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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 6
Lesson 6
American Revolution in the Connecticut River Valley

"O Tempora! All nature seems to be in confusion; every person in fear of what his neighbor will do to him. Such times were never seen in New England."

This is from a diary of a 23-year-old apprentice doctor in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
What was life like in a village in the Connecticut River Valley at the time of the Revolution? Using as an example Deerfield, Massachusetts, located 100 miles west of Boston, let's look at a few events and documents to center us in the time and the place. We'll proceed chronologically, beginning in 1773.

How did the people view themselves? Was there a universal view?
*In 1773 a committee of men from Deerfield was sent to Northampton, the shire town 15 miles to the south, to consult with Quartus Pomeroy, blacksmith and bell maker, about mending the meetinghouse bell. They were instructed to inquire whether "he thought it could be mended or should be sent home."

What sentiments here? Do you find it curious that the townsmen spoke of sending the bell "home"? By home they meant England, suggesting that, in 1773, they still considered themselves English. It was agreed that Pomeroy would repair the bell to the weight of 500 pounds.

*In that same year, John Partridge Bull, Deerfield gunsmith and blacksmith, repaired 36 guns, up from 22 in 1772 and 16 in 1771. In the following two years, 1774 and 1775, Bull would repair a total of 159 guns. (1774=71; 1775=88)

What is the significance of these figures?
Ask students to construct a bar graph of Bull's gun repairs from 1771 to 1775.

*On April 3, still in 1773, three Tories -- Messrs. Morton, Drury, and LeBarron -- came to Deerfield from Boston for a conference with the Deerfield Tories, held at one of the local taverns run by Seth Catlin, a confirmed Tory.

*The same year, Benjamin Franklin, an admitted patriot, was ousted from his job as postmaster general. In Deerfield, 25 men each paid 12 shillings to hire a post rider to ride from Deerfield to Boston and back on a regular basis for one year to deliver the mail.

What provisions were taken in other towns up and down the Connecticut River Valley?
See the The Post Rider, 1772-1773 (L99.087, American Centuries website)

*By December 16, 1773, the Boston tea party had "stimulated the blood of two continents," and by March of '74 the Provincial Congress had declared tea drinkers to be "enemies of the country." Three months later, in June of 1774, the port of Boston was shut up, and diarist Elihu Ashley wrote, "greater Callamities are daily expected."

It became customary for the patriotic group, the Sons of Liberty, to set up tall 'liberty' poles in public places. One was brought into town to be set up in front of David Field's store at the north end of the Deerfield Street. On July 28, 1774, the following account was entered in Elihu Ashley's Journal: See excerpts from Journal, pp.166-169, American Centuries website.

*One week later, on August 4, 1774, the courts at Great Barrington in Berkshire County were stopped. By August 29, Jonathan Ashley, Esq., justice of the peace of Deerfield, set off for Springfield with his bag of writs, intent on reaching the court house. Just before sunrise the following morning, at a given signal, the West Springfield bell rang and soon a large party of men with white staves marched into the center of town and took possession of the courthouse steps. By 9 a.m. over 1,000 had gathered in response to the bell. "They closed the Court and the men formed a circle in the street, rounded up any stray Tories, and one by one they were made to acknowledge the error of their ways ... and, further, to sign an agreement not to act under any authority derived from the King." EA Journal p. 192 (American Centuries website)

On September 1, 1774, a mob in Deerfield under the leadership of 25-year-old Joseph Stebbins seized Phineas Munn, aged 38 and an avowed Tory, and forced him to "make his confession." Munn was a cooper, surveyor and sometime storekeeper in town who had been a soldier in the French wars. It was not at all unusual for soldiers who had fought for the King against the French and Indians to be inclined to do so again.

In spite of his treatment, Munn continued to harbor Tory sympathies and fled Deerfield in 1777 to join Burgoyne. He was captured in Concord, NH and sent to jail in Northampton. By 1778, he was back in Deerfield with his wife and children. His two brothers both served as soldiers in the Revolution. Document -- EA Journal 193-195 (American Centuries website)

*The question was raised whether or not to retain Mr. Ashley, a Tory, in the ministry of the Deerfield church. Ashley came to Deerfield as its second minister in 1732 at age 20. True to form for most of the clergy in Western Massachusetts, he was in favor of law, order, and obedience. A revolution is none of those things, and most ministers in this part of Massachusetts were opposed to it and in favor of the King. The vote was to retain Ashley, but the town did not grant him firewood, which was normally a part of his salary.

*Harsh treatment of neighbors based on political affiliation was not unusual. At a 1778 meeting of Deerfield's Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety (committees of this sort were urged by the Massachusetts General Court), the men voted to confiscate the estate of Nathaniel Dickinson, "who hath joined our unnatural enemies for the purpose of aiding and assisting them in subjugating these American Colonies." They first leased Dickinson's property to his brother, Samuel, and later sold the property at auction. Nathaniel had owned livestock, including seven yoke of oxen, 11 horses, 14 cows and heifers, and many calves, sheep, etc. All of it, plus his household items, were sold and the profits paid into the treasury of the Province. Nathaniel Dickinson was last heard of in New Brunswick where he reportedly continued to be a faithful servant of the King.

The year 1779 is described as a "dark year for the Revolutionists." That first burst of energy generated in reaction to the tyranny of taxation and the feelings of subjugation had been spent. Now it was more like steady pulling with a heavy load, and it required strong determination to sustain the fight. The Whigs were becoming faint, the middle-grounders and the indifferent were weary of war, and both seemed to be drifting to the "peace at any price" resolution.

The Tories capitalized on this mindset and gathered strength. Town meetings were reported as frequent and stormy. In March of 1779, the Whigs filled the leading offices and conducted business as usual. But at an adjourned meeting, the Tories gained control and tried to undo all that had been done at the first meeting.

The Reverend Ashley died in 1780 at age 68. Very little of his salary had been paid to him in the heat of the war. His executors brought a large claim against the town, declaring that he was owed 787 pounds, 17 shillings, and 6 pence as arrearage for salary, firewood, and rent of the town lot. The town agreed to pay what they perceived as a debt, with very little murmuring.

Ambivalence and attitudes changed, shifting with the winds. This was true before the fighting began and throughout the struggle. Three Deerfield men refused in 1781 to serve in the militia and were summoned to General Court in Boston to answer for their views. They were confined to Suffolk County jail where they declared themselves "Tories on principle and loyal to their King." Incarceration apparently influenced their convictions, however, and before the next March meeting they had taken the oath of allegiance and were "now firm supporters of the government."


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