The Agrarian Resistance in Post-Revolutionary New England

    Alan Taylor

    From a paper presented at the Bicentennial Conference on Shays’s Rebellion, 1986, sponsored by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.

    The New England “Regulators” (or “Shaysites”) of 1786–87 have long posed a puzzle because their lackluster resistance fell so short of their fiery and defiant rhetoric. As farmers and rural artisans distressed by taxes and debts during the economically troubled 1780s, the Regulators had serious and pressing grievances. They spoke with dread of impending “slavery”: of losing their property and so their cherished independence as freeholders. Taking up arms and mustering by the thousand, they forcibly closed the county courts and promised to repel any attempts to suppress their protests. Yet, when the Friends of Government responded with military counterforce, pressing the Regulators to surrender or fight, they quickly broke and fled. In the pivotal confrontations at Exeter, New Hampshire (September 20–21, 1786), and at Springfield (January 25, 1787) and Petersham (February 4, 1787) in western Massachusetts, the Friends of Government proved far more ready to inflict and absorb bloodshed.1

    During the three decades following the Revolutionary War, central Maine—then a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts—hosted a very different agrarian resistance: diffuse, protracted, theatrical, partially successful, and little known. Determined to hold their new homesteads without buying titles from nonresident land speculators, known as “Great Proprietors,” the settlers secretly organized armed companies of men disguised as Indians to frustrate enforcement of the Commonwealth’s land laws. Although their rhetoric resembled the Regulators’, central Maine’s settlers adopted very different tactics. Eschewing the Regulators’ massive, aggressive offensives against courts and state legislatures, the “White Indians” sought to nullify the local operation of offending laws by cordoning off their communities and by adopting fearsome disguises and bloodcurdling threats to scare off interloping surveyors and sheriffs. Unless deputies could serve writs on settlers targeted for prosecution and unless proprietary surveyors could run lines to prove that the accused dwelled within the proprietors’ particular claim, Maine’s Great Proprietors could not prosecute the ejectment and trespass suits necessary to reestablish their legal control over the contested land. Only on the rare occasions when the authorities jailed a suspected White Indian did the armed settlers muster in large numbers drawn from several settlements for a quick nighttime descent on the county seat to set their comrade free.2

    By examining in detail two contrasting confrontations, one at Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1786 and the other in central Maine in 1808, this essay explores why the Regulation collapsed so quickly and why the White Indians persisted long enough to win a compromise settlement. I will argue that both Regulators and White Indians clung to a prerepublican political culture based upon a “protection covenant” that simultaneously inspired and limited their protests. Accepting that gentlemen would rule but insistent upon their right to suspend particular offensive laws, rural folk resorted to limited, symbolic violence. Their aim was not to seize power, or to challenge the world of ranks and orders, but to jolt and reclaim wayward rulers to a sense of their duty. However, rather than backing down, as the Regulators expected, gentlemen responded with surprising force and determination; they had renounced the protection covenant that legitimated localist, extralegal resistance. Hence, rural protest could only survive in the new republic by adopting the White Indians’ techniques designed to avoid the direct battlefield confrontations with self-confident gentlemen that had so unnerved and shattered their Regulator brethren. By decentralizing their resistance and by performing frightening rituals in disguise, the settlers raised a protective barrier between their settlements and encroaching authority. The White Indians reversed the imbalanced self-assurance that ordinarily served gentlemen so well in facing down yeomen insurgents: behind masks settlers acted with a new verve against stunned officials, who often lost their nerve.

    In 1786 many new hampshire yeomen, especially those in Rockingham County, were angry at their unresponsive state government. Ignoring urgent petitions from the countryside, the legislature had refused to alleviate debtor distress with an emission of inflationary paper money. Instead, New Hampshire’s rulers passed a provocative bill removing legal impediments to British subjects collecting debts within the state. Wild but alarming rumors hinted at still worse to come: heavy taxes to compensate Loyalist refugees for their confiscated property. Driven to act by legislative indifference and inflammatory rumor, 200 men mustered on the morning of September 20 in Kingston, six miles west of Exeter, where the legislature was in session. About one-third of the insurgents bore firearms; the rest carried swords or clubs. Led by militia officers and following a beating drum, the insurgents marched that afternoon in military order into Exeter, surrounded the meetinghouse where the legislators were convened, and swore they would suffer no one to depart until they received a satisfactory response to their petitions for redress. A hostile observer, the young lawyer William Plumer, described the Regulators as “dirty, ragged fellows—many of them were young and most of them ignorant.” New Hampshire’s president, General John Sullivan, responded with “a cool and deliberate speech” denouncing their request as “an outrageous insult upon the Legislature.” Determined to ignore the “banditti,” the legislators continued to deliberate as if they were not surrounded by angry, armed men.3

