1686 Three Hundred Years Ago

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Sir Edmund Andros arrived in Boston in December to assume the governorship of the Dominion of New England, a vast territory that would shortly embrace all the land from the St. Lawrence in the north and the St. Croix in the east to the Delaware in the west. Consolidated into one royal province, the all-too-independent colonies could be better defended from Indians and—of chief interest to James II—more easily made subject to taxes, tariffs, and assessments.

Remarkably, Andros met no resistance in establishing his government. He was accompanied by one hundred Grenadiers —”a crew that began to teach New England to … drink, blaspheme, curse, and damn,” a colonist complained—but that was hardly a sufficient number to put down any serious unrest. In fact, Andros’s task was eased by the support of merchants and landowners who anticipated that the new governor would usher in a pro-business regime.

But Andros didn’t enjoy the businessmen’s favor for long. Raised a feudal aristocrat on the island of Guernsey, the governor had no comprehension of or patience with the democratic institutions of New England. Within a year of his arrival, he had dispensed with representative government, outlawed all but one town meeting per year, and denied towns the right to gather moneys for the support of ministers. Taxes were increased, and those who protested against taxation without representation were clapped in jail, tried, and heavily fined. When Andros requested that he and other Anglicans be allowed to use a Boston meetinghouse for their worship, he was refused, whereupon he forced his way into one and held services. Bostonians were outraged that their meetinghouse was being polluted by “Common-Prayer worship” rank with “leeks, garlic, and trash.”

Had Andros’s express purpose been to alienate the colonists, he could hardly have done it better. His last ruling cost him all popular support. The Indian deeds that colonists claimed granted them ownership of land were suddenly declared by Andros to be of “no more worth than a scratch with a bear’s paw.” The governor announced that all land titles were to be reviewed and made subject to whatever payment he deemed fitting, and new grants of land could be had only after the payment of harsh quitrents.

Andros’s term as governor and the Dominion of New England itself were quickly brought to a close in April 1689. Two weeks after the news arrived from England that James II had been overthrown by William and Mary, crowds gathered in Boston’s streets. Drums were beat and angry speeches made, and before noon, in a bloodless coup, Andros and his followers found themselves in jail. A “Council for Safety of the People and Conservation of the Peace” was formed, and representatives from throughout Massachusetts happily convened to discuss affairs. After ten months’ imprisonment, Andros was sent to England to be tried, where he was at once acquitted of all charges.