Colonial Commissions


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Colonial Commissions. The first royal of two commissions to what is now the United States was made in 1634. Morton of Merry Mount had made serious charges against the people of Massachusetts before the privy council. That body summoned the council for New England before them to answer the charges. They denied having had anything to do with the matters complained of, and added new and serious charges of their own, declaring themselves unable to redress their grievances. They referred the whole matter to the privy council. A commission of twelve persons was appointed, with Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, at its head, to whom full power was given to revise the laws, to regulate the Church, and to revoke charters. The members of the Massachusetts Company in England were called upon to give up their patent, and Governor Cradock wrote for it to be sent over. Morton wrote to one of the old planters that a governor-general had been appointed. Orders were also issued to the seaport towns of England to have all vessels intended for America stopped. The colonists were alarmed. The magistrates and clergy met on an island at the entrance to the inner harbor of Boston, and, resolving to resist the commissioners, agreed to erect a fort on the island, and to advance the means for the purpose themselves until the meeting of the general court. They sent letters of remonstrance to England, and refused to send over the charter before the meeting of the court. When that body met, in May, active measures for defense were adopted. They ordered a fort to be built in Boston. Military preparations were ordered, and three commissioners were appointed to conduct " any war that might befall for the space of a year next ensuing." The English government threatened, but did nothing. In September, 1635, a writ of quo warranto was issued against the Massachusetts Company; but everything went on in the colony as if no serious threats were impending. The political disorders in England were safeguards to the infant colony. It was after the appointment of this commission that Endicott cut the cross from the standard at Salem.

The second of these commissions was sent over in 1664. Territorial claims, rights of jurisdiction, boundaries, and other matters had created controversies in New England, which were continually referred to the crown, and in 1664 the King signified his intention to appoint a commission for hearing and determining all matters in dispute. This occasioned alarm in Massachusetts, which had been a narrow oppressor of other colonies, especially of Rhode Island, and against which serious complaints had been made. A large comet appearing at that time increased the general alarm, for it was regarded as portentous of evil, and a fast was ordered. Fearing a design to seize their charter might be contemplated, it was intrusted to a committee for safe-keeping. The commission was appointed, consisting of Sir Richard Nicolls, Sir Robert Carr, Sir George Cartwright, and Samuel Maverick, of Massachusetts. They came with an armament to take possession of New Netherland. Touching at Boston, the commissioners asked for additional soldiers, but the request was coldly received. The magistrates said they could not grant it without the authority of the general court. That body soon met and voted 200 soldiers. In Connecticut the commissioners were cordially received, and Governor Winthrop accompanied the expedition against New Netherland. After the conquest, they proceeded to settle the boundary between New York and Connecticut. Leaving Nicolls at New York as governor, the other commissioners proceeded to Boston. Meanwhile the authorities of Massachusetts had sent a remonstrance to England against the appointment of the commissioners. It was unheeded. The Massachusetts authorities were unyielding, the commissioners were haughty and overbearing, and a bitter mutual dislike finally made their correspondence mere bickerings. The commissioners proceeded to settle the boundary between Plymouth and Rhode Island. More difficult was the settlement of the boundary between Rhode Island and Connecticut, because of opposing claims to jurisdiction over the Pequod country. The commissioners finally directed that the region in dispute should constitute a separate district, under the title of the " King's Province." Neither party was satisfied, and the boundary dispute continued fifty years longer.

The commissioners now proposed to sit as a court to hear complaints against Massachusetts, of which there were thirty. The general court, by public proclamation, forbade such a proceeding, and the commissioners went to New Hampshire and Maine, when they decided in favor of claims of the heirs of Mason and Gorges. In the latter province they organized a new government; and on their return to Boston the authorities complained that the commissioners had disturbed the peace of Maine, and asked for an interview. It was denied by the commissioners, who denounced the magistrates as traitors because they opposed the King's orders. The commissioners having violated a local law by a carousal at a tavern, a constable was sent to break up the party, when one of the commissioners and his servant beat the officer. Another constable was sent to arrest the commissioners. They had gone to the house of a merchant. The officer went there and reproved them, saying, " It is well you have changed quarters or I would have arrested you." " What !" exclaimed Carr. " Arrest the King's commissioners?" " Yes, and the
King himself, if he had been here." " Treason ! treason !" cried Maverick. " Knave, you shall hang for this!" The commissioners sent an account of their proceedings to the King, and soon afterwards they were recalled (1666). Their acts were approved, and those of all the colonies except Massachusetts, which was ordered to " appoint five able and meet persons to make answer for refusing the jurisdiction of the King's commissioners." Although this order produced considerable alarm, the sturdy magistrates of Massachusetts maintained their position with much adroitness, and the country being engaged in a foreign war, the nation left his Majesty to fight alone for the maintenance of the royal prerogative. Massachusetts was victorious, and soon after the departure of the commissioners a force was sent to re-establish the authority of that colony over Maine.



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