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The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
The Tyrant of New England
by Bancroft, Hubert H.
|[The English colonies in America, with the exception of those of Virginia and
the Carolinas, were instituted under conditions of marked liberality, and
enjoyed a degree of religious and political freedom unknown in Europe at that
day. Small groups of colonists, far removed from European institutions, and
struggling with the difficulties of an untamed nature, could not be expected to
conform to the intricate regulations of the old nationalities which they had
left, and they at once began to govern themselves on the republican principle,
in accordance with the simplicity of their conditions. Monarchy made itself felt
most fully in Virginia and the Carolinas, yet even here provincial Assemblies
were quickly established, and the rigidity of the earlier systems abated.
Maryland and Pennsylvania were organized under highly-liberal constitutions,
while the New England colonies began their existence as provincial republics.
This state of affairs long continued with but spasmodic interferences from
England, and the spirit of republicanism had greatly developed in the American
colonies ere any serious effort was made to deprive them of their liberties. The
growth of free institutions had been much favored by the strong republican
sentiment then prevailing in England, which resulted in the overthrow of
monarchy and the formation of the Commonwealth. After the death of Cromwell, and
the re-establishment of the monarchy, indications of a desire to restrict the
liberties of the colonies, now flourishing and important, became manifest.
Charles II. granted to his brother James, the Duke of York, the whole territory
from the Connecticut River to the shores of the Delaware, which grant was
quickly followed by the illegal seizure of New Amsterdam, which received the
name of New York.
The Dutch rule over this province had been to a considerable extent autocratic,
and this was continued by the English governors, despite-the protests of the
people. In 1672, during a war between England and Holland, the city was
recaptured by the Dutch, but was returned to the English on the conclusion of
peace. The Duke of York now obtained a new patent to confirm his title, and made
Edmund Andros governor of the province. The rule of this governor was
tyrannical. He levied taxes without asking the consent of the people, and
refused them a representative Assembly. He attempted to extend his jurisdiction
over New Jersey, and as far east as the Connecticut River, but failed in this.
Under Thomas Dongan, the succeeding governor, a representative government was
established in New York, through the advice of William Penn.
With the accession of the Duke of York to the throne, under the title of James
II., a vigorous effort to overthrow the liberties of the colonists was made. A
direct tax was decreed, printing-presses were forbidden, and many arbitrary
edicts passed. In 1686 the late tyrannical governor of New York, now Sir Edmund
Andros, was sent to Massachusetts, with a commission as governor of all the New
England provinces. In 1688 his rule was extended over New York. He at once
displayed the intention to act the tyrant, and immediately on his arrival in
Boston, in December, 1686, demanded a surrender of all the charters of the
colonies, while publishing edicts which annulled the existing liberties of the
people. Of the several colonies, Connecticut alone refused to surrender its
charter. To enforce his demand Andros marched to Hartford with a body of
soldiers in October, 1687. The story of these events we quote from the antique
"History of Connecticut," by Benjamin Trumbull.]
Mr. Dudley, while president of the commissioners, had written to the governor
and company, advising them to resign the charter into the hands of his majesty,
and promising to use his influence in favor of the colony. Mr. Dudley's
commission was superseded by a commission to Sir Edmund Andros to be governor of
New England. He arrived at Boston on the 19th of December, 1686. The next day
his commission was published, and he took on him the administration of
government. Soon after his arrival he wrote to the governor and company that he
had a commission from his majesty to receive their charter, if they would resign
it; and he pressed them, in obedience to the king, and as they would give him an
opportunity to serve them, to resign it to his pleasure.. But the colony [of
Connecticut] insisted on their charter rights, and on the promise of King James,
as well as of his royal brother, to defend and secure them in the enjoyment of
their privileges and estates, and would not surrender their charter to either..
