22. Kindling the Flames of Revolution
While the events which have formed the subject of several of the preceding chapters were occurring on the west side of the mountain, the people on the other side were comparatively quiet. Many inhabitants of Cumberland County, which was nearly identical with the present counties of Windham and Windsor, had purchased New York titles in confirmation of those under New Hampshire, and had generally acquiesced in the New York jurisdiction.
A Court of Common Pleas had been regularly held for several years at Westminster, the shire town, and the people in most of the towns had elected supervisors, who had superintended the county and town affairs in conformity with the New York system. The county had also been represented in the New York Assembly since February 1773.
There had, however, been much smothered dissatisfaction with the New York government, which events that immediately preceded the revolution, kindled into a flame.
The Provincial Assembly of New York had refused their approbation to the proceedings of the Continental Congress of September 1774 and had also refused to send delegates to the Congress that was to assemble in May following. This was the only assembly in the whole thirteen colonies in which the Tory interest had been sufficiently strong to resist the general sense of the country. While the royal authority had been suspended in all the other provinces, in this, the attempt was to be made to continue its exercise, and especially by holding the courts as had been previously done.
A Court of Common Pleas was to be held at Westminster on March 13, 1775. The people rose almost en masse to prevent its sittings, and succeeded in their efforts, though not until they had been fired upon by the sheriff and his party, and one man (William French) killed, and several others wounded. A full account of this transaction will be found in Slade's State Papers and will not here be given. The sheriff and those concerned in the murderous attack on the people were arrested and sent to Northhampton jail, but were soon afterwards released on application of the governor of New York.
It is stated by Benjamin Hough in his affidavit dated March 7, 1775, that "he had frequently been informed and believed it was the design of the rioters to put an end to law and justice in the county of Cumberland." Within a week from that date the beforementioned proceedings in that county occurred, and on March 20 information of them reached New York by express. In the account published in Gaines' Gazette of March 23, the "rioters" from Bennington are represented as acting a conspicuous part in the transaction, and March 23, Lt. Gov. Colden (on whom the executive office had devolved by the absence of Gov. Tryon) coupling the trial and punishment of Hough with the stopping of the court at Westminster, made them both the subject of a special message to the Colonial Assembly then in session. The important part of the message is as follows:
"Gentlemen: You will see with just indignation, from the papers I have ordered . . . be laid before you, the dangerous state of anarchy and confusion which has lately arisen in Cumberland County, as well as the little respect which has been paid to the provisions of the Legislature at their last sessions, for suppressing the disorders which have for some time greatly disturbed the North Eastern districts of the County of Albany and parts of the County of Charlotte.
"You are called upon, gentlemen, by every motive of duty, prudence, policy and humanity, to assist me in applying the remedy proper for a case so dangerous and alarming.
This message was referred to a committee of the whole House, and was taken up and discussed on March 30 and 31. It was finally resolved "to grant his Majesty one thousand pounds to reinstate and maintain the due administration of justice in the County of Cumberland and for the suppression of riots therein." And it was further resolved as follows, viz:
"That an additional reward of fifty pounds each be offered for apprehending and securing in any jail in the colony, the following persons, being rioters, named in the act of the last sessions, entitled "an act for preventing tumultuous and riotous assemblies in the places therein mentioned, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters," to wit: Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, Robert Cochran and Peleg Sunderland. And that a reward of fifty pounds be offered for apprehending and securing as aforesaid James Mead, Gideon Warren and Jesse Sawyer, or either of them, for assisting the four first mentioned persons in committing sundry violent outrages on the person of [Benjamin Hough] one of his Majesty's justices of the peace for the County of Charlotte."
These resolutions constituted the last and dying effort of the royal government of New York against the inhabitants of the New Hampshire Grants. The assembly was soon afterwards prorogued and never met again, being superseded by the revolutionary authority of the provincial Congress.