The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter III

Published in 1825.

The spirit of that day is still awake,
And spreads itself, and shall not sleep again,
But through the idle mesh of power shall break,
Like billows o'er the Asian monarch's chain.

The political principles of Frederic Somerville were rather the result of habit and education, than of personal character. He was fresh from the classic schools of Greece and Rome, and his own spirit was as free as the untamed courser of the desert; but he had read gorgeous descriptions of feudal power,---he had gazed on old baronial castles, the massive grandeur of the Gothic, and the lighter and more graceful outline of Saxon architecture, till his imagination was wedded to pompous pageantry, and his heart bowed down before the crown, the coronet, and the mitre.

But he was enthusiastic, ardent, and capricious; and those who knew him well, would have felt no surprise at seeing him as valiant a champion for the rights of man as he now was for the supremacy of his king.

Toward the evening of the 26th of August, he was sitting in one of the alcoves which looked out upon the garden, talking with his uncle concerning the arrival of stamped paper, when a small arrow whizzed between them, and fastened in the canvass hangings of the room. Both started, and looked out at the window.

A lad, with cross-bow and quiver, was just scaling the fence; but he was soon out of the reach of pursuit. To the arrow was fastened a slip of paper, with these words:

"Lieutenant-Governor, Member of the Council,
Commander of the Castle, Judge of Probate, and Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court! you are hereby commanded
to appear under the Liberty-tree within one
hour, to plight your faith, that you will use no more
influence against an injured and an exasperated people.

The Governor's face flushed to the very temples.

"Again reproached with the multiplicity of my offices," said he; "as if talents and education ought not to command fortune."

"Where is this tree, of which I have heard so much?" inquired his nephew. "It seems these people are determined that even their timber shall be implicated in rebellion."

"It is that large elm opposite Frog Lane, [3] where the mob dared to suspend their insulting effigies on the fourteenth of this month," he replied.

"And what notice shall you take of this insulting epistle?"

"Such notice as king George's representative should take of the insolence of his subjects. I will never compromise with their vengeance, nor govern them by stratagem."

"Spoken like Governor Hutchinson," exclaimed Somerville. He paused a moment, and looked anxiously into the street, before he added, "Had I not better go to the tree, and watch their proceedings?"

"As you please, sir. They will make no difference in my arrangements, however. They will hardly dare to touch my property; and if they do forget so far as to pull down some of my fences, they will be compelled to pay a pound for every penny I lose."

With high ideas of English power, and with very gross ignorance of the colonial character, Somerville regarded the resistance of America as the discontented murmuring of a wayward child; and as he now passed through the principal streets of Boston, he was absolutely astonished at the intense eagerness and portentous activity of the crowd.

There was something in the hurried step of those who were walking to and fro, and in the earnest manner of those collected in groups, that seemed like the stormy movements of the ocean, as it rises wave after wave, and lashes itself to fury.

"There is the man that daddy calls the Breetish telltale," said a sturdy little fellow, who was helping his companion fly a kite.

"By George, say that again, if you dare," retorted the son of a staunch tory, as he clenched his fist, and at one blow prostrated him on the ground.

"I'm up again," exclaimed the resolute little chap, springing on his feet, and rubbing his ears.

"Let those who throw the infant Hercules, beware his rising," said a dark-eyed young man, whose flushed cheek and sparkling eye betrayed the keen interest he took in the scene. Those who are the most enthusiastic in their opinions, and the most impetuous in their conduct, are peculiarly subject to violent reaction, and had Somerville at that moment been alone in the world, without friends to sway, or interest to guide him, he would have rebounded from his long cherished aristocracy, to the extreme of political freedom.

Desperate and wicked as he had been accustomed to think the cause, he could not but admire the fearless energy with which it was maintained; and with more respect than he had ever before felt for the rebels, he passed along to the place where a meeting with his uncle had been appointed. There were clusters of people within sight; but the immediate vicinity of the tree was perfectly quiet.

A tall, slender man passed Somerville, with the slow and irresolute step of one who has no other object in walking than to while away a tedious interval. He looked at his watch anxiously, and was about to retrace the path he had just taken, when the young Englishman arrested his attention. For a moment he seemed to hesitate whether to speak, or not,---then suddenly plunged into a narrow lane, the darkness of which soon concealed him from view.

