Rascally Cousins: Whig or Tory in America’s Mother Town


December 4, 2017
by Chaim M. Rosenberg Also by this Author


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Whig or Tory, which side to support in the coming Revolutionary War? Every adult in the thirteen British colonies of North America faced the task of declaring allegiance. The drama played out even among the Mayflower descendants in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the first successful British settlement in North America, which by 1775 had grown to 2,000 residents. Scions of the oldest and most revered families of New England, Edward Winslow senior and junior were principled Tories, and their cousin, James Warren, a passionate Whig. Their choices of allegiance profoundly changed their lives and their places in history.

The story began in 1620 when their ancestors Edward Winslow and Richard Warren left the Old World for the New with the first company to sail on the Mayflower.  Winslow was the third and Warren the twelfth signers of the Mayflower Compact. As loyal subjects of King James, they and thirty-nine other men pledged to form “a civil body … for our better ordering, and preserving and furtherance” of the Plymouth settlement.  Edward Winslow acquired a 1,000-acre estate in what is now Marshfield.  Four generations of the Winslow family made it their home.

The Plymouth Plantation spurred development throughout New England and in other British colonies in North America. In February 1755, William Shirley, the royal governor of Massachusetts, ordered Col. John Winslow of Plymouth to form a regiment “to be employed in dislodging the French from the encroachments made by them within His Majesty’s province of Nova Scotia.” John Winslow (1703-1774), a great-grandson of the Mayflower pilgrim Edward Winslow, was married to Mary Little, a descendant of Richard Warren.  In May, a convoy of twenty-one transport ships and men-of-war left Boston carrying troops and their weapons to arrive in Halifax, where they joined other British regiments assembled to rid Nova Scotia of the French.  Winslow’s 800-strong New England troop moved from one Nova Scotia settlement to the next, evicting Acadians because they refused to take an oath of loyalty to the British king.  “The suffering of these poor, unfortunate people,” wrote Col. Winslow to the governor of Nova Scotia, “cannot well be conceived.” On September 2 at Grand-Pre , Winslow posted “his Majesty’s proclamation … giving notice to the people that they assemble in the church.” He ordered them to march in columns toward the deportation ships, but “they all answered that they could not go without their fathers [leaders].  I told them that … the king’s command was to me absolute and should be, on my part, absolutely obeyed … Then I ordered the whole troops to fix their bayonets and advance towards the French.” The Acadians  “went singing and crying and praying … I began at once to embark these inhabitants, who went so sorrowfully and unwillingly, the women in great distress carrying their children in their arms and others carrying their decrepit parents … It appeared indeed a matter of woe and distress.“ After one thousand five hundred and ten French inhabitants of Grand-Pre boarded the deportation ships, Winslow ordered the destruction of their barns, houses, mills and their church, a total of 543 structures. “Although it was very disagreeable to my natural make & temper” wrote John Winslow solemnly, “I am sensible it is a necessary one.”[1] By the time their task was completed, Col. Winslow and other British commanders forced 11,500 Acadians to leave Nova Scotia, which had been their ancestral home for a century and a half.

Col. John Winslow’s loyalty to the British king was shared by most members of the distinguished Winslow family, including his son Pelham, a lawyer trained in the office of James Otis Jr., his son Isaac, a physician, his brother Edward Sr. and his nephew Edward Jr.   Edward Jr. was born in 1747 and graduated Harvard College in 1765, the year the Stamp Act raised tensions between Great Britain and its American colonies.

