to the ministers, and was dazzled by their piety and learning. Puritanism offered him complete satisfaction, and he willingly [23] accepted its dogmas. “You are not set up for tolerating times!” he exclaimed in the face of certain signs that the hold of the system was weakening. To preserve the influence of the early doctrines he wrote Wonder-working Providences of Zion's Saviour in New England, published in 1654. We read it today to learn to what degrees of credulity the early New Englanders went in their acceptance of the power of the supernatural over human affairs. To the author and his contemporaries the book was plain history, a record of the actualities of life. The chief merit of the Providences for those who rightly value a human document is that it is a picture of early Puritan life as seen by an average man. Winthrop and Bradford lived at the centre of things. The problems of governors and assemblies concerned them. Johnson was interested in the planting of churches, the life of the towns, and the affairs of ordinary people, and it has been well said that while he “shows little precision in anything but his creed; yet his book is one of the most curious that an inquirer into the manners and institutions of our fathers can peruse.” 3

Nathaniel Morton was a trusted nephew of Governor Bradford and became secretary of the Plymouth colony. Possessed of fair ability, he was long a man of note and a preserver of Plymouth tradition. In 1669 he published, as we have seen, New England's memorial, a history of the colony. For the early years he drew directly on his uncle's book, transcribing large portions of it. Until the discovery of the Fulham manuscript, Morton's book was the best source for Bradford's text. The part which was concerned with the years following Bradford was written by Morton himself, and is meagre and disappointing, but Johnson and he were long the standard historians for the average New Englander. They may be considered the last of the early group, and in their manner and purposes they looked forward to the second group, men who were either born in America or who arrived after the American ideals were well enough formed to master the newcomers.

The second group, then, was American in a sense unknown to the first group. Its subjects were events rooted in American life, and save as American government and conditions were [24] dependent on relations with the mother country, this phase of history had no relation to England. It opened, naturally, with treatments of the most striking incidents of the day, Indian wars and internal disorders. Here were struggles calling for the best efforts of the settlers, struggles in which horrors and signal victories had followed one another in dramatic swiftness. Historians arose to write about them with marked ability; and their books were read far and wide. Then a generation followed during which the colonies grew in wealth and refinement. A leisure class was developed, the struggles of the assemblies against the king's prerogative gradually caused the formation of colony parties with colony ideals and aspirations, and in due time men appeared who undertook to tell the stories of colony development. These men belong to the later colonial period. In reflection and the power of dealing with materials, they are superior to the mere depicters of episodes. If their works are less readable, it must be remembered that their tasks are more difficult. It is easier to describe the Deerfield raid and the fate of the captured inhabitants than to trace the development of a political unit.

New England did not have the only Indian wars in America, but she alone had worthy historians of them. The struggles of 1622 and 1642 in Virginia, the Tuscarora War in North Carolina, and the Yemassee War in South Carolina, to say nothing of the wars of the Iroquois in New York, were as worthy of historical description as the struggle known as King Philip's War in New England, but they found no pen to describe them for the contemporary public. Bacon's rebellion in Virginia was well narrated for posterity, but the narratives long remained in manuscript; and the important struggles between South Carolina and Georgia on the one side and Spanish Florida on the other have not to this day been made the subjects of adequate treatment in a readable form.

In New England, on the other hand, historical effort for popular information was fairly abundant. Seven men appeared to describe the horrors of savage warfare, filling their pages with thrilling stories which the public read with eagerness. The first was Captain John Mason, whose History of the Pequot War, based upon his own experience, was published in 1677. It is written in cold-blooded indifference to the feelings of [25] compassion, and we shiver today at the vengeance of the whites; but it raised no qualms in the men of the seventeenth century, who were brought up on sterner ideas. In the same year was published the Rev. William Hubbard's Narrative of the troubles with the Indians of New England. Like the author's History of New England, it abounds in errors, but it was widely read. It appeared as Philip's War was drawing to a close, at a time when the people were especially excited against the savages. It had a worthy companion in Benjamin Church's Entertaining passages relating to Philip's War, published in 1716, a powerful book by one who took a leading part in the struggle he describes. Another work that was widely read was Samuel Penhallow's Wars of New England with the Eastern Indians, 1726. The author was chief justice of New Hampshire.

