The Grand Division

In his “History of Marlborough,” Charles Hudson wrote, “In 1664, seventeen of the inhabitants of the town respectfully asked the General Court to appoint a committee, with full power to hear and settle all their difficulties. They declare that their differences are such as render them incapable of carrying on their affairs.”

Charles Hudson’s History of Marlborough

Hudson listed the petitioners who were friends and relations of William Ward, including his sons, Samuel and Obadiah; his sons in law, Abraham Williams, John Johnson, John Woods Jr. and Abraham Howe; close friends and allies John Ruddock, William Kerley, Thomas Goodnow Sr. and Andrew Belcher (a non-resident proprietor); fathers of his sons in law, John Woods Sr. and Solomon Johnson; sons in law of Thomas Goodnow, Thomas Barnes and Christopher Bannister; Nathaniel Johnson, son of Solomon; and John Barnes, who married the widow of Thomas Goodnow Jr.

Hudson also listed those who presented a counter petition to the General Court. Although Edmund Rice had died, his property must have been represented by his wife since his name appears as one of the petitioners. The petition also included his sons, Samuel, Joseph, and Thomas; step sons Thomas Brigham and John Brigham; son in law John Maynard; Peter Bent, brother in law of Edmund’s son Edward Rice; and Richard Barnes, cousin to Peter Bent. Others included Richard Newton and his son John; John and Thomas Barrett; John Rediat, John Rutter and John Bellows. These may have had payment issues of their own or may have been close friends of the others.

Two others played key roles as counter petitioners. Thomas King, a selectman and father in law of two of Edmund Rice’s sons, is noted as one who kept pressing the issue once decisions by the General Court were made. John How, a universally respected landowner, had family connections on both sides and may have been more of a centrist who leaned toward a more lenient position. Notably absent from both lists is John How Jr. whose father is on the Rice side but whose father in law is William Ward.

There were four issues that Hudson speaks of in the counter petition. First, it’s clear that they had no interest in involving the General Court. “We are willing, with our persons and our estates, to uphold the Authority of the Country, and do therefore desire the liberty of the law which gives towns power to transact their own affairs.”

This was a common colonial theme through the period of the Revolution. The colony didn’t need the English Crown and the towns didn’t need the colony. Ironically, this was the exact same issue that the Ward-Ruddock faction faced in Sudbury that caused the creation of Marlborough. Only in that case, Ward and Ruddock had won the local elections and had initiated land reforms, but a petition to the General Court by Reverend Brown had destroyed their initiatives. Shortly after, Ward and Ruddock were among the petitioners for the Marlborough Plantation. Just as earlier the General Court had imposed its will in favor of Reverend Brown, now the Ward faction was using the Court to their own advantage in the Marlborough dispute.

A second major issue that arose in the petition process was the charge that changes were made in the “Town Book.” According to Hudson the counter petitioners claimed that they “never went about to destroy the Town Book, but only to rectify what was amis in it.” The exact problems with the Town Book are not mentioned here, but in a later General Court decision, there are entries inserted by the Court that were the probable omissions.

The Colonial Records with changes made to the ‘Town Book’.

A third issue was the charge that the counter petitioners sought to be rid of Reverend Brinsmead. To this they declare that they never went about to “root out their minister.” Despite their protestations, Reverend Brinsmead did leave for a period, but returned a few years later after serving for a time in Plymouth.

One of the arguments that the counter petitioners use is very interesting in light of colonial land practices at the time. Hudson says, “They allege that, in point of ‘gravity’ they are ‘able to balance or overbalance’ the petitioners; that they pay nearly twice as much as the petitioners toward civil and ecclesiastical institutions.”

Since they owned more land, and taxes and ministerial charges were based on acreage, they believed they should have more say in town affairs. If one adds up the acreage for the petitioners versus the counter petitioners, one finds that their math is correct.

In other colonial towns that might make a difference. Many towns acted as modern corporations, with voting power dependent on acreage. Those with fifty acres (or shares) had twice as many votes as those with twenty-five acres. But in Marlborough, it was based on ‘one man, one vote’.

This division may not seem like many people involved.  But consider that the number of petitioners represented almost the entire town.  Was there ever a controversy wherein over 90% of the voters in a town were in court, evenly divided against one another, for sixteen years?  Only in Colonial Marlborough!

Next: Sixteen Years of Decisions and Appeals

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One thought on “The Grand Division

  1. So, let’s see if I get the dispute. One side was against the “1 man, one vote” concept and championed the “acres=say” in the towns doings. And now, we have to wait on the edge of our seats to see how it works out. Hopefully not 16 years!

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