Chronicles of America 

The Dominion of New England

Without a charter Massachusetts stood bereft of her privileges and at the mercy of the royal will. She was now a royal colony, immediately under the control of the Crown and likely to receive a royal governor and a royal administration, as had other royal colonies. But the actual form that reconstruction took in New England was peculiar and rendered the conditions there unlike those in any other royal colony in America. The territory was enlarged by including New Hampshire, which was already in the King's hands, Plymouth, which was at the King's mercy because it had no charter, Maine, and the Narragansett country. Eventually there were added Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and the Jerseys — eight colonies in all, a veritable British dominion beyond the seas. For its Governor, Colonel Percy Kirke, recently returned from Tangier, was considered, but Randolph, whose advice was asked, knowing that a man like Kirke, "short-tempered, rough-spoken, and dissolute," would not succeed, urged that his name be withdrawn. It was agreed that the Governor should have a council, and at first the Lords of Trade recommended a popular assembly, whenever the Governor saw fit; but in this important particular they were overborne by the Crown. After debate in a cabinet council, it was determined "not to subject the Governor and council to convoke general assemblies of the people, for the purpose of laying on taxes and regulating other matters of importance." This unfortunate decision was a characteristic Stuart blunder for which the Duke of York (afterwards James II), Lord Jeffreys (not yet Lord Chancellor), and other ministers were responsible. Kirke, Jeffreys, and the Duke of York may well have seemed to Cotton Mather "Wild Beasts of the Field," dangerous to be entrusted with the shaping of the affairs of a Puritan commonwealth.

The death of Charles II in February, 1685, postponed action in England, and in Massachusetts the government went on as usual, the elections taking place and deputies meeting, though with manifest half-heartedness. Randolph was able to prevent the sending of Kirke, and finally succeeded in persuading the authorities that it would be a good plan to set up a temporary government, while they were making up their minds whom to appoint as a permanent governor-general of the new dominion. He obtained a commission as President for Joseph Dudley, son of the former Governor, an ambitious man, with little sympathy for the old faction and friendly to the idea of broadening the life of the colony by fostering closer relations with England. Randolph himself received an appointment as register and secretary of the colony, and for once in his life seemed riding to fortune on the high tide of prosperity. In 1685, he obtained nearly 500 for his services and for his losses up to that date; and when the following January he started on his fifth voyage to New England, he bore with him not only the judgment against the charter, the commission to Dudley as President, and two writs of quo warranto against Connecticut and Rhode Island, but also a sheaf of offices for himself — secretary, postmaster, collector of customs. He was later to become deputy-auditor and surveyor of the woods. With him went also the Reverend Robert Ratcliffe, rector of the first Anglican church set up in Boston. Just a week after the arrival of Randolph and Ratcliffe in Boston, the old assembly met for the last time, and on May 21, 1686, voted its adjournment with the pious hope, destined to be unfulfilled, that it would meet again the following October. The Massachusetts leaders seem almost to have believed in a miraculous intervention of Providence to thwart the purposes of their enemy.

The preliminary government lasted but six months and altered the life of the people but little. For "Governor and Company" was substituted "President and Council," a more modish name, as some one said, but not necessarily one that savored of despotism. But however conciliatory Dudley might wish to be, his acceptance of a royal commission rankled in the minds of his countrymen; and his ability, his friendly policy, his desire to leave things pretty much as they had been, counted for nothing because of his compact with the enemy. In the opinion of the old guard, he had forsaken his birthright and had turned traitor to the land of his origin. Time has modified this judgment and has shown that, however unlovely Dudley was in personal character and however lacking he was at all times in self-control, he was an able administrator, of a type common enough in other colonies, particularly in the next century, serving both colony and mother country alike and linking the two in a common bond. Under him and his council Massachusetts suffered no hardships. He confirmed all existing arrangements regarding land, taxes, and town organization, and, knowing Massachusetts and the temper of her people as well as he did, he took pains to write to the King that it would be helpful to all concerned if the Government could have a representative assembly. To grant the people a share in government would, he believed, appease discontent on one side and help to fill an empty treasury on the other; but nothing came of his suggestion.