With 1690, when the French and Indian wars began, a new kind of warfare fell on the colonies. Bands of Indians, sometimes accompanied by Frenchmen, came out of Canada, destroyed isolated settlements, and escaped to the north with large trains of captives. The victims suffered much from the strenuous marches of their captors, and from actual cruelty. Most of them were redeemed after years of exile, and they returned with thrilling stories in their mouths. Here was a new field for the historian, and it was well worked.4

A distinct place must be reserved for Daniel Gookin, a Virginia Puritan who moved to Massachusetts to escape the persecutions of Governor Berkeley. He was made superintendent of Indians in his new home and showed a humane and intelligent interest in the natives that entitles him to rank with John Eliot. The retaliation of the whites in Philip's War grieved him sorely, but the tide of wrath was so strong that his protests only made him unpopular. He wrote two books on the Indians, Historical collections of the Indians in New England, written in 1674 (published 1792), and The doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians, completed in 1677 (published 1836). Gookin also wrote a History of New England which remained in manuscript and was unhappily destroyed without having been published. The author was a man of great breadth of mind and not deeply touched by the [26] narrow ecclesiasticism of the day. He was also in a position to know about the public events of his time. His history of New England, had it been published, must have given us an important view of the subject.

Another historian of the Indians was Dr. Cadwallader Colden, a man of learning and high position in Philadelphia and New York. He settled in New York in 1710, where he enjoyed the confidence of the authorities and was promoted to important offices. He had a deep interest in the superior organization of the Iroquois and wrote about them in his History of the five Indian nations (1727-47). Through great industry he collected a large amount of valuable information about these Indians, and the book is still a mine of facts, although the research of later times has rendered many of its statements unsatisfactory. In this connection mention should be made of John Lawson's History of North Carolina, published first as New voyage to Carolina in 1709. It was written by a man of excellent sense who had opportunity to know the Indians and natural resources of North Carolina, but it contains little about civil affairs. Lawson was English born and bred, and lived only a few years after his arrival, but he had a right to the name “American,” since he gave his life to the service of the colony. He was murdered by the Indians in 1711.

It seems certain that most of the books on the Indians were written in answer to a popular demand. The same could not be said of the political histories, which began to appear in the first half of the eighteenth century. The impulse behind such works is perhaps best stated in the words of Stith, of Virginia, who said that he began to write his history as “a noble and elegant entertainment for my vacant hours, which it is not in my power to employ more to my own satisfaction, or the use and benefit of my country.” Few of the historians of this class had a large number of readers. Two wrote about Virginia, Robert Beverley and the Rev. William Stith. The former was a wealthy planter who saw while in London a poor account of the colony by the British historian and pamphleteer, John Oldmixon, and undertook to write a better. His book, A history of Virginia (1705), was hastily prepared without any study of documents or other respectable sources. Its chief value lies in the shrewd and just observations the author [27] made on Virginia life and history out of his own knowledge. Stith was connected with prominent persons in the colony and had been president of William and Mary College. His History of the first discovery and settlement of Virginia was published in 1747. The volume brought the story of the colony down to the fall of the London Company, 1624. It was accurate and based on the records of the Company, and is one the most modern of our colonial histories in its method. But Stith had no sense of proportion. His book was so full of details that his subscribers found it unreadable and failed to continue their support. No second part was published.

For the middle colonies we have two histories still remembered by posterity, a History of New York (1757), by William Smith and a History of New Jersey (1765) by Samuel Smith. The author of the former was a high official in New York and had much ability. He was a tory, and the unpopularity he acquired on that account was shared by his book. Unable to read Dutch, he had an inadequate idea of the early history of the colony; but for the English period the book has maintained an honourable position to this day. It is well written and, making due allowances, it is equal to the standard of historical literature in England before Hume. Samuel Smith was an industrious and conscientious Quaker, and his history was written from the point of view of the middle class of society. It is still regarded as reliable but the style is heavy.

In New England during this period political history did not engage the attention of historians as much as Indian history. Besides Gookin, whose unpublished history has been mentioned, three men deserve notice. One was the already noticed Rev. William Hubbard, whose General history of New England did not find a publisher until 1815. The earlier part is taken with the slightest amount of change from Morton's Memorial and Winthrop's journal. After these two sources are exhausted the book becomes meagre and inaccurate.

A much better writer was the Rev. Thomas Prince, of Boston, whom we have encountered in connection with Bradford's manuscript. The preservation of documents and rare pamphlets was to him a labour of love, and by industry he collected a large library of valuable materials. Many of the books are now preserved in the Boston Public Library. Prince's devotion to [28] history is recognized in the name of the Prince Society, of Boston, one of the most honoured of American historical organizations. The result of his efforts at writing history was a Chronological history of New England, in the form of annals, the first volume of which appeared in 1736. It began with the creation of man on the sixth day and proceeded rapidly to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Then it moved with great detail through the events of the succeeding decade, until a hint from the publisher that the book was becoming too large brought it to an end with 7 September, 1630. The poor sale of the volume discouraged the author, who did not resume his work until 1755. He then began a continuation in serial parts at sixpence each; but the sale was so small that he gave up the project after three numbers had been issued.

