Chapter 4 King Philip's was and the loss of the Charter.

From: Boston By Henry Cabot Lodge

Published by Longmans, Green, and Co, New York. 1902

Free Trial - World Deluxe Membership


THUS the contest ended for the time, but it was oniy for the time, and owing to particular conditions. England just then had other matters to think of than the New England colonies, and so for ten years the political relations between Massachusetts and the mother country were almost nothing. Still the contumacious colonies were never wholly forgotten, for complaints were continually made against them in regard to the violation of the Navigation Act, and Gorges and Mason continued to press their claims to the territory of Maine and New Hampshire, thus keeping alive the memory of the stubborn disobedience of the distant American Puritans. Finally the Privy Council came to a decision in regard to the various complaints and suggestions, and once more entered upon an active policy in regard to New England. One Edward Randolph, who was destined to play an important part in Boston during the next few years, a tool of the Court, and possessed of much talent for spying and intrigue, was sent out as an agent to Massachusetts in March, 1673, with copies of the petitions and complaints of Mason and Gorges. He landed in Boston in June, 1676, to begin his work; but the full meaning of his mission was hardly appre dated at the moment, for evil as his coming was, a worse, and a far more ferocious enemy than. lie could be was already upon the colony.

Just a year before Randolph’s arrival, on the 21st of June, 1675, a messenger from Marshfield— a little town to the southward — had galloped into Boston bearing a letter from Governor Winslow of Plymouth to Governor Leverett. Since the thorough slaughter of the early days at the Pequot fort, in the language of the old chronicler, “the land had rested forty years;" but this messenger riding through Boston streets in hot haste brought tidings that the long quiet was at last broken, and that the most desolating Indian war which the colony would ever know, had begun. Winslow had not asked for troops, but none the less the town was astir at once over the news, and knew well what it meant.

The governor of Massachusetts at the time was John Leverett, who had been a Captain of Horse under Cromwell all through the great rebellion; and upon him and the Boston members of the council the conduct of the war now devolved. Governor Leverett lived at the corner of what are now Court and Washington Streets, where stand to-day great buildings devoted to business, but which was then rather on the edge of the main body of the town. Here in those pleasant summer days of 1675, all was bustle and commotion and preparation for war. Where stocks and bonds are now sold, and where a vast business involving millions is daily transacted, sturdy men gathered then with musket, pike, and sword to march forth into the wilderness to defend their homes. The volunteers were called out, and the traiiibands were ordered to be ready for a draft. The old Cromwellian spirit which made the great Protector’s soldiers feared throughout time world was still strong among the American Puritans, and both colony and town showed themselves able to take the field with great promptness.

The ill news had come on the 21st, and on the 26th two of the companies marched for Swansea, where the war had broken out. We get some idea of the character of the men from a little incident that befell them when they reached the Neponset River, at a point about twenty miles from Boston. At that moment there was a very complete eclipse of the moon; and some of the soldiers thought it of evil omen, and that the darkness on the disc looked like the figure of an Indian scout. Others, however, were reminded of what Crassus had said when the moon was eclipsed in Capricorn: “that he was much more afraid of Sagittarius than of Capricornus.” Daniel Henchman, who had been a teacher in the Boston Latin School, commanded one of the two companies, and hence perhaps the classic remembrance, which is none the less a typical story. Time army as a whole was in fact thoroughly representative of the people. The second generation had now grown up to do the fighting, while the older men who had led the people into the wilderness still formed the council and gave directions. The soldiers were fair examples of the community which they went forth to defend. The officers were the men of property and standing in the community, while the rank and file were the farmers, the mechanics, and the shopkeepers, well educated for those days, and deeply religious, but none the less able to march far and fight hard. They went to a severe loss took it, and finally broke the power of that formidable tribe. Thus the struggle rolled on, with massacres and ambuscades and much fierce fighting on the frontier, and with days of fasting and prayer, and much raising of men for the army in Boston. At last the colonists prevailed. On the 29th of June, 1677, there was a public thanksgiving for the victories; and on the 12th of August, Philip, the Wampanoag chief and the author of the war, was at last overtaken and slain. With a population of about twenty-five thousand, Massachusetts had lost in battle during the war from five hundred to six hundred of her fighting-men, of whom over one hundred, including four captains, were from Boston, while of the heavy taxation made necessary by the war, Boston had borne a third. It was in the midst of this struggle, when the colonists were fighting for life and for the preservation of English supremacy, that :Randolph arrived to begin the second attack upon the charter. The time selected and time man chosen for the work were both characteristic of the Stuart government, a happy combination of mean heartlessness and treacherous intrigue. There was no ray of sympathy in Randolph for his countrymen engaged in a desperate war, but he was a good deal impressed by the appearance of their troops, of which he wrote, — “Each troop [of horse] consists of sixty horse besides officers; and they are well mounted and completely armed with back, breast, and headpiece, buff-coat, sword, carbine, and pistols, each troop distinguished by their coats. The foot also are very well furnished with swords, muskets, and battle in discharge of their plain duty to Church and State, and they carried into the business of war the same grim determination amid relentless thoroughness which they showed in all the affairs of life.

