21. An Episode of Severe Punishment
Among the most active and influential of the individuals who traveled to New York in the winter of 1774 to obtain legislative aid against the Green Mountain Boys was Benjamin Hough of the vicinity of Clarendon.
There is the following entry on the journal of the New York Assembly for February 1, 1774:
"A petition of Benjamin Hough in behalf of himself and many of the inhabitants of the County of Charlotte, & of the northeastern district of the County of Albany, accompanied by sundry affidavits were presented to the House and read, setting forth the outrageous cruelty and oppression of the Bennington mob, and praying the interposition and protection of the House."
On Feb. 5 the committee to which said petition had been referred reported a series of resolutions that were adopted by the assembly and made the basis of the odious act which passed the succeeding month, and which was described in the previous chapter. It also appears from the journal of the Governor and Council that Hough was appointed a justice of the peace for the County of Charlotte on March 9, 1774, the very day on which the bloody act had passed, and on which Governor Tryon had issued his most offensive proclamation.
Armed with these potent implements of warfare against the New Hampshire claimants, and with his commission of justice of peace in his pocket, Hough returned to his residence on the grants, and undertook to set up the New York jurisdiction and authority. He was repeatedly warned to desist from attempting to exercise his office of magistrate, but being found incorrigible, he was arrested and brought before the Committee of Safety at Sunderland.
The committee ordered the resolution of the convention of the New Hampshire Grants to be read, which forbid all persons holding any office, civil or military, under the Colony of New York within the said district. The prisoner confessed he had been active in procuring the passage of the odious New York law and in exercising his authority as magistrate, but pleaded the New York jurisdiction in justification of his conduct. Whereupon the committee pronounced the following judgment:
"That the prisoner be taken from the bar of this committee of safety and tied to a tree, and there on his naked back to receive two hundred stripes, his back being dressed he should depart out of the district, and on return without special leave of the committee, to suffer death."
This sentence was executed in a severe manner in presence of a large concourse of people. It was considered fully justified by the extraordinary hardihood and dangerous character of the offender under the peculiar circumstances in which the people were placed. Hough asked for and received a certificate of his sentence and punishment. On delivering the paper to him, Col. Allen sarcastically observed that the certificate, together with the receipt on his back, would no doubt be admitted as legal evidence before the Supreme Court and the Governor and Council of New York, though the King's warrant to Governor Wentworth and his excellency's sign manual with the Great Seal of the Province of New Hampshire, would not.
Hough repaired to the city of New York and made an affidavit before one of the judges of the Supreme Court, giving the particulars of his arrest, trial and punishment, and the affidavit was published in Gaines' New York Gazette of March 28, 1775. His version of the transaction, being that of a party concerned, must be taken with some degree of allowance in regard to coloring, though the main facts are doubtless to be relied on. The affidavit as a relic of "the olden time" is highly interesting and will be published here at length.
Affidavit of Benjamin Hough, Dated March 7th, 1775
City of New York, ss.
Benjamin Hough; one of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the County of Charlotte being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God, deposeth and sayeth: That on or about the 26th day of January last past, about 8 o'clock in the morning, this deponent being at some distance from his dwelling house, but in view thereof, observed three persons stop at this door, and enter his said house, this deponent's whole family (except a child of about six years of age) being absent; that immediately thereafter this deponent was attacked by about thirty persons, a number of whom were armed with firelocks, swords and hatchets; that upon their approach this deponent attempted to get into his house to secure his arms and stand upon his defence; but that this deponent observing that Winthrop Hoyt, of Bennington, one of the three persons this deponent had observed going into his house, stood at the threshold of this deponent's door, with this deponent's sword and pistol in his hands, he, this deponent, found it would be to no purpose either to attempt to escape or to make resistance; that thereupon Peleg Sunderland, of the said County of Charlotte, came up to this deponent with a hatchet in his hand, and slapping this deponent on the shoulder, told him he was his prisoner; that he, the said Peleg Sunderland, and the other persons who were with him, forced this deponent into a sleigh and carried him about fifty miles to the southward of this deponent's place of residence, to a place by them called Sunderland, where they kept this deponent until the 30th day of the said month of January in close confinement, part of the time bound, and always under a strong guard, with drawn swords
. . . That Sylvanus Brown, James Meed, Samuel Campbell, one Dwinels, one Powers, Stephen Meed, one Booley, and one Lymen, were among the persons who so seized and detained this deponent; and with respect to the rest of them, they were either strangers to this deponent or he cannot recollect their names at present; that while they had this deponent so in custody at Sunderland, some of the said rioters informed this deponent that he could not have his trial till the Monday following, because they intended to send for Ethan Allen and Seth Warner, who were then at Bennington, and who are two of the principal ringleaders of the Bennington mob. That on the said 30th day of January, the said rioters appointed a court for the trial of this deponent, which consisted of the following persons, to wit: The said Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, Robert Cochran, Peleg Sunderland, James Meed, Gideon Warren, and Jesse Sawyer, and then being seated ordered this deponent to be brought before them; that he was accordingly brought before them as a prisoner, guarded by persons with drawn swords; that thereupon the said Ethan Ellen laid the three following accusations to the charge of this deponent, to wit:
1st. That this deponent had complained to the Government of New York of their (the said rioters) mobbing and injuring Benjamin Spencer, Esq., and other persons.
