Governor Andros's advent in New England and New York was noticed in the late 17th Century.
Seated at New York, Andros claimed jurisdiction as far east as the Connecticut River. To the mouth of that stream he went, with a small naval force, in the summer of 1675, to assert his authority. Captain Bull, the commander of a small fort at Saybrook, permitted him to land; but when the governor began to read his commission, Bull ordered him to be silent. Andros was compelled to yield to the commander's bold spirit and his superior military power, and in a towering passion he returned to New York, flinging curses and threats behind him at the people of Connecticut in general, and Captain Bull in particular.
For more than a dozen years after this flare-up of ambition and passion, nothing materially disturbed the public repose of Connecticut. Then a most exciting scene occurred at Hartford, in the result of which the liberties of the colony were involved. Andros again appeared as a usurper of authority-the willing instrument of his master King James the Second, who had determined to hold absolute rule over all New England.
On his arrival in New York, as we have seen, Andros demanded a surrender of all the colonial charters into his hands. The authorities of all the colonies complied, excepting those of Connecticut. The latter steadily refused to yield their charter voluntarily, for it was the guardian of their political rights. To subdue their stubbornness, the viceroy proceeded to Hartford with sixty armed men, to demand the surrender of the charter in person. On his arrival there on the 31st of October (O.S.), 1687, he found the General Assembly in session in the meeting-house. The members received him with the courtesy due to his rank. Before that body, with armed men at his back, he demanded a formal surrender of the precious document into his own hands.
It was now near sunset. A subject of some importance was under debate, and the discussion was purposely continued until some time after the candles were lighted. Then the charter, contained in a long mahogany box, was brought in and laid upon the table. A preconcerted plan to save it from the grasp of the usurper was now instantly executed. As Andros put forth his hand to take the charter, the candles were all snuffed out and the document was snatched by Captain Wadsworth, whose train-bands were near to protect the Assembly from any violence which the royal soldiers might offer. Wadsworth bore away the charter, the crowd opening as he passed out, and closing behind him, and hid it in the hollow of a venerable oak tree on the outskirts of the village. When the candles were re-lighted, the members were seated in perfect order, but the charter could not be found. (This is the form of the story as it has appeared in our histories. In April, 1775, Mr. Hoadley, keeper of the State records of Connecticut, called my attention to the manuscript journals of the Colonial Assembly at this period. I there found reasons for giving a modified version of the story. In the Journal for June 15, 1687, is the following entry:
"Sundry of the Court desiring that the Patent or Charter might be brought into the Court, the secretary sent for it, and informed the governor and Court that he had the charter, and shewed it to the Court, and the governor bid him put it into the box again, and lay it on the table, and leave the key in the box, which he did forthwith."
This was the original charter granted by Charles the Second to Governor Winthrop, and sent over in a neat mahogany box; and the above is the whole of the entry on the subject made at that time. The records reveal the fact that there was a duplicate of the charter written on parchment when Andros came, and seem to warrant the following explanatory suggestions concerning that mysterious act of the General Court of the colony:
Andros was doubtless expected to appear at Hartford at any time to demand the charter, and it was determined to save it if possible. The box was left on the table, with the key in it, for somebody to take the charter out without the knowledge or apparent connivance of the Connecticut authorities. It was done by somebody, who caused a duplicate of the charter to be made on parchment, and the original to be concealed in the hollow of the famous oak tree, several months before the arrival of the viceroy. The duplicate was placed in the mahogany box of the original; and it was that duplicate that was placed on the table, and carried away in the dark by Captain Wadsworth. So, if Andros had secured the box, he would not have secured the original charter, but a worthless duplicate. The original was lying in safety in the then venerable oak.
The fact that it was the duplicate that Wadsworth carried away at that time is attested by the same colonial records. There is an entry in the Journal in 1715, stating that the sum of "twenty shillings" was granted to Captain Wadsworth "out of the Colonial treasury" as a token of their grateful remembrance of "such faithful and good service" in "securing the duplicate charter of the colony in a very troublesome season." It is probable that Captain Wadsworth took the charter from the box, had a duplicate made of it, and put the original in the hollow oak, from which it was taken the next year. According to the colonial records, he had the duplicate in his possession in 1698.) This was the same Captain Wadsworth who afterward silenced Governor Fletcher, as related on page 362.
So, again, the tyrannical purposes of Andros were foiled in Connecticut. Wisely restraining his passion at that time, he assumed the control of the government; declared the charter annulled, and Secretary Allyn wrote the word FINIS after the last record of the Journal of the Assembly. From that time until he was expelled from the country in 1689, he governed Connecticut as an autocrat-an absolute sovereign. Then the charter was brought out from its place of concealment, in May, 1689; a popular Assembly was convened; Robert Treat was chosen governor, and Connecticut again assumed the position of an independent colony. The tree in which the document was hidden was ever afterward known as the "Charter Oak." It remained vigorous, bearing fruit every year until a little after midnight in August, 1856, when it was prostrated by a heavy storm of wind. It stood in a vacant lot on the south side of Charter street, a few roads from Main street, in the city of Hartford.