The little army reached Swansea by forced marches in forty-eight hours, and destroyed the village and wigwam of King Philip, as they called the leader of the Indians ; but the great chief himself unluckily escaped. They then made a treaty with the Narragansett tribe, and soon after returned to Boston, while the war drifted away from the south to the towns on the more western frontier. Boston itself was too distant from the scene of war to suffer from a direct attack; but it was the centre from which troops went out, the spot where the forces were organized, and where all the conflicting rumours came. These rumours were generally terrible, but they were hardly worse than the truth. One village after another was surprised and burned; the men were slaughtered, and the women and children carried off into captivity. More than once the troops were caught in a deadly ambush, and “Bloody Brook” still retains in its name the memory of a fight where the “Flower of Essex,” as the company was called, lost fifty-nine men. To Boston also were brought the prisoners, and there many of time Indians whom the magistrates esteemed guilty were put to death on the gallows. The war assumed such proportions during the summer that the colonists soon found they were fighting for life. The powerful Narragansetts broke their treaty; a thousand men were raised on the first call for troops, and on the 13th of December, 1676, the colonists stormed the Narragansett fort, and after bandoleers. The late wars have hardened their infantry, made them good firemen, and taught them the ready use of their arms.”

The Puritans of New England like their brethren in England were a fighting people, and were true to the traditions of Cromwell; but although this savage war had given them an effective army, the loss of men and the burden of taxation had weakened their capacity for resistance to the attacks of the Crown. The times were unfortunately ripe for such work as Randolph was set to do. His first visit however was a short one. He laid before the magistrates the king’s ‘etter of March 10, 1676, and copies of the complaints of Mason and Gorges, informing them that an answer must be sent in a month. Then after prowling about among the New Hampshire towns to gather up all the complaints he could scrape together against the Massachusetts government, he sailed for England on the 30th of July. The people held a meeting on the 9th of August, drew up a brief declaration as to their rights, and sent Messrs. Stoughton and Bulkeley as agents to England to plead their cause. When the agents arrived they found that Randolph had been at work, and that the minds of the persons in authority were already prejudiced against them. The chief-justice declared that Massachusetts had no claim to either Maine or New Hampshire, and that the grant of Maine belonged to the heirs of Ferdinando Gorges. With prompt shrewdness the colony bought up the Gorges rights to Maine for £1,200; but although this bold. step saved to them a vast territory, it prejudiced them more than ever in the eyes of the king. The rights to New Hampshire they unfortunately were unable to buy from Mason.

