History of Warren County, H. P. Smith
Chapter XI: From 1763 to the Revolution
This transcription was produced through the use of Readiris Pro 11 OCR software. Contributed by Tim Varney.
The New Hampshire Grants Controversy - English Oppression of Colonists - The Sons of Liberty - The Stamp Act - Its Repeal - Obnoxious Parliamentary Action - The Liberty Pole Assault - Signals of the Revolution.
Let Page 131 us now return to the important events occurring elsewhere in the country between the peace of 1763 and the outbreak of the great struggle that gave America her independence. In the year just mentioned the boundary line between New York and New Hampshire became the subject of much controversy. The territory in dispute was what is now comprised in the State of Vermont, lying between the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain. Controversies had previously arisen growing out of the indefinite character of their charters, between New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut; but the boundaries were finally adjusted by negotiation and compromise. The line between these States was fixed upon as extending north and south twenty miles east of the Hudson River. New Hampshire, regardless of justice or title, insisted upon a continuation of this line as her western boundary, and by the year 1763 her governor had issued one hundred and thirty-eight townships in grants to settlers. Against all this New York entered vigorous protest, and in December, of the year named, Governor Colden issued a proclamation claiming jurisdiction to the Connecticut River and commanded the sheriff of Albany county to return the names of all persons who, by virtue of the New Hampshire grants had taken possession of lands west of the Connecticut River. This was followed by a counter proclamation by the governor of New Hampshire. In the following year the question was referred to the crown and a decision rendered that the Connecticut River should form the boundary between New York and New Hampshire. Thereupon the government of New York declared Page 132 the grants by New Hampshire illegal, and insisted that the settlers on those grants should either surrender or repurchase the lands. This demand was opposed by the settlers, whereupon the New York government granted the lands to others, who obtained judgments in their favor by bringing ejectment suits in Albany.
Although carrying us out of chronological order in recording events, the conclusion of this controversy may as well be detailed here. The civil officers of New York were opposed by force in their attempts to eject the settlers and the New York Assembly passed an act declaring such resistance to be felony. A proclamation was issued, also, by Governor Tryon, who succeeded Lord Dunmore (Colden's successor) in 1771, offering a reward for the apprehension of Ethan Allen and other conspicuous offenders. This was followed by a burlesque proclamation offering a reward for the arrest of the governor of New York. The matter neared a crisis in the spring of 1775, when New York sought to establish courts in the disputed territory; the officers were prevented from entering the court-house, upon which they collected a force, fired into the building, killing one man and wounding others. Some of the officers were then arrested and lodged in jail. The Revolutionary outbreak caused a cessation of these disputes; but in 1777 the inhabitants of the disputed territory held a convention at Windsor and declared the "grants" an independent State with the name of Vermont. They at the same time addressed a petition to Congress setting forth their motives for action and asking admission to the confederacy of independent states and seats for delegates to Congress. This petition was disposed of by resolutions, one of which declared "that the independent government attempted to be established by the people styling themselves the inhabitants of the New Hampshire grants can derive no countenance or justification from the act of Congress declaring the united colonies to be independent of the crown of Great Britain, nor from any other act or resolution of Congress." The discord was revived and so antagonistic to New York and the colonial authorities at large did the settlers on the grants become, that it is believed they secretly negotiated with the British to become a colony under the crown; this feature of the controversy will be hereafter alluded to. After the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781, Congress offered to admit the new State, but with curtailed boundaries; this offer was rejected and for ten years it remained outside of the Union. Finally on the 10th of January, 179 I, a convention at Bennington adopted the National constitution, and Vermont, having agreed to pay to the State of New York $30,000 for territory claimed by that State, was admitted to the Union.
During the progress of these events and those described in Chapter IX the British parliament continued its arbitrary and oppressive course towards the American colonists. But the time arrived when unquestioning submission to such measures could no longer be exacted. The people were heavily burdened Page 133 with the expenses of the late war, the results of which gave to England a large extent of territory; yet, almost before the smoke of the battles had cleared away, the English ministry began devising plans to tax them for a revenue without their consent. In 1764 a proposition was submitted to the House of Commons for raising revenue in the colonies by the sale of stamps. Contrary to promises the stamp act was passed in March, 1765. By its provisions no legal or commercial documents were valid unless made upon stamped paper, upon which a price was placed according to the nature of the document. This act was bitterly denounced throughout the colonies and particularly in New York, and resistance determined upon. The "Sons of Liberty" (1) were organized and meetings held to devise plans of opposition to the obnoxious act. On the 7th of October a convention of delegates from the different colonies was held in New York city and continued in session two weeks. A declaration of rights was adopted and petitions and memorials sent to parliament, in which the principles that governed the colonies during the Revolution were clearly foreshadowed.
