Open Rebellion: Town Meeting Defying the Tyranny of the Intolerable Acts
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“Resolved that it is the Indispensable duty of the Inhabitants of this County … to prevent the sitting of the Respective court…the Inhabitants of this County will attend in person the next inferior court of common pleas and general session…properly Armed to repel any hostile force which may be employed…”
This document embodies one of the first instances of open rebellion against the Crown, and records a critical step in the formation of an independent government. Parts of it are written and signed by Major Nathaniel Sartell Prentice, who fought at the Battle of Lexington, less than a year later.
The manuscript starts with a copy of resolves issued on August 31, 1774, in response to one of the Intolerable Acts, by a convention of the Worcester County Committees of Correspondence. The Intolerable Act barred the commonwealth from holding town meetings. Delegates conclude that the act rendered the royal charter “null and void,” and they resolve that the various towns should take over the function of the British-run court system. They ask citizens to select their own town officials, choose representatives for a Provincial Convention, and take action to prevent the courts from sitting under the new system. One resolve specifies that citizens attend the upcoming court session “properly Armed to repel any hostile force” sent by the governor, and another votes to send “Letters by Post to other Committees” should an invasion appear imminent. NATHANIEL S. PRENTICE.
Autograph Document Signed. Grafton, Mass. September 5, 1774. 4 pp. 8¼ x 13¼ in.
“Whereas this Charter…as well as laws enacted by virtue of the same…have been by the Parliament of Great Britain without the least coler of right or justice…Declared in part null and void… forming a Complete System of Tyranny and whereas no Power on Earth hath a right without the Consent of this Province to alter the minutest tittle of the Charter…as the sitting of said Court, may have a Tendency to Effect the good people of this county in such manner as may Insensibly lead them to submit to the Chains of Slavery…Therefore Resolved that it is the Indispensable duty of the Inhabitants of this County … to prevent the sitting of the Respective court…the Inhabitants of this County will attend in person the next inferior court of common pleas and general session…properly Armed to repel any hostile force which may be employed…”
Remarkably, the document not only shows a key step in separation between the Crown and the colony, but also shows the chain of action; county and town. The Worcester resolve is followed by a record of the Grafton town meeting held to consider those measures. It’s a fascinating look at the grassroots nature of independence, uniting citizens of the smaller towns to take over their own governmental functions. This pivotal step helps explain why the towns were ready to send militia the day they received word of the Lexington alarm.
On September 5, 1774, Captain Luke Drury moderated a Grafton town meeting held to consider the resolves. By a unanimous vote, the townspeople agreed. More than 15 town officers and militia leaders were elected, as recorded here. The notes authorize the new officials to “inflict punishment” on disorderly individuals – essentially, to substitute for the now invalid court system.
In response to the resolution, the next day, when the court met, more than 5,000 Worcester men, “properly Armed,” lined the route leading to the courthouse. The royal justices were quickly persuaded that it was in their best interest to stay the proceedings.
Nathaniel Sartell Prentice (1735 – 1815) Born in Grafton, Massachusetts, Prentice lived in Alstead, N. H. He was Captain of the Third company, Sixteenth regiment of New Hampshire militia and a Major in Colonel Baldwin’s regiment. He was also a member of the New Hampshire Provincial Congress in 1776 and the Committee of Safety.
Luke Drury (1734-1811) of Grafton, Massachusetts joined the militia in 1757 during the French and Indian Wars. As captain of a company of Minutemen, he responded to the Lexington Alarm, and later joined Colonel Jonathan Ward’s regiment to fight at Bunker Hill. Drury and his men served in different areas during the war, from West Point to Grafton, where his company guided military stores. He also supported the Continentals financially, at one point giving £50 fifty pounds to enlist soldiers in Grafton.
In 1786-1787, Drury became deeply involved in Shays’s Rebellion, a tax revolt led by farmers in western Massachusetts. The uprising was quashed, and Drury imprisoned as “a person dangerous to the state.” He was eventually released on good behavior. Drury remained active in state and local politics, serving terms as a constable, deputy sheriff, tax collector, assessor, selectman, and state legislator.