It is not worth while to follow the details of the struggle which now ensued. The conditions which had enabled Massachusetts to make a successful resistance to English power in the clays of Charles I., and again thirty years later, had greatly changed. The colony itself was weakened by the war and the consequent burden of taxation. With these misfortunes alone they might have struggled on, but they now had in addition a determined enemy who never allowed the attack upon them to slumber, and they were also divided among themselves, which was in reality more fatal than anything else. It is not very easy now to understand the character and motives of Randolph, to whom more than to anybody else was due the downfall of the charter. He appears to have been a ready tool of the English Government, and was sent out to look into the affairs of the colony probably for the sake of giving him some employment. But in so doing he pursued the Massachusetts people with a venomous hostility and a tenacity of purpose which it is now difficult to comprehend. It seems as if some personal grievance must have spurred him on to the execution of his official duties in a manner which was something more than zealous. Whether his reception had been of a kind to arouse his personal animosity, or whether he had private wrongs to redress, does not appear; but there can be no doubt of the vigour with which he pursued the attack. In nine years he made rio less than eight voyages to New England, no slight undertaking in those days of small vessels and of long and stormy passages. He came out the second time as Collector of Customs, and proceeded to seize vessels; but the juries refused to condemn them, and he himself was cast in damages. Then came another voyage to England, some more complaints, and further pressing demands from the Crown. In Massachusetts, and in her outlying territories also, Randolph did what no previous enemy of the colony had ever thought of doing, 'by labouring to build up a party in favour of the Crown and opposed to the charter government. In this project he succeeded in no slight measure, for the old unity of resistance to any power which threatened the independence of the Puritan State had departed. The ancient spirit which made the colony in its earliest and. weakest days ready to face the power of England, and if beaten to retreat into the wilderness, had died down. Business prosperity had raised up a class of men who had accumulated property, and who therefore feared disorder, or anything which seemed likely to disturb the existing state of things. This party of timidity and moderation, although not strong in numbers, had weight in other ways, and was led not only by worthy persons like Bradstreet and Stoughton, but by schemers like Joseph Dudley, who saw prospects of personal advancement in loyalty to the Crown, and who were quite destitute of the fervid faith which had founded the settlement in the wilderness, and to which relenting or compromise was impossible. The great 'body of the people were true to the charter, and were ready for extreme measures; but although strong in numbers they were weaker than their opponents, in position and wealth, as well as in the arts of political management. The result was that the struggle soon became an un equal one. On the one side was a determined enemy, pushing steadily forward toward a single object; on the other, a policy fluctuating between a general lack of energy and an occasional decided but often ill-advised resistance. Gradually, however, one point after another was yielded; and as the colonies fell back, the demands of the Crown advanced. The Puritans nevertheless although ready fighters were by no means bad negotiators. They understood fully the value of delay; and their clumsy rhetoric and long-drawn petitions and appeals which seemed to concede much and really gave up very little, were all well calculated to spin out the time and take advantage of the chapter of accidents which had favoured them so signally in the past.

Thus arguing, and yielding inch by inch, they managed to put off the dreaded fate for nearly nine years; but at last the blow fell. On June 18, 1684, the Court of Chancery made a decree vacating the charter, and giving the defendants till the next term to appeal'. They appeared accordingly at that term, and asked for time to appear to plead; but the Lord Keeper refused the motion, and finally judgment was entered. When the decree was known in Massachusetts in January, 1685, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and made an address to the king; but all men felt that the old system had received its death-blow, The machine of government moved on mechanically for another year; and then while the last General Court elected under the charter was still in session, a frigate arrived bearing Randolph and a commission for the officers of a new provisional government, in which Joseph Dudley was to be President. The General Court made a reply to this commission, and then adjourned to the second Wednesday in October, never to meet again under the provisions of the old charter.

