programs and education

A chat with a Revolutionary Character

A chat with a Revolutionary Character

What is it like to portray an 18th century Bostonian as part of our Revolutionary Characters Live program? Learn more about the experience in this chat with Lauren Shear, who plays Elizabeth Cummings.

“The Vehemence of the Flames”: The History of Three Fires at the Old State House

For the past few months, one of our Education Associates has been exploring the history of fires at the Old State House.  Her final installment is on the 1921 fire, but you can catch up by reading about the 1747 fire and the 1832 fire

1921 Fire


In its history, the Old State House has been ravaged by three separate fires.  The third and final fire burned through the building on April 13, 1921. A pedestrian passing by the Old State House noticed smoke billowing from the upper floors and alerted authorities. The fire department acted swiftly to extinguish the flames.  As the Old State House served as a museum to Boston history in 1921, more than just the structure was at stake.  The museum housed hundreds of irreplaceable objects. While no objects were harmed, the building was not so lucky.  It suffered injury to the third floor, roof, and wooden laths at an estimated cost of $10,000. Water devastation to interior walls and the ceiling exacerbated problems.

In the aftermath of this third fire, the Fire Protection Department recommended that the Bostonian Society add fire protection to the building. The Society added fire stop blocks between the interior brick walls and improved housekeeping procedures. Sprinklers, however, were not installed as the water could potentially harm the priceless objects exhibited in the museum.

The Old State House has endured fires, storms, and natural disasters that could have destroyed the building entirely, but happily for the people of Boston it still stands as a testament to the rich 18th century history of Boston and the founding of the United States.

By Deirdre Kutt, Education Associate


Sally Hutchinson: The Misfortunes of a Loyalist Woman (Part III)

Our Women's History Month series concludes with this week's post.  Catch up with Part I and Part II to learn more about Sally Hutchinson.

Marielle Boudreau as Sally Hutchinson
Sally and Peter did not get married until February of 1770, probably due to the upheaval that their families were suffering. Thomas Hutchinson’s expenditures from the beginning of that year contain several references to purchases for Sally: a gown, two separate cakes, seventy pounds to buy furniture. He also notes that he paid six hundred pounds to Peter Oliver, Jr., presumably to help the young couple in their marriage. Peter’s father contributed by building them a house in Middleborough not far from his own.

Unfortunately, things continued to deteriorate for Sally after her father was made governor in 1771. Though she and Peter were not involved in politics themselves, their home in Middleborough was surrounded by angry mobs several times due to their family connections to unpopular Loyalists.

Sally and Peter’s first child, Margaret Hutchinson Oliver, was born in 1771, and two sons, Thomas Hutchinson Oliver and Peter Oliver III, were born in 1772 and 1774. Also in 1774, Sally's father and sister Peggy left for England, and she and her family followed them in 1776.  A series of sad events marked the next few years; Peggy died in 1777, and Sally's brother Billy died in the winter of 1780.   A few months later, Sally gave birth to a son and fell ill, and in June, Governor Hutchinson died.  Sadly, Sally followed him on June 28th and her newborn son died in August.  Peter wrote about his wife: “She died perfectly resigned to the will of Heaven, but in great agony of body...She was one of the most virtuous, amiable, and kindest wives that ever man was blessed with...She is relieved from a deal of misery and distress; she has gone through more than anyone who knew her can have imagined.” Peter lived until 1821, but never remarried.

Sally, who began life as one of the most privileged and fortunate girls in Boston, saw her brief adulthood marred by tragedy due in part to the political associations of her family. She faced the typical troubles of a woman of her time through the loss of her mother’s and ultimately her own life due to complications from childbirth.  But she also faced the wholly atypical trouble of coping with the anger leveled at her family during the Revolution. We only get glimpses of her from the historical record, but her remarkable fortitude in returning to her doomed house to save her father’s life shows that she must have been a strong and loyal person who rose to the unusual challenges of her eventful life.