Throughout New England as a whole, the daily routine of life was pursued without regard to the particular form of government established in Boston. In Massachusetts the election of deputies stopped, but in other respects the town meetings carried on their usual business. In other colonies no changes whatever took place. Men tilled the soil, went to church, gathered in town meetings, and ordered their ordinary affairs as they had done for half a century. The seaports felt the change more than did the inland towns, for the enforcement of the navigation acts interfered somewhat with the old channels of trade and led to the introduction of a court of vice-admiralty which Dudley held for the first time in July to try ships engaged in illicit trade. Over the forts and the royal offices fluttered a new flag, bearing a St. George's cross on a white field, with the initials J. R. and a crown embroidered in gold in the center of the cross, that same cross which Endecott had cut from the flag half a century before. To many the new flag was the symbol of anti-Christ, and Cotton Mather judged it a sin to have the cross restored; but others felt with Sewall, the diarist, who said of the fall of the old government: "The foundations being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

Perhaps the greatest innovation — in any case, the novelty that aroused the largest amount of curiosity and excitement — was the service according to the Book of Common Prayer, held at first in the library room of the Town House, and afterwards by arrangement in the South Church, and conducted by the Reverend Robert Ratcliffe in a surplice, before a congregation composed not only of professed Anglicans but also of many men of Boston who had never before seen the Church of England form of worship. The Anglican rector, by his somewhat unfortunate habit of running over the time allowance and keeping the waiting Congregationalists from entering their own church for the enjoyment of their own form of worship, caused almost as much discontent as did the dancing-master of whom the ministers had complained the year before, who set his appointments on Lecture days and declared that by one play he could teach more divinity than Mr. Willard or the Old Testament. Other "provoking evils" show that not all the breaches in the walls were due to outside attacks.

A list of twelve such evils was drawn up in 1675, and the crimes which were condemned, and which were said to be committed chiefly by the younger sort, included:

  1. Immodest wearing of the hair by men
  2. Strange new fashions of dress
  3. Want of reverence at worship
  4. Profane cursing
  5. Tippling
  6. Breaking the Sabbath
  7. Idleness, overcharges by the merchants
  8. Loose and sinful habit of riding from town to town, men and women together, under pretence of going to lectures, but really to drink and revel in taverns
  9. The law forbidding the keeping of Christmas Day had to be repealed in 1681.

Mrs. Randolph, when attending Mr. Willard's preaching at the South Church, was observed "to make a curtsey" at the name of Jesus "even in prayer time"; and the colony was threatened with "gynecandrical or that which is commonly called Mixt or Promiscuous Dancing," and with marriage according to the form of the Established Church. The old order was changing, but not without producing friction and bitterness of spirit. The orthodox brethren stigmatized Ratcliffe as "Baal's priest," and the ministers from their pulpits denounced the Anglican prayers as "leeks, garlick, and trash." The upholders of the covenant were convinced that already " the Wild Beasts of the Field" were assailing the colony.

Randolph journeyed on horseback twice to Rhode Island, and once to Connecticut, serving his writs upon those colonies. Rhode Island agreed willingly enough to surrender her charter without a suit, but the authorities of Connecticut, knowing that the time for the return of the writ had expired, gave no answer, debating among themselves whether it would not be better, if they had to give in, to join New York rather than Massachusetts. Randolph attributed their hesitation to their dislike of Dudley, for whom he had begun to entertain an intense aversion. He charged Dudley with connivance against himself, interference with his work, appropriation of his fees, and too great friendliness toward the old faction in Boston. Before the provisional government had come to an end, he was writing home that Dudley was a "false president," conducting affairs in his private interest, a lukewarm supporter of the Anglican church, a backslider from his Majesty's service, turning "windmill-like to every gale." Such was Dudley's fate in an era of transition — hated by the old faction as an appointee of the Stuarts and by Randolph as a weak servant of the Crown. Writing in November, Randolph longed for the coming of the real governor, who would put a check upon the country party and bring to an end the timeserving and trimming of a president whom he deemed no better than a Puritan governor.

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