Richard Warren’s descendant James Warren was born 1728; his mother Penelope was from the Winslow family. He graduated from Harvard College in 1745 and became a successful merchant and sheriff of Plymouth.  In 1754, James married Mercy Otis, herself a descendant of Edward Doty, a Mayflower passenger. Mercy Otis had sat in and eagerly absorbed the lessons her brother James took while being educated for college. James Otis became a lawyer and opened his practice in Plymouth,[2] and was among the first Americans to agitate for liberty and against taxation without representation. In 1764, James Otis Jr. wrote in his pamphlet Rights of the British Colonies that the colonists are entitled “to have a voice in their taxes.” Furthermore, the British Parliament should not assess taxes on its American colonies “before we are represented in the house of commons.”  Without liberty “I desire not to exist here.”[3]

Mercy and James Warren were much influenced by James Otis’s radical ideas favoring American independence. By joining the Sons of Liberty, James Warren boldly declared his allegiance to the American cause. In 1768, together with his brother-in-law James Otis, and the Boston firebrand Samuel Adams, he sent a firm letter to the governor of Massachusetts in “defense of the rights of a free people.”  These were not timid men, but “men of reputation, fortune and rank, equal to any who enjoyed the smiles of government.”[4] In 1769, John Robinson, a customs officer at Boston Harbor, attacked James Otis Jr. leaving him brain damaged. Mercy and her husband took on James Otis’s cause for American independence.

On January 13, 1769, Edward Winslow Jr. and four other young men of Plymouth formed the Old Colony Club to establish Forefathers’ Day and celebrate “the first landing of our worthy ancestors in this place,” and in hope of “the speedy and lasting union between Great Britain and her colonies.”  Among the guests invited to the club were John Adams and Robert Treat Paine, who became ardent Patriots, and Thomas Oliver, Thomas Fluker Jr., Pelham Winslow and Richard Lechmere, who chose the Loyalist side.  “The Revolutionary War was coming on, and party lines were forming.”  Most of the members of the club were Loyalists.[5]

On March 20, 1770, led by James Warren, the town of Plymouth voted in favor of a boycott of British goods in response to “the tyrannical attempts of the British government to enslave our country.”[6] On December 22, 1770, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing at Plymouth, the twenty-four year old Edward Winslow Jr. recalled that the Pilgrims were “persecuted and tormented … for thinking freely and for acting with dignity and freedom [and] did dare, in defiance of persecution, to form themselves into one body for the common safety and protection of all … they abandoned their native country, their friends, their fortunes and connections” and risked all to cross the Atlantic to reestablish their “holy religion [and] civil liberties” on American soil; a place of “plenty, peace, freedom … derived from British rights and laws.”[7]

“Too many are afraid to appear for the public liberty,” wrote Samuel Adams to James Warren in 1771. “They preach the people into paltry ideas of moderation. But in perilous times like these, I cannot conceive of prudence without fortitude; and the man who is not resolved to encounter and overcome difficulties when the liberty of his country is threatened, no more deserves the character of patriot than another does that of soldier who flies from his standard.”[8] In other letters to Warren, Samuel Adams wrote that the time has come to rid America of “tyrants and tyranny … I wish mother Plymouth would see her way clear by appointing a committee of communication and correspondence.[9] Determined action was needed because: “Tories would spare no pains to disparage our measures . . . where there is a spark of patriotic fire, we will kindle it.”[10] Samuel Adams’s letters stoked the patriotic fires of James and Mercy Warren. James Warren established the Plymouth branch of the Committee of Correspondence to stamp out the “intrigues of toryism … and everything else that might be thought to militate with the rights of the people and to promote everything that tended to general utility.”[11] James Warren claimed that by levying taxes Great Britain was “seeking to subvert the liberties of the English subjects of America.”

“You, Madam, are so sincere a lover of your country,” wrote Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren.[12] This did not stop Mercy continuing friendships with Loyalists, especially relatives of hers. Mercy related to her husband: “I had the most agreeable company of Miss Penelope Winslow [sister of Edward Winslow Jr., and cousin to Mercy] who proposed to continue this kindness [and] let me just observe that I think this is not a singular instance of a Whig and a Tory lodging together in the same bed, and believe there are very few instances where there is so great a regard for each other as between the parties above mentioned.”[13] Mercy’s husband James Warren was less charitable towards his Winslow cousins. “Had ever any man so many rascally cousins as I have?”[14] He demanded that loyalists, whether relatives or not, should be hunted down and punished.