    The standoff continued until dusk when William Plumer and nineteen other “Gentlemen of the first rank and education” resident in Exeter began beating a drum, hollered “Huzza for Government!” three times, and marched unarmed directly toward the startled insurgents. “The mob were greatly frightened, and in their confusion some ran, and others leaped into the graveyard,” Plumer reported. Sullivan led the legislators out onto the street while the insurgents dispersed to their camp a mile outside of town.4

    That evening Sullivan summoned the militia from New Hampshire’s eastern towns to assemble in Exeter at dawn to suppress the insurgency. In the morning Sullivan sent a body of cavalry and light infantry “accompanied by many gentlemen of the first rank and education, who appeared as volunteers” in pursuit of the insurgents. The alarmed Regulators broke and fled. Some tried to organize a stand at the bridge across King’s Falls but hesitated when their officers ordered them to fire. The gentlemen and militia surged into the Regulators’ ranks, disarming and capturing thirty-nine and sending the rest into headlong flight homeward. A gentleman observed that government’s commander, General Joseph Cilly, a Portsmouth lawyer, “distinguished himself by rushing sword in hand among ye rioters, & pulling them as a butcher would seize sheep in a flock.”5

    To seal their triumph, the Friends of Government hauled their prisoners back to Exeter, where they ritually disgraced the captured insurgents and celebrated the militia’s loyalty. While a band played “the rogue’s march” and onlookers jeered, the prisoners were forced to remove their hats and parade twice through the militia drawn up on both sides of the main street, “that,” in Plumer’s words, “in that humiliating condition they might behold a few of the many who were ready to defend the government.” He was pleased to report that the prisoners found the ritual “a mortifying situation.”6

    The next day, September 22, the ritual humiliation continued and moved indoors as the legislature separately examined and sternly admonished the captured Regulator leaders. The victors were eager to spare their prisoners’ lives in return for public confessions. Plumer reported that the Regulators’ two commanders, Major James Coch ran of Pembroke and Captain Joseph French of Hampstead, responded as desired: “Capt. French discovered great contrition. He gave satisfactory evidence that he was an honest man, but had been seduced by designing men. He frankly confessed that he had forfeited his life and implored their mercy. . . . Major Cochran said but little, but was much affected. He acknowledged he had forfeited his life and fortune to the State . . . [and had] been deceived by false representations; that he had taken a false and hasty step, but as it was his first offence, he now humbly entreated that Court, whom he had so daringly insulted a few hours since, to save him from ruin.” The delighted legislators pardoned and released French, Cochran, and all the other prisoners save six who were indicted by the state superior court for riot (rather than treason). Again the captives displayed humble contrition. When asked for his plea, Samuel Morse dropped to his knees and replied, “Guilty, very guilty.” According to Plumer, another prisoner “fainted and fell, and it was some time before he was able to answer guilty.” In return, the court released the indicted six on modest bail for trial at the next term, when they were convicted and punished with light fines. By so shrewdly handling power and leniency, the Friends of Government completely stifled insurgency in New Hampshire, enabling the legislature in January 1787 forthrightly to reject any program of debtor relief.7