Willing to ascertain more fully the state of public feeling, Somerville entered the White Horse tavern, and carelessly glancing over the London Chronicle, kept a watchful eye on those who entered and departed.

Several countrymen surrounded a gentleman in one corner of the room, who was saying to them, "Be firm resist unto death; but," added he, slowly and impressively lowering his hand, "be moderate---be prudent."

"Spoken like Samuel Adams," said a young man, who had that moment entered. Somerville immediately recognised the figure that he had seen passing and repassing the Liberty-tree, and the voice that had spoken of the rising Hercules.

"Has he come, Doctor Willard," inquired a dozen voices.

"The person I sought is not yet where we expect him," answered he.

There was a long pause.

"Do you really think, after all Governor Hutchinson has promised us, that he has dared to write to England, advising them not to repeal this duty?" asked one of the countrymen.

"It seems to be proved beyond all doubt," replied Willard.

"Let him look to 't, then," said an old man, taking out a huge quid of tobacco, and shaking his head most significantly.

"And do you think, sir, this duty never will be pealed? " inquired a ruddy-faced farmer.

"Franklin is making great exertions for us," rejoined Adams; "but the king is ignorant of the real state of his Colonies, the ministry are obstinate, and their friends here are wicked and selfish. We have much to fear."

The farmer made a nod of defiance, similar to those which a small boy ventures, when at a safe distance, to direct toward the champion who has just thrown him.

"My friends," said Adams, "remember that nothing is to be gained by violence; much by calm and dignified firmness. Let not the outrages of the 14th be re-acted."

"Do you fear any open resistance?" asked Somerville, stepping forward.

The two gentlemen looked anxiously at each other, for his entrance had been unnoticed by all who stood in that corner of the room; and Adams replied,

"I trust there will be no assault upon individual property, sir; but there is no answering for the movements of a populace, goaded and trampled on as we have been."

"I need not remind you of English power," rejoined Somerville; "and what will you do if they continue to resolve that the duty shall be paid?"

"In such a case, hearts and hands will not be wanting," replied Willard. "To the nephew of Governor Hutchinson, I shall say no more. Good evening, sir."

"Ye 're a frind to your country, and I like ye for it," said the farmer. "But I 'll not stay here, nuther; for I guess I should give too much of my mind to that Breetish fellow."

With an air of evident vexation, Somerville followed them to the street, and the traces of recent indignation were very conspicuous on his ingenuous countenance, when he entered his uncle's library. This room contained the finest collection of books then in the Colonies; and bore obvious marks of the scholar, the antiquarian, and the man of taste. It was hung with canvass tapestry, on which was blazoned the coronation of George II., here and there interspersed with the royal arms. The portraits of Anne and the two Georges hung in massive frames of antique splendour, and the crowded shelves were surmounted with busts of the house of Stuart. A table of polished black oak stood in the centre, at which were seated the Governor and his friend Doctor Byles.

"You are welcome, sir knight of the dolorous visage," said the facetious clergyman. "Your uncle and I have been two hours endeavouring to decipher the black-letter manuscript you brought us; but like the woeful messengers that drove poor Job to desperation, each succeeding hour has brought some one with rueful face and direful tone, to tell us that the rebels are certainly about to commit some dreadful outrage, and that we had better prepare for the worst."

"I come on the same mournful errand," replied Somerville, imitating the mock solemnity of his manner. "But, to speak seriously, uncle, I have seen instances of fearless audacity to-day, which leave no room to doubt of the infuriated state of the populace."

"Ill news are swallow-winged; but what is good walks on crutches," said Doctor Byles. "These discontented wretches dare not insult one of his majesty's officers."

Somerville repeated, very minutely, all he had heard and seen during his absence.

"Why did you not treat the insolent rebels in the manner they deserved?" inquired Governor Hutchinson.

"It was with difficulty that I did refrain in one instance," replied he; "but it is well I did; for you know how much mischief Oliver's passionate friends made on a similar occasion. After all, there is a touch of spirit in this thing. I had rather see zeal in a bad cause, than coldness in a good one. The mantle of true English feeling must have descended on these people, as they left our shores."

