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Chapter 10:

The Suffolk county convention.

September, 1774.

The province kept its powder for its militia at
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Quarry Hill on a point of land between Medford and Cambridge, then within the limits of Charlestown. In August, the towns had been removing their stock, each according to its proportion. On Thursday morning, the first day of September, at half past 4, about two hundred and sixty men, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Madison, embarked on board thirteen boats at Long Wharf, rowed up Mystic river, landed at Temple's farm, took from the public magazine all the powder that was there, amounting to two hundred and fifty half barrels, and transferred it to the castle. A detachment from the corps brought off two field-pieces from Cambridge.

This forcible seizure, secretly planned and suddenly executed, set the country in a flame. Before evening, large bodies of the men of Middlesex began to collect; and on Friday morning, thousands of freeholders, leaving their guns in the rear, advanced to [115] Cambridge, armed only with sticks, and led by cap-

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tains of the towns, representatives, and committee men. Warren, hearing that the roads from Sudbury to Cambridge were lined by men in arms, took with him as many of the Boston committee as came in his way, crossed to Charlestown, and with the committee of that town hastened to meet the committee of Cambridge. On their arrival, they found Danforth, a county judge and mandamus councillor, addressing four thousand people who stood in the open air round the court house steps; and such order prevailed, that the low voice of the feeble old man was heard by the whole multitude. He finished by giving a written promise, never ‘to be any way concerned as a member of the council.’ Lee, in like manner, confirmed his former resignation. The turn of Phipps, the high sheriff, came next, and he signed an agreement not to execute any precept under the new act of parliament.

Oliver, the lieutenant governor, who resided at Cambridge, repaired to Boston in the ‘greatest distress.’ ‘It is not a mad mob,’ said he to the British admiral; and he warned Gage that ‘sending out troops would be attended with the most fatal consequences.’ Had they marched only five miles into the country, Warren was of opinion that not a man of them would have been saved. Gage decided to remain inactive; writing, as his justification to the ministry, ‘the people are numerous, waked up to a fury, and not a Boston rabble, but the freeholders and farmers of the county. A check would be fatal, and the first stroke will decide a great deal. We should, therefore, be strong, and proceed on a good [116] foundation, before any thing decisive is urged, which

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it is to be presumed will prove successful.’

Oliver returned to Cambridge with the assurance that no troops would appear, and to beg the committee's leave to retain his places. But in the afternoon three or four thousand men surrounded his house, and demanded his resignation. ‘My honor is my first consideration,’ said Oliver; ‘the next my life. Put me to death or destroy my property, but I will not submit.’ Yet, on the first appearance of danger, he yielded to all their demands; then walking into his own court-yard, he reassumed the air of a hero, and comforted himself by repeating, ‘I will do no more, even though they put me to death.’

For three hours, beneath the scorching sun of the hottest day of that summer, the people kept the ranks in which they were marshalled, and their ‘patience, temperance, and fortitude’ were remarked upon as the chief elements ‘of a good soldier.’ They allowed the force of the suggestion, that the governor, in removing the stores of the province, had broken no law; and they voted unanimously their abhorrence of mobs and riots, and of the destruction of private property.

Their conduct showed how capable they were of regular movements, and how formidable they might prove in the field; but rumors reached England of their cowardice and defeat. ‘What a dismal piece of news!’ said Charles Fox to Edmund Burke; ‘and what a melancholy consideration for all thinking men, that no people, animated by what principle soever, can make a successful resistance to military discipline. [117] I was never so affected with any public event,

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either in history or in life. The introduction of great standing armies into Europe has made all mankind irrecoverably slaves. The particular business I think very far from being decided; but I am dejected at heart from the sad figure that men make against soldiers.’ Fox was misinformed. In the British camp in Boston, an apprehension at once prevailed of an invasion from armed multitudes. The guards were doubled; cannon were placed at the entrance of the town, and the troops lay on their arms through the night.

Gage wrote home, that if the ‘king would insist on reducing New England, a very respectable force should take the field.’ He already had five regiments at Boston, one more at the Castle, and another at Salem; two more he summoned hastily from Quebec; he sent transports to bring another from New York; he still required reinforcements from England, and he resolved also to raise ‘irregulars, of one sort or other, in America.’ The sort of irregulars he had in his mind, he explained in a letter to Carleton, who was just then expected to arrive at Quebec from England. ‘I ask your opinion,’ wrote he, ‘what measures would be most efficacious to raise a body of Canadians and Indians, and for them to form a junction with the king's forces in this province.’ The threat to employ the wild Indians in war against the colonists, had been thrown out at the time of Tryon's march against the Regulators of North Carolina, and may be traced still further back, at least to the discussions in the time of Shirley on remedies for the weakness of British power. This is [118] the moment when it was adopted in practice. The com-

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mission to Carleton, as governor of the province of Quebec under the act of parliament, conveyed full authority to levy, arm, and employ not the Canadians only, but ‘all persons whatsoever,’ including the Indian tribes from the coast of Labrador to the Ohio; and to march them against rebels ‘into any one of the plantations in America.’

