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Andrew Oliver

“A determination to discourage a faithful Servant of the Crown”

For acting governor Thomas Hutchinson, the dispute between his Council and the provincial secretary Andrew Oliver was yet one more headache in 1770.

On 28 September, Hutchinson told the departed but still official governor, Sir Francis Bernard: “[Royall] T[yle]r is sowered by that deposition of the Secretarys which was published in England and it has hurt me every way.” (Bernard had been responsible for that publication, at least in part, but Hutchinson didn’t let on that he suspected that.)

Writing to John Pownall, an official in the Colonial Office, two days later, Hutchinson was more careful to avoid suggesting the controversy had hurt his effectiveness:

The Council except a few are…very friendly to me though there is some abatement of their friendship since the deposition of the Secretary taken by my order relative to the Affair of the Troops has been published. These publications & the sufference of the Letters to the Ministry of which a fresh parcel was sent by the last Ship to be made publick do infinite disservice.

Ironically, Hutchinson was just as upset about leaks as the Council—just different leaks.

There was also a private dimension to this dispute. On 10 October, while the Council was in the midst of collecting the depositions I quoted over the past couple of days, the acting governor’s son Thomas, Jr., married Sally Oliver, daughter of the secretary.

The families were already related by marriage. Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver had married sisters. In February 1770, Hutchinson’s daughter Sarah married Dr. Peter Oliver, son of Andrew Oliver’s brother Peter.

All three of those men were royal appointees. Thomas Hutchinson was lieutenant governor, thus acting governor, and also chief justice of Massachusetts. Andrew Oliver was secretary and was supposed to have been the stamp agent. Peter Oliver was a judge. Furthermore, other relatives were in the provincial government. John Cotton, the deputy secretary, was half-brother to the sisters who had married Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver. And Hutchinson had been trying to get his nephew Nathaniel Rogers appointed provincial secretary before the young man died.

Of course, there were family alliances on the other side of the political divide as well. James Bowdoin, the principal author of the complaint against Oliver, was a son-in-law of fellow Councilor John Erving, brother-in-law of fellow Councilor James Pitts, and father-in-law of Customs Commissioner John Temple, whom other royal appointees regarded as a snake.

Eighteenth-century society ran on such familial connections. People expected officials to look out for their relatives, and officials expected their relatives to be loyal assistants in government. Neither side was pure in this regard, and both sides complained about the other using family ties too much.

On 30 October, Hutchinson summed up his view of the controversy over Oliver’s description of the Council meeting in another letter to Pownall:

Unfortunately it has got published. Mr. Tyler denied that he made any mention of the Commissioners. I am sure I heard it from him but could not be certain whether that Day or a day or two before. Three or four Witnesses present swore, they heard it that Day. All the Council say they do not remember it.

They have not however directly charged the Secretary with false swearing but to a long Narrative drawn up by Mr. Bowdoin there is added divers Resolves declaring him guilty of a Breach of trust in taking the Minutes &c. The whole is a weak but malicious injurious performance which they have ordered to be recorded. . . .

I gave them my Opinion that these Resolves would be more resented than any thing which preceeded them as they plainly indicated a determination to discourage a faithful Servant of the Crown from doing his Duty as far as lay in their power.

These proceedings I hope will not pass without censure either in [privy] Council or when the State of the Province comes before the Parliament. Such a censure would mortify the party and being made matter of Record here would remove the reproach which otherwise will be transmitted to posterity upon the Secretarys Character.

In fact, the London government was already preparing to reward Andrew Oliver for his service. When Hutchinson officially became the royal governor, Oliver was promoted into his brother-in-law’s spot as lieutenant governor. And in 1772 Peter Oliver succeeded Hutchinson as chief justice.

(Hutchinson’s 1770 letters will appear in the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s next collection of his correspondence, scheduled to be published in the new year.)