"I confess, young man, I see no similarity to English---"

A confused noise in the distance here interrupted the conversation For a few moments they listened with a kind of stupefaction; and this gradually increased to a bewildered, but intense fear of approaching danger, as the sounds of drum and fife, mingled with the loud shouts of men and boys, became terribly distinct.

"Lucretia is in the cupola," said the Governor, motioning to his nephew.

"My private papers are in that desk, Doctor Byles," added he. "They may be safer about your person than mine. Get them into the hands of Mr. Osborne as soon as possible."

He was making other brief arrangements, with a trembling eagerness that defeated his haste, when a loud crash of falling glass announced that the multitude had commenced the work of destruction.

Lucretia's voice was heard on the stairs, as she screamed, "Aunt! aunt!" in an agony of terror.

Another tremendous wreck succeeded, as she burst into the library.

"Oh, my God! where is aunt Sandford?" she exclaimed. "Dear uncle, save yourself. Run, run to Mr. Osborne's."

The united voices of Somerville and Miss Sandford were now heard, calling, "This way, Lucretia, this way."

With an involuntary wish to save something, she caught two rolls of manuscripts, lying on the table, and followed their direction. [4]

Quicker than it can be said, the whole family were cautiously stealing through the back yard, on their way to Mr. Osborne's.

As they came into the street in rear of the house, bottles of Champaigne, and barrels of claret, brought from the Governor's own cellar, were furiously broken by the mob, who were drinking most immoderately.

"There goes stingy Tommy," cried one.

"And Mather, the droll," shouted another.

This recognition was followed by hats full of wine thrown in their faces, with loud cries of "Don't it go to your heart, stingy Tom?"

With difficulty they forced their way a few steps farther, and came in view of a large effigy, mounted on a car, round which the multitude were brandishing their torches, exclaiming, while hundreds of hats waved in dizzy circles through the air, "Liberty, or death! No stamps! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!"

"Down with the tyrant! down with the hypocrite!" shouted the mob, as they formed a phalanx round the Governor. The tumult increased. At that moment, a tall, athletic man pressed eagerly toward the group.

"In the name of Heaven, let not a hair of their heads be injured," said he. "Is it come to this in New-England, that the presence of ladies is no safeguard against rudeness."

"You are one of his nephews, or parasite officers," muttered a bye-stander.

The arm of Somerville was raised, in the forgetfulness of his anger, but was stayed by Doctor Byles. "Forgive and despise them," said he; "they are not worthy of an Englishman's chastisement.

"Look me in the face, John," said the gentleman who came to their rescue. He raised his slouched hat as he spoke, and displayed the resolute features of Samuel Adams, as he added, "Am I not a friend to the people? But this is licentiousness, not liberty. This is no way to redress our wrongs."

"But it is the way to revenge them," shouted an unknown voice.

"Let Governor Hutchinson and his household pass!" said Adams, in a voice of thunder. "I will be his guard; and he that stops me, does it at his peril."

The multitude, awed by the boldness of his language, fell back; the confusion subsided for a moment; and the generous American soon conducted the family to more quiet scenes.

But the spirit of riot again stormed; and the heads of men seemed like the waves of the ocean, rising, swelling, rushing onward. The noise of shattered glass and falling timber was mingled with horrid imprecations, in the midst of which, down fell the magnificent cupola, crushed to a thousand atoms.

"Fire the house, boys! fire the house!" shouted one.

The crowd, whom contagious excitement and brutal intoxication had maddened into fury, prepared to obey.

For an instant, fire-brands and torches were seen gleaming in the air; but several voices were heard earnestly expostulating with them,---and, whoever they were, they had power to arrest the storm in the midst of its uproar.

The noise gradually subsided. The mob scattered off in detached companies; and before midnight, the moon looked calmly down on the the quiet and deserted mansion of Governor Hutchinson. Fragments of manuscripts, tattered books, dilapidated furniture, and broken windows, proclaimed that the torrent of liberty, which had been so long fearfully swelling, had overflowed its banks, and left terror and desolation in its course.