By Marielle Boudreau, Education Associate and Revolutionary Character

Sally Hutchinson: The Misfortunes of a Loyalist Woman (Part II)

Our celebration of Women's History Month continues this week.  Catch up by reading our first post about Sally Hutchinson here

The summer of 1765 was one of the most eventful of Sally’s young life. Peter returned in June, having set up as a doctor in his hometown of Middleborough the previous year.  He began his courtship of her, and mentions that “the family was very agreeable” to it, despite his struggles in establishing himself in medical practice.  In August he asked for and received then-Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson’s permission to marry Sally. We have no evidence for Sally’s feelings about her engagement, but she seems to have known Peter quite well by the time they became engaged, and it’s likely she was at least fond of him.
   
On August 26, 1765, just a few days after Sally’s engagement, a far less pleasant change took place in her life. Tensions had been rising steadily in Boston since the news had broken about the Stamp Act back in the spring. The tax was scheduled to take effect in November, and Sally and Peter’s uncle Andrew Oliver had been appointed as the commissioner charged with issuing the stamps. On August 14, the Sons of Liberty organized a protest where they hung and burnt Andrew Oliver in effigy, then marched to his house and threatened to destroy it unless he resigned as stamp agent. After Oliver’s resignation the next day, a crowd showed up at the Hutchinson house in Boston and demanded that the lieutenant governor denounce the act himself.  They were calmed down and dispersed, and Hutchinson avoided having to make a statement.

Tile from Hutchinson House (1884.0116c)
The whole family moved to Milton for the next few days in order to avoid further trouble, but they returned on August 26. That night, a mob came marching into the North End with the purpose of attacking the Hutchinson house and, if possible, Hutchinson himself.  The family received brief advance warning and made immediate plans to depart. Sally left with her Aunt Grizell and her younger siblings Billy and Peggy to hide at a neighbor’s house, but evidently she could not stop thinking about her father, who had remained behind with the intention of fighting off the mob. Sally returned to the house just as the mob was approaching and begged her father to leave; he attempted to send her away, but she stated that she would not leave until he did, and out of concern for her safety, he escaped with her to the home of their relative Samuel Mather, where they passed the night in safety.
   
When Sally and her family returned to their home the next morning, they discovered that it had been destroyed by the mob.  She lost much of her clothing, including several items belonging to her late mother, and most of the family’s furniture was ruined, as well as the structure of the house itself. They returned to Milton until their house could be rebuilt.

Peter visited the family in Milton and found Sally “most terribly worried and distrest [sic].”  Find out what happened to them when the series concludes in our next post.

By Marielle Boudreau, Education Associate and Revolutionary Character

Sally Hutchinson: The Misfortunes of a Loyalist Woman (Part I)

This March we are celebrating Women's History Month by focusing on Sally Hutchinson in a series of posts.  Follow along as Marielle Boudreau, one of our Education Associates and first person interpreters, explores Sally's life during a tumultuous time in Boston's history.

When visitors enter the Old State House, they’re given cards to hang around their necks. In addition to being their ticket into the museum, these cards feature over one hundred different historical figures--real people who lived during the Revolution, known as “Revolutionary Characters.” Some Revolutionary Characters, like John Hancock and Samuel Adams, are well-known public figures, while others led relatively ordinary lives during an extraordinary time. Through the Revolutionary Characters Live program, costumed interpreters take on the roles of some of those real people and give in-character presentations to visitors several times a day. For the past two summers, I’ve played Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s oldest daughter Sarah, known to her family as “Sally.”

Mrs. Peter Oliver (Sarah Hutchinson) (d. 1780)
Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery
Because Sarah Hutchinson isn’t particularly famous or notable herself, she’s somewhat difficult to trace through history. We have no letters or documents written by Sally herself, so our main sources for her life are the papers of her father and the diary of her husband, Dr. Peter Oliver, Jr. But even though there are large gaps in our knowledge of Sally, we can piece together the details of her life through the documents that we do have, and we can make speculations about her personality.

