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Rivington’s News – The Black Act – Connecticut – Massachusetts and New Hampshire

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

June 16.—Our correspondents beyond the lines, says Rivington, give as a most melancholy description of the wretchedness of the inhabitants of all parts of the country. The increase of the numbers who are for peace and the re-union, by driving the rest who are a great minority of the whole to despair, excites them to practise every barbarous exertion for the preservation of their tyranny.

The mob legislature of New York, by a late law, have enacted treasons into felonies, that they may take away life with only one witness, or presumptive evidence, instead of two witnesses to each overt act, as their own republican constitution requires; and that they may the more easily get jurymen to attend in criminal cases, and thus abate the dread of falling within the exception contained in the Declaration of the Royal Commissioners, by being exempted from pardon for putting loyal subjects to death. The new act passed by the usurpers at Albany, gives power to send such as they convict for certain offences before treasonable, and now made felony, to serve in the French fleet.

Their laws for taxing the people, and forcing them from home into military services, are intolerably severe and cruel. Among others they have one called the Black Act, under which they plunder the loyalists for every thing lost or taken from any independent partisan, and by this they have found means so to manage matters as greatly to enrich themselves. There is an instance in Duchess County, of about five hundred pounds in value in hard money, raised to pay for a single horse. Others again profit by robberies of the loyalists, whose houses are entered by armed parties at midnight, calling themselves Tories, and who, of course, go clear, because the persons robbed will not prosecute on the Black Act, nor would succeed if they did, the law (as is expressed) being made only for good Whigs.

That they may not be embarrassed by the backwardness or conscientious qualms of jurymen, certain classes of people obnoxious to the ruling party, are made triable by courts-martial, and many perish by these military tribunals, under the imputation of spies, or concealers, or comforters of spies. To the credit of the main body of the people, it is observed, that few, and in some districts none, attended at the late elections for the officers of the usurpation, and many have removed to Vermont and other places, not yet so miserable as those they fly from. In some counties there would be tolerable ease to the inhabitants, but for ten or twelve of the ringleaders in the vicinity in all the wicked work of oppression, plunder, and blood-shedding. It is with difficulty the unhappy sufferers restrain themselves under their complicated calamities, and only through their present dread of the rebel garrison at West Point.

Of the tyrants against whom the complaints of the people run highest as the most unfeeling malefactors, we find in the latest letters in general, those acting as Commissioners for conspiracies, and sequestrations, and sheriffs, ‘with the names in particular of William Duer, Egbert Benson, Robert Harper, Henry Williams, a fellow vulgarly called at Poughkeepsie, the Bishop, a Doctor Van Wyck, Judge Platt, Squire Van Ness, old Wisner, Squire Stewart, Joseph Wood, William Holly, Gill Cooper, Judge Call, Squire Rye, and Captain Crompond Drake.

Some Connecticut friends assert that there appears to be such an abhorrence of the present system, and so general a turn in the minds of the people, that if any patriot should stand forth, and call out all those who wish to preserve the charter, and enjoy immediate peace, he would be instantly joined by a vast majority of the colony, in a resolution to withdraw from the Congress, and oppose the pernicious councils by which they so often have been cheated of their property.

Very judicious intelligencers also inform us, that the disgusts and impatience of the main body of the people are as great in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and especially in all that part of the former to the west of Connecticut River. A few months ago, Deerfield ordered her delegate in the general court at Boston, to move for instructions to the province of Delegates in Congress, to make overtures for peace with the mother country; and so much alarmed were the zealots for independency, lest this should prove a match to a train, as instantly to violate their new constitution, by suspending the privilege of habeas corpus; after which the tyrants threw Messrs. Williams, Catlin, and Ashley into jail, as chief promoters of the Deerfield instructions.1


1 Rivington’s Gazette, June 16.