Home

James Hrdlicka
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Virginia

Petition of the Town of Gloucester
17 Aug 1779
Massachusetts Archives Vol. 185, pp. 251-54

“That at the Commencement of the present War Our Riches consisted in numbers of healthy Inhabitants, not in Lands or Effects—who warmly espoused the cause of their Country, by a voluntary Enlistment into its service, during the two first Campaigns, we had upwards of 220 men in the Field—numbers besides joined the Marine department, as more suitable to their former Occupation.
                “When the Honble Congress, regulated every State’s quota of men in 1776, our proportion in that arrangement, was 137 men, being the one seventh part of our male Inhabitants.
                “We have in most draughts that have been made, from that time to the present been called upon for our Proportion according as it was then made of 960 men, without any allowance for our Losses.  We have made the Calculation as accurate as possible, and find by the number of men we had in 1775, and the number of Polls we had last May, that our Men diminish in the proportion of 10 per Cent per Annum—the Scheme stand thus,
                “Ratable Polls in 1775 were…..1053
                “deduct 10 per Cent……………….105
                “Men in the year 1776…………….940
                “10 per cent deducted…………...94
                “Heads in the year 1777…………..854
                “10 per Cent deducted……………85
                “Heads in 1778………………………..769
                “10 per cent deducted…………….77
                “Polls in 1779……………………………692
“which number of Polls agrees with the Town’s Books the Current year within four, and is agreable to the return made by us last year within five, as you may see by said return.
                “We address ourselves to the Justice of this Honorable Court whether it is agreable to the strict Equity, we hope is intended & meant, to be called upon still for our proportion of men; when they diminish in numbers, so very fast—for, unless their places be supply’d by youth coming of Age—or Strangers settling here, a ten years war, (if we were to lose as we have done) would extinguish all our male Inhabitants. Fifty two youths have been Enrolled the three last years—[252] Very few strangers incline to settle in Cape Ann—The Loss of numbers of our People is not our only Misfortune (tho’ a great one) loss of Property hath companied it; In 1775, When the General Alarm of War, sounded in the Ears of All—Our most active, wealthy Inhabitants—Thro’ dread of having their Houses burned, and INterst destroy’d—moved from Cape Ann to places of greater security, carrying their Effects with them and not returning since We are deprived of Two great supports of any Community. Viz. Wealth & Numbers.
                “had they have continued with us, The Wealth that since has flow’d into Newbury-Port, Boston, and other place thro’ their means would have Centred here; Loss of Merchants and their property by moving out of Cape Ann, has been followed by the removal of numbers of our most Industrious Men elsewhere, for want of Employment here.  That those who remained were Gentlemen who could not dispose of their Situations.  Numbers of Poor that could not move always—And the Familys of Soldiers in the service.  Our Scituation is very peculiar having but little Intercourse with the Country.
                “We live on an Island Joined to the Main, by a narrow neck of Land—consequently, receive but little Benefit from Travellers little or no benefit accrues to us, from the War or the necessities of the Communities—That if we have Interest as a Town, or as Individuals, it must have been acquired either by the produce of our Farms—by Privateering—Or by trading to Sea in Merchant men—An Exact List was given in by us last year, of the number of Acres of all sorts of Land in the whole Towns by which, you will perceive we have but 856 Acres of Arable [sic]arding, and Mowing Land in the whole which do not produce enough of the Necssaries of Life, to support the Town Two Months in the Twelve.  It seems Heaven never intended that Cape Ann should be supported by Farming—Our Support arose from the Fishery—hence so many persons in so poor & rocky a place at the Commencement of the War.  The second way, we can be supposed to have acquir’d Money, must be by Privateering.  The Candor of the Honorable Court will Indulge us with stating that matter as concisely as we can…[petition goes on to recount the town’s largely unsuccessful attempts at privateering].

“[253] …Had we been of sufficient ability we have kept, even what few Goods we had come in, we should have [received?] the benefit of that measure, but we were necessitated to sell, to get Cash to carry on our Business, that Money immediately growing worse, and necssaries high—Families to support—Taxes to pay—but little come—and that daily lessening or diminishing.
                “The Honble Court, will reasonable infer, that it must [be?] (as it really is) almost all spent.  what may have induc’d people in general to think our Circumstances much better than they are, or were, hath been, as we conceive, from their apprehending, that the Number of Prizes putting into Cape Ann from time to time were more or less ownd by the Inhabitants but the reverse of that is the case…[petition goes on to state that trade is at a standstill and unprofitable]” 253

