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Mob at Worcester – Courts Closed at Springfield

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

March 8. –A writer in Boston1 addresses the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts as follows: —

To the Massachusetts Congress.

“Your assuming the government of Massachusetts Bay, makes it unnecessary for me to make any apology for addressing you in this public manner, further, than by acquainting you that it is to represent to you the distresses of some of those people, who, from a sense of their duty to the king, and a reverence for his laws, have behaved quietly and peaceably; and for which reason they have been deprived of their liberty, abused in their persons, and suffered such barbarous cruelties, insults, and indignities, besides the loss of their property, by the hands of lawless mobs and riots, as would have been disgraceful even for savages to have committed. The courts of justice being shut up in most parts of the province, and the justices of those courts compelled by armed force, headed by some who are members of your Congress, to refrain from doing their duties, at present it is rendered impracticable for those sufferers to obtain redress, unless it be by your interposition, or the aid of military force, which will be applied for in case this application fails. A particular enumeration of all the instances referred to, is apprehended unnecessary, as many of your members are personally knowing to them, and for the information of any of you who may pretend ignorance of them, the following instances are here mentioned. In August last, a mob in Berkshire forced the justices of the court of Common Pleas from their seats, and shut up the court-house. They also drove David Ingersoll from his house, and damaged the same, and he was obliged to leave his estate; after which his enclosures were laid waste. At Taunton, Daniel Leonard2 was driven from his house, and bullets fired into it by the mob, and he obliged to take refuge in Boston, for the supposed crime of obeying his Majesty’s requisition as one of his council for this province. Colonel Gilbert, of Freetown, a firm friend to government, in August last being at Dartmouth, was attacked at midnight by a mob of about an hundred, but by his bravery, with the assistance of the family where he lodged, they were beaten off. The same night Brigadier Ruggles was also attacked by another party, who were routed after having painted and cut the hair off of one of his horse’s mane and tail. Afterwards he had his arms taken from his dwelling-house in Hardwick, all of which are not yet returned. He had at another time a very valuable English horse, which was kept as a stallion, poisoned, his family disturbed, and himself obliged to take refuge in Boston, after having been insulted in his own house, and twice on his way, by a mob. The chief justice of the province in Middleborough, was threatened to be stopped on the highway in going to Boston court, but his firmness and known resolution, supporting government in this as well as many other instances, intimidated the mob from laying hands on him; he was also threatened with opposition in going into court, but the terror of the troops prevented. The whole bench were hissed by a mob as they came out of court. In September, Mr. Sewall, his Majesty’s Attorney-General for Massachusetts Bay, was obliged to repair to Boston for refuge. His house at Cambridge was attacked by a mob, and his windows were broken, but the mob was beaten off by the gallant behavior and bravery of some young gentlemen of his family. About the same time the lieutenant-governor Oliver, president of his Majesty’s council, was attacked at Cambridge, by a mob of about four thousand, and was compelled to resign his seat at the board, since which, upon further threats, he has been obliged to leave his estate, and take refuge with his family in Boston. At Worcester, a mob of about five thousand collected, prevented the court of Common Pleas from sitting, (about one thousand of them had fire-arms.) and all drawn up in two files, compelled the judges, sheriffs, and gentlemen of the bar, to pass them with cap in hand, and read their disavowal of holding courts under the new acts of parliament, not less than thirty times in their procession. Daniel Oliver, Esq., of Hardwick, was disarmed by a mob, and has been obliged to take refuge in Boston, to the total loss of his business. Colonel Phips, the very reputable and highly esteemed sheriff of the county of Middlesex, by a large mob was obliged to promise not to serve any processes of courts, and to retire to Boston for protection from further insults. Colonel Saltonstall, the very humane sheriff of the county of Essex, has been obliged to take refuge in Boston, to screen himself from the violence of the mob. The court of Common Pleas was forbidden to sit at Taunton, by a large mob, with a justice acting as one of their committee. At. Middleborough, Peter Oliver, Esq., was obliged to sign a paper, not to execute his office, under the new acts. At Springfield, the courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the peace, were prevented sitting by a large mob, who kept the justices from entering the court-house, and obliged them, the sheriff, and gentlemen of the bar, to desist, with their hats off, from holding any courts. Colonel Edson, one of his Majesty’s council, has been driven from his house in Bridgewater, and kept from it ever since last August, for being a friend to government, and accepting his Majesty’s appointment as counsellor.

