How The Charter of Connecticut Was Saved
Meanwhile King Charles had not forgotten his anger against the people of Massachusetts. Besides the fact that they had harboured the regicides, he had many other reasons for being angry with them. For they refused to obey the Navigation Laws, and they refused to allow the Church of England to be established within the colony. They had coined money of their own, never made their officials swear allegiance to the throne, and had done many things just as they liked.
In fact Massachusetts seemed to Charles like a badly brought-up child, who, having come to manhood, wants to go his own way and cares nothing for the wishes or commands of his parents. He made up his mind not to have any more of this disobedience, and he took away the charter and made Massachusetts a Crown Colony. Thus after fifty-five years of practical freedom Massachusetts once more belonged to the King of England, by right of the discovery of John and Sebastian Cabot. Of course, the people of Massachusetts fought against this as hard as they could, but their struggle was useless, and a royal Governor was appointed to rule the colony.
Almost immediately, however, Charles died, and it was not until his brother, James II, was on the throne that Sir Edmund Andros came out as royal Governor. He came not only as Governor of Massachusetts but as Governor of all the New England Colonies. For the King wanted to make an end of all these separate colonies and unite them into one great province.
Andros soon made himself very much disliked, for he tried to rule New England too much as his master tried to rule Great Britain. He levied taxes as he pleased, he imprisoned innocent men if he chose, he allowed nothing to be printed without his permission, he seized lands and goods at will.
All New England felt the weight of the Governor’s hand. He demanded Rhode Island’s charter. But the Governor of Rhode Island replied that the weather was so bad he really could not send it. So Sir Edmund went to Rhode Island, dissolved its government and smashed its seal.
To Connecticut also Sir Edmund wrote in vain, demanding its charter. The men of Connecticut were, it seemed to him, an unruly lot. So one October day in 1687 he set out to visit this rebellious state and subdue it to his will.
He arrived in Hartford with a great train of gentlemen and soldiers. They made a mighty stir in the little town as they rode, jingling and clanking through the quiet streets, and drew rein before the state house. Into the chamber where the Council sat strode Andros looking pompous and grand in lace, and velvet, and a great flowing wig. Up to the table he strode, and in tones of haughty command, demanded the charter.
But the men of Connecticut would not lightly give up the sign of their beloved liberty. They talked and argued and persuaded. They spoke of the hardships they had endured, of the blood they had poured forth to keep their freedom in their new found homes, upon the edge of the wilderness.
But with such a man as Andros all appeals, all persuasions were in vain. To every argument he had but one answer,-he must and would have the charter.
Long and long the argument lasted. The day drew to a close and twilight fell. Through the dusky gloom men could hardly see each other’s flushed, excited faces. Lights were called for, and candles were brought. Some were placed upon the table beside the metal box in which lay the charter. Still the debate went on, either side as unbending as before. Now many citizens, anxious to know how things went, slipped into the room and stood behind the members, listening as the debate was flung this way and that. Outside the night was dark, within the woodpanelled room the flickering candles shed but a dim, uncertain light.
They made strange dancing shadows, shining fitfully on the stern, eager faces of the men who sat round the table, but scarcely revealing against the gloom the crowd of anxious citizens behind.
Sir Edmund was weary of the talk. He would have no more of it, and, suddenly rising, he stretched out his hand to seize the charter. Then, swiftly from out the shadowy circle of listeners, a cloak was flung upon the table. It fell upon the candles and put them out. In a moment the room was in total darkness.
There was an outcry and a scuffling of feet, the sound of an opening window, a call for lights. But lights were no such speedy matters in those days when matches had not been invented. When at length the scratching of the tinder boxes was done and the candles relit, every one looked eagerly at the table. Behold, the charter was gone!
Sir Edmund stormed, and citizens and councilors looked blankly at each other. But meanwhile through the darkness a man sped. In his hand he held a parchment, and he never halted in his run till he reached a great oak tree. This oak he knew was hollow. Reaching it he thrust the parchment deep into the hole and carefully covered it up with dried leaves and bark. Thus was the charter of Connecticut saved.
The man who saved it was Captain Wadsworth. Ever afterwards the tree was called the Charter Oak, and until about sixty years ago it stood a memorial of his deed. But some wise folk say this story of the Charter Oak is all a fairy tale. That may be so. But it deserves to be true.