About six years after Andros was outgeneraled at Hartford, his successor in office, Benjamin Fletcher, was foiled, at the same place, in his attempts to exercise control over the militia of Connecticut. The exciting scene has been recorded in the Fifth Chapter of the Third Book. From that time, during the space of about three-fourths of a century, the history of Connecticut is intimately woven with that of the other colonies planted in America by English people. The inhabitants of Connecticut, by prudent habits and good government, steadily increased in numbers and wealth. They went hand in hand with those of other colonies in measures for the promotion of the welfare of all; and when, in the fullness of time, the provinces were ripe for union, rebellion and independence, the people of Connecticut were foremost in their eagerness to assert their rights as a free people.
We have seen that Rhode Island was favored with a charter from Parliament in 1644. Yet with this guaranty of strength, it was not free from the dangers which excessive liberty often creates. But Rhode Island passed that fiery ordeal almost unscathed. In the plenitude of freedom there enjoyed, each individual was, in a degree, "a law unto himself." In religion and politics the people were absolutely free. The General Assembly, in a code of laws adopted in 1647, declared, as we have observed, that "all men might walk as their consciences permitted them-every one in the name of his God." Almost every religious belief might have been encountered there; "so that if a man lost his religious opinions, he might have been sure to find them in some village in Rhode Island." Society was in a continual ferment, but the agitation was healthful. Town meetings, and other like gatherings of the people, were stormy; and the disputes of rivals were sometimes fierce, but never brutal. There was a remarkable propriety of conduct on all occasions; and out of the political agitations came to the surface the best men in the colony to administer public affairs. Throughout the whole community, so independent in thought and action, appeared a healthier religious sentiment than in Massachusetts, where the people were straight-laced by creeds and dogmas, and were constantly tempted to be hypocrites. There was a high-toned morality, based upon that religious sentiment, which preserved society from many dangers. "Our popularitie," says one of their records, "shall not, as some conjecture it will, prove an anarchie, and so a common tirannie; for we are exceeding desirous to preserve every man safe in his person, name, and estate."
A little danger menaced the commonwealth when, in 1651, the Executive Council of State in England granted to William Coddington a commission for governing the islands within the limits of the Rhode Island charter. This threatened a dismemberment of the little empire and its absorption by neighboring colonies. The people were alarmed. Roger Williams and John Clarke hastened to England, and with the assistance of Sir Henry Vane, the "sheet-anchor of Rhode Island"-the "noble and true friend to an outcast and despised people"-the commission was recalled and the charter given by Parliament was confirmed. That was in October, 1652. This act put an end to the persevering efforts of Massachusetts to absorb the little commonwealth.
While Roger Williams was in England, he partly supported himself by teaching. He then enjoyed the intimate friendship of Cromwell, Hampden, Milton, Sir Henry Vane, and other distinguished men. On his return, he was again hailed with joy as a benefactor; and in the autumn of 1654, he was chosen president of the colony. The following year, Cromwell, as ruler of England, confirmed the charter given by Parliament, and the colony prospered in peace. Religious disputes agitated the people; but reason, left free to combat error, allowed no persecution.
On the restoration of monarchy in 1660, the inhabitants of Rhode Island sent to Charles an address, in which they declared their loyalty and begged his protection. This was followed by a petition for a new charter. The prayer was granted; and in July, 1663, the king issued a patent highly democratic in its general features, and similar, in every respect, to the one granted to Connecticut. Benedict Arnold was chosen the first governor under the royal charter, and it continued to be the supreme law of the land for the period of about one hundred and eighty years. In 1842, the people of Rhode Island adopted a constitution, and the power of the old royal charter ceased.
When, in 1687, Andros demanded the surrender of the colonial charters, the inhabitants of Rhode Island instantly yielded. When the order for the seizure of these charters was first made known, the Assembly of Rhode Island had sent a most loyal address to the king, saying: "We humbly prostrate ourselves, our privileges, our all, at the gracious feet of your majesty, with an entire resolution to serve you with faithful hearts." Andros, therefore, found no opposition in the little colony. Within a month after his arrival at Boston, he proceeded to Rhode Island, where he was graciously received. He formally dissolved the Assembly; broke the seal of the colony, which bore the figure of an anchor and the word HOPE; admitted five of the inhabitants into his legislative council, and assumed the functions of governor. But he did not take away the parchment on which the charter was written.
The people of Rhode Island were restive under the petty tyranny of Andros; and when they heard of the imprisonment of the despot at Boston, in the spring of 1689, they assembled at Newport, resumed popular government under the old charter, and began a new and independent political career. From that time until the enforced union of the colonies for mutual defence at the breaking out of the French and Indian war, the inhabitants of Rhode Island always bore their fair share in defensive efforts, especially when the hostile Indians hung along the frontiers of New England and New York like a dark and ill-omened cloud. The history of that commonwealth is identified with that of all New England, from the beginning of King William's war soon after the expulsion of Andros.
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