    The Friends of Government noted the contrast between their own assured self-confidence and their agrarian foes’ insecure confusion, reassuring proof that yeoman insurgents could not withstand determined gentlemen. The Friends of Government expressed contempt for their foes as, in Plumer’s words, “an ignorant lawless band of unprincipled ruffians,” who were no match for troops properly commanded by genteel officers. Of New Hampshire’s defeated Regulators the Congregational minister Jeremy Belknap wrote, “Had these men been engaged in a good cause, and commanded by proper officers, they would have maintained the honor of their country, and fought her battles with ardor and perseverance; but, conscious of their inconsistency in opposing a government of their own establishing, their native fortitude forsook them; and they gave an example of the most humiliating submission. Most of them professed to be ashamed of their conduct, and their shame appeared to be sincere.” After the King’s Falls scuffle, Plumer reported, “we returned to town in great order and regularity, without the loss of blood on either side. President Sullivan has acquired credit by his prudence, caution and firmness.” Another delighted gentleman concluded, “The whole affair was conducted with much coolness and moderation.” The Friends of Government saw the episode as vindicating genteel values, as proving the supremacy of moderation, coolness, order, regularity, prudence, caution, and firmness when opposed by the “banditti’s” perceived excess, fervor, disorder, license, impudence, haste, and cowardice.8

    In a few days New Hampshire’s Regulators passed rapidly from mobilization through confrontation to humiliation and submission, a process that lasted months in neighboring Massachusetts. In a peculiarly telescoped form, the Exeter episode exemplifies the New England Regulators’ paradoxical but characteristic volatility: their determined defiance dissolving into ashamed obeisance almost overnight. In late 1786 and early 1787 in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, rural towns once alive with angry, determined crowds quickly reverted to abashed compliance with the law once the Friends of Government displayed first their power and then their mercy.9

    The regulators’ sudden collapse was a consequence of their political worldview, of the notions they carried in their minds to Exeter’s meetinghouse, Springfield’s armory, and Petersham’s campground. Contrary to the interpretation of the Regulators as egalitarian democrats, the American Revolution had had little impact—as of 1786—on the yeomanry’s adherence to the protection covenant at the heart of colonial America’s political culture. This protection covenant insisted that society was fundamentally riven between “rulers” and “the ruled.” The yeomanry expected political leadership from “the few,” from gentlemen with the requisite social standing, wealth, education, and external contacts to successfully conduct county, state, and national governance. According to the protection covenant, “rulers” deserved grateful obedience so long as they safeguarded the liberties and property of “the ruled.” But this formula could be reversed to justify crowd actions intended to discipline wayward gentlemen; rulers seen to betray liberty and prey on the people’s property temporarily forfeited popular allegiance.10

    Gathered in crowds, yeomen did not seek to supplant elite governance, but merely to “regulate” the proper balance between the rulers and the ruled, between authority and liberty, when the former encroached on the latter. By administering short, sharp rebukes, crowds meant to jolt wayward gentlemen into resuming a proper solicitude for the common good. A successful crowd action reclaimed rulers who had become threats to their people’s liberty and well-being. For example, in 1766 the inhabitants of Scarborough, Maine, were angry with their leading man, the merchant Richard King, for embezzling the parish’s funds and for aggressively prosecuting his many debtors. So they manhandled King, broke his house’s windows, wrecked his furniture, burned his business papers, killed several of his livestock, and torched his barn. A member of the crowd explained that “it was a good thing, and would do King good, and make him a better man.” Indeed, Scarborough’s residents saw no contradiction between violently recalling King to his duty while continuing to elect him to the town offices that no one else in town could perform so well.11

    The New England Regulators did not intend to overthrow their state governments but simply to suspend execution of particular “oppressive” and “unconstitutional” laws until their rulers could rectify their mistakes. Court closings simultaneously bought time and alerted rulers that they had violated their covenant to behave as “political fathers.” Once they had forced their rulers to do their duty, the Regulators believed that they could quickly and quietly return to their farms and to grateful obedience. The New Hampshire Regulators surrounded the state legislature to demand action that only the captive representatives could enact. In effect, the angry men without doors were also the hostages of the legislators within doors.12

    Unfortunately for the Regulators, New England’s gentlemen refused to play their assigned role in the protection covenant because they were ahead of the yeomanry in breaking with the colonial era’s political culture. In the short run, the Friends of Government were more profoundly affected by the recent Revolution’s new republican notions, albeit in a self-interested manner that sought to perpetuate their wealth and authority. In 1786 William Plumer insisted that “the Legislature ought to give, and not receive, the tone to the people. The few, and not the many, are wise, and ought to bear rule.” In the wake of the Revolution, gentlemen could insist that at one annual moment—election day—the distinction between rulers and the ruled dissolved and that until the next election this moment invested rulers with the full power of popular sovereignty. In their view, the electoral moment denied the people any legitimate extralegal power to discipline their representatives between elections. Once necessary to frustrate British rule and Loyalist plots, the extralegal crowd became, in the gentlemen’s opinion, a dangerous anachronism in the new republican order. If crowd actions persisted, alarmed gentlemen foresaw an anarchy that would ultimately provoke the tyranny of a military despot: a Cromwell or a Caesar. As a result, mixed fear and assurance impelled the Friends of Government to regard the Regulation as a challenge they needed forcefully to repel: fear that the infant republic would fail, assurance that only the elected few could exercise any legitimate power between elections.13