It was pretended that there were English precedents for the practice; but it was not so. During the French war, England had formed connections with the Indian tribes, through whose territory lay the march of the hostile armies; and warriors of the Six Nations were enrolled and paid rather to secure neutrality than service. But this system had never been extended beyond the bounds of obvious prudence as a measure of self-defence. No war party of savages was ever hounded at Canadian villages. The French, on the other hand, from their superior skill in gaining the love of the Red Men, and from despair at their own relative inferiority in numbers, had in former wars increased their strength by Indian alliances. These alliances the British king and his ministers now revived; and against their own colonies and kindred, wished to loose from the leash their terrible auxiliaries.

The ruthless policy was hateful to every rightminded Englishman, and as soon as the design roused attention, the protest of the nation was uttered by Chatham and Burke, its great representatives; meantime the execution of the sanguinary scheme fell naturally into the hands of the most unscrupulous and subservient English officers, and the most [119] covetous and cruel of the old French partisans.

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Carleton, from the first, abhorred the measure, which he was yet constrained to promote. ‘You know,’ wrote he of the Indians to Gage, ‘what sort of people they are.’ It was true: Gage had himself, in the West and in Canada, grown thoroughly familiar with their method of warfare; and his predecessor in the chief command in America had recorded his opinions of their falseness and cruelty in the most impassioned language of reprobation. But partly from the sense of his own impotence for offensive war, partly from a moral feebleness which could not vividly picture to itself the atrocity of his orders, Gage was unsusceptible of the suggestions of mercy; and without much compunction, he gave directions to propitiate and inflame the Indians by gifts, and to subsidize their war parties. Before he left America, his commands to employ them pervaded the wilderness to the utmost bounds of his military authority, even to the south and south-west; so that the councils of the Cherokees and Choctaws and Mohawks were named as currently in the correspondence of the secretary of state as the German courts of Hesse and Hanau and Anspach.

In the hope to subdue by terror, the intention of employing Indians was ostentatiously proclaimed. Simultaneously with the application of Gage to the province of Quebec, the president of Columbia college, an Englishman by birth and education, published to the world, that in case submission to parliament should be withheld, civil war would follow, and the Indians would be let loose upon the back settlements to scalp the inhabitants along the border. In this [120] kind of warfare there could be no parity between the

Chap. X.} 1774. Sept.

English and the Americans. The cannibal Indian was a dangerous incumbrance in the camp of a regular army, and not formidable in the array of battle; he was a deadly foe only as he skulked in ambush; or prowled on the frontier; or burned the defenceless farm-house; or struck the laborer in the field; or smote the mother at her household task; or crashed the infant's head against a rock or a tree; or tortured the prisoner on whose flesh he was to gorge. The women and children of England had an ocean between them and the Indian's tomahawk, and had no share in the terror that went before his path, or the sorrows that he left behind.

While Gage was writing for troops from England, from New York, and from Quebec, for French Canadian regiments, and for war-parties of Indians, the militia of Worcester county, hearing of the removal of the powder belonging to the province, rose in a mass and began the march to Boston. On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, the volunteers from Hampshire county advanced eastward as far as Shrewsbury. On the smallest computation twenty thousand were in motion. The rumor of the seizure reached Israel Putnam, in Connecticut, with the addition, that the British troops and men-of-war had fired on the people and killed six men at the first shot. Sending forward the report to Norwich, New London, New Haven, New York, and so to Philadelphia, he summoned the neighboring militia to take up arms. Thousands started at his call; but these, like the volunteers of Massachusetts, were stopped by expresses from the patriots of Boston, who sent word [121] that at present nothing was to be attempted. In re-

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turn, assurances were given of most effectual support, whenever it might be required. ‘Words cannot express,’ wrote Putnam and his committee in behalf of five hundred men under arms at Pomfret, ‘the gladness discovered by every one at the appearance of a door being opened to avenge the many abuses and insults which those foes to liberty have offered to our brethren in your town and province. But for counter intelligence, we should have had forty thousand men, well equipped and ready to march this morning. Send a written express to the foreman of this committee, when you have occasion for our martial assistance; we shall attend your summons, and shall glory in having a share in the honor of ridding our country of the yoke of tyranny, which our forefathers have not borne, neither will we; and we much desire you to keep a strict guard over the remainder of your powder, for that must be the great means, under God, of the salvation of our country.’