The Assembly met, as usual, in October, and the government continued according
to charter until the last of the month. About this time, Sir Edmund, with his
suite, and more than sixty regular troops, came to Hartford, when the Assembly
were sitting, demanded the charter, and declared the government under it to be
dissolved. The Assembly were extremely reluctant and slow with respect to any
resolve to surrender the charter, or with respect to any motion to bring it
forth. The tradition is that Governor Treat strongly represented the great
expense and hardships of the colonists in planting the country, the blood
treasure which they had expended in defending it, both against the savages and
foreigners; to what hardships and dangers he himself had been exposed for that
purpose; and that it was like giving up his life, now to surrender the patent
and privileges so dearly bought and so long enjoyed. The important affair was
debated and kept in suspense until the evening, when the charter was brought and
laid upon the table, where the Assembly were sitting. By this time, great
numbers of people were assembled, and men sufficiently bold to enterprise
whatever might be necessary or expedient. The lights were instantly
extinguished, and one Captain Wadsworth, of Hartford, in the most silent and
secret manner, carried off the charter, and secreted it in a large hollow tree,
fronting the house of the Honorable Samuel Wyllys, then one of the magistrates
of the colony. The people appeared all peaceable and orderly. The candles were
officiously relighted, but the patent was gone, and no discovery could be made
of it, or of the person who had conveyed it away.
[This stirring scene which is told with more dramatic additions by later
authors, unfortunately rests upon traditional evidence only, and is entirely
unsupported by documentary testimony. While it may have actually occurred, there
is no positive proof that it did. The documents simply tell us that Sir Edmund
assumed the government, and closed the colonial records with a statement of this
fact, and the ominous word "Finis." It was, for the time being, "the end" of
Sir Edmund began his government with the most flattering protestations of his
regard to the public safety and happiness. He instructed the judges to
administer justice, as far as might be consistent with the new regulations,
according to the former laws and customs. It is, however, well observed by
Governor Hutchinson, that "Nero concealed his tyrannical disposition more years
than Sir Edmund and his creatures did months." He soon laid a restraint upon the
liberty of the press; and then one far more grievous upon marriage.. Magistrates
only were allowed to join people in the bands of wedlock. The governor not only
deprived the clergy of the perquisite from marriages, but soon suspended the
laws for their support, and would not suffer any person to be obliged to pay
anything to his minister. Nay, he menaced the people that, if they resisted his
will, their meeting-houses should be taken from them, and that any person who
should give twopence to a non-conformist minister should be punished.
The fees of all officers, under this new administration, were exorbitant.. Sir
Edmund, without an Assembly, nay, without a majority of his council, taxed the
people at pleasure. He and Randolph, with four or five others of his creatures,
who were sufficiently wicked to join with him in all his oppressive designs,
managed the affairs of government as they pleased. But these were but the
beginnings of oppression and sorrow. They were soon greatly increased and more
As the charters were now either vacated, surrendered, or the government under
them suspended, it was declared that the titles of the colonists to their lands
were of no value. Sir Edmund declared that Indian deeds were no better than "the
scratch of a bear's paw." Not the fairest purchases and most ample conveyances
from the natives, no dangers, disbursements, nor labors in cultivating a
wilderness and turning it into orchards, gardens, and pleasant fields, no grants
by charter, nor by legislatures constituted by them, no declarations of
preceding kings, nor of his then present majesty, promising them the quiet
enjoyment of their houses and lands, nor fifty or sixty years' undisturbed
possession, were pleas of any validity or consideration with Sir Edmund and his
minions. The purchasers and cultivators, after fifty and sixty years'
improvement, were obliged to take out patents for their estates. For these, in
some instances, a fee of fifty pounds was demanded..
The governor, and a small number of his council, in the most arbitrary manner,
fined and imprisoned numbers of the inhabitants of Massachusetts, and denied
them the benefit of the act of habeas corpus. All town meetings were prohibited,
except one in the month of May, for the election of town officers.. No person
was suffered to go out of the country without leave from the governor, lest
complaints should be carried to England against his administration. At the same
time, he so well knew the temper and views of his royal master that he feared
little from him, even though complaints should be carried over against him.
Hence he and his dependents oppressed the people, and enriched themselves
[Despite his efforts, complaints and petitions made their way to England; yet
they proved of little effect upon the king.]
In the reign of James II., petitions so reasonable and just could not be heard.
The prince at home, and his officers abroad, like greedy harpies, preyed upon
the people without control. Randolph was not ashamed to make his boast, in his
letters, with respect to Governor Andros and his council, "that they were as
arbitrary as the Great Turk." All New England groaned under their oppression.
