There was once a time, when New England groaned under the pressure of heavier wrongs than those, which later brought on the Revolution. Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose ancestors had endured those times, wrote a short historical fiction story about those years in 1837, entitled, “The Gray Champion.”
In 1684, King Charles II of England, an adherent to the theory of the Divine Rights of Kings, annulled all the Colonial Charters. He was succeeded by James II, an even stronger proponent of Divine Rights in 1685. James sent a harsh and unprincipled soldier who suppressed colonial liberties and threatened their religious freedoms. Hawthorne described the administration of Sir Edmund Andros as “scarcely lacking a single characteristic of tyranny.” Laws were made and taxes levied “without concurrence of the people, immediate or by their representatives.” The rights of private citizens were violated, and the titles of all landed property declared void, while the voice of complaint was stifled by restrictions on the press. Finally, mercenary troops were marched on the free soil of Massachusetts. For two years, New Englanders were kept in sullen submission by the affectionate kinship, which secured their allegiance to the mother country. Previously, the colonists had ruled themselves, enjoying far more freedom than most British subjects.
Eventually, rumors reached American shores that William Prince of Orange had ventured on an enterprise, the success of which would be the triumph of civil and religious rights and the salvation of New England. This intelligence produced a marked effect. The people smiled mysteriously in the streets, and threw bold glances at their oppressors. But beneath these smiles was smoldering agitation ready to break loose in violent revolution. Aware of their danger, Governor Andros and his key lieutenants sought to avert it by an imposing display of strength, threatening to confirm their despotism if necessary by yet harsher measures.
One afternoon in April 1689, Andros and his favorite councilors assembled the redcoats of the Governor’s Guard, and made their appearance in the streets of Boston. The sun was near setting when the march commenced.
The martial roll of the drums gave measure to the soldiers’ steady advance, but it also seemed a muster-call to attract the citizens themselves. In time, there was a great multitude assembled in King-street, which was destined to be the scene, nearly a century afterwards, of another encounter between the troops of Britain and a people struggling against her tyranny. Among them were the veterans of King Philip’s war (a bloody 1675-78 conflict in northern New England between colonists and Native Americans led by Metacomet, known to the colonists as “King Philip.”) Several ministers were scattered among the crowd, and one shouted out:
“Satan will strike his master-stroke presently, because he knoweth that his time is short. All our godly pastors are to be dragged to prison! We shall see them at a Smithfield fire in King-street!”
Thereupon, the people of his parish gathered closer round their minister, who looked calmly upwards and assumed a more apostolic dignity.
Neither was this rumor wholly discredited, although the wiser class believed the Governor’s object somewhat less atrocious. His predecessor under the old charter, Bradstreet, a venerable companion of the first settlers, was known to be in town. There were grounds for conjecturing, that Sir Edmund Andros intended to strike terror both by a parade of military force and arresting Governor Bradstreet.
“Stand firm for the old charter Governor!” shouted the crowd, seizing upon the idea. “The good old Governor Bradstreet!”
While this cry was at the loudest, the people were surprised by the well known figure of Governor Bradstreet himself, a patriarch of nearly ninety, who appeared on the elevated steps of a door, and with characteristic mildness, besought them to submit to the constituted authorities.
“My children,” concluded Bradstreet, “do nothing rashly. Cry not aloud, but pray for the welfare of New England, and expect patiently what the Lord will do in this matter!”
The event was soon to be decided. All this time, the roll of the drum had been approaching through Cornhill, louder and deeper, until with reverberations from house to house, and the regular tramp of martial footsteps, it burst into the street. A double rank of soldiers made their appearance, occupying the whole breadth of the passage, with shouldered matchlocks, and matches burning, so as to present a row of fires in the dusk. Their steady march was like the progress of a machine, which would roll irresistibly over every thing in its way. Next, moving slowly, with a confused clatter of hoofs on the pavement, rode a party of mounted gentlemen, the central figure being Sir Edmund Andros, elderly, but erect and soldier-like. Those around him were his favorite councilors, the bitterest foes of freedom in New England. The mercenary soldiers were ready and waiting for the word to deluge the street with blood, the only means by which obedience could be secured.
“Oh! Lord of Hosts,” cried a voice among the crowd, “provide a Champion for thy people!”
To be continued.