Sarah Hutchinson was born on November 22, 1744, the third child and oldest daughter of Thomas and Margaret Sanford Hutchinson. Her mother died just ten years after she was born, soon after giving birth to the youngest Hutchinson child, Peggy. When her mother died, Sally’s maternal aunt Grizell Sanford moved in with the family in order to help keep house and raise the children. The family lived in a large house in Boston’s North End on Garden Court Street and they also owned a country estate in Milton on Unkity Hill. Sally was probably educated, like most girls of her class, by private tutors, while her brothers attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College.

In 1757, Peter Oliver, Jr. and his parents visited the Hutchinson family in Milton.  This was the first time that Sally met Peter, whom she would later marry.  Even before this union, the Hutchinson and Oliver families were already connected through marriage; Peter’s uncle Andrew Oliver was married to Sally’s aunt Mary Sanford. Peter was also later the Harvard roommate of Sally’s brother Elisha, and during his college years he seems to have grown close to Sally, writing “She had a very agreeable way in her behavior, which I remember pleased me more than any other of my female acquaintance, though I had not the least thought of any connection with her.” In 1761, Peter graduated from Harvard and moved away to Scituate to begin his medical training.

When the series continues, we jump to 1765 and learn what came next for Sally and Peter.

By Marielle Boudreau, Education Associate and Revolutionary Character


“The Vehemence of the Flames”: The History of Three Fires at the Old State House

The Fire of 1832


It was around 4:00 AM, Wednesday, November 21, 1832 when the Boston’s Fire Department responded to an alarm. Opposite the Old State House, which in 1832 was being used as Boston's first City Hall, the brick building numbered 14 and 16 State Street was up in flames. The firemen quickly fell into action, attacking the building with water hoses. While extinguishing the flames, one of the floors of the building suddenly exploded. The resulting blast caused the building to shake and left two people severely burned. It was later found that a canister of gun powder owned by a local businessman, Mr. Center, caused the explosion.

The Old State House in flames, 1832 (1887.0073)
The fire department left the scene that day having successfully extinguished the fire; knowing nothing of the fire slowly billowing next door. The firemen hardly had time to rest before they had to rush to yet another fire on State Street - this time at City Hall! When the firemen returned to State Street, they saw that the fire was burning on the roof of City Hall, presumably started by sparks from the earlier fire across the street. The fire department acted swiftly, and successfully extinguished the flames before the fire reached the lower floors of the building.

The ravages of the flames were minimal in comparison to the 1747 building fire, as only the roof and attic story suffered fire damage. Water used to put out the flames damaged the building; however, the Post Office and the merchants occupying the lower floors had to suspend their businesses temporarily. The Globe (Washington, D.C.) and New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal reported that the estimated damages to City Hall and its neighboring structure at $5,000 to $8,000 each, as neither building was insured. Boston’s City Council appropriated funds of $3,500 to repair the damages.

Stay tuned for my final smoke-filled post in this series about fires at the Old State House.

By Deirdre Kutt, Education Associate

Boston’s Liberty Tree Illuminated (Part II)

In our last post, we examined the events that occurred in Boston on August 14, 1765. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the Liberty Tree lanterns.

1889.0024
When Parliament finally accepted the reality that the Stamp Act could not be enforced and repealed the measure, Bostonians chose to celebrate at the Liberty Tree. News of the repeal arrived in Boston in May 1766. On May 19 and again on May 20, the entire town was illuminated by candlelight and the Liberty Tree itself was hung with dozens of lanterns. According to some accounts, 108 lanterns were hung from the tree—a reference to the margin by which the repeal passed in the House of Commons. “Liberty Hall” was decorated with banners and scrims painted with allegories depicting the story of liberty and the victory of Britannia, and the streets around the Liberty Tree were choked with revelers. In a way, the lanterns marked the opening of a new chapter in the history of the Liberty Tree, as it moved from serving as a site of assembly and political action to a site of memory, where the power of ordinary people to effect change through collective action was celebrated.

Though they have remarkable significance to the history of the American Revolution, not much is known from the surviving written accounts of the May 1766 celebrations about the lanterns that hung from the Liberty Tree. Fortunately, at least three have survived, including one in the Society’s collection.