The harmony of the Old Colony Club was disturbed in 1773 by the arrival in Boston of the East India Company tea ships. James Warren, chairman of the Plymouth Committee of Correspondence, demanded that the club support the American cause against the British government. In response, Edward Winslow Jr., wrote that the club should “absolutely deny your jurisdiction and authority” and warned that the actions of the Committee of Correspondence would “promote parties and divisions … rather than that of concord and harmony so necessary in the welfare of all societies.”  The tensions within the Old Colony Club became intense, forcing out Edward Winslow and his fellow Loyalists. The triumphant Patriots of Plymouth took over the annual celebration of Forefathers’ Day.[15] On December 7, 1773, under the guidance of James Warren the town of Plymouth protested the importation of tea to America by the British East India Company.  Such an act was “dangerous to that liberty which our fathers claimed and enjoyed and which we have the right to enjoy.” With the patriots of Plymouth in ascendency, some of the “obnoxious royalists” such as the Winslow family were declared “enemies of their country.”  Others who were “turbulent and incorrigible [were] brought to the liberty pole and compelled to a recantation of sentiment.”[16]

In mid-December, Edward Winslow Jr. “informed the town he held in his hand a protest against the resolves of the last meeting, signed by himself and others.” The town meeting voted not to hear young Winslow’s protest.[17] Edward Winslow’s “Plymouth Protest” condemned the Sons of Liberty as “a set of cursed, venal, worthless rascals.”  The audacious young Winslow organized the Tory Volunteer Company to protect Loyalists in Plymouth.  The Tory Company, boasted Edward Jr., “was not only formed by me, but almost supported by my expense … The town of Plymouth was kept quiet long after all the towns in the neighborhood were in extreme confusion.”[18]

In January 1775, James Warren was elected by the town of Plymouth as one of its two representatives to the Provincial Congress.  On January 27, Warren addressed the town meeting with a warning that “the evil effects of the tyranny of the British government [were] aided and supported by the villains and traitors in the character of the mandamus counselors.” It was vital to oppose the “malice and collective strength of our enemies, encouraged by the timidity of some of our friends.” Warren called for a check on the “Jacobites of this town [and to take] effective measures for either silencing or expelling them from this community.”

At the start of the Revolutionary War James Warren was elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and served as paymaster general of the Continental Army.  “I have done all in my power to serve and defend us and our country,” wrote James to Mercy on April 6, 1775. “The people are ready and determined to defend the country inch by inch.”  James Warren was regularly in correspondence with George Washington, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and especially with John Adams, over the conduct of the Revolutionary War and the future of the American states.  “The Congress,” wrote John Adams on September 19, 1775, from Philadelphia, “faces the spirit of war … They set about preparations for it with seriousness and in earnest.”  The Continental Army needed “powder, ball, cartridges, artillery, cannon field pieces, camp equipage, kettles, spoons, tents, canvas, provisions, bread, meat, meal, peas … everything in short.”[19] “What think you of an American fleet?”[20] John Adams speculated on the form of the independent American government: “What think you of a North American monarchy?” “Suppose we should appoint a Continental King, and a Continental House of Lords, and a Continental House of Commons, to be annually or triennially elected, and in this way, make a supreme American legislature?”   Writing two months later to Mercy Otis Warren, Adams asked: “Pray, Madam, are you for an American Monarchy or Republic? … For my part I prefer a republic.”[21]

In Plymouth, Edward Winslow Sr., his son Edward Jr., and other determined Loyalists were branded as the “implacable enemies to the freedom and independence of America.”[22] Once highly esteemed in the town, members of the Winslow family were now the enemies of the people stripped of occupation and, freedom of speech; their property was confiscated and they were forced into exile. Edward Jr. recalled “the great mob hailed me from the country.”  His sister Sarah related their aged father’s ordeal: “The mob in 1775 took him out of his house and carried him to take the oaths which he refused, and they confined him to the town for two years and to his house for one year.”[23] Reduced to poverty, Edward Winslow Sr. with his wife and two unmarried daughters remained in Plymouth, shunned as traitors by the townspeople.