The Massachusetts Council Investigates Itself

Yesterday we left off as provincial secretary Andrew Oliver’s sworn statement about what members of the Massachusetts Council had said on the day after the Boston Massacre made its way back to Massachusetts.

That statement was the final item in A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston, published in London. Capt. James Scott, who worked for John Hancock, carried a copy of that pamphlet to Boston. Edes and Gill printed Oliver’s deposition without comment in the 24 September Boston Gazette.

The Whigs quickly leapt to the conclusion that Oliver’s description of the 6 March Council meeting was the latest move by royal appointees to misrepresent the province as rebellious.

And in a way they were right—the statement and its publication were part of a campaign by high officials. As Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson later wrote (modestly referring to himself in the third person), they wanted to be sure the London government understood what they were dealing with:

he asked the secretary to recollect, as well as he could, what passed in the debate at council, and to commit it to writing, intending to send it to England, to shew in the fullest manner the reasons for the lieutenant governor’s complying with their advice, and not with any intention to set the council in general or any particular member, in an unfavourable light.

The secretary informed him, that, of his own mere motion, and for his private satisfaction, he had done it the evening before, while the debates were fresh in his mind.

After he had transcribed and corrected the minutes, he made oath to them; and they were transmitted at the same time with the copies of the votes or minutes of council, and other papers relative to the transaction, not to the secretary of state, but to governor [Francis] Bernard, who, at that time, continued governor of the province.

Oliver (shown above) made his oath before justice of the peace Foster Hutchinson, the acting governor’s cousin. 

Soon after the pamphlet arrived, the Massachusetts General Court started a new legislative session in Cambridge, with the Council meeting in Harvard’s Philosophy Chamber. On 4 October, the Council took up Oliver’s statement:

ONE of the Members of the Board having acquainted the Board that he had seen a Deposition signed Andrew Oliver, which was published in the Appendix to a Pamphlet lately printed in London; in which Deposition divers Gentlemen of the Council, which consisted of 8 Members then present, therein said to be convened on the 5th Day of March last, are represented as having made such a Declaration to His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, respecting a plan formed by the People to remove the King’s Troops and the Commissioners of the Customs from the Town of Boston, as was likely to be attended with the most pernicious Consequences to this Province—He thereupon moved that the Board would make Enquiry of the Gentlemen of which said Council consisted, what Foundation there was for such a representation—

Which motion being seconded, the Board desired said Gentlemen, namely, Mr. [Samuel] Danforth, Mr. [John] Erving, Mr. [Thomas] Hubbard, Mr. [Harrison] Gray, Mr. [James] Russell, Mr. [Royall] Tyler, Mr. [James] Pitts, and Mr. [Samuel] Dexter, to prepare a true State of the Matter and lay the same before the Board as soon as may be.

Those were the eight Council members present at the 6 March meeting. Oliver had named five of them in his account. (To be exact, he had named three and referred to two more by title, and the London pamphlet had helpfully identified them in footnotes.)

The next day, Oliver asked for a chance to respond and to call witnesses to support his account of the discussion. The Council therefore accepted evidence on 9 October from Capt. Benjamin Caldwell of H.M.S. Rose, Lt. Col. William Dalrymple of the 14th Regiment, deputy secretary John Cotton, and clerk Francis Skinner.

All those witnesses basically agreed with Oliver’s description of what Royall Tyler had said about the town and countryside being angry enough to attack the troops if the governor didn’t remove them, and to drive the Customs Commissioners out of Boston as well. They also agreed that no other members of the Council had objected to Tyler’s statement.

Councilors bore down on Cotton and Skinner about one important detail. When Tyler said of the Whigs, “they had formed their plan, and that this was a part of it to remove the troops out of town, and after that the commissioners,” did he let slip news of a plan predating the Massacre? No, said those provincial employees; they didn’t think Tyler’s mention of a ”plan” on 6 March necessarily referred to any planning more than a day old.

TOMORROW: The Councilors’ contentions.