Chapter VII: Worcester in the War of the Revolution Embracing the Acts of the Town from 1765 to 1783 Inclusive
by Albert Alonzo Lovell
Worcester, Massachusetts, 1876
Chapter VII: Slavery abolished by decision of the Court at Worcester. – Treaty of Peace – Celebration – The question of absentees and refugees considered.
The subject of slavery bad for a long term of years caused much uneasiness among the people. The hearts and minds of patriots and philanthropists had been quickened to a sense of the atrocious wickedness of man holding property in man, and the public conscience was gradually becoming susceptible to appeals for its abolition.
The traffic was never sanctioned in this Province, and under the Colonial and Provincial Charters the slave trade was deprecated as a disgrace to humanity. The holding of slaves was not general, being confined to the wealthier classes.
In 1767, Joshua Bigelow, Representative to the General Court, had been instructed to use his influence to “obtain a law to put an end to the unchristian and impolitic practice of making slaves of the human species in this Province.”
In 1774, it had been resolved in a County Convention held in this town, “that we abhor the enslaving of any of the human race, and particularly of the negroes in this country, and that whenever there shall be a door opened, or opportunity presented for anything to be done towards the emancipation of the negroes, we will use our influence and endeavor that such a thing may be brought about.”
The new Constitution of 1780, had in its first article declared that “all men are born free and equal.”
In 1783, final judgment was given. A citizen was charged with beating and imprisoning a negro servant whom he claimed as his slave. The public would not overlook the offence, and the case was tried and judgment rendered in Worcester. The defendant was found guilty and fined forty shillings. This decision was the downfall of the system. Many who had been in bondage continued as servants in the families of their masters, and the institution died an easy death.
The preliminary treaty of peace having been signed in November, 1782, and a cessation of hostilities having been proclaimed in the American Army, on the 19th of April, 1783, preparations were made for a proper celebration in this town of the return of peace. The following account is from the “Spy” of May 8, 1783.
“The gentlemen of this town having fixed upon the seventh of this month for a celebration of the return of peace, after an eight years tedious war, a peace honorable to these States as having established us as the first civilized, Independent Empire in this new world, – yester. day morning was ushered in by the ringing of bells, the discharge of 13 cannon, and the display of the American flag. AL one o’clock, the gentlemen assembled at the Sun Tavern and dined; after which, a number of sentimental toasts were given, each accompanied by a charge of cannon. The day was spent with festivity, decency and good order.”
The following toasts were given:
- The American Constellation of Sages that enlighten the world.
- His Excellency General Washington. May his fate lie immortal,as his virtues are unrivalled.
- The nations of Europe that have been friends to liberty.
- Love and honor to the blooming Sister States.
- Happiness to the American heroes that have enfranchised the world.
- Monuments in our breasts to heroes in the bed of honor.
- May Americans ever act worthy of the liberty they have established, and propagate heroes worthy of their sires.
- May the Freedom of America with, the force of electric fire, give a fatal shock to despotism.
- May the auspicious dawn of peace conciliate, our jarring sentiments, and plant the olive branch in our hearts.
- Arts and Sciences.
- Agriculture and Commerce.
- May the Temple of Virtue reared in America, attract the admiration of mankind.
- Perpetual Peace, Independence and Happiness to the United States of America.
*Barry’s History of Massachusetts.
At sundown, the bells ceased to ring, and thirteen cannon were again discharged. Iii the evening there was a ball, where the ladies made a brilliant appearance, and heartily joined their expressions of joy on this happy occasion.
A letter was carried in May, from the Committee of Correspondence of the town of Boston, in relation to absentees and refugees. A Committee consisting of Levi Lincoln, William Stearns, Joseph Allen, David Bigelow, Isaiah Thomas, Joseph Wheeler and Jonathan Rice, was appointed to draw up an expression of the sentiment of the town. This committee reported on time 19th of May, and their report was accepted. It was a
1st. Voted: That this town, with an equal and sacred regard to treaties of treaties and alliance; to the Resolves of Congress and the solemn Acts of the Commonwealth, passed from time to time for its preservation, safety and defense, and especially to those great and important principles of Liberty and a Free Government, for which they have been struggling at the risk of their lives, will continue with spirit amid firmness, their most vigorous efforts to render glorious, and secure from danger, interruption or diminution, the ends of their past exertions, Peace, Safety and Happiness.