1. In 1735 the radical opponents of the royal governors were called Sons of Liberty; but the name was not often heard until after Colonel Barre made his memorable speech in the House of Commons (1765). In reply to an assertion by Charles Townshend that the colonies had been nurtured into strength by the indulgence of the home government, Barre made a scornful denial, saying that the only care that had been exercised had been in sending weak and unfit men to rule over them - "men whose behavior on many occasions had caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them." The organization was composed chiefly of ardent young men, who had nothing to lose by their course, with whom people of consideration did not affiliate, though they generally favored the acts of the Sons. They finally spread over the colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, and became the most radical leaders in the growing quarrel with England, and promoters of the war that followed.
The stamp act was to take effect on the 1st of November; but as the date drew near, excitement increased, and on that day flags hung at half mast, bells were tolled and other funereal demonstrations made. Governor Colden became alarmed and refused to issue any of the stamped paper, leaving the ugly duty to his successor, Sir Henry Moore, then on his way from England. The new governor soon saw the folly of attempting to oppose the will of the people in that direction. The final result was the destruction of a large quantity of the odious paper by the Sons of Liberty, and the repeal of the stamp act in March, 1766. This action was not, however, due to the good will of parliament, nor to the appeals of the colonists, but to the solicitations of London merchants who had been deprived of their American trade through a union of colonial merchants who pledged themselves to cease importations from England.
"From the time of the stamp act riots, occasional gatherings of Whigs assembled at Fort Edward among whom were numbered such representative and influential names as the Bradshaw, Moss, Baker and High families of Kingsbury; the Bitleys, Sherwoods, and Durkees, of Fort Edward, the Paynes, Parkes and McCreas of the yet unnamed district on the west side of the Hudson; Page 134 so that when the beacon fires of the Revolution burst forth, the lines of political opinion were sharply drawn and defined and it was known at the outset through a wide range of neighborhood, who were the friends as well as foes of the general opposition to and uprising against British misrule." (1)
Rejoicing over the repeal of the stamp act had scarcely died away, when Parliament again stirred up discontent among the colonists by other unjust and oppressive acts. The Assembly was called upon by the governor to concede to the demands of the ministry in furnishing supplies for the soldiers in New York city; this created a good deal of animosity and led to hostility between the Sons of Liberty and the troops. The Assembly, moreover, subsequently refused to comply with the request of the ministry to make provision for the soldiers, for which action parliament declared the legislative powers of the Assembly annulled.
In 1767 a bill was passed by parliament imposing a duty on tea, glass, lead, paper, and painter's colors imported into the colonies. This action caused renewed excitement and in the following year the Assembly of Massachusetts addressed a circular to the other colonies soliciting their co-operation in defending the common liberties. This so offended the ministry that a letter was sent to the colonial governors forbidding their assemblies to correspond with that of Massachusetts. This mandate was absolutely opposed and disobeyed, with declarations on the part of the New York Assembly of its inherent rights in the case, denunciations of parliament and other evidences of refraction; the Assembly was thereupon dissolved by the governor. But the people sustained their representatives and returned most of them to the new Assembly of 1769.
The English merchants, who were suffering from the non-importation agreement of the American dealers, now joined their petitions to those of the colonists for the repeal of the obnoxious custom-house act. A circular letter assured the people in response that the duties should be removed at the next session of parliament on all articles except tea. This was something, but the principle of the right of the mother country to tax the colonies remained, and the promises of parliament were far from satisfactory. Animosity and hostility, moreover, continued between the soldiery and the Sons of Liberty. Arrangements having been perfected by which the soldiers' supplies were guaranteed, coming, too, largely from the resources of the colonists, the troops still did not hesitate to make manifest their disdain for, and hostility towards the people. On the evening of the 2d of January, 1769, they made their second assault on the liberty pole of the Sons of Liberty in New York, and charged upon the opposing citizens, drove a party of them into a tavern which was a popular resort, and broke in the windows and destroyed the furniture. On the evening of the 16th they sawed down the pole, cut it in pieces and piled them in front of the obnoxious hotel. A resolution of the citizens followed, to the effect that Page 135 all soldiers found in the streets after roll-call should be dealt with as enemies to the peace of the city. This resolution was ridiculed in handbills posted by the soldiers, and two or three of the latter were arrested in the act of posting them. While conducting the soldiers to the mayor's office the citizens were attacked by a party of twenty troops and a skirmish ensued in which several citizens, some of whom had not participated in the melee, were wounded. Other affrays occurred the next day in which the soldiers generally got the worst of it. The mayor then issued a proclamation forbidding them to leave their barracks unless in company of a non-commissioned officer, and order was partially restored.
It is commonly held that the battle of Lexington was the first conflict of the Revolutionary struggle. But, although this skirmish in the streets of New York may be looked upon as a comparatively insignificant affair, still there was bloodshed, and it was the actual beginning of the great conflict, five years before the guns of Lexington were heard.