    In sum, the Revolution wrought a dangerous divergence in the political world views nurtured by yeomen and gentlemen. Regulators expected that they could easily command legislative redress with direct action; instead, they provoked a violent reaction from authorities convinced that the new republican order could not survive any concession to the extralegal crowd. The Regulators failed because, to their surprise and confusion, they encountered determined gentlemen ready to kill rather than give way to extralegal crowds. The Regulators’ consequent confusion and disorientation was painfully evident in their abashed submissions, their meek participation in the ritual abasements demanded by the Friends of Government. The gentlemen’s unexpected prowess and subsequent leniency convinced most Regulators that they must have fundamentally miscalculated in their understanding of the prevailing balance of the protection covenant; the sequence of defeat, public humiliation, and abated punishment led most to conclude that their rulers had not transgressed. Consequently, it is small wonder that most quickly lapsed into the passive obedience that was the political norm when rulers did not seem to be encroaching on the liberty and property of the ruled. The exceptions proved the rule; in parts of Massachusetts vindictive Friends of Government did not follow victory with lenience, arousing a brief backlash that nearly defeated ratification of the Federal Constitution in that state in February 1788; but Antifederalism proved short-lived in Massachusetts, losing its majority in the former Regulator strongholds by the early 1790s to the Federalists, the renamed Friends of Government.14

    On January 28, 1808, a very different confrontation occurred in Fairfax (now Albion), a new hill country settlement in central Maine. Pitt Dillingham, a merchant and a deputy sheriff, drove his sleigh northeastward away from Augusta, a commercial center on the Kennebec River, into the backcountry for a parlay with Fairfax’s White Indians. He arrived at Wilder Broad’s tavern to find 400 spectators waiting. Within an hour about seventy-four disguised and musket-armed White Indians (or “Liberty-Men”) appeared on the crest of an adjacent hill. They marched in single file behind “an elegant standard” toward Dillingham, the tavern, and the crowd. Wheeling with military precision before the tavern, the White Indians fired a deafening volley into the air. Proceeding into an adjoining field, they formed a half circle and summoned Dillingham to enter and state his business. He described the scene:

    They were dressed with caps about three feet high, masks, blankets, moccasins on their feet. Their caps and masks were decorated with the most uncouth images imaginable. The masks were some of bearskin, some sheepskin, some stuck over with hog’s bristles &c. To give a true description of them is impossible. The frantic imagination of a lunatic in the depth of desperation could not conceive of more horrid or ghastly specters. Their savage appearance would strike terror in the boldest heart . . . and in that situation with about seventy-four of those horrid visages on one side under arms, about four hundred spectators on the other & encircled in this ring I was ordered to speak.

    Dillingham added that their appearance “shook every fibre of my frame.” Six days after his ordeal he wrote, “No earthly consideration would tempt me to go among them again provided they wore the same appearance they then did.” In contrast to the Exeter confrontation, at Fairfax fear and indecision gripped the gentleman.15

