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
*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
*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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