This Day in History: The Massachusetts Sons of Liberty
On this day in 1765, the Sons of Liberty destroy Massachusetts Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s home. The move came mere months after the British Parliament passed the much-detested Stamp Act.
Let’s just say that the colonists were still pretty furious about the move to tax them.
“Such and so universal has been the Resentment of the People,” John Adams wrote, “that every Man who has dared to speak in favour of the Stamps, or to soften the detestation in which they are held…has been seen to sink into universal Contempt and Ignominy.”
Hutchinson was among those who lost the respect of colonists during this time. Ironically, Hutchinson thought the Stamp Act was bad policy; however, he also felt that the law should be obeyed until it was repealed. Most people in Massachusetts had no idea that he was working, behind the scenes, towards such a repeal. Hutchinson seemed to think that he did not need to explain himself to the populace.
A big mistake. The people came to believe that he was pro-Stamp Act.
Earlier that year, Col. Isaac Barré had warned Parliament of the American “Sons of Liberty” who were “jealous of their liberties and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated.” During the summer of 1765, these Sons of Liberty proved the truth of Barré’s words.
On August 14, the Sons of Liberty paraded through the streets with an effigy of Andrew Oliver, a local stamp distributor who happened to be Hutchinson’s brother-in-law. They made a bonfire out of Oliver’s fence posts. They burned his effigy and sacked his house.
The next night, another mob met and started another bonfire. Someone had the idea to go to Hutchinson’s house to ask him about his alleged authorship of the Stamp Act. Hutchinson’s family had already left, so the Lt. Governor huddled in the dark house by himself. After about an hour, the mob decided that he was not home and moved on. It was a narrow escape—but not a permanent one.
On the 26th, another crowd began another bonfire. The mob sacked the homes of two officials, and then it moved on to Hutchinson’s house “with hellish fury.” It tore up everything in sight, even destroying many official papers and a manuscript that Hutchinson had been preparing. One eyewitness later noted that the “destruction was really amazing.” Hutchinson himself later described the “hellish crew” that descended upon his house “with the rage of devils.”
Needless to say, a later attempt to prosecute the mob’s ringleaders did not go well. Hutchinson ultimately appealed to England for help in paying for the damage, but the matter was punted back to the colonies. Massachusetts must make recompense.
Do you think that happened?! Well, sort of. The Massachusetts General Court eventually authorized the recompense to Hutchinson, but it also issued a general pardon to all rioters.
Little did anyone in England then know it, but these acts of rebellion were just the beginning. The American Revolution was just around the corner.
Andrew Stephen Walmsley, Thomas Hutchinson and the Origins of the American Revolution (2000)
John Adams, Diary entry for Dec. 18, 1765
Letter from Thomas Hutchinson to Benjamin Franklin (Oct. 27, 1765)
The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson (Peter Orlando Hutchinson, ed. 1883)