    As Dillingham attested, the White Indians took unusual pains to enact the most graphic and psychologically chilling performances they could devise. The settlers’ poverty, relative isolation, hardships, and limited education led gentlemen to consider them as little better than savages, as literally “White Indians.” The settlers exploited this stereotype to inculcate an inhibiting dread among their foes. Periodically the White Indians threatened to burn the buildings or poison the inhabitants of commercial communities, like Augusta, considered noxious for assisting proprietary posses and surveys. At night White Indians crept into the commercial towns to drop dreadfully imaginative anonymous letters around the homes of sheriffs, lawyers, surveyors, and land agents. These letters simultaneously threatened the recipients with destruction and demonstrated their vulnerability to secret nocturnal visits. The Great Proprietors’ Augusta lawyers received sketches of themselves dangling from the gallows, sketches flanked with drawings of matching tomahawks dripping blood. Colonel Samuel Thatcher, Lincoln County’s sheriff, awoke one morning to find that overnight the White Indians had left an open coffin on his doorstep. For its shock value, some White Indians killed, roasted, and ate the horses of persistent deputies before their eyes. While canvassing the backcountry for timber trespassers, Charles Vaughan, a land agent for one company of Great Proprietors, encountered a board posted to a tree addressing him by name and, in his words, “assuring me that there are Indians ready to fire at me with guns doubly charged and with a hand (over death) pointing to the trespassing ground, and another hand (over life) pointing to the road I came from.” Suddenly feeling underpaid, Vaughan followed the hand of life, hastily retracing his steps homeward to devote the rest of the afternoon to a letter demanding more money from his employers.16

    The White Indians’ performances featured violent and blasphemous language, expressions of a folk culture where oaths carried a magical power to frighten and harm. Before dawn November 13, 1795, ten armed White Indians burst upon the Balltown (now Jefferson) campsite of Ephraim Ballard’s proprietary survey party, awakening them with deafening shots into the air. Pressing a loaded musket to Ballard’s chest, the leader profanely bellowed, “Deliver up, deliver up all, God damn you, deliver the compass, deliver up the cannister, God damn you, take nothing out, if you do you are a dead man.” Ballard delivered. When Elliot G. Vaughan, a proprietary agent, visited Bristol in August 1810, a crowd gathered to warn him, “Never show your head in Bristol again.” Vaughan remembered that one settler angrily “wish’d to god he could see my blood on the burying ground above there where a number of their friends and relatives were who had been wounded & killed by the Indians and in the most irritating manner added God Damn you I wish I could meet you in some convenient place.” Vaughan departed to spend the night in the neighboring town, where long after midnight a crowd kept the terrified agent awake by “stoning the house & making almost every noise that can be conceived of.” Vaughan did not return.17

    Although decentralized and intermittent, the settlers’ resistance could suddenly appear extensive, formidable, and elaborate. According to one chagrined deputy, the White Indians’ patrols could, by sounding their tin horns, readily turn out “a number sufficient to effect any of their purposes.” Deputy Sheriff Henry Johnson of Winslow testified that the White Indians “had every appearance of military discipline & subordination, and obeyed the commands of a person they called their chief. Centinels were regularly posted and relieved and . . . every avenue to their settlement was strictly guarded to prevent the approach of any officer, and [they] emphatically declared they would kill any officer who should serve any writs of ejectment or upon whom any such writs were found.” The White Indians stockpiled ammunition in special magazines, sought out legal advice, levied special taxes to meet their expenses, administered local justice, and held periodic mass meetings to promulgate their “laws,” burn effigies, and sustain fervor for their cause. After touring the backcountry, Pitt Dillingham described the resistance as “a very generall and serious combination [that] had been entered into by several thousands in the county.”18

    By avoiding overt confrontations with large numbers, the White Indians sustained their resistance within a legal gray area short of the legal definition of an “insurrection,” rendering it impossible for the authorities legitimately to mobilize the militia. So long as the White Indians confined themselves to frightening performances conducted by small parties, the legal authorities had to rely on deputy sheriffs and posses. Charles Hayden, a proprietary surveyor, knew that posses were useless against the White Indians: “They appear in their disguise, committ an outrage & disappear. I think if the sheriff, officers & magistrates should go into that section of the country they would not find any body of armed men to read the riot act to; all would appear in peace.” In February 1808 a tavern keeper sympathetic to the White Indians boasted to George Bender, an emissary to the region from Governor James Sullivan, that even if the militia invaded “tho a body of 500 Indians were assembled yet when the troops reached the spot they would find nothing to fire at but trees, nobody would know who the Indians were, or where they had gone to.” Aware that considerations of expense forbade a long-lasting occupation, the settlers were confident that any militia expedition would quickly withdraw, allowing the smoldering resistance to resume.19