In the mean time, a rapid walk had brought the wanderers to the house of the Rev. Mr. Osborne. There were brief salutations, eager inquiries, and cordial welcomes. Lucretia, who had not spoken one word during the perilous scene, now clasped her arms around Grace, and wept; Miss Sandford threw herself into a chair, and rocked and sobbed violently; while Mr. Osborne, forgetting how much he disliked the avarice and political deception of Hutchinson, grasped his hand most joyfully. There is a certain point beyond which injuries cease to exasperate, and their influence softens and subdues the heart.

From the chamber window, the Governor watched the movements of the rabble;---saw crow-bars and axes busy on the roof of his magnificent dwelling, and witnessed the cupola, as it fell, splintering into atoms.

"Would to heaven, it would crush the unfeeling wretches," exclaimed Somerville.

"Say not so, my nephew," rejoined the Governor. "Ra her pray that they may live to repent of their conduct."

Doctor Byles evinced the same spirit. He spoke of the rash proceedings with mildness, very unusual to him; and when they returned to the parlour, he said, "With your leave brother Osborne, we will pray that the sins of this night may be forgiven."

At this moment, a shrill whistle was heard; and it was immediately answered from a distance.

Grace cast a look of utter agony at Lucretia, who, pale as death, exclaimed,

"Oh, that dreadful sound! It is the mob-whistle." [5]

"It is a sound terribly familiar to our ears, indeed," said Hutchinson. "My good friend, our presence endangers you. We must depart."

"Not while there is any thing to fear," rejoined Osborne, in a decided tone. "If I cannot avert the storm, its violence shall fall on me."

"Leave this house; I beseech you, leave this house!" exclaimed Doctor Willard, abruptly entering from a side door. "There is no safety for you here; indeed there is not."

"Where can I go?" asked the Governor, in an agitated voice.

"Remain with me," said Mr. Osborne, taking firm hold of his arm. "My young friend, you could not suppose I would desert him at this moment."

Faces were now seen at the window, and the awful sounds of an infuriated multitude were again heard. Doctor Willard cast a look of intense anxiety towards Grace, which spoke more than volumes.

"Do you, young gentlemen, remain with the ladies. If worst comes to worst, convey them to Doctor Mayhew's. I myself will speak to these people," said Mr. Osborne.

The venerable man stepped forth alone, and as he stood and gazed on the crowd, the clamour of voices ceased.

His appearance was indeed wonderfully impressive. His blue silk night-gown and slippers,---the white hair, parted in the middle of his forehead, and falling negligently over his shoulders, gave him the air of an evangelist of olden time. The moon shone full upon him, and displayed a countenance, in which intellect and affection were singularly blended. The celestial light beaming from his eye, announced that he lived above the world; but the sweet smile that hovered round his lips, proclaimed how much he loved those who still enjoyed it.

"What would you have, my friends?" said he.

The mildness of his tones formed a strange contrast to their own tumultuous cries; and, awed into shame, they continued silent.

At length, some one said, "Governor Hutchinson is in your house, and he must leave it."

"Not while I have a roof to shelter him," rejoined the intrepid clergyman.

"Be cautious, my dear sir," whispered a man in disguise, who stood near the door. "I fear your political principles will not prove a sufficient shield."

"My countrymen," said the old man, in a voice extremely agitated, "how well I love America, and how much I have exerted myself for her rights, you all know. I now tell you, once for all, that the ruins of this house shall fall upon my head before I give up one who has sought it for shelter. I have watched for your liberties, wept for your sins, and prayed for your advancement in holiness. My children, will you, can you, sacrifice me to your vengeance?" Then, raising his clasped hands, and streaming eyes to heaven, he added, "Father of mercies, keep them from further sin!"

The humbled and conscience-stricken multitude looked upon him with veneration. Blessings, and even sobs, were audible.

One after another came up, bowed before him, and passed quietly down the street. So much influence has genuine piety over the unprincipled, in their wildest moods.


  • [3] Where Boylston market now stands.
  • [4] One of these rolls was the original manuscript of Hubbard's History. The other has long been before the public, under the title of Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts.
  • [5] This sound was so peculiar, that the inhabitants of Boston recognized it instantly.