In many ways the Bostonian Society’s lantern is relatively undistinguished. Like most lanterns of the second half of the eighteenth century, it is made of tin and glass. It is large enough to accommodate two candles, but at just over 20 inches by just under 8 ½ inches it is not oversized. It is painted green, red, and gold, and the tinwork is well executed but not overly ornate.

Detail of 1889.0024
A closer look, however, reveals much that is of interest. The lantern bears a carefully wrought crown of elm leaf finials, a clear reference to the Liberty Tree itself. Importantly, the same finials are found atop all three surviving lanterns that hung from the Liberty Tree in May 1766. This suggests that the lanterns were made as a set, either by a single tin worker or by multiple craftsmen working together. Clearly, the lanterns were not a spontaneous outpouring contributed by Boston residents; instead, they were part of a carefully planned commemoration of the repeal and of the Liberty Tree’s role in the defeat of the Stamp Act.

The materials from which the lantern was made tell us much about the mindset of the celebration’s organizers. During the Stamp Act crisis, Boston merchants had adopted a non-importation agreement - basically, a boycott of goods imported from Britain - and craftsmen and consumers alike were asked to forego goods made in England. With the repeal of the Stamp Act, however, British imports flooded back into the market, and it appears that even the group most committed to defeating the Stamp Act was happy to resume purchasing these goods. We know this because the lantern is made almost entirely of imported wares: the production of both tin and glass were prohibited in the colonies and had to be imported from Britain; even paint was primarily an imported luxury. The lantern suggests, in other words, that those in Boston who most bitterly contested the Stamp Act still considered themselves members in good standing of the larger imperial polity and beneficiaries of the British trading system that brought luxury imports to their small town on the periphery of the Atlantic world. The lanterns they used to commemorate the history of the Liberty Tree thus tell a more complex story than we might expect about the origins of the American Revolution and the place of Bostonians in shaping it.

Replica lantern at the August 14 event
(Courtesy of Heather Rockwood)
What would members of the Revolutionary generation make of Boston’s efforts to commemorate the history of the Liberty Tree 250 years after its birth as both a site of popular politics and a political symbol? The answer is hard to know, but we can be certain that they would recognize the power of memory to shape the world in which we live. When the Marquis de Lafayette visited Boston in 1824, he stopped at the site of the Liberty Tree and declared: “The world should never forget the spot where once stood Liberty Tree.” But the world has forgotten both the spot and the tree. Earlier in August, we invited the public to reflect on the legacy entrusted to us by an earlier generation of Bostonians. As part of the event, 108 replica lanterns were carried through the city to the Liberty Tree site at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets.  We should not forget this spot, and the lanterns that illuminated it.

In an upcoming post, we will tackle a final mystery about the Society’s Liberty Tree lantern: who painted the words that appear on the bottom surface of the lantern?

By Nat Sheidley, Historian and Director of Public History

Boston’s Liberty Tree Illuminated (Part I)

This Friday marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Boston’s Liberty Tree on August 14, 1765. An enormous elm whose arched boughs shaded the main road into Boston from the surrounding countryside, the Liberty Tree served as the gathering place for the first convulsive mass protest against Parliamentary legislation during the Revolutionary era and quickly emerged as the most potent symbol of the American cause. Towns and villages across North America identified Liberty Trees of their own and used them, as the people of Boston did, as places to come together, voice their grievances, and call for change. No other place speaks as plainly to the role that ordinary people played in making the American Revolution as does the site of Boston’s Liberty Tree.

Some of the 108 lanterns for Friday's event
(Courtesy of Martha McNamara)
On Friday night, Bostonians will remember this history by coming together where the Liberty Tree once stood, at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets. The event will connect participants and audience members to the American tradition of popular assembly so deeply rooted in this place and invite each person to reflect on the meaning of the American Revolution for our own era, 250 years on. To give shape to this conversation, participants belonging to five community organizations from across Boston will carry 108 lanterns, each decorated with artwork that speaks in its own way to the enduring legacy of the Liberty Tree.

