“[WE] URGE YOU BY THE SACRED TIES OF BLOOD AND FRIENDSHIP, TO EXERT EVERY NERVE IN THIS GLORIOUS STRUGGLE; FOR SHOULD YOU FOR ANY REASON QUIT YOUR POSTS, AND DISGRACEFULLY TURN YOUR BACKS ON YOUR ENEMIES, WILD CARNAGE, BARBAROUS AND BLOODY DESOLATION MUST SPREAD LIKE A HIDEOUS TORRENT OVER YOUR RUINED COUNTRY”: A REMARKABLE NOVEMBER 1776 BROADSIDE ADDRESS TO THE MASSACHUSETTS SOLDIERS FIGHTING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL COURT. In the House of Representatives, November 1, 1776. Ordered, That the following ADDRESS from the General Court of this State, to the Officers and private Soldiers who are gone from thence and are serving in the American Army, be printed in two thousand hand-bills, and immediately forwarded to the committees from this state in the southern and northern armies, to be dispersed among the soldiery there…. [Boston: Printed by Benjamin Edes], 1776. Broadside, 10 by 15 inches, handsomely framed, entire piece measures 17 by 23 inches.
A rare November 1, 1776 broadside address issued by the Massachusetts government as a message of inspiration and encouragement to the Massachusetts troops fighting in the Continental Army. The soldiers are promised shipments of needed supplies, they are reminded of the great cause for which they are fighting, and they are warned of the grave dangers that will befall them and their families if they quit their posts.
Massachusetts was the center of opposition to British colonial rule and the focus of Britain’s most oppressive economic policies and military actions during the early years of the Revolution. The war began in April 1775 with Lexington and Concord, after which the British occupied Boston until March 1776. In January 1776, Massachusetts reorganized its militias, replacing the loosely-structured volunteer army of 1774-5 with a more permanent and formal organization. The new militia regiments were organized into county-wide brigades and included all able-bodied male citizens between 16 and 60. In addition to providing local defense and training, these regiments served as the primary source of reinforcements for the Continental Army throughout the war. “One-fifth of most militia units in Massachusetts were drafted in September 1776 for service in the Continental Army until dismissed” (Ward, The War for Independence, 111). However, there were numerous and serious problems with the Massachusetts soldiers and officers, including difficulties with paying and supplying them, as well as recruiting and keeping them. Desertion was such a problem that on October 24, 1776, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution requiring sheriffs to help the Committees of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety “for the purpose of apprehending and securing any deserters from the army, that shall be found within their limits.”
On the morning of October 31, 1776, the Massachusetts House of Representatives appointed four men to the committee to write this address to the “officers and private soldiers belonging to this State, and now serving in the American Army.” On the afternoon of the next day, November 1, their reports were read and accepted, and on November 2 it was ordered that “two thousand hand-bills” of this address be printed and immediately distributed to the soldiers. The address gives the soldiers stirring and patriotic reminders of the reasons they are fighting this war: “When the tyrants of the earth began to transgress the sacred line of property, and claim their fellow men as slaves, and to exercise lawless power over them, the intentions of government were subverted, war in defence of the dignity of human nature was introduced, and men began to take the field of battle on behalf of freedom…. For the free exercise of liberty, more especially in the worship of that almighty Being who supported them in the greatest distress, our venerable ancestors came to this land when it was a savage and dangerous wilderness, terrible to the civilized eye. Here they toiled and bled, with the pleasing hope of their posterity’s enjoying that freedom for which they encountered every difficulty, and braved every danger, and could their virtue have been inherited with the fruit of their toil, and their simplicity of manners and integrity of heart been transmitted to all their posterity, America would now have been the seat of peach and plenty. But such has been the avarice of some, and the ambition of others, amongst us, that the King and Parliament of Great-Britain have been fatally persuaded to claim this whole continent, with its three millions of inhabitants, as their own property, and to be at their disposal. In opposition to this unjustifiable claim most obviously founded in tyranny, after loyally petitioning, and dutifully remonstrating without effect, you have gallantly taken the field, and the salvation of your country, the happiness of future generations, as well as your own, depends upon your noble exertions.”
