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Oliver, Thomas (1734-1815) (DNB00)


OLIVER, THOMAS (1734–1815), lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts, said to have been born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on 5 Jan. 1734, was son of Robert Oliver by Ann, daughter of James Brown of Antigua. His father was living in Antigua in 1738, but had settled at Dorchester before 1747. Thomas graduated at Harvard in 1753. He probably resided at Dorchester until 1766, when he purchased an estate on Elmwood Avenue, near Mount Auburn, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and erected the mansion afterwards the residence successively of Governor Gerry, the Rev. Dr. Lowell, and James Russell Lowell. Being a man of fortune, he was not actively engaged in business, nor did he take much part in public affairs until March 1774, when he accepted the office of lieutenant-governor of the province and president of a council appointed by the king in a manner especially galling to popular feeling. The councillors were visited by bands of Middlesex freeholders, and one after another forced to renounce their offices. On the seizure by the royal troops of the public stock of powder provided for the militia, the yeomen of the neighbouring towns marched to Cambridge, some of them bringing arms. General Gage thereupon prepared to send troops against them. Oliver, after vainly endeavouring to persuade the people to turn back, hastened to Boston and prevailed on Gage to refrain from military action. On his return the resignation of his seat on the council board was demanded. He urgently requested delay, inasmuch as he could not with propriety renounce that office while he held that of lieutenant-governor; but when a threatening multitude surrounded his house on the morning of 2 Sept. he yielded, and signed a solemn engagement 'as a man of honour and a Christian' that he would 'never hereafter, upon any terms whatsoever, accept a seat at the said board, on the present novel and oppressive plan of the government.' He left Cambridge immediately and never returned. At the evacuation of Boston he accompanied the British forces, and soon afterwards took passage from Halifax to England. He was proscribed in 1778, and his estate confiscated.

Oliver died at Bristol on 29 Nov. 1815 (Gent. Mag. 1815, pt. ii. p. 641). By his marriage in 1760 to Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel John Vassall, he had a family of daughters. He is represented as being of a gentle, retiring disposition. It has even been suggested that his name was inserted in the commission by mistake instead of the name of Chief-justice Peter Oliver (1718-1791).

[Paige's Hist. of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Appleton's Cyclop. of Amer. Biogr.]

G. G.