2d. That the deponent had dissuaded and discouraged the people from joining the mob in their proceedings; and,
3d. That the deponent had taken a commission of the peace under the Government of New York, and exercised his office as a Magistrate for the County of Charlotte; alleging that this deponent well knew that they (the mob) did not allow of any Magistrate there.
After the said accusations were so made the said Ethan Allen told the deponent that he was at liberty to plead for himself if he had anything to say; that this deponent then demanded of him, the said Ethan Allen, and the rest of his pretended Judges, whether he, this deponent, had ever done injustice to any man in the execution of his office as a Magistrate? To which they answered, that they could not charge him with any injustice in the execution of his office, nor had they any complaint of that kind to make against him, Warner, in particular, declaring that he would as willingly have him for a Magistrate as any man whatever; but that they would not, under their present circumstances, suffer any Magistrate at all.
That the deponent then asked the said pretended Judges, whether they could accuse this deponent of busying himself or intermeddling with respect to titles of lands? To which the said Ethan Allen answered in the negative; and that they had not heard; nor did they pretend to charge him with any thing of that kind; that the deponent then added, that with respect to their three charges against him, he admitted them to be true; that he had made such complaint to the Government of New York of the proceedings of the said rioters against the said Benjamin Spencer and others; that he had used his endeavors to dissuade people from joining the said rioters in their proceedings; that that he has accepted a commission from the said Government for, and exercised the office of, a Magistrate for the said county of Charlotte; and that all this he had a good right to do, and looked upon as his duty.
That after some further argumentation the said pretended Judges withdrew to another house to consider of their judgment, and in about two or three hours returned to the door of the house where the deponent remained, and ordered him to be brought out near a tree, where the said pretended Judges had placed themselves, encircled by a number of armed men, into the midst of which circle this deponent was conducted as a prisoner, by four men with drawn swords; and that thereupon the said Ethan Allen, who all along acted as the chief or principal Judge pronounced the following sentence against this deponent, which he read from a paper which he held in his hand, to wit:
That they had erected a combination of judicious men for his trial, and had accused him in the manner before mentioned, [repeating the accusations] that the deponent had pleaded self-justification, which they, the said pretended Judges, had found insufficient to excuse him from punishment; and that therefore their judgment was that the deponent should be tied up to a tree and receive two hundred lashes on the naked back, and then, as soon as he should be able, should depart the New Hampshire Grants, and not return again upon pain of receiving five hundred lashes; that upon some persons observing that he, this deponent, ought not to be suffered to return while matters remained in their present condition, the said Allen added, no — not till His Majesty's pleasure shall be known in the premises. . . .
. . . That thereupon this deponent immediately had his clothes taken off, and he was stripped to the skin, and four persons being, by the said pretended Court, appointed to carry the said sentence into execution, this deponent accordingly received the two hundred lashes upon his naked back, with whips of cords, which lashed were inflicted by each of the said executioners, giving the deponent alternately a number of lashes, though at the close he thinks he received from each of them ten, that the said Robert Cochran, who declared himself to be Adjutant of the rioters, stood, during the whole scene, near this deponent and frequently urged the said executioners to lay blows well and strike harder, and particularly repeated such directions with respect to the last ten inflicted by each the said executioners; that it was often mentioned by some of the rioters, that if any of this deponent's friends should intercede, or in any manner favor him, they should share the same fate.