The soldiers are assured that they will be sent the supplies they need (“supplies of covering, cloathing, vegitables, and all other necessaries of your comfort…”), but then are gravely warned what will happen if they desert their posts: “[We] do intreat and urge you by the sacred ties of blood and friendship, to exert every nerve in this glorious struggle; for should you for any reason quit your posts, and disgracefully turn your backs on your enemies, wild carnage, barbarous and bloody desolation must spread like a hideous torrent over your ruined country: Your fair possessions the fruit of hones industry, must own new masters; while yourselves, your friends, your wives and innocent infants must be destitute of a place of rest, insulted and abused by exasperated unfeeling task-masters, scourged by mercenary slaves of foreign despots, denied even the happiness of hope, and borne down with poverty and despair.” They are also promised the gratitude of their fellow citizens for their efforts: “When the people of all ranks in this country, consider the zeal with which you engaged in their defence, and how cheerfully you have endured the fatigues and hardships of the camp, they must be filled with the highest gratitude, and confidence, and enroll your names where they will be honourably preserved to the end of time; while each generation as it rises, shall learn to speak the same of those worthies, who nobly dared to face that death and despite that danger, which stood between them and their country’s happiness…. And while you are thus gallantly employed in the most important and noble cause that any part of the human race has fought for, this Assembly again assures you that it shall be their particular concern to give you comfortable supplies and necessary reinforcements;… you will be crowned with a glorious victory, and return honourably from the field, bringing deliverance to distressed AMERICA.”
The two most important men on the committee that wrote this address were James Sullivan and Joseph Hawley, both lawyers and close friends of Samuel Adams. Sullivan was a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and later became Attorney General and Governor of Massachusetts. Hawley was one of the most important leaders and persuasive writers of Massachusetts and its legislature, and his name appears on many of the committees for drafting state papers. In the fall of 1776, Hawley and Sullivan were appointed to the most significant committees (those concerning military, political, or legal matters) to write important papers for the legislature and the public, including this address to the Massachusetts solders “that they might become more contented and zealous in the service” (Amory, Life of James Sullivan, pp. 87). Hawley would have had a major role in this address, and his writings had “the loftiest eloquence, [and] aroused, even in the bosoms of the cold and the calculating, a determination to sacrifice every feeling of self upon the altar of liberty.” (Amory, p. 93)
Joseph Hawley, Samuel Adams, and John Adams frequently corresponded, and each was an important influence on the others. Hawley was one of the earliest and strongest advocates for independence, and in 1774 he and Samuel Adams were chosen as Massachusetts delegates to the Continental Congress; when Hawley declined because of ill health, John Adams was sent in his place. Hawley wrote repeatedly to the Adamses and the other delegates to persuade and pressure them to declare independence and create a Continental government. In 1776, “his constant agitation for a declaration of independence and his steady attention to military problems were his work” (Brown, Joseph Hawley, pp. 144, 156).
While Samuel Adams and John Adams did not play a direct role in the writing of this address, their influence can be seen, as they and Hawley corresponded regularly about political and military matters. Samuel Adams and Hawley collaborated on the most important writings of the legislature, and “no document… went forth until both had carefully considered it… Adams oftener consulted him on legal points than any other man, and it is probable that neither penned any very important public paper without the revision of the other” (Wells, Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, II: 31, I: 126-127). On August 25, 1776, John Adams wrote to Hawley about serious problems with the Massachusetts military, including the ignorance of the officers and the lack of understanding of the principles of liberty, which could have influenced the writing of this address: “Knowledge is among the most essential Foundations of Liberty…. To what Cause shall I attribute the Surprising Conduct of the Massachusetts Bay? How has it happened that such an illiterate Group of General and Field officers, have been thrust into public View by that Commonwealth… [which] ought to have set an Example… by sending into the Field her ablest Men, Men of the most Genius, Learning, Reflection, and Address… This Conduct is sinking the Character of the Province… and is injuring the service beyond description. Able officers are the soul of an Army…. There is another Particular, in which it is manifest that the Principles of Liberty have not sufficient Weight in Mens Minds, or are not well understood….” American Revolutionary broadsides, especially those printed during the crucial year of 1776 and concerning the war, are extremely rare and desirable. “Only a small percentage of the total number of broadsides from the era of the American Revolution has survived.” (Lowance and Bumgardner, Massachusetts Broadsides of the American Revolution, pp. ix-x). No copies of this broadside have appeared at auction in the last thirty years. Ford located four copies (Library of Congress, Maine Historical Society, New York Historical Society, and Boston Public Library), and additional copies have been located at the Library of Congress and the American Antiquarian Society. The North American Imprints Program notes a total of only seven copies in institutional collections. Ford, Massachusetts Broadsides 1999. Evans 14868. NAIP w034161.
Some browning and spotting, reinforcement to separations at old folds.