To recount the suffering of all from mobs, rioters, and trespassers, would take more time and paper than can be spared for that purpose.“The courts of General Session of the Peace and inferior courts of Common Pleas for the county of Plymouth, have been shut up. In August, Colonel Putnam of Worcester, a firm friend to Government, had two fat cows stolen and taken from him, and a very valuable grist-mill burnt, and was obliged to leave a fair estate in Worcester, and retire to Boston, where he has been ever since, for his protesting against riots, &c. Colonel Murray, of Rutland, one of his Majesty’s council, has been obliged to leave a large estate in the country, and repair to Boston to save himself from being handled by the mob, and compelled to resign his seat at council board. His house has been attacked, his family put in fear. Colonel Vassall, of Cambridge, from intolerable threats, and insolent treatment by mobs of his friends and himself, has left his elegant seat there, and retired to Boston, with his amiable family, for protection. John Borland, Esq., is in the same predicament with Colonel Vassall. Honorable John Chandler, Esq., judge of probate, &c., for the county of Worcester, has been obliged to retreat to Boston for protection, and leave his business, and a numerous family of hopeful youths behind him, with great reluctance, and who, before he came away, was ordered by the mob to hold his office till further orders.

“The Plymouth protesters, addressers, and military officers, were compelled by a mob of two thousand, collected from Plymouth and Barnstable counties, to recant and resign their military commissions. Thomas Foster, Esq., an ancient gentleman, was obliged to run into the woods, and had like to have been lost, and the mob, although the justices, with Mr. Foster, were sitting in the town, ransacked his house, and damaged his furniture. He was obnoxious as a friend to government, and for that reason they endeavored to deprive him of his business, and to prevent even his taking the acknowledgment of a deed. Richard Clark, Esq., a consignee of the tea, was obliged to retire from Salem to Boston, as an asylum; and his son Isaac went to Plymouth to collect debts, but in the night was assaulted by a mob and obliged to get out of town at midnight. Jesse Dunbar, of Halifax, in Plymouth county, bought some fat cattle of Mr. Thomas the counsellor, and drove them to Plymouth for sale; one of the oxen being skinned and hung up, the committee came to him, and finding be bought it of Mr. Thomas, they put the ox into a cart, and fixing Dunbar in his belly, carted him four miles, and there made him pay a dollar, after taking three more cattle and a horse from him. The Plymouth mob delivered him to the Kingston mob, which carted him four miles further, and forced from him another dollar, then delivered him to the Duxborough mob, who abused him by throwing the tripe in his face, and endeavoring to cover him with it to the endangering his life. They then threw dirt at him, and after other abuses carried him to said Thomas’s house, and made him pay another sum of money, and he not taking the beef, they flung it in the road and quitted him. Daniel Dunbar, of Halifax, an ensign of militia there, had his colors demanded by the mob, some of the selectmen being the chief actors. He refused; they broke into his house, took him out, forced him upon a rail, and after keeping him for two or three hours in such abuses, he was forced to give his colors up to save his life. A constable of Hardwick, for refusing to pay his collections, directly contrary to the oath of his office, was bound and confined six and thirty hours, and threatened with being sent to Simsbury mines.3 His wife being dangerously ill, he was released after signing a something which one of the mob had prepared for him. The mob committee of the county of York ordered that no one should hire any of Sir William Pepperell’s estates, buy no wood of him, or pay any debts due to him. In February, at Plymouth, a number of ladies attempted to divert themselves at their assembly room, but the mob collected, (the committee having met previous thereto,) and flung stones which broke the shutters and windows, and endangered their lives. They were forced to get out of the hall, and were pelted and abused to their own homes. After this the ladies diverted themselves by riding out, but were followed by a mob, pelted and abused, with the most indecent Billingsgate language. These things happened at the time when some of the people of Plymouth, in conjunction with the committee men from other towns in that county, aided and assisted by four dissenting clergymen, were presenting to General Gage, by their memorial, the peaceable state they were in before the arrival of a party of soldiers4 at Marshfield, in that county.

“The Honorable Israel Williams, Esq., one who was appointed of his Majesty’s new council, but had declined the office through infirmity of body, was taken from his house by the mob in the night, carried several miles, put into a room with a fire, the chimney at the top, the doors of the room closed, and kept there for many hours in the smoke, till his life was in danger; then he was carried home, after being forced to sign what they ordered, and a guard placed over him to prevent his leaving the house.

“To recount the suffering of all from mobs, rioters, and trespassers, would take more time and paper than can be spared for that purpose. It is hoped the foregoing will be sufficient to put you upon the use of proper means and measures for giving relief to all that have been injured by such unlawful and wicked practices.”5


1 Under the signature of “Plain English.”
2 Author of a series of articles in defence of the Crown, under the signature, Massachusettensis.
3 In Connecticut.
4 Balfour’s party.
5 Rivington’s Gazette, March 9, and Curwen’s Journal, pp. 449 et seq.