Prince's work is a delight to the genealogist and the antiquarian, for precision marks every step he took.

I cite my vouchers to every passage, “he said,” and I have done my utmost, first to find out the truth, and then to relate it in the clearest order. I have laboured after accuracy; and yet I dare not say that I am without mistake; nor do I desire the reader to conceal any he may possibly find.

No modern scientific historian could speak better. If Prince lacked literary ability, the want was made up in his strict sense of accuracy; and we should remember that it is rare that the world has a man who is endowed with both characteristics.

Both Hubbard and Prince were ministers and wrote with a full sense of the importance of the churches in the New England life. Their outlook was biased, although not intentionally so. From them we turn at the very close of the colonial period to a New England historian as free from this influence as Colden or William Smith. Thomas Hutchinson was descended from Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, who was exiled from Massachusetts in 1638 because she defied the Puritan hierarchy, and he was quite free from religious narrowness. Born in 1711, he graduated from Harvard in 1727 and began a prosperous career as a merchant. He won the confidence of the Boston people, who sent him to the assembly, where he distinguished himself by opposing the issue of paper money. He was for a long [29] time the most popular man in the colony, and he was promoted from one high office to another, becoming lieutenant-governor in 1758, chief justice in 1760, acting governor in 1769, and governor in 1771.

Hutchinson loved Massachusetts, but he was intellectually a conservative, and he did not accept the theory on which the colonists rested their resistance to the king and Parliament. He wished to preserve the Empire undivided, and hoped that some plan might be found by which America might have home rule without renouncing the name British. He was opposed in principle to the Stamp Act, but disapproved of the violence with which it was received. A Boston mob, angered by false reports against him, wrecked his house, destroyed his furniture, and scattered his books and papers through the streets. The assembly paid him for the property loss, but he never recovered the good will of Boston. He tried to reconcile king and colony, but neither was in a mood to be reconciled. Early in 1774 he went to England, giving place to General Gage. He was well received, and the king allowed him a handsome pension, while Oxford conferred upon him the degree of Doctor Civilis Juris. But as the months passed and the war became inevitable, Hutchinson's pleas for peace made him unpopular. King, ministers, and society generally were for punishing the disobedient colonies. The protests of the exiled governor became weaker and weaker, and he finally retired from public notice. With his family he led an unhappy existence in London until his death in 1780.

In the eighteenth century history was an honored branch of literature. Hume, who published his great history between 1754 and 1761, was made independent by the sales, while Robertson, who was just coming into his fame, found himself both flattered and wealthy. History had not yet fallen into the hands of those who were to reduce it to a dull statement of facts which nobody reads except those who wish to incorporate them in other statements of fact. Nor had the world yet been submerged by the modern deluge of imaginative literature. It was in 1764, while Hume and Robertson were at the height of their freshly won fame, that Hutchinson published the first volume of his History of the colony of Massachusetts Bay. The second was in preparation when the Stamp Act mob destroyed [30] the house of the author. Among the debris recovered from the streets was the soiled manuscript of this volume. It was completed and published in 1767. The third volume was not written until the governor had taken up his residence in London, and it was not published until 1828. Hutchinson's History is not faultless. He was bitterly denounced by Otis and Samuel Adams, and he did not show an ability to appreciate them. He left untouched some important phases of Massachusetts history, and was indifferent to social and industrial changes. In spite of these faults, for which excuses can be made, he was the best American historian of his time. He treated narrative history in a philosophical manner and wrote simple and natural sentences whose charm endures to this day. After he left our shore many a year passed before we had a historian who could equal him in the power to understand and narrate the story of American political life. [31]

1 Its most notable champion is Mr. Lewis L. Kropf, who asserts that when he communicated a copy of Smith's patent to the Hungarian Heraldic Society it was received with an outburst of laughter. Mr. Kropf pronounces Smith “an impudent forger.” See Kropf, Lewis L., Captain John Smith of Virginia, notes and Queries, London, 1890, Seventh Series, vol. IX; also American historical review, vol. III, p. 737. A series of letters by the Rev. Edward D. Neill and William Wirt Henry, beginning in the Richmond Dispatch, 12 July, 1877, and continuing through several weeks, threshed out this controversy without settling anything.

2 For the works of the early minor Virginia historians see the Bibliography.

3 Winthrop, History of New England, ed. Savage, vol. I, p. 100 n.

4 See also Book I, Chap. i.

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