    In addition to preserving a useful legal ambiguity, the settlers’ tactics helped preserve the solidarity critical to the resistance’s survival, for, like their Regulator brethren, few White Indians were prepared for open, sustained rebellion against their rulers. Bloodshed would invite state retribution and alienate many of the supporters of resistance. But the White Indians saw no need for their foes to know the limits on the actions which the White Indians could pursue without disrupting their tenuous coalition. Through terrifying displays, the White Indians inculcated in their foes an inhibiting dread beyond their actual danger. In this way they sought maximum leverage at minimal risk. They meant for outsiders to expect the worst and so treat them with great caution. By the shrewd manipulation of terrifying imagery the White Indians meant to enjoy the paralyzing effect of bloodshed without its corrosive consequences for their resistance.20

    For years the strategy worked. Proprietary surveyors and deputy sheriffs repeatedly abandoned forays into the White Indians’ settlements at the first sign of trouble; but, despite repeated pleas, the Great Proprietors could not persuade the governor and General Court that an actual insurrection—requiring militia—existed in central Maine. To secure permission for his deputies to serve nonproprietary writs, Kennebec County’s sheriff, Arthur Lithgow, sent Pitt Dillingham to Fairfax in January 1808 to assure the White Indians he would restrain the service of proprietary writs. For a county sheriff to negotiate with and appease what, by law, was a criminal conspiracy represented a remarkable concession. But Lithgow was not alone, for Augusta’s worried lawyers supported him, and his counterpart in Lincoln County, Edmund Bridge, applied to the governor for permission to suspend the service of all writs, those for creditors as well as for proprietors, in the militant backcountry. Not subject to the same pressures, Governor Sullivan in Boston felt that Maine’s magistrates had taken leave of their senses; he rebuked Bridge and invited the Council to sack Lithgow. Nonetheless, Lithgow’s successor and Edmund Bridge had little choice but quietly to restrain writ service in the backcountry settlements during the ensuing year.21

    The Great Proprietors were frustrated with the settlers’ ability to deter surveyors and deputies with threats and small patrols, neither of which constituted clear-cut evidence of an insurrection. In August 1801 General Henry Knox, the preeminent Great Proprietor as well as a staunch Friend of Government, fumed, “At present a shapeless rumour exists.” He added, “Our great object is to oblige them to avow their designs. At present they act by dark sayings and equivocal conduct.” In October 1809 a proprietary pamphleteer complained of the “unknown men, who dare not name or shew themselves . . . who are one day said to be many and powerful when it is designed that they shall inspire terror, and the next day are represented as few and contemptible, when it is intended to prevent any force being kept up against them.” In 1870 James W. North, a proprietor’s grandson, wrote in his History of Augusta: “This mode of guerrilla warfare was worse than open and formal insurrection. In the latter, a crisis would soon be reached, and a remedy provided; but in the former, disguise and secrecy prevented the notoriety which would call for the intervention of the strong arm of government, and the guerrillas as effectually attained their object.” Indeed, it is a revealing measure of their success that, in contrast to the Regulators’ short, dramatic movement, the White Indians’ resistance was a diffuse, protracted affair without a clear-cut climax. Their tactics worked so well that, for lack of an Exeter, Springfield, or Petersham, the White Indians have virtually escaped historians’ attention.22

    The different denouements of the New England Regulation and the White Indian resistance contributed to different political legacies in their respective towns. Paradoxically, the Regulation’s sudden, dramatic collapse helped preserve most of its participants’ allegiance to a modified protection covenant upheld on election day, but on no other day, by the Federalists. Conversely, the White Indians’ protracted struggle gradually weaned them from the protection covenant in favor of active participation in the electoral crusades sponsored by the Jeffersonians. The White Indians’ reluctance to attack the courts or their legislature attests that they had begun to adapt to the republican order. The stalemate that resulted from their successful resistance and the obduracy of their Federalist rulers impelled the settlers to complete that adaptation.23

    New England’s Federalist and Jeffersonian leaders were gentlemen who shared a commitment to entrepreneurial values, commercial development, and republican institutions. The two competing elites differed over how to approach the electorate for support. Entrenched in power, the Federalists hoped to sustain themselves as a governing elite with the consent of the people, by appealing to their traditional longing for a harmonious, corporate Commonwealth directed by a paternalistic meritocracy. But the upstart Jeffersonians renounced the protection covenant’s distinction between the rulers and the ruled. Instead, the Jeffersonians invited the common people fully to participate in a new liberal conception of society which accepted, even celebrated, pluralism and competition in politics, economics, and religion. To retain power, the Federalists needed to preserve an apathetic or deferential electorate. To win power, the Jeffersonians needed to create a partisan constituency.24