‘How soon we may need your most effectual aid,’ answered the Boston committee, ‘we cannot determine; but agreeably to your wise proposal, we shall give you authentic intelligence on such contingency. The hour of vengeance comes lowering on; repress your ardor, but let us adjure you not to smother it.’

This rising was followed by many advantages. Every man was led to supply any deficiencies in his equipments; the people gained confidence in one another; and a method was concerted for calling Them into service. Outside of Boston the king's rule was at an end; no man dared to invoke his protection. The wealthy royalists, who entertained no [122] doubt that all resistance would be crushed by the

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massive power of Britain, were silent from fear, or fled to Boston, as their ‘only asylum.’ Even there they did not feel safe.

By the fifth of September Gage had ordered ground to be broken for fortifications on the neck which formed the only entrance by land into Boston. In the evening the selectmen remonstrated, but with no effect. The next day the convention of Suffolk county, which it had been agreed between Samuel Adams and Warren should send a memorial to the general congress, met in Dedham. Every town and district was represented; and their grand business was referred to a committee, of which Warren was the chairman.

While their report was preparing, the day came for holding the county assize at Worcester. On that morning the main street of the town was occupied on each side by about five thousand men, arranged under their leaders in companies, six deep, and extending for a quarter of a mile. Through this great multitude the judges and their assistants passed safely to the court house; but there they were compelled to stay proceedings, and promise not to take part in executing the unconstitutional act of parliament.

An approval of the resistance of the people was embodied in the careful and elaborate report which Warren on the ninth presented to the adjourned Suffolk convention. ‘On the wisdom and on the exertions of this important day,’ suchwere its words, ‘is suspended the fate of the new world and of unborn millions.’ The resolutions which followed, declared that the sovereign who breaks his compact [123] with his people, forfeits their allegiance. By their

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duty to God, their country, themselves and posterity, they pledged the county to maintain their civil and religious liberties, and to transmit them entire to future generations. They rejected as unconstitutional the regulating act of parliament and all the officers appointed under its authority. They enjoined the mandamus councillors to resign their places within eleven days. Attributing to the British commander-in-chief hostile intentions, they directed the collectors of taxes to pay over no money to the treasurer whom he recognised. The governor and council had formerly appointed all military officers; now that the legal council was no longer consulted, they advised the towns to elect for themselves officers of their militia from such as were inflexible friends to the rights of the people. For purposes of provincial government they advised a provincial congress, while they promised respect and submission to the continental congress. In reference to the present hostile appearances on the part of Great Britain, they expressed their determination ‘to act upon the defensive so long as such conduct might be vindicated by reason and the principles of self-preservation, but no longer.’ Should Gage arrest any one for political reasons, they promised to seize every crown officer in the province as hostages; and should it become necessary suddenly to summon assistance from the country, they arranged a system of couriers who were to bear written messages to the selectmen or corresponding committees of the several towns. The resolutions which thus concerted an armed resistance, were unanimously adopted, and forwarded by express [124] to the continental congress for their consideration
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and advice. ‘In a cause so solemn,’ they said, ‘our conduct shall be such as to merit the approbation of the wise and the admiration of the brave and free, of every age and of every country.’

The good judgment and daring of Warren singled him out above all others then in the province, as the leader of ‘rebellion.’ The intrenchments on the neck placed all within the lines at the mercy of the army; yet fearless of heart, he hastened into the presence of Gage, to protest in the name of Suffolk county against the new fortifications that closed the town.

All the while the sufferings of Boston grew more and more severe; yet in the height of distress for want of employment, its carpenters refused to construct barracks for the army. Its inhabitants, who were all invited to share the hospitality of the interior, themselves desired to abandon the town, and even to see it in flames, rather than ‘to be totally enslaved’ by remaining at home; but not knowing how to decide, they looked to congress for advice. Meantime the colony desired to guard against anarchy, by instituting a government of their own, for which they found historical precedents. In the days of William the Deliverer and Mary, Connecticut and Rhode Island had each resumed the charter of government, which James the Second had superseded; the people of Massachusetts now wished to revive their old charter; and continue allegiance to George the Third on no other terms than those which their ancestors had stipulated with Charles the First; ‘otherwise,’ said they, ‘the laws of God, of nature, and of nations [125] oblige us to cast about for safety.’ ‘If the four New

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England governments alone adopt the measure,’ said Hawley of Hampshire, ‘I will venture my life to carry it against the whole force of Great Britain.’ In the congress of Worcester county, a motion was made at once to reassume the old charter and elect a governor. Warren, careful lest the province should be thought to aim at greater advantages than the other colonies might be willing to contend for, sought first the consent of the continental congress; reminding its members that one colony of freemen would be a noble bulwark for all America.

New England had already surmounted its greatest difficulties; its enemies now placed their hopes on the supposed timidity of the general congress.

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