When the Loyalists lost ground in Plymouth, Marshfield, ten miles to the north, became an active Tory center, with 300 residents joining the Associated Loyalists of Marshfield.  Led by Dr. Isaac Winslow, “nearly every member of the old Winslow family [in Marshfield] were loyalists.”[24] In January 1775, Gen. Thomas Gage dispatched Capt. Nesbit Balfour with 114 troops to Marshfield to boost the flagging royal presence south of Boston. Rejected by his town, Edward Winslow Jr. left Plymouth for Boston and whole-heartedly identified with the British cause. On April 19, 1775, he guided Gen. Hugh Percy’s relief force that supported the British troops retreating from Concord; on June 17, took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. In the besieged town of Boston, Edward Winslow Jr. served the British as collector of taxes for the port, and as registrar of probate for Suffolk County.

In 1776, Edward Winslow Jr. left Boston with the British army, following them to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then to New York where Gen. Sir William Howe appointed him muster-master-general of Loyalist forces with the rank of lieutenant colonel.  Edward had the responsibility to recruit, quarter, equip, feed and pay those joining the New York Volunteers, Queen’s Rangers, DeLancey’s Brigade, New Jersey Volunteers and other Provincial forces, as well as taking care of war widows and their children.  Winslow was active throughout the war, recruiting Loyalists in New York, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Florida and the Carolinas.  At the close of the War, general Guy Carleton gave Edward Winslow Jr. the onerous task of settling the disbanded loyalist troops and their families in Nova Scotia.

In 1781 Edward Winslow Sr. with his wife and daughters left Plymouth for New York to join his son in royalist New York.  Edward Sr., “a scholar and a man of fine tastes,” received a pension of £200 a year from Gen. Henry Clinton.  “The violence and malice of the Rebel government against the loyalists,” wrote Edward Winslow Sr. to his son, “render it impossible ever to think of joining them again.”[25] On August 30, 1783, with the war coming to an end, Edward Winslow Sr., the fourth generation of his family in America, left his homeland forever.  “Our fate seems now decreed,” wrote his daughter Sarah, “and we are left to mourn our days in wretchedness [and] to submit to the tyranny of our exulting enemies or settle a new country.”[26] His property in Plymouth was confiscated. Edward Winslow Sr. died a poor exile in Nova Scotia June 1784, aged seventy years.  He was buried in St. Paul’s graveyard, Halifax. His tombstone was inscribed: “Descended from a race of ancestors, governors of the ancient colony of Plymouth, he in no one instant degenerated from their loyalty or virtue … he forsook his native country from an attachment to his sovereign.”[27]

Rather than seek a government position in London better suited to his education and service, Edward Winslow Jr. chose exile in Nova Scotia to assist in the settlement of thousands upon thousands of American Loyalists.  He conceived the idea of dividing Nova Scotia to establish the new province of New Brunswick north of the Bay of Fundy as the new home for the American Loyalists.  The largely uninhabited region of 28,000 square miles contained vast forests, with trees “of almost every kind,” its rivers, lakes and seas abounding with fish. The rich soil supported agriculture and animal husbandry.  “There is nothing wanting but labourers … By heaven we will be the envy of the American states.”  The Americans “will observe our operations … protected by the mother country . . . Many of the most respectable inhabitants will join us immediately.”[28] Approved by the British government on June 18, 1784, New Brunswick would be “the land of Promise, the new Canaan, an asylum for his majesty’s faithful and loyal subjects.”

