Trials and Tribulations for Concord’s Tories

Middlesex County Convention, Concord, 31 August 1774

“…thwarting the policies of Gage…flouting your King…madness, folly, deserving of nothing but scorn…the colonies are England’s dependent children…cut off from Britain, they will perish…”

“…behave obediently, be greatful…compliance and humble petition…England is a mighty nation…open rebellion will lead inevitably to crushing defeat…”

 

So did Concord Tory Daniel Bliss, Esq. chastised his countrymen only to be repudiated by fellow townsman Joseph Hosmer

Though few in Concord, Loyalists tended to be conservative, educated, wealthy, politically active and holders of royal appointments. Yet, they were generally respected despite their views. The mid-1770s however would be difficult times, testing their resolve in the face of threats to life and fortune.

Bliss’s family was divided on the day’s issues. His wife’s father had been a British Army officer as was a brother. However, his sister was married to the patriotic firebrand Rev. Emerson and two other brothers supported the rebel cause. In spite of his loyalist views, Bliss was well respected and often selected for positions of responsibility.

Problems began for the lawyer in 1772 when he wrote an epitaph repudiating patriots who spoke of freedom and liberty yet held slaves. In addition to his 1774 Convention outburst, he refused to sign town resolves and covenants related to political issues and in March 1775 hosted two of Gage’s spies at his home, divulging military information. His life threatened, he fled to Boston later joining the March 1776 evacuation to Canada where he would serve as a British officer and later a judge.

Bliss’s property was confiscated and in November 1780 he was tried in absentia, found guilty of “levying war and conspiring to levy war against the government and people of this Province…” and had his estate sold at auction.

Dr. Joseph Lee had notable Tory beliefs but also was respected enough to serve on important committees. Like Bliss, he refused to sign any document which smacked of sedition. Having already split with the church and fought the hiring of Rev. Emerson, in September 1774, he would complete his ostracization by refusing to join a protest march on Boston, instead warning his Tory friends of the uprising. A “body of the people” called for an explanation and he apologized.

But by 23 April 1775, Concordians were upset enough to seize Lee from bed, try him for acts against the people and then confine him to his farm under threat of death if he left. As a “prisoner”, he was ignored by the people and shot at by soldiers. After many petitions, in June 1776 he was freed and by 1786 had rejoined the church and been forgiven by his neighbors.

Wealthy merchant, former slave trader and militia captain, Duncan Ingraham moved to town in 1772. Also refusing to sign political resolves or covenants, he was labeled a Tory and after entertaining British officers at his home, was harassed to the point of having a sheep’s head tied to his chaise. Eventually he would side with his neighbors, speak of the independence of “his” country and be an original member of the Concord Social Circle.

Charles Prescott, gentleman farmer, Justice of the Peace, colonel of militia and representative to the General Court was most influencial in the 1760s but had close ties to the royal governor. Though voting against the Stamp Act, he spoke to ban a circular letter against taxes and was seen as a loyalist. After writing in praise of Gov. Hutchinson, an outcry brought an apology but he had already been replaced in the Court and soon would lose his militia command.

Even minor loyalism brought reprisals. Jonas Minot, a former selectman and militia captain, held Crown-grant lands and was a suspected Tory. In 1774 he informed loyalist friends that he was being pressed to have his company ready to march quickly in an emergency and failure would result in the loss of his home. In the purging of Tories, he lost his command. John Flint sat on several important town committees and was a representative at the County Convention but when he declared his neutrality on issues, he was scorned and removed from jury roles.

Concord had become a center for anti-loyalist agitation where crowds would harass townsmen suspected of Crown support. On 19 September 1774, a mass meeting occurred on the Common to try Tories who if found guilty could be punished (“humbling the Tories”). Few loyalist in town were visible and they were a dwindling minority yet Rev. Emerson still warned that “verily our enemies are in our own households”.

Emotions ran high on the loyalist issue and even a victorious end to the war would not bring about reconciliation or forgiveness. In a final gesture of bad feelings, Concord sent its delegate to the 1782 state legislature with instructions to vote against the proposed Treaty of Paris. A clause in the document allowed Loyalists to return home and reclaim their rights and property and such would be “one of the greatest evils that could fall upon us”.

Sources:

  • “The Minutemen and Their World” by Robert A. Gross, 1976.
  • “History of Concord” by Lemuel Shattuck, 1835.
  • “Concord: American Town” by Townsend Scudder, 1947
  • “The Loyalists of Massachusetts” by E. Alfred Jones, 1969
  • “Loyalists of Massachusetts” by John S. Keyes, 1882

Author Bio

Donald L. Hafner is Drum Major of the Lincoln Minute Men. When he is not serving as a fifer in the ranks of the Minute Men, he is a Professor of Political Science at Boston College. His scholarly work has been principally in the fields of arms control and U.S. foreign policy.

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