20.  A New Law to Punish 'Rioters'

 

 

The committees of the several townships on the New Hampshire Grants assembled in convention, and took up the subject of New York’s new law against “rioters” with more calmness than could have been anticipated under circumstances so irritating.  They reviewed the cause of the controversy, asserted anew their rights, affirmed that they were not the aggressors, that all the violence to which they had been accessory was fully justified by the laws of self-preservation, and that they were determined to maintain the ground they had taken, without fear or favor, at any hazard and at any sacrifice.

In addition to these public doings of the people at large, Ethan Allen and the other proscribed persons published in the New Hampshire Gazette and Connecticut Courant a manifesto dated April 16, 1774, to which they affixed their names, containing a defense of themselves and free remarks on the New York act and proclamation.  It breathed a tone of bold defiance to the New York authorities and threatened instant death to any person who should be tempted by "the usages of unrighteousness offered in the proclamation" to undertake their arrest.

To this manifesto was appended the following practical effusion, descriptive of the New York law, written by Thomas Rowley of Rutland, whose rhyming powers were often put in requisition against the proceedings of the Yorkers:

 

When Caesar reigned king of Rome,

St. Paul was sent to hear his doom;

But Roman laws in a criminal case

Must have the accused, face to face,

Or Caesar gives a flat denial —

But here's a law made now of late,

Which destines men to awful fate,

And hangs and damns without a trial —

Which made me view all nature through,

To find a law where men were tried —

By legal act which doth exact

Men's lives before they're tried.

Then down I took the sacred book,

And turned the pages o'er,

But could not find one of this kind

By God or man before.

 

After these decisive manifestos of the belligerent parties, acts of force would naturally follow.  They were, however, less numerous and violent than could have been expected.  There were a few cases in which the "beach seal" was applied to the partisans of New York with considerable energy; but this punishment was reserved for the most incorrigible offenders.  Milder measures were used with the less dangerous and active, and generally with success.  Ridicule was sometimes employed and constituted the principal ingredient in the punishment inflicted.  An instance of this is found in the case of Dr. Samuel Adams of Arlington.

The doctor openly professed himself a partisan of New York and was accustomed to speak disrespectfully of the conventions and committees, espousing the cause of the New York claimants, advising people to purchase lands under their title.  He was admonished by his neighbors and made to understand that this tone of conversation was not acceptable, and was requested to change it, or at least to show his prudence by remaining silent.

Far from effecting any reform, these hints only stirred up the ire of the courageous doctor, who forthwith armed himself with pistols and other weapons of defense, proclaiming his sentiments more boldly than ever, setting opposition at defiance, and threatening to try the full effect of his personal prowess and implements of warfare on any man who should have the temerity to approach him with an unfriendly design.  Such a boast was likely to call up the martial spirit of his opponents, who accordingly came upon the doctor at an unguarded moment and obliged him to surrender at discretion. 

He was thence transferred to the Green Mountain Tavern in Bennington where he was arraigned before the committee who, not satisfied with his defense, sentenced him to a novel punishment, which they ordered to be put in immediate execution.

Before the door of this tavern (kept by Capt. Stephen Fay in the house now occupied by his grandson Samuel Fay Esq.) stood a signpost 25 feet high, the top of which was adorned with the skin of a catamount stuffed to the size of life, with its head turned toward New York, and its jaws distended, showing large naked teeth, and grinning terror to all who should approach from that quarter.  It was the judgment of the court that the contumacious doctor should be tied in a chair and drawn up by a rope to the catamount, where he was to remain suspended two hours; which punishment was inflicted in the presence of a numerous assemblage of people much to their satisfaction and merriment.  The doctor was let down and permitted to depart to his own home.  This ludicrous punishment is reported to have had a salutary effect not only upon the doctor but upon others under like circumstance offending.

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