2nd. Voted: That this town considers every country, in time of invasion, as having equally right to the assistance, the personal services and property of all its subjects in opposing the assailants – that this country more than eight years since, was invaded has been scowered by a war, which for the purpose of reducing it to the servile subjection of foreign domination, has been, by sea and by land, wasting, and by every species of barbarity, distressing its innocent inhabitants a war that has devastated and burned whole towns, and rendered wretched, and turned oat thousands of virtuous Americans, destitute, despoiled and unprovided for by the Treaty of Peace, which leaves them dependent on the gratitude and generosity of their country ; a war promoted, encouraged and invited by those, who, the moment the bloody banners were displayed, abandoned their native land, turned parricides, and conspired to involve this country in ruin, tumult and in blood.
3rd. Voted: That such traitorous conduct, upon every principle of policy and justice, in all ages and in all countries, would in the opinion of this town, operate a forfeiture of the conspirators’ civil and political relations to their injured and betrayed country; cut them off forever, from a standing therein, render them enemies and aliens, and justify those necessary laws, and that general voice of the people, by which they have been thus declared.
4th. Voted: That considering, while the sword was slumbering in its scabbard, when this country was in the hour of quiet, and at peace with the world, only pleading and petitioning for its rights, for a free government, the sentiments of the absentees, their principles, their language and their feelings were fixedly opposed to those rights, and to that freedom, they then preferring, and to evince the sincerity of that preference, engaged to risk their all for its possible attainment, a government totally inconsistent with the principles of the one we have established and for the destruction of which, they have been waging a cruel war; that therefore this town cannot conceive it to be their duty, or their interest, ever to provide for the return of such ingrates, to naturalize them, or admit them to the privileges and immunities of citizens.
5th. Voted: That whereas the said absentees and conspirators, have at all times uniformly by their representations, addresses, and avowed principles, considered the subjects of these States, of our great and illustrious ally, and the treaties of alliance, amity and commerce, as the proper subjects of abuse, calumny and reproach, the former as the deluded tools of a party spurred on to treason and rebellion; the second as the cowardly machines of a Monarch, perfidiously plotting the ruin of the former ; and the latter as originating from the Worst of motives, delusive, treacherous, artful, insincere, and not to be adhered to, and have even attempted to seduce the subjects of these States to violate their faith, and those sacred treaties ; That therefore, in the o1nmonof this town, to admit persons of such principles, and such practices, to incorporate with, and reside among us, would betray the want of a due regard to a generous friend, who has been fighting and bleeding by our side, endanger the treaty and injure our national character.
6th. Voted: That whereas persons of time above description, have been of opinion, which they have been assiduous to propagate, that these Stales could find happiness or protection, nowhere but in a reunion with the Kingdom of Great Britain ; that left to themselves, they would become the sport of each other, break to pieces and crumble into ruin ; that no calamity was more to be depreciated for our own sake than Independence established, and no blessing more earnestly to be sought for than Independence destroyed; And whereas, by a change of British councils, and British measures, there was a prospect of peace, they reprobated that change, anti solicited for the purpose above, the continued utmost exertion of British power and British resources, and even after the commencement of the Pacific treaty, with malicious intention, equally hostile to both countries, dared to represent America as the proper subject of an easy conquest ; That therefore, in the opinion of the town, our independence must ever be in danger of annoyance from such persons, who can never have our confidence, friendship, or society.
7th. Voted: That the plea for the return of the absentees, of their becoming good subjects, increasing our numbers and our strength, is in the opinion of this town, groundless and fallacious, as it is improbable that persons who have thus acted, that are thus principled and thus situated would, without any new reason, light or argument, alter their conduct, and at once reject those principles they have embraced, and embrace those they have rejected, endeavor to support that government they have been struggling to destroy, cultivate that harmony which they have been industrious to prevent, prevent that his – cord they have been assiduous to create, – quell those Riots and Unlawful Assemblies which but of late were the foundation of their darling hope, – and endeavor to strengthen that friendship and alliance, which they have labored to weaken, and lied to asperse, amid by a conduct the reverse of their past, become useful and good.