In the 1620s the first Edward Winslow opened Massachusetts to settlement.  In 1755, Col. John Winslow deported Acadians from Nova Scotia.  Thirty years later his nephew Edward Winslow, banished from his American homeland, set about to build a second Massachusetts in the wilderness of New Brunswick. Its chosen motto was Spem Reduxit (Hope Restored), its goal was to grow rich trading with the British sugar islands of the Caribbean and building ships for the Royal Navy.  The first winter was the hardest with hundreds dying of starvation and cold. In the spring of 1785, the 14,000 exiled Loyalists of New Brunswick got down to the great work of building their new homes, churches, farms, schools and institutions modeled after the American communities they left behind.  On the ruins of an Acadian village, the Loyalists established their capital, Fredericton and began their university.

It was tough going for Edward Winslow. He confided to his friend Ward Chipman, “I have no plans, and my prospects were darker than hell.”[29] He was appointed to a prestigious but unpaid position as a member of His Majesty’s Council, “but I have never been able to calculate how much honor goes into a pound.”[30] His economic situation improved after 1807 with his appointment as a judge in the New Brunswick Supreme Court.  Edward Winslow carried resentments against America to the end of his life. “It is impossible,” he wrote in 1811, “that the British government can longer endure the insolent equivocation and provoking threats of these Americans who scarcely deserve the name of a nation.”[31] Edward Winslow, a prominent Mayflower descendant, died in New Brunswick on May 13, 1816, still a passionate Loyalist.

Mercy Otis Warren combined a formidable intellect with love of country to write her three-volume History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, published in Boston in 1805. In the History, she describes her brother James Otis Jr. as “the first champion of American freedom.” Mercy Otis Warren credits her husband James Warren as the man who set up the Committees of Correspondence to defeat “machinations” of the enemies of the American cause. In parts of America “a kind of inquisitional court was erected” by zealous patriots. Had the punishment of Loyalists been less severe “it is probable many could have returned to the bosom of their country and become faithful subjects to the United States.”  Of John Adams she wrote, “His passions and prejudices were sometimes too strong for his sagacity and judgment.”  On July 11, 1807, John Adams, former president of the United States of America, wrote Mercy Otis Warren the first of several lengthy rebuttals that strained their friendship. “I will not, I cannot say that this is true.”[32]

Reconciliation between the Warren and Winslow families came after the War. Henry Warren married Mary (“Polly”) Winslow, daughter of the Loyalist Pelham Winslow. Henry and Mary had nine children; the third-born Pelham Winslow Warren and ninth-born James Warren were named in honor of their deceased grandfathers, one a Tory, the other a Whig.


[1] John Winslow, The Journal of Colonel John Winslow (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1880).

[2] William Tudor. The Life of James Otis, of Massachusetts (Boston: Weeks and Lilly, 1823).

[3] James Otis Jr.  Letter to his sister Mercy Otis Warren, April 11, 1766.  Warren-Adams Letters; Volume1, 1743-1777 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917), 2.

[4] Mercy Otis Warren. History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, Volume 1 (Boston: Larkin, 1805), 56-58.

[5] Records of the Old Colony Club, 1769-1773 (Boston: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, October 13, 1887).

[6] James Thacher, History of the Town of Plymouth: From the First Settlement in 1620 to the Year 1832 (Boston: March, Cape & Lyon, 1832), 119.

[7] Records of the Old Colony Club (Boston: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society for October 13, 1887), 416-418.

[8] John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Warren, Warren-Adams Letters; Being Chiefly the Correspondence between John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Warren. Volume 1, 1743-1777 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917). 9. John K. Alexander. Samuel Adams; The Life of an American Revolutionary (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011), 122.

[9] Letter from Samuel Adams to James Warren, November 4, 1772. Warren-Adams Letters; Volume 1, 1743-1777 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917), 12.

[10] Letter from Samuel Adams to James Warren, December 9, 1772. Ibid, 14.

[11] Mercy Otis Warren, History, 110.

[12] Warren-Adams Letters (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917), 18.

[13] Mercy Otis Warren, Jeffrey H. Richards and Sharon M. Harris (editors). Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 6-8.

[14] Clifford K. Shipton. New England Life in the Eighteenth Century  (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995), 531. Letter from James Warren to John Adams, December 3, 1775.