The lanterns themselves tell an interesting story that connects back to both the history of the Liberty Tree itself and the historic Liberty Tree lantern in our museum collection. To unravel it, we must return to the August morning in 1765 when Bostonians first gathered beneath the Liberty Tree. As the sun rose that warm day, carts and foot-traffic passing into town came across two unusual objects hanging from the branches of the well-known elm: an effigy of Andrew Oliver, a high-ranking member of Massachusetts government and the man who had been appointed to oversee enforcement throughout the colony of the hated Stamp Act; and a green-soled boot containing a stylized representation of the devil. This last was a reference to the Earl of Bute, seen as the driving force behind Parliament’s decision to pass the Stamp Act in March 1765.

Bostonians reviled the Stamp Act because it imposed a tax on the colony without their consent. Massachusetts voters elected representatives to their own colony’s legislature, and few people contested that body’s right to enact taxes. However, no one in Massachusetts could cast a vote in Parliamentary elections. The Stamp Act was due to go into effect on November 1, 1765, but already it had been the topic of heated debate about town for more than a year. Everyone knew that the colony’s “humble petition” asking Parliament to repeal the act would be rejected. The congress proposed by the Massachusetts assembly as a means of coordinating the efforts of all the colonies to secure repeal would not take place until October, by which time it would be too late. If something were to be done, it would have to happen soon.

Corner of Essex and Orange Streets in 1774, showing Liberty Tree
(1958.0004.004) 
When Oliver and Bute’s effigies unexpectedly appeared in the arbor above a busy section of street, therefore, it struck a chord that resonated all across town. First hundreds and then thousands of Boston residents turned out to see the spectacle. As they approached the tree where the effigies hung, they could hear speakers exhorting them to stand strong in defense of the liberties that were their birthright as subjects of the British crown. By the hundreds they shouted “No!” when the speakers cried “Stamp!” As the crowd swelled, the royal governor called on the county sheriff to cut down the effigies and disperse the assembly. Sheriff Greenleaf’s deputies were barred from approaching the tree and sent away with a promise that the effigies would be removed at nightfall. And indeed they were. The throng removed the effigies and paraded with the likeness of Oliver up the street to the Town House (i.e., the Old State House). They marched through the building and directly beneath the governor’s chamber, chanting their opposition to the Stamp Act. Next the crowd proceeded to the waterfront, where they tore down a structure on Andrew Oliver’s dock that was believed to contain the stamped paper to be used in enforcing the Stamp Act. Finding no paper, they instead took the rubble from the destroyed building up nearby Fort Hill, where they burned it in full view of Oliver’s private home. Each piece of wood was ceremoniously “stamped” before being committed to the fire. And when the bonfire was sufficiently hot, Oliver’s effigy was sent to a fiery death—a far-from-subtle message to the provincial Secretary, who watched from this window not far off.

Oliver had seen his likeness hung from a tree with a rope about his neck, paraded through town, and consumed by flames. His property had been destroyed, and he surely felt lucky to have escaped with his own health intact. By the next morning, Oliver had resigned his post as stamp distributor for Massachusetts. No replacement could be found. The great mass of ordinary people had made their voices heard, and in one frightful blow the Stamp Act was made a dead letter throughout Massachusetts. Other towns soon followed Boston’s lead, and before long protests had forced the resignation of those charged with enforcing the Stamp Act in every colony but Georgia.

In Boston, the protesters and their sympathizers celebrated their victory by naming the tree where the protest began “the Liberty Tree.” A plaque bearing this title was affixed to the tree in early September, and a new organization calling itself the Sons of Liberty pledged to defend not just the tree but the larger cause of American liberty. As fall turned to winter, thousands continued to gather at the Liberty Tree to voice their opposition to the Stamp Act. Soon the newspapers were calling the space beneath the tree “Liberty Hall”—a reference, perhaps, to Faneuil Hall where the town government met and an indication that the proceedings in this outdoor space were seen by some, at least, as a legitimate part of the political process.

Liberty Tree Lantern in the Council Chamber
(1889.0024)
Check back next week for the continuation of this story and to learn more about the Liberty Tree lanterns. And please come to the Liberty Tree site at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets on Friday, August 14, at 8pm to join in commemorating 250 years of an important American ideal.