    Most of the defeated Regulators who persisted in their hometowns accepted their humiliation and relapsed into the “habit of subordination” that they considered normal and desirable in state politics. Indeed, once burned, twice as cautious, they became loath to invoke the logic of the protection covenant to justify extralegal violence. They modified the protection covenant by devaluing their own ability to judge whether there was oppression in the land and by elevating their respect for their rulers. Moreover, the commercial prosperity and diminishing taxes of the 1790s underlined for them the advantages of trusting in the Federalist political fathers. The swelling electoral turnout in former Regulator towns after 1800 reflected not a new popular assertiveness but an alarm, shared with the Federalist elite, at the rising Jeffersonian challenge to the traditional conception of the social order. By 1800 the Jeffersonian represented the frightening disorder that the Regulator had once perceived in the lawyer and merchant.25

    Initially, the White Indians, like the Regulators, counted on the General Court’s gentlemen legislators to take the hint from the resistance and revert to protecting the liberty and property of the ruled. Despite the Federalists’ staunch support for the Great Proprietors, the inhabitants of central Maine routinely cast at least two-thirds of their votes—when they bothered to vote at all—for that party’s gubernatorial candidate until 1804. The settlers’ combination of extralegal resistance with electoral deference reflected their traditional conception of the polity; they accepted that only gentlemen could govern the Commonwealth but reserved the right to resist any of their actions deemed oppressive. Hence James Shurtleff, a settler leader, could champion the resistance and celebrate Federalist president John Adams in the same poem.26

    But frustration mounted in central Maine as, year after year, the Commonwealth’s rulers refused to play their part in the protection covenant. Although effective in nullifying the local operation of the land laws, the White Indians’ tactics could secure only a protracted stalemate. The White Indians could suspend the Great Proprietors’ litigation, but only the General Court could confiscate their land claims.

    Disappointed in their quest for political fathers, the settlers became receptive to political missionaries bearing the word of Thomas Jefferson: that common men could protect and advance their interests only by engaging in organized partisan politics. Increasingly active after 1803, Maine’s Jeffersonians preached that electoral politics offered a surer way to frustrate Federalist landlords than the traditional resort to extralegal violence by autonomous communities. By 1807, when they first captured the governorship of the Commonwealth, the Jeffersonians had politically transformed central Maine into a stronghold where they routinely captured three-fifths of the votes, and where most of the men voted. As their elected leaders became Jeffersonian “Friends of the People,” rather than Federalist “Fathers of the People,” settlers simultaneously denied special privileges to gentlemen and undermined their own justification for resisting the acts of government.27

    To mollify the settlers without confiscating the Great Proprietors’ land claims, the Jeffersonian General Court passed the Betterment Act on March 2, 1808. The act authorized juries in ejectment suits to ascertain both the value of a settler’s lot in a “state of nature” and the “improved” value imparted by his “betterments”; the prosecuting proprietor then had the option of obliging the defendant to pay the wild land value to secure a title or of taking possession by purchasing the betterments. In practice, a few jury decisions under the act established $2 to $3 an acre as the regional standard for settlers to pay for proprietary title. A compromise, the act afforded neither the free land sought by the settlers nor the $4 to $7 an acre previously insisted upon by the proprietors. Initially slow, settler acquiescence to the compromise accelerated after the resistance claimed its first and only life on September 8, 1809, when a White Indian patrol shot Paul Chadwick, an assistant in a proprietary survey. Because the resistance depended so heavily on sustaining a terrifying illusion without actually shedding blood, the killing led many to rethink their commitment to the resistance, their defections eased by the existence of the Betterment Act. As a message that their political leaders could do no more, the Betterment Act, in conjunction with Chadwick’s death, eroded the will to resist any longer. By the close of 1812 almost all of the White Indians’ settlements had come to terms with their proprietors and permitted surveys. By then, because their resistance had been so protracted and because it had culminated in partial success through Jeffersonian auspices, most settlers had ceased to think and behave as “the ruled.” They had become republican citizens.28