Yet though the men of Connecticut may have succeeded in saving the sign and symbol of their freedom, they could not save the reality. For whether Sir Edmund Andros was in possession of their charter or not he stamped upon their liberties just the same. In the public record the secretary wrote: “His Excellency Sir Edmund Andros, Knight Captain General and Governor of His Majesty’s Territory and Dominion in New England, by order from his Majesty, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, the 31st of October, 1687, took into his hands the government of this Colony, of Connecticut, it being by his Majesty annexed to the Massachusetts and other Colonies under his Excellency’s Government.
“Finis, ” as you know, means “the end.” And one cannot but feel sorry for that stern, old, freedom loving Puritan gentleman who wrote the words. For indeed to him the loss of freedom must have seemed the end of all things.
Sir Edmund’s rule, however, did not last long. For the British soon grew tired of James II and his tyrannous ways, and they asked Prince William of Orange to come and be their King. William came, the people received him with delight, King James fled away to France, and the “glorious Revolution,” as it was called, was accomplished.
When the news reached New England there, too, was a little revolution. One spring morning there was a great commotion among the people of Boston. There was beating of drums, noise and shouting, and much running to and fro of young men carrying clubs. Soon it was seen that the city was in arms. The men marched to the castle, and demanded its surrender. And Andros, knowing himself to be helpless, yielded, though not without some “stomachful reluctances.” The proud Governor’s rule was at an end. He was taken prisoner, and through the streets where he had ridden in splendour he was now led a captive. Then the colonies set about restoring their governments as they had been before Sir Edmund Andros came.
But Andros had no mind to remain a prisoner. He and his friends who were imprisoned with him had a good deal of freedom. They were locked into their rooms at night, but during the day they were allowed to walk about anywhere within sight of the sentries, and their friends were allowed to come to see them quite freely. It would not be difficult to escape, thought Andros, and he resolved to do it. So he bribed one of his jailers, and, having procured woman’s clothes, he dressed himself in them and calmly walked out of his prison.
He passed two sentries safely. But the third looked sharply at the tall woman who strode along so manfully. He looked at her boots. At once the sentry’s suspicions were aroused; for Sir Edmund had not thought of changing them. No woman ever wore such boots as these, thought the sentry, and he challenged and stopped her. Then, peering beneath the rim of her bonnet, he saw no bashful woman’s face, but the well-known features of the Governor.
So back to prison Andros went. After this he was not allowed so much freedom. But again he tried to escape, and this time he was more successful. He got not only out of Boston, but out of the colony. Once more, however, he was recognised and brought back.
The whole of New England had been agog with excitement, but at length things began to calm down, and “the world moved on in its old orderly pace,” says a writer of the times.
In the midst of this calm two ships arrived from England with an order to those in power to proclaim William and Mary King and Queen. Then the colonies went mad with joy. From far and near the people flocked to Boston. Bells were rung, bonfires blazed, and after a great procession through the streets there was feasting at the Townhall. Thus “with joy, splendour, appearance and unanimity, as had never before been seen in these territories,” were William and Mary proclaimed.
Sir Edmund Andros was now sent home to England a prisoner. But King William was not altogether pleased with all the colonists had done, and he was set free without any trial. He was not really a bad man, but he was dogged and pig-headed, without sympathy or imagination, and altogether the wrong man in the wrong place. Later on he came back to America as Governor of Virginia, and this time he did much better.
Meanwhile several changes were made in New England. Rhode Island and Connecticut kept their old charters, to which they had clung so lovingly. New Hampshire, too, remained a separate colony. But Plymouth, sad to say, that gallant little colony founded by the Pilgrim Fathers lost separate existence and became part of Massachusetts. Maine and even Nova Scotia, lately won from the French, were for the meantime also joined to Massachusetts.
Massachusetts was now a great colony and received a new charter. But things were not the same. The colony was now a royal province, and the Governor was no longer appointed by the people, but by the King. This chafed the people greatly, for they felt that their old freedom was gone. So for a time the history of Massachusetts was hardly more than a dreary chronicle of quarrels and misunderstandings between Governor and people.