Chronicles of America 

The Royal Displeasure

In October, 1676, Massachusetts sent over two of its leading men, William Stoughton, a magistrate, and Peter Bulkeley, speaker of the House of Representatives, to ward off, if possible, the attack on the colony, but with characteristic short-sightedness gave them no authority to discuss officially anything but the Mason and Gorges claims. For more than two years these men, representative rather of the moderate party than of the "old faction" in the colony, remained in England, frequently appearing before the Lords of Trade, where they were subjected to a searching examination at the hands of a not very sympathetic body of men. The meetings in the Council Chamber in Whitehall, where the committee sat, were occasions full of interest and excitement. At one of them, on April 8, 1677, Stoughton, Bulkeley, Randolph, Mason, and Sir Edmund Andros, Governor of New York for the Duke, were all present, and the agents must have found the situation awkward and embarrassing. The committee expressed its resentment at the colony's habit of disobedience and evasion, and showed no inclination to adopt a moderate policy, advocating, on the contrary, investigation "from the whole root." The position of a Massachusetts agent in England during these trying years was most undesirable, and so many difficulties and discouragements did Stoughton and Bulkeley encounter that several times they asked for permission to return home and once, at least, had to go to the country for their health. But whatever were the troubles of an agent in England, they were trifling as compared with those which confronted him at home when he failed, as he almost invariably did fail, to obtain all that the colony expected. Cotton Mather tells us that Norton died in 1663 of melancholy and chagrin, and that for forty years there was not one agent but met "with some very froward entertainment among his countrymen." No wonder it was always difficult to find men who were willing to go.


Painting in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.



Engraving from the original painting owned by descendants of Andros in London, England. Reproduced in The Andros Tracts, published by the Prince Society, Boston.

At first the Lords of Trade favored the sending of a supplemental charter and the extending of a pardon to the colony; but as the evidence against Massachusetts accumulated, they began to consider the revision of the laws, the appointment of a collector of customs and a royal governor, and even the annulment of the charter itself. In short, they determined to bring Massachusetts "under a more palpable declaration of obedience to his Majesty." The general court of the colony, although it had said that "any breach in the wall would endanger the whole," was at last frightened by the news from England and passed an order in October, 1677, that the laws of trade must be strictly observed, and later magistrates and deputies alike took the oath of allegiance prescribed by the Crown, promising to drop the word "Commonwealth" for the future. The members of the assembly wrote an amazing letter, pietistic and cringing, in which they prostrated themselves before the King, asked to be numbered among his "poore yet humble and loyal subjects," and begged for a renewal of all their privileges. At best such a letter could have done little in England to increase respect for the colony, but any good results expected from it were completely destroyed by the serious blunder which the colony made at this time in purchasing from the Gorges claimants the title to the province of Maine, which with New Hampshire had recently been declared by the chief justices of the King's Bench and Common Pleas to lie outside of the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. This attempt to obtain, without the royal consent, a territory which the legal advisers of the Crown had decided Massachusetts could not have, only strengthened the determination of the authorities in England to bring the colony into the King's hand by the appointment of a royal governor. For the moment, however, the uprising of Bacon in Virginia and the Popish Plot in England so distracted the Government that it was obliged to slight or to postpone much of its business. It did succeed in settling the perplexing question of New Hampshire, for, having obtained from Mason a renunciation of all his claims to the Government, though leaving him with full title to the soil, it organized that territory as a colony under the control of the Crown.

With these matters out of the way or less exigent, the Lords of Trade returned to the affairs of New England. They wished, before proceeding to extremes, to give Massachusetts another chance to be heard; so, in dismissing the agents in the autumn of 1679, they instructed the colony to send over within six months others fully prepared "to answer the misdemeanors imputed against them." They also decided to send Randolph back as collector and surveyor of customs, with letters to all the New England colonies, ordering them to enforce the acts of trade, and another to Massachusetts requiring that she provide a minister for those in Boston who wished an Anglican church. Randolph, who left for New England for the second time, in December, 1678, has the distinction of being the first royal official appointed for any of the northern colonies. Almost his first task was to settle the province of New Hampshire under royal authority, with a government consisting of a president, a council, and an assembly. Thus British control in New England was making progress, and the worst fears of the "old faction" in Massachusetts were being realized.

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