That the aforesaid Winthrop Hoyt, of Bennington, who professed himself to be Drum Major, Abel Benedict, of Arlington, and one John Sawyer, and a person whose name this deponent could not learn, where the four persons who so whipped this deponent; that this deponent was very much wounded, and bled considerably by the said abuse; and the deponent being very faint, was put into the care of Dr. Washburn, who conducted him into a house, that the deponent declared to the said rioters, that it was a great hardship that he was not suffered to go home to take care of his interest and child, who was left without father or mother, the deponent's wife being absent on a distant visit to her parents. That the rioters notwithstanding insisted that the sentence should be put in execution, and the deponent leave the country accordingly.
And the deponent further saith, that after he had been so abused, the said Ethan Allen delivered him a paper in writing, signed by him and Seth Warner, in the words following, to wit:
"Sunderland, 30th of January, 1775.
"This may certify the inhabitants of the New Hampshire Grants, that Benjamin Hough hath this day received a full punishment for his crimes committed heretofore against this country, and our inhabitants are ordered to give him, the said Hough, a free and unmolested passport toward the City of New York, or to the westward of our Grants, he behaving as becometh. Given under our hands the day and date aforesaid.
And he, this deponent, having received his strength, the next day proceeded on foot on his journey toward the City of New York; that while this deponent was in custody of the said rioters, he heard the said Ethan Allen say, that he expected that they should be obliged to drive off all the damned Durhamites (meaning the inhabitants of the town of Durham, in the County of Charlotte) that this deponent frequently heard the said rioters declare that they would have little Walker (meaning Daniel Walker) and Thomas Braten (the constable who served under this deponent) if they could be found above ground; and that they further threatened that they would, for the future be more severe with the damned Yorkers (meaning persons who would not join with them in their riotous proceedings) and would whip them within an inch of their lives; that for the future, they would not be at the trouble and expense of giving them a trial, but that the persons who met with them should punish them immediately; that this deponent, while he was so confined, heard not inflicted upon Dr. Adams (who lived in Arlington, and against whom they had taken offence) five hundred lashes, instead of hoisting him up and exposing him upon landlord Fay's signpost, where was fixed a dead catamount, and that this deponent also heard the said Ethan Allen declare to the said mob that he expected shortly to have a fight with the damned Yorkers, for that they would hear how the mob had abused their Magistrates; but that he believed them to be damned cowards, or that they would have come out against them long before; that this deponent, on his way to New York, called at the house of Bliss Willoughby and Ebenezer Cole, Esquires, two of his Majesty's Justice of the Peace for the County of Albany, residing near Bennington; that he found them armed, in great distress and danger, and having people in their houses ready to take arms for their defence in case they should be attacked by the rioters, which, as they assured this deponent, they hourly expected; that this deponent, on his way to New York, also called at Pownal Town, part of which lies within the Major of Rensslaerwyck (as this deponent has been informed by the inhabitants of the said Town) that he found the said inhabitants in great commotion and uneasiness on account of the said rioters; that he understood from some of the said inhabitants, that they had agreed to take leases for their possessions under the proprietors of the said Manor, but that they dared not for fear of the said rioters, who had threatened them severely; and one of the said inhabitants in particular told this deponent that he had taken a lease for his farm of the said proprietor, but should, on that account be obliged to give it up; that when this deponent left the said Pownal Town, he met George Gardiner Esq. of Pownal Town aforesaid, also one of His Majesty's Justices of the peace for the said County of Albany, who told the deponent that the state of the said Town was very dangerous and difficult; that he expected every day to be prevented by the rioters from exercising his office; that he was apprehensive that unless Government should give them some protection, many of the inhabitants of the said Town would join the said rioters; and earnestly entreated this deponent to exert his utmost endeavors to procure such protection; that his deponent, on his way to New York, conversed with James Clark (who was in his employ) and who informed this deponent (and which this deponent verily believes to be true) that since this deponent was so seized by the said mob, John Lord, Joseph Randel, and Clark, three of this deponent's neighbors, had been very much abused and insulted by the said mob, and that the said John Law (sic) was turned out of his possession and obliged to fly the Country. And the deponent further says that the said mob robbed him of his arms, to wit: a hanger and pistol, which he has not been able since to procure; and the deponent further saith that he hath frequently been informed, and believed it to be true, that the said rioters have a design to put an end to law and justice in the County of Cumberland, and that they went so far as to appoint a day upon which to make the attempt, but it did not then take place; and further this deponent sayeth not.
Sworn before me, the 7th day of March, 1775.