The Ordeal Of Thomas Hutchinson


The paradoxical and find tragic story of America’s most prominent Loyalist—a man caught between king and country— is the subject of a new book by Professor Bernard Bailyn of Harvard, who won both the Pulitizer and Bankcroft awards in 1868 for an earlier work on the American Revulotion. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinsion has just been published by Harvard University Press. Our article is made up of excerpts from the first two chapters subtle and fascinating study.


On the night of August 26, 1765, a mob, more violent i han any yet seen in America, more violent indeed than any that would be seen in the entire course of the Revolution, attacked the Boston mansion of Thomas Hutchinson, chief justice and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Hardly giving Hutchinson and his family time to flee from the supper table into the streets, the rioters smashed in the doors with axes, swarmed through the rooms, ripped off wainscotting and hangings, splintered the furniture, beat down the inner walls, tore up the garden, and carried off into the night, besides £900 sterling in cash, all the plate, decorations, and clothes that had sunived, and destroyed or scattered in the mud all of Hutchinson’s books and papers, including the manuscript of Volume I of his History of the Colony and Province of Massachussets-Bay and the collection of historical papers that he had been gathering for years as the basis for a public archive. I lie determination of the mob was as remarkable as its savagery: “they worked for three hours at the cupola before they could get it down,” (îovernor Francis Bernard reported; only the heavy brickwork construction of the walls prevented their raxing the building completely, “though they worked at it till daylight. The next day the streets were found scattered with money, plate, gold rings, etc. which had been dropped in carrying oM.” Hutchinson was convinced that he himself would have been killed if he had not given in to his daughter’s frantic pleading and (led. He estimated the loss of property at ©2,218 sterling.

People of all political persuasions, everywhere in the colonies, were shocked at such “savageness unknown in a civilized country.” Hutchinson appeared in court the next day without his robes, and as the young lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., who would later pursue him like a fury, reported, the chief justice, “with tears starting from his eyes and a countenance which strongly told the inward anguish of his soul,” addressed the court. He apologized for his appearance: he had no other clothes but what he wore, he said, and some of that was borrowed. His family was equally destitute, and their distress was “infinitely more insupportable than what I feel for myself.”

Sensible that I am innocent, that all charges against nitarc false, I cannot help feeling—and though I am not obliged to give an answer to all the questions that may be put me by every lawless person, yet I call GOD to witness (and I would not for a thousand worlds call my Maker to witness to a falsehood)—I say, I call my Maker to witness that I never, in New England or Old, in Great Britain or America, neither directly nor indirectly, was aiding, assisting, or supporting, or in the least promoting or encouraging what is commonly called the S TAMP A CT . but on the contrary, did all in my power, and strove as much as in me lay. to prevent it. This is not declared through timidity, for I have nothing to fear. They can only take away my life, which is of but little value when deprived of all its comforts, all that is dear to me, and nothing surrounding me but the most piercing distress.

I hope the eyes of the people will be opened, that they will see how easy it is for some designing, wicked men to spread false reports, raise suspicions and jealousies in the minds of the populace and enrage them against the innocent. Dut if [they are] guilty, this is not the way to proceed. The laws of our country arc open to punish those who have oRended. This destroying all peace and order of the community— all will feel its effects . And I hope all will see how easily the people may be deluded, enflamed, and carried away with madness against an innocent man.

I pray GOD give us Better hearts!

What had caused the riot? Resistance to the Stamp Act had genet ally been violent; and individuals, especially the would-be stamp distributors, had commonly been attacked. Hut no one in America had been as deliberately and savagely assaulted as Hutchinson, though he had not been appointed a stamp master and though, as he said, he had opposed the Stamp Act. What was the meaning and what would be the ultimate effect of the attack?