The heaviest share of it, however, fell upon the inhabitants of Massachusetts
and New Plymouth. Connecticut had been less obnoxious to government than
Massachusetts, and, as it was further removed from the seat of government, was
less under the notice and influence of those oppressors..
All the motives to great actions, to industry, economy, enterprise, wealth, and
population, were in a manner annihilated. A general inactivity and languishment
pervaded the whole public body. Liberty, property, and everything which ought to
be dear to men, every day grew more and more insecure. The colonies were in a
state of general despondency with respect to the restoration of their
privileges, and the truth of that divine maxim, "When the wicked beareth rule
the people mourn," was, in a striking manner, everywhere exemplified.
[Fortunately, this grinding tyranny was not of long continuance. Early in 1689
tidings reached Boston that James II. was no longer king: in November, 1688,
William of Orange had landed in England and driven the tyrant from his throne.
The Bostonians at once rebelled against Andros. His tyranny was denounced by the
magistrates, and he, with several of his creatures, was seized and imprisoned.
Andros twice attempted to escape from confinement, and once got as far as Rhode
Island, but was captured and brought back. In July he was sent to England, where
he was acquitted without trial. And so ended the most prominent early effort to
take away the liberties of the American people. Andros was subsequently (in
1692) made governor of Virginia. Here, however, his rule was less arbitrary, and
he became popular with the planters.
The traditions of early Connecticut present one more scene of great dramatic
interest, in which the spirit of liberty of the people, and the energy of
Captain Wadsworth, were manifested in the same determined manner as in the
incident described. This occurred in 1693, during King William's War. An account
of it may be quoted from Trumbull.]
Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, governor of New York, who had arrived at the seat of
his government August 29, 1692, had received a commission entirely inconsistent
with the charter rights and safety of the colonies. He was vested with plenary
powers of commanding the whole militia of Connecticut and the neighboring
provinces. He insisted on the command of the militia of Connecticut. As this was
expressly given to the colony, by charter, the legislature would not submit to
[A special Assembly met, and drew up a petition to the king, representing the
true state of affairs in the colony, and the disadvantage and danger which might
result from giving the command of the militia to the governor of another
The colony wished to serve his majesty's interest, and as far as possible,
consistently with their chartered rights, to maintain a good understanding with
Governor Fletcher. William Pitkin, Esquire, was therefore sent to New York, to
treat and make terms with him respecting the militia, until his majesty's
pleasure should be further known. But no terms could be made with him short of
an explicit submission of the militia to his command.
On the 26th of October he came to Hartford, while the Assembly were sitting,
and, in his majesty's name, demanded their submission of the militia to his
command, as they would answer it to his majesty, and that they would give him a
speedy answer in two words, Yes, or No.. He ordered the militia of Hartford
under arms, that he might beat up for volunteers. It was judged expedient to
call the train-bands of Hartford together; but the Assembly insisted that the
command of the militia was expressly vested, by charter, in the governor and
company, and that they could by no means, consistently with their just rights
and the common safety, resign it into any other hands.
[In response Governor Fletcher made the declaration that he had no design upon
the civil rights of the colonists, and offered the command of the militia to
Governor Treat, under his commission.]
The Assembly, nevertheless, would not give up the command of the militia; nor
would Governor Treat receive a commission from Colonel Fletcher.
The train-bands of Hartford assembled, and, as the tradition is, while Captain
Wadsworth, the senior officer, was walking in front of the companies and
exercising the soldiers, Colonel Fletcher ordered his commission and
instructions to be read. Captain Wadsworth instantly commanded, "Beat the
drums;" and there was such a roaring of them that nothing else could be heard.
Colonel Fletcher commanded silence. But no sooner had Bayard made an attempt to
read again, than Wadsworth commands, "Drum, drum, I say." The drummers
understood their business, and instantly beat up with all the art and life of
which they were masters. "Silence, silence," says the colonel. No sooner was
there a pause, than Wadsworth speaks with great earnestness, "Drum, drum, I
say;" and, turning to his excellency, said, "If I am interrupted again I will
make the sun shine through you in a moment." He spoke with such energy in his
voice and meaning in his countenance that no further attempts were made to read
or enlist men. Such numbers of people collected together, and their spirits
appeared so high, that the governor and his suite judged it expedient soon to
leave the town and return to New York.