Under the government which thus came to an end in the summer of 1686, and which represented so much suffering, so much faith, and so much courage, Boston had grown from a scattered settlement on the edge of the wilderness to be a thriving and well-built town. At that time it contained about six thousand inhabitants, the houses were principally of wood, but many were of brick or stone, and in some instances the material had been brought from England. It was distinctly an. English town. The migration had been an unmixed one; and although the people had left their native country on account of religious differences, they had brought with them all their habits, customs, and modes of thought, which they had inherited from their aucestors, and to which they were profoundly attached. The names which they gave to their counties and towns and even to the streets were English names, taken from well-beloved places which they had left. They planted English fruits and English flowers in their gardens, they filled their houses with English furniture and built them in the style of English domestic architecture. But, although in these ways they manifested their attachment to the homes which they had left, in matters more essential than houses and clothes and furniture they showed that the spirit of a new country was upon them, and that they were seeking to lay the foundation of a new nation among the people of the earth.

The town of Boston was governed by the town meeting, which has been compared with the "Folkmoot" of the early English, where all the people met to consider the matters which concerned the municipality. It was here that the lessons in selfgovernment were learned which prepared the way for the great democracy destined to grow up from these feeble colonies. In the same way the government of the State was one which the Puritans had developed to suit their own theories, It was harsh and intolerant in religious matters ; it was broad and liberal in the line of politics and popular education. It sent constables into the inns to stop men drinking; it punished those who failed in attending churches; it regulated what the men and women should wear; but it threw open the doors of the schoolhouse to every child, and even when hastening to its fall dared to tell Charles II. that it could not submit to the Navigation laws, because the colonies were not represented in the Parliament of the nation. Their legislation was severe, but the Puritans were never troubled if any one objected that their laws were sumptuary laws. They believed it to be the first duty of man to worship God and lead a moral life, and they thought that government was instituted to see that this was done.

The government this formed and founded had its defects, but it was at least strong and successful. The Puritan State rose steadily from the day that Winthrop landed, without any of the checks which had marked the growth of the other American settlements, and showed a fixity of purpose which did not recognize defeat. The government partook in every way of the spirit of the men who established it, and its laws bore in every line the imprint of their stern will and rigid conviction. The Puritan was not only deeply religious, but he was also effective in the affairs of this world. He prayed long and fervently, he fasted often, and humiliated himself before the Lord many days in the year; but at the same time he sowed and planted and reaped. He cleared the forests, defeated the savages, built ships, and pushed his farms and villages ever further and further into the wilderness. Of all this eager life, Boston was the centre; and when Increase Mather described the town, he enumerated as many trades flourishing there as could be found in any English city. The people lived well, according to the ideas of those days. All food. supplies were cheap and plentiful, and game abounded. The dwellings were substantial; but their owners must have suffered severely from the cold in houses which had no appliances sufficient to cope with the rigours of a New England winter. The weak and sickly had but a slight chance for life, and the law of the survival of the fittest was terribly enforced by natural conditions. The only intellectual interest was found in religion, and in a creed of the most gloomy kind. On this they spent their mental energy with much solemn gratification to themselves and. a good deal of discomfort to those who happened to differ from them. There were no amusements, and the literary movement which was soon to enter on a period of great activity had hardly got beyond an account of the country or the publication of a tract or occasional sermon. The love of learning was kept alive by the clergy and the college, and the people were educated and intelligent. But the supply of books was meagre, and the opportunities for reading or study, outside of religion and theology, were limited in the extreme. The people of Boston practically went from work to religion and from religion to work without anything to break the monotony, except trouble with England and wars with the savages. It was a simple, hard-working community, where there were no poor and few rich people. They were vigorous and self-reliant; they had prospered in worldly matters, and they had built up a goodly town; they had laid the foundation of popular education and democratic government; and they had tried under these conditions to make the Church and State one. Even when they had everything under absolute control, they had failed in their efforts to suppress freedom of religious belief. Now the charter, under which they had enjoyed power and exercised independence, was taken from them; and with sorrowful thoughts and many grievous forebodings the people of Boston entered on the second stage of their history, in which they were to be no longer a law unto themselves, but were to work out their theories and their destiny under new and widely different conditions.

Return to [Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester GenWeb - AHGP]