By Nat Sheidley, Historian and Director of Public History



Commemorating the Liberty Tree and the Stamp Act Riots

1889.0034.001
This month marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Boston's famous Liberty Tree. On August 14, 1765, Bostonians gathered beneath an enormous elm not far from Boston Common to protest the hated Stamp Act, which taxed the people of Massachusetts without their consent. The protest convinced the official charged with administering the tax to resign his office, and the tree where the protest had begun received a new name: the Liberty Tree.

This event is commonly viewed as the start of the American Revolution, while the Liberty Tree emerged as the most prominent symbol of the important role played by ordinary people in creating the new republic. The Bostonian Society will be commemorating the enduring legacy of the Liberty Tree at a number of upcoming events.

Join us at Liberty Tree Plaza (at the intersection of Washington and Boylston Streets) on August 14 at 8:00 pm for a lantern illumination.  Community organizations from throughout Boston will gather at the site of the Liberty Tree to display 108 copper lanterns modeled on the historic lanterns that were hung on the Liberty Tree during the Stamp Act crisis. The lanterns will be decorated with artwork and together will give expression to the meanings that the Liberty Tree holds for the people of Boston today. Nat Sheidley, our Historian and Director of Public History, will be one of the speakers at this event.  This event is a presented by Medicine Wheel Productions and Revolution250, a coalition of historic organizations (including the Bostonian Society) committed to working together to mark the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.

Almanac Tax Stamp, 1920.0002
Take part in Echoes of the Past, a free, live-action game on August 15 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.  Begin your adventure at the Old State House or at the Downtown Crossing Information Cart on Summer Street. Discover riddles, ciphers, grudges, and plots to learn the story of Boston's historic Stamp Act Riot. With the guidebook in hand (or using a web version on their mobile device) players will hunt for ghosts, or "Echoes of the Past." These live costumed interpreters will quickly draw  players into the political intrigues of 1765. After collecting a stamp for their book from each character in the game, players will discover the game's thrilling climax at 4:00 p.m. when they join together with an 18th-century mob to participate in a protest march from the site of the Liberty Tree to the hub of colonial power, the Old State House.

Participate in a reenactment of the Stamp Act Riot on August 15 at 4:00 pm.  Meet at the corner of Washington Street and Winter Street (next to the Downtown Crossing T Station) and join historic reenactors in period costume in a raucous march through the streets of Boston to the Old State House to protest the coming Stamp Act. Can the stamp distributor be compelled to resign his post? This event is co-sponsored by the Bostonian Society and Revolution250.

We hope that you'll be able to join us for these events, and please leave any questions in the comments.
 

The Exchange: The Bostonian Society's Monthly Newsletter

Have you subscribed to our monthly newsletter, The Exchange? Our blog is a great way to learn behind-the-scenes information about our collection and building preservation, but our monthly newsletter will keep you up to date on all of the fun activities happening at the Old State House.

By signing up for The Exchange you'll learn about our upcoming events - including a beer tasting and pub quiz! You'll also find out information about our current exhibits - like the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress, an 18th century wedding gown that was recently conserved and is now on display. The Exchange also includes information about our educational programing for students and families.  Click here to read the May edition!

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242 years ago this month: a speech by Governor Thomas Hutchinson (Part II)

Last week we began an examination of a speech that Governor Thomas Hutchinson made here in the Old State House in January 1773.  In today's post, we'll learn more about the response to his speech.

Despite Governor Hutchinson’s fears regarding independent colonial governments, his speech acknowledged that governments make mistakes; no one governing entity is perfect. As a result, he felt that to question policies that came out of one’s government was healthy as long as it was done through channels that were considered constitutional. Hutchinson felt that the rioting and questioning of the superiority of the mother country’s government was unconstitutional. He argued before the legislative branch that he would be willing to hear their arguments, whether he shared their sentiments or not, and was willing to be convinced by them, in a peaceful manner, to understand their cause:
“I have no desire, gentlemen, by anything I have said, to preclude you from seeking relief, in a constitutional way, of any cases in which you have heretofore, or may hereafter suppose that you are aggrieved; and, although I should not concur with you in sentiment, I will, notwithstanding, do nothing to lessen the weight which your representations may deserve.”
In making this speech, Governor Hutchinson hoped to adopt a middle ground between Parliament and the colonists: acknowledging to Parliament that they still had control over the colonies while also acknowledging the right of the colonists to question policies when they felt their government was in error.

