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Samuel Prince's Letter Describing the Boston Uprising

1689

[In 1688, when James II had a son by his second wife Mary (a Catholic) and the
Stuart dynasty seemed now destined to be Catholic, Parliament declared that
James II had abdicated his throne and declared William III and Mary II (James II
oldest daughter) as the rightful joint sovereigns of England. Just prior to this
James had sent Sir Edmund Andros to Massachusetts to organize a new centralized
royal authority over the colonies, known as the Dominion of New England, which
by 1688 included New Hampshire, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode
Island, New York, and East and West Jersey. In April 1689, the residents and
militia of Boston rebelled and overthrew Andros authority, storming the fort in
Boston, overwhelming the small contingent of royal troops, and imprisoning
Andros. The following is an account of Samuel Prince, a native of Boston, who
wrote it to inform his father-in-law, Thomas Hinckley, the last governor of New
Plymouth, about the nature of the insurrection.]


Boston, April 22, 1689.

Honored Sir,

I knew not any thing of what was intended, till it was begun; yet being at the
north end of the town, where I saw boys run along the street with clubs in their
hands, encouraging one another to fight, I began to mistrust what was intended;
and, hasting towards the town-dock, I soon saw men running for their arms: but,
ere I got to the Red Lion, I was told that Captain George and the master of the
frigate was seized, and secured in Mr. Colman's house at the North End, and,
when I came to the town-dock, I understood that Boolifant and some others with
him were laid hold of; and then immediately the drums began to beat, and the
people hasting and running, some with and some for arms, Young Dudley' and
Colonel Lidgit with some difficulty attained to the Fort. And, as I am informed,
the poor boy cried very much; whom the Governor sent immediately on an errand,
to request the four ministers, Mr. Joylife, and one or two more, to come to him
at the Fort, pretending that by them he might still the people, not thinking it
safe for him at that time to come to them; and they returned him the like
answer. Now, by this time, all the persons whom they concluded not to be for
their side were seized and secured, except some few that had hid themselves;
which afterwards were found, and dealt by as the rest. The Governor, with
Palmer, Randolph, Lidgit, West, and one or two more, were in the Fort. All the
companies were soon rallied together at the Town House, where assembled Captain
Wintroup, Shrimpton, Page, and many other substantial men, to consult of
matters; in which time the old Governor came among them, at whose appearance
there was a great shout by the soldiers.

Soon after, the king's jack was set up at the Fort, and a pair of colors at
Beacon Hill: which gave notice to some thousands of soldiers on Charlestown side
that the controversy was now to be ended; and multitudes would have been there,
but that there was no need. The frigate, upon the tidings of the news, put out
all her flags and pennants, and opened all her ports, and with all speed made
ready for fight, under the command of the lieutenant-swearing that he would die
before she should be taken; although the captain sent to him, that if he shot
one shoot, or did any hurt, they would kill him, whom they had already seized.
But he, not regarding that, continued under those resolutions all that day. Now,
about four of clock in the afternoon, orders were given to go and demand the
Fort; which hour the soldiers thought long for: and, had it not been just at
that nick, the Governor and all the crew had made their escape on board the
frigate -- a barge being sent for them. But the soldiers, being so near, got the
barge. The army divided, and part came up on the back side of the Fort, and part
went underneath the hill to the lower battery, or sconce, where the red-coats
were; who, immediately upon their approach, retired up the Fort to their master,
who rebuked them for not firing at our soldiers, and, as I am informed, beat
some of them. One of them, being a Dutchman, said to him, "What the Devil should
I fight against a thousand men? " and so ran into the house.

When the soldiers came to the battery, or sconce, they presently turned the
great guns about, and mounted them against the Fort, which did much daunt all
those within; and were so void of fear, that I presume, had they within the Fort
been resolute to have lost their lives in fight, they might have killed an
hundred of us at once -- being so thick together before the mouths of their
cannons at the Fort, all loaden with small shot: but God prevented it. Then they
demanded a surrender; which was denied them till Mr. West and another should
first go to the Council, and, after their return, we should have an answer
whether to fight or no.

And accordingly they did: and, upon their return, they came forth, and went
disarmed to the Town House; and from thence, some to the close jail, and he
under a guard in Mr. Usher's house. The next day, they sent the two colonels' to
demand of him a surrender of the Castle, which he resolved not to give: but they
told him, if he would not give it presently under hand and seal, that he must
expect to be delivered up to the rage of the people, who doubtless would put him
to death; so leaving him. But he sent and told them that he would, and did so;
and so they went down, and it was surrendered to them with cursing. So they
brought them away, and made Captain Fairwether commander in it. Now, by this
time that the men came back from the Castle, all the guns, both in ships and
batteries, were brought to bear against the frigate -- which were enough to have
shattered her to pieces at once -- resolving to have her. But as it is incident
to corrupt nature to lay the blame of our evil deeds anywhere rather than on
ourselves, so Captain George casts all the blame now upon that devil Randolph;
for, had it not been for him, he had never troubled this good people. So,
earnestly soliciting that he might not be constrained to surrender the ship-for,
by so doing, both himself and all his men should lose their wages, which
otherwise would be recovered in Eng. land-giving leave to go on board, and
strike the topmasts, close up the ports, and bring the sails ashore; and so they
did. The country people came armed into the town in the afternoon, in such rage
and heat, that it made us all tremble to think what would follow: for nothing
would pacify them but he must be bound in chains or cords, and put in a more
secure place;' and that they would see done ere they went away, or else they
would tear down the house where he was to the ground. And so, to satisfy them,
he was guarded by them to the Fort. And I fear whether or no the matter of
settling things under a new Government may not prove far more difficult than the
getting from under the power of the former, except the Lord eminently appear in
calming and quieting the disturbed spirits of people, whose duty certainly now
is to condescend, comply, and every way study for peace. So prays the assured
well-willer to New England's happiness,

S. P.

Counsellor Clark' writ a very grateful letter to Mr. Bullifant, intimating what
a faithful friend he had been to said Bullifant, and withal desiring said
Bullifant, that if Lhere should news come out of England of a change, which he
hoped in God it never would (as to Government), that said Bullifant would do him
the favor as to send him word with expedition, that so he might make his escape,
living so dangerously in the midst of his enemies, who were even ready to devour
him; and the merchants have gotten this pamphl t,, and resolve forthwith to
print it.-Farewell!

Source: Charles M. Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690 (New
York, 1915), 186-90.

 

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