On this day in 1780, the reviled former royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, who served from 1771 to 1774, dies in Brompton, England.
In one of American history’s great ironies, Hutchinson, the great-great-grandson of one of the most famous people to be expelled from Massachusetts for being too radical, the religious leader Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), was exiled from Massachusetts for being too conservative.
Born in Boston in 1711, Thomas Hutchinson began life with all the advantages of the merchant-elite class to which his father belonged. Hutchinson quickly established his intelligence and business savvy by graduating from Harvard at age 15; he accumulated significant wealth in his own right by age 24. In 1737, Hutchinson, now a married man, entered politics as a Boston selectman and representative to the General Court. He immediately began lobbying against the use of paper currency–thought to favor the economic position of the poor–and in 1749 he succeeded in pushing the adoption of hard currency, based upon British silver, through the Massachusetts Assembly. Although his political career continued to flourish, his popularity with the average people of Boston would never recover from this act, which they considered detrimental to their financial interest.
By the time the Stamp Tax of 1765 enraged Bostonians, Hutchinson had become lieutenant governor. He opposed the Stamp Tax in principle but upheld it as British law. Bostonians were not impressed by his private objections to the tax and showed their anger by ransacking his Boston home, including his invaluable private library.
Caught again between his loyalty to the crown and his understanding of his fellow colonists, Hutchinson had the grave misfortune of serving as acting governor during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. Hutchinson had warned the British to be careful not to raise colonial ire. Nonetheless, he suffered the consequences when frightened British soldiers fired on a rock-hurling mob. Hutchinson removed the soldiers to Castle William in Boston Harbor and a relatively peaceful three-year lull ensued.
In 1773, Frederick, Lord North, British chancellor of the exchequer, attempted to save the East India Company by changing the tax structure to give the company an effective monopoly on colonial trade. Colonists responded to the measure with threats of violence and the Boston Tea Party. By then, Benjamin Franklin, who was serving as the colonial postmaster in London, had published some of Hutchinson’s private correspondence giving advice on how to subdue colonial unrest. The people of Massachusetts considered his advice an unforgivable betrayal.
When the king placed Massachusetts under martial law with General Thomas Gage as governor following the Boston Tea Party in 1774, Thomas Hutchinson left for England, never to return.