On January 1, 1775, Charles Stockbridge visited his neighbor’s house in Hanover, Massachusetts, twenty five miles south of Boston. He heard a rumor that opponents of the government would visit nearby Marshfield to harass Tories (supporters of the king), who were well known and vulnerable to trouble. His neighbor doubted the rumor was true.
Yet it was true. On January 2, a man wrote to a friend, without signing his name, “Whenever government shows itself in earnest, ‘Down with the Tories’ is the cry and no stone left unturned to insult England.” Three days later a man in Boston wrote, “We are in a terrible situation pent up both by sea and land. Military duty in every respect is daily performed in this town, as much as any garrisoned town in His Majesty’s dominions. The general does all he can do to keep the peace and quiet.”
Elizabeth White was in her house in Marshfield when her brother came to visit. They argued over politics, and he said, “I pity you, for the Tories will be taken care of soon.” She replied, “Can you put a gun to my breast and kill me as your only sister?” He said, “No, but don’t say I did not give you timely warning.”
On January 10, Amos Rogers of Marshfield was on his way home from a party when he was stopped by three men. They took his horse, and when he asked why they said he was a Tory who supported Gen. Thomas Gage, the recently-appointed military governor of the colony, and he would have to go to Plymouth—twelve miles away—to testify before a committee to get his horse back. He resolved the dispute by signing a paper saying he did not support Gage.
Tobias Oakman walked from his house to his shop in Marshfield when a neighbor asked if he was a Tory and said he would kill Oakman if he found out it was true. Hannah Baker of Marshfield said she hoped “some judgment might be sent down from above and destroy all the Tories.”
Elijah Foord went to an auction to buy hay, but the auctioneer refused his bid because he was “a damned Tory,” and when he bid on hay he was refused again. Foord asked by what authority he acted, and the auctioneer replied by authority of Congress. Another man threatened to tie Foord to a Liberty Pole for opposing the local minutemen.
Similar events happened in western Massachusetts. John Williams was a twenty three year old storeowner, selling lumber, beef, corn, and flour on the village green in Deerfield, ninety miles from Boston. On February 1 he went to a town meeting and said that sending a delegate to the Continental Congress was treason, and he read several definitions of treason, with appropriate punishments, to prove his point. The men in town argued with him and voted they would no longer buy items from his store. On February 3, Israel Williams was taken to the town leaders in Hatfield, thirteen miles south of Deerfield, where he was accused of supporting the British cause. He was colonel of the local militia, and served as a judge, so he had influence in the area. He tried, and failed, to convince them of his loyalty. The accusers made him sign papers stating he would not enforce any acts of parliament, that he was specifically opposed to the Quebec Act, that he would not oppose acts of the Continental Congress, that he would not write to Governor Gage, and that if he violated any of these terms he would be publicly denounced as “an enemy of the people.”
By February 10, people from surrounding towns carried their possessions in horse drawn carts into Boston, for refuge, as opponents of the government abandoned the capitol. British troops dug trenches and built an earthen wall at the south end of Boston Neck, the narrow strip of land that connected Boston with the rest of Massachusetts.
The situation became so tense that many who supported the government left Massachusetts altogether. James Vinson, Robert Salmon, Samuel Stephen and three brothers in the Bowen Family left Marblehead for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; Robert Foster, Cornelius White, Enoch Rust and Jonathan Rich left Plymouth for Halifax, Nova Scotia; Samuel White and John Prince left Salem for Halifax; Abraham Knowlton and Jonathan Norwood left Cape Ann for Halifax; Michael Lee left Dartmouth for Halifax.
On March 30, opponents of the government still in Boston urgently asked people from Reading—a town sixteen miles north—to come to town and gather at Faneuil Hall, the main marketplace, “to determine on measures of safety.” Their request shows that people could still enter and leave Boston, but cautiously, hoping that the situation would resolve itself. It would not, of course; open hostilities broke out twenty days later, making permanent the polarization and division that had been intensifying—and tearing apart families and communities —since the beginning of the year.
Testimony of Charles Stockbridge, February 20, 1775, Thomas Gage Papers, American Series, 126, Clements Library, University of Michigan. Although written in February, the events of this and other testimonials in the Gage Papers occurred in January.
Unnamed writer to Myles Cooper, January 2, 1775, Fettercairn Papers, ACC 6796, Box 25, National Library of Scotland (“Down with the Tories”); Samuel Downe to Joseph Fish, January 5, 1775, Schoff Revolutionary War Collection, Box 1, William Clements Library, University of Michigan (“We are in a terrible situation”).
February 16, 1775 (Baker), both in Thomas Gage Papers, American Series, 126.
Benjamin Nash deposition, February 1, 1775, Schoff Collection, Box 1, (John Williams); Declaration of Israel Williams, February 3, 1775, Spire American Revolutionary War Collection, Bird Library, Syracuse University (Israel Williams).