“[254]…In a Word, we are very poor, and very much affected by the War.  We rely on the Justice of the Honourable Court who have given us a Rule to be our guide in Town Affairs Viz. If any Individual is overtaxed in the Town Assessment—upon Application to the Assessors, with a state of their Circumstances, they are to be Abated.  We are asured, when the General Court weigh our Situation they will follow so equitable a Rule.  We boast of our attachment in General to the public Weal, We are not against bearing our proportion of the public Burthens—But if ye above Rule holds good respecting an Individual in a Town, by A parity of reason, it holds good in respect to a Town in a State.  We are taxed in ye last Tax Bill more than We can pay.  If the Honble Court would Delegate a Committee to examine into our Circumstances, they are Asured, corroborate the representation we have given.  We are Asured the Honble Court were influenced by Patriotic motives in Laying so heavy a Tax—Viz to call a large sum out of Circulation, to render the remainder of more value—by which means, the high prices of ye necessaries of life would be lowered, & many other benefits would accrue to this as well as ye states in General but thro’ ye forementioned misfortunes, we are not in a capacity to pay a high Tax We verily believe if all ye Money in Town were collected into one sum, it would fall short of ye sum set upon this Town.  We are Poor, We lay [?] Ourselves out ye Feet of our political Fathers, We pray an Abatement in ye very large sum set upon this Town to pay as we are unable to pay it, if it is insisted on—We are desirous of doing as far as we are able—Your Paternal Indulgence in this respect will encourage us…” 254

Petition of the Town of Leominster
22 Mar 1780 (Date read by General Court)
Massachusetts Archives Vol. 186, pp. 110-12

“…That since the present war began we have constantly complied with the demands from time to time made on us, by the authority of this state, by providing men for the Army, and necessarys for them when required.  That the procuring such numbers of men, so frequently demanded, has ben attended with prodigious expence to your petitioners, but our zeal and affection for the cause wherein we was engaged, and the repeated incoragement which we received from said authority; that the war would be speedily concluded, animated us to exert ourselves even beyond our abilities.  Your petitioners incurred a prodigious debt, in providing our proportion of men for three years service in the continental Army; which we cheerfully submitted to from full Assurance we then received, by an act of the General Assembly (on which we firmly relyed) that upon our procuring our proportion of men when required: there should no more demands by drafting be made upon us; untill all the other Towns in this state had provided their proportion also, but notwithstanding that many Towns in this state, did not provide their proportion of men, for the continental army: the very next time there appeared a necessity for a reinforcement (which we apprehend was intirely owing, [111] to the negligence of them Towns) your petitioner was called upon to provide their full proportion of men, no regard being had to us, who had completed our number: to serve in the Army for three years; and the same practice of requiring more of us by subsequent drafts; has ben constantly repeated, and as constantly complyed with; by us and in some instances far exceeded it (particularly at the time Genl Burgoine was besieged at Saratoga, when it was no sooner Known that help was wanted, near thirty men with horses set off with the greatest expedition for the service of our country) by which frequent drafts and providing the men for three years service, we have increased our debts, but little short of all our other publick charges, but notwithstanding these many causes of complaint, being very unwilling to trouble the Genl Court at them times, whilest we was sencible the publick affairs was a full imployment for all their time, and faculties, we have remained silent: but upon seeing the last valuation which is so manifestly partial, we cannot in justice to our selves, refrain any longer from making known our very great sufering, in that valuation our unimproved land, is valued at above three times so much, more then the unimproved of some of our neighbouring towns, whilest it is notorious  that there is no Town in these parts, whoes [sic] woodland is of less value then the woodland belonging to Leominster; it being principally covered with pine, but of little value either for Timber or fierwood: and the soil of a Barren; sandy Quality, great part of which would not recompence the labourer only for clearing of it, our pasturing, and buildings also are valued much too high in propotion with those of other Towns, it is owing to this valuation we imagine, that in the last tax bill, there is an addition made [112] To our rates, to make good as it is said former dificiencies we flater our selves that from the wisdom and justice of the honorable court they will make an equitable alteration in the valluation, and make a just allowance for the sums which have been required of us, in the two least tax bills, more then our just proportion; and also to make us a reasonable consideration, for our extraordinary charges in prosecuting the war, which we are well convinced would have been far less, to us; had we neglected as many other Towns have don, to provide the men when they was required, and ben fined for our neglect, in the same manner they have ben we ask for no favour at most no partiality in our favour, but we trust we have a Right to Expect Justice in common with the other towns in this state, and we cannot remain easy untill that is obtained, our circumstances are such that we cannot bare more then our just proportion of the publick calamities and we hope the honorable court will take care for the future that it may not be required of us” 110-12

 

© 2003 Colonial Society of Massachusetts. All Rights Reserved.