[15] Ibid., 448

[16] Thacher.  History of Plymouth, 1832, 208.

[17] Records of the Town of Plymouth, Volume III (Plymouth, MA: Memorial Press, 1903), 279.

[18] Edward Winslow and W.O. Raymond (ed.) The Winslow Papers; A.D. 1776-1828 (St. John, New Brunswick: Sun Printing, 1902), 363.

[19] John Adams to James Warren, September 28, 1775. Warren-Adams Letters, 118-119.

[20] John Adams to James Warren October 19, 1775. Warren-Adams Letters, 145.

[21] John Adams to James Warren, October 1775.  John Adams to Mercy Otis Warren January 8, 1776. Warren-Adams Letters, Volume 1, 1743-1777 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917).

[22] Records of the Town of Plymouth, 1636-1783, Volume III (Plymouth, MA: Memorial Press, 1903), 296-329.

[23] John Langton Sipley. Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, Volume 11 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1958).

[24] Dr. Isaac Winslow inoculated many in the town during a smallpox epidemic, earning their gratitude, despite his loyalist sentiments. He was permitted to stay in the town, and keep his medical practice and his home. Later, Daniel Webster bought the property.

[25] Winslow Papers. Letter dated June 20, 1783, 90.

[26] Neil MacKinnon. The Unfriendly Soil: The Loyalists Experience of Nova Scotia; 1783-1791 (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1986), 6.

[27] The Winslow Papers, 7.

[28] Winslow Papers. Edward Winslow to Ward Chipman, April 26, 1784, 193.

[29] Ibid., Letter dated July 7, 1783, 99.

[30] Ibid., 503.

[31] Ibid., 689.

[32] Correspondence between John Adams and Mercy Warren (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1888), 317-511.


  • This is a compelling article about a division of loyalties, and families, not widely told in Plymouth. While serving as Executive Director of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants I became quite familiar with the Winslow legacy, as the home of Edward Winslow, Sr. and his family has been owned by the Mayflower Society since December of 1941. In 1898, when the former Winslow mansion was purchased by Chicago businessman Charles L. Willoughby, during the extensive remodeling that followed a large royal crest was placed on the roof above the front entrance to recognize the Winslow family’s loyalty to the crown. That crest was copied after the one that once appeared at “The Old State House” in Boston, which Edward Winslow removed for safekeeping when the British evacuated Boston in the spring of 1776.
    Among the items in the Mayflower Society archives is a letter written by Edward, Jr. in 1783, and a copy of the “Representation of Edward Winslow, Esquire, an American Loyalist” addressed to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesties Treasury, etc. etc.” on December 2, 1788. Sent from New Brunswick, Edward, Jr. begins by noting that “his ancestors were among the first settlers in New England, and that one of them was Governor of the Colony of Plymouth. That they acquired an extensive real estate, and held various offices of honour and trust which was handed down to your memorialists Father [Edward, Sr] and himself. . . That as soon as the political troubles began your memorialist came forward with an offer of his services to the Governor of Massachusetts and was early and decided in embracing the cause of Government. That by his conduct as a magistrate and military officer he rendered himself so obnoxious as to become the object of publick resentmentm and was obliged to seek asylum under the British Troops as soon as they had taken their station at Boston. That on his arrival there he was immediately employed by General Gage who commanded, and on the first movement of troops in April 1775 accompanied them under Lord Percy at the battle of Lexington. . .

  • Dr. Walter Powell: Thank you for expanding on my article about the tensions in Plymouth between the Patriots and the Loyalists. I tried to show that Edward Winslow, both father and son, had deep roots in American soil and were every bit as devoted to their country as were their Patriot cousins James Warren and Mary Otis Warren. But, in the heat of the Revolution, there was little freedom of speech or respect for opposing views. By voicing their conscience, the Winslows paid with their jobs and property and were forced into exile to seek their place in history in a foreign country.
    Respect for differences and tolerance of dissent are at the core of our democracy, even at times of stress.

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