Engraving by Paul Revere
Unfortunately for Governor Hutchinson, his speech was too little too late. Though the House of Representatives agreed that political peace should be restored, they felt that they could hardly blame the current upheaval on the people. To them, the people had done nothing unconstitutional. They had only responded to Parliament “assuming and exercising a power inconsistent with the freedom of the constitution,” and therefore it was Parliament who was acting outside of the powers given to them by the constitution. The people of Massachusetts were only protecting their constitutional rights as British subjects, equal to those subjects in the mother country of Great Britain.

Hutchinson’s speech was also poorly received by Parliament. Parliament had adopted a belief that if they ignored the upheaval in the colonies it would eventually blow over, and therefore, had also ignored all of Hutchinson’s letters asking for instructions on how to address the growing disorder. By not responding to Hutchinson’s letters, they had left him to assume the proper course of action as the royal governor and representative of their political body. As a result, when Parliament heard of Governor Hutchinson’s speech, they condemned him for bringing the problem to the forefront of the minds of the colonists when they had hoped it would die away. Governor Hutchinson’s speech was received in the opposite spirit in which it was intended, only resulting in his being alienated from both the colonial government and the government of the mother country.

By Roberta DeCenzo, Education Associate

242 years ago this month: a speech by Governor Thomas Hutchinson (Part I)

Thomas Hutchinson
Many debates and arguments were made within the rooms of the Old State House prior to the American Revolution when it was used as the seat of colonial government, housing both the House of Representatives and the office of the Royal Governor. Although the debates were held by patriots and loyalists, one pivotal speech made by the last civilian royal governor stands out amongst the political upheaval leading up to the outbreak of the war.

On January 6, 1773, the House of Representatives returned to the seat of government for the new year. Governor Thomas Hutchinson opened the new session with a speech acknowledging his awareness of the political disorder caused by new policies coming from the British Parliament without consent from the colonies. He hoped the violence and upheaval within the colony would subside on its own, but it had become clear the problem needed to be addressed to be resolved. Hutchinson felt that by moving from the mother country to the colonies, they never escaped the laws and policies applied to the entire empire. By accepting the protection of the mother country, the colonists agreed to adhere to the laws and governance issued from Parliament regardless of representation and distance.

Hutchinson also feared by offering the mother country an ultimatum to allow colonists representation or to self-govern would estrange the mother country from its colonies, creating a new and separate government from the British Empire:

“I know of no line that can be drawn between the supreme authority of Parliament and the total independence of the colonies: it is impossible there should be two independent Legislatures in one and the same state; for, although there may be but one head, the King, yet the two Legislative bodies will make two governments as distinct as the kingdoms of England and Scotland…”

If the colonies operated as separate and independent governments, they would lose the protection of a strong and stable country and could easily be over taken by Spain or France. The colonists would then lose their rights as Englishmen altogether, and would have to adapt to the stricter rules and regulations of the new superior government. Even within one empire, Hutchinson felt that subjects of different provinces could not access the same rights and policies as the subjects in other provinces. In the democratic nature of election of representatives, the colonists agreed to give up some rights to the person elected; whether they voted for that individual or not. The people gave up their rights to the one man who they elected to act as the group voice for them. Not every man elected had the same ideas and motives, so each colony would have different laws and ideas of rights. Therefore, what one colony may have the right or privilege to do may not be the same as other colonies within the empire, and in extension, what the subjects in the mother country had the rights and privileges to do, did not have to be the same rights and privileges that were extended to the colonies.

Check back next week to hear the continuation of this story and the response within the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the British Empire to Hutchinson’s appeal for the return of political peace.

By Roberta DeCenzo, Education Associate