8th. Voted: That agreeable to the Treaty of Peace, this town wishes no recollection of past disputes with Great Britain, no repetition of past injuries, but the seeds of discord being excluded, that such a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse may be established between the two countries, as to promise and secure to both, perpetual peace and harmony, which would be extremely difficult, were those persons to reside among us, whom this country considers as the occasion of interrupting that intercourse formerly, and excuse of all their sufferings ; especially as these wretched beings have already be – gun a quarrel with that peace, and those who made it, which terminates a long, bloody and unnatural war.
9th. Voted : That, therefore, in the opinion of this town, it would be extremely dangerous to the peace, the happiness, the liberties, time interest and safety of these States, to suffer persons of time above description to become the subjects of, and to reside in this government, that it would be not only dangerous, but inconsistent with justice, policy, our past laws, the public faith and the principles of a free independent State, to admit them ourselves or have them forced upon us, without our consent.
10th. Voted: That in the opinion of this town, this Commonwealth ought with the utmost caution, to naturalize, or in any other way admit as subjects, a common enemy, a set of people, who have been by the united voice of this continent declared outlaws, exiles, aliens, and enemies, dangerous to its political being amid happiness.
11th. Voted: That while there are thousand of the innocent, defenseless, peaceable inhabitants of these States, whose properly has been destroyed and taken from them in the course of the war, for whom no provision is made, to whom there is no restitution of estates, no compensation for losses, that it would be unreasonable, cruel amid tin – just, to stiffer those who were time wicked occasion of those losses, to obtain a restitution of estates they refused to protect, and which they have abandoned, and forfeited to the justice of their country.
12th. Voted: That whereas, persons of time above description have already made various attempts to introduce themselves into this government, and thereby to establish principles and precedents by which others might be admitted and restored to their forfeited estates; that this town will adopt every reasonable and consistent measure to prevent so great an evil ; and that it is their expectation and earnest request of Samuel Curtis, Esq., whom they have chosen to represent them at this critical period, that he will, with firmness and steadiness, continue his patriotic exertions for the above purpose; that he will use his influence to have those good and wholesome laws touching the matter, duly executed, and such others enacted as events and circumstances from time to time may render necessary; that ho will receive a copy of the above votes, to the principles of which, the principles of a sovereign and independent government, time principles of our free constitution and those great principles which have carried us triumphantly through a severe and bloody conflict, to these principles he invariably to adhere, and make them the governing rule of his conduct, as what alone under heaven, has given energy to war, will give dignity to peace, and make life happy.
13th. Voted: That it is the expectation of this town, and their earnest request of their Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety, that they will with care and vigilance observe the movements and watch the conduct of our only remaining enemies, that until the further order of government, they will with decision, spirit and firmness, endeavor to enforce and carry into execution, the several laws of this Commonwealth respecting these enemies of our rights, and the rights of all mankind ; give information should they know of any obtruding themselves into any enemy of this State, stuffer none to remain in this town but caused to be confined immediately for the purpose of transportation according to law, any that may presume to enter it.
The Independence of the States having been acknowledged and Peace declared, the task of reviewing the acts of the town and people of Worcester in the war of the Revolution, ends here. The position which this town assumed and maintained in those trying times, was one to which we of this day may look back with pride.
Although Worcester was at that time a small provincial town, its situation in the heart of the Province, and the fact of its being the shire-town of a large county, enabled it to exert an influence far beyond that indicated by the number of its inhabitants. Responding with readiness to all requisitions for men and means, this town uphel(i the cause in its darkest hours, and when despondency and gloom prevailed in many portions of the land, and the struggle seemed a hopeless one, no word of discouragement or despair was left for us to record, – save from those who from the beginning were hostile to their country’s cause, – but instead, was left a record of hearty c&iperation with every measure calculated to secure the Independence of the Colonies.
Out of a total population of a little over 1900, Worcester furnished about 400 soldiers. They were found at Cambridge and Bunker Hill, at Quebec, Long Island, and on the Hudson, at Saratoga, Valley Forge, Monmouth and Yorktown, and on almost every field rendered glorious by noble deeds in behalf of a country struggling for its freedom.
It is a matter of congratulation, that, although differences of opinion existed in the minds of the men of that day, as to the justice or policy of time war, and those differences led to extreme measures in many cases, their descendants inherit no bitterness of feeling, and all are now striving with earnest and honest purpose to perpetuate those institutions which were established through toil, suffering and blood.