15. 'Men Conscious of Their Dignity'
The letter of Gov. Tryon to the Rev. Jedediah Dewey and others, inviting negotiation, was duly delivered by the sheriff of Albany County. On receiving the letter, the people of Bennington and the neighboring towns assembled by their committees of safety, took the subject into consideration and without delay acceded to the proposal.
They appointed two delegates, Capt. Stephen Fay and Dr. Jonas Fay (father and son), to go to New York, and wrote an answer to Gov. Tryon's letter, briefly setting forth the grounds of their discontent and the reasons of their conduct, and referring to their agents for particular explanations.
At the same time Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, Remember Baker, and Robert Cochran, four of those whose arrest had been ordered by the governor of New York, sent him a joint dispatch protesting the treatment they had received, and vindicating themselves against the aspersions cast upon them by their enemies, and the stigma of being pointed out to the world as rioters, abettors of mobs, and felons.
This paper was drawn up by Allen, and considering their provocations, and the degree of excitement to which he and his associates had been wrought up, their remonstrance was clothed in language sufficiently respectful, breathing the spirit of men conscious of their dignity, and resolute in the defense of their rights, but ready to meet the awards of justice and abide by the decision of a fair and impartial tribunal.
"If we do not oppose the sheriff and his posse," they say, "he takes immediate possession of our houses and farms; if we do, we are immediately indicted as rioters; and when others oppose officers in taking their friends so indicted, they are also indicted, and so on, there being no end of indictments against us so long as we act the bold and manly part and stand by our liberty. And it comes to this at last, that we must tamely be dispossessed, or oppose officers in taking possession, and as a next necessary step, oppose the taking of rioters, so called, or run away like so many cowards and quit the country to a number of cringing, polite gentlemen who have ideally possessed themselves of it already."
Again: "Though they style us rioters for opposing them, and seek to catch and punish us as such, yet in reality themselves are the rioters, the tumultuous, disorderly, stimulating faction, or in fine, the land jobbers; and every violent act they have done to accomplish their designs, though ever so much under pretence of law, is in reality a violation of law, and an insult to the Constitution and authority of the Crown, as well as to many of us in person, who have been great suffers by such inhuman exertions of pretended law. Right and wrong are eternally the same through all periods of time, places and nations; and coloring a crime with a specious pretence of law only adds to the criminality of it, for it subverts the very design of laws, prostituting it to the vilest of purposes."
Gov. Tryon received the deputies with affability and kindness. On Monday, July 1, 1772, they attended the board of the Governor and Council. Also present were Benjamin Spencer, Jacob Marsh, Joseph Pringle, Bliss Willoughby, and Ebenezer Cole, who had either settled on the Grants under the New York title, or had purchased the New York title in confirmation of that under New Hampshire. These men, in consequence of alleged threats or abuses of the New Hampshire grantees, had repaired to New York to ask relief from the government.
They repeated to the Governor and Council the charges against the "rioters," and Stephen Fay was heard in answer to them. The matter was then referred to a committee of the council, which reported at length. The report was read in the presence of the Messrs. Fay, and they were furnished with a copy of part of it which proposed terms of settlement. That part of the report was a follows:
"The Committee are desirous your Excellency should afford the inhabitants of those townships, all the relief in your power; by suspending, till his majesty's pleasure shall be known, all prosecutions in behalf of the Crown, on account of the crimes with which they stand charged, by depositions before it, and to recommend it to the owners of the contested lands under grants from this province, to put a stop, during the same period, to all civil suits concerning the lands in question."
This report of the committee was approved by the Governor and Council, and with this intelligence the deputies returned to their constituents who hailed them as harbingers of peace and joy. They had never asked for more than was implied by these terms, being well persuaded that however the question of jurisdiction might be settled, the King would never sanction a course of proceeding that should deprive them of their property. The impulse of gladness spread quickly to the cabins of the remotest settlers. A meeting of the people was called at Bennington, where a large concourse assembled; the minutes of Council and the Governor's approval were read and applauded with loud acclamations, and for the moment the memory of all former grief was swept away in the overflowing tide of enthusiasm for Gov. Tryon.