Colonial

Timeline for the Controversy

The timeline for the controversy is interesting in that it begins with the death of Edmund Rice in 1663 and is concluded after the death of the principal protagonist, Thomas King in 1677.  More than likely, Edmund Rice would have brokered a deal to save the town from the embarrassment to follow, but his death left the township without a rudder.  Thomas King simply would not take ‘no’ for an answer, so his passing was the final answer.

In his History of Marlborough, Charles Hudson speaks of the problem thusly, “… some, perhaps from necessity, failed to meet these demands (for taxes) within the time specified, the penalty of forfeiture thus incurred, was attempted to be enforced. But the delinquents petitioned the General Court, which sent out a committee to inquire into the facts of the case.”

In the midst of controversy over land rights, taxes and voting power, Obadiah Ward was made an enforcement officer to prosecute any person who came into Marlborough without leave to do so by the town’s consent. This was the only record that gives Obadiah Ward any enforcement status as Solomon Johnson was the constable for most of the colonial period. This is interesting because Obadiah Ward, not Solomon Johnson, brought charges against Thomas Rice in the Land Controversy.

On April 6, 1664 is written a Middlesex County Court decision addressing the Marlborough controversy. It identifies Obadiah Ward, plaintiff for the town in a suit against Thomas Rice. The immediate problem was the settling of all arrears. Thomas Rice wasn’t the only problem in town, but must have been the worst.

Rice does not appear on the list of those being taxed for the minister in an earlier assessment, so his status is worse than the other offenders. He agreed to pay the arrears and the town agreed to withdraw its suit, “yeelding ye defendant his interest of Possessions & Allotments in the sd Towne.” This wording probably led to the next problem.  The land in question was given to him as part of a second allotment which was tied to his first land grant.  But when he surrendered his first grant, the second allotment would seem to have been surrendered also.  When he came back to town he was given a new home lot, but a different, less desirable second allotment.

The Middlesex Court also “gave theire advice” to the other inhabitants who were present to likewise settle their accounts, and continued with the admonition, “That they all Joyntly concurre in such waies as might lead to a furtherance of peace among themselves.” Finally, they got the inhabitants to agree to add John How and John Rediat to the list of selectmen for that year. 

As an aside, a discussion of the selectmen list is in order. Those elected selectmen for 1664 were as follows: Edmund Rice, William Ward, John Ruddock, Thomas King, Solomon Johnson, John How Sr., and John Woods. Among the seven, four were plaintiffs and three were counter plaintiffs.

A major problem was that Edmund Rice died in May of 1663. I wish I could tell you why the citizens of Marlborough elected dead people as selectmen, but it is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. He was surely dead and everyone had to know it. This would put the balance at 4-2 in favor of the plaintiffs.  The only other Edmund Rice was a grandson, child of Edward (who was still living in Sudbury), whose age would have made him an unlikely candidate. It may be that when the Town Book was rewritten, they forgot what year they were in (Rice was elected every year he was alive).

In any case, I’m inclined to think that his death is discovered in these proceedings and the General Court realizes that there is now a serious imbalance of power among the selectmen and thus orders a change, which according to the record, results in John Rediat and John How being added to the Board of Selectmen, but wait! John How (Sr.) was already on the board. Why did he need to be added? Unless, of course, it was John How Jr. which is possible, except that John How Jr. was married to the daughter of William Ward which left him with ties to both sides in the dispute.

Needless to say, an examination of old records sometimes leads to more questions than answers, never mind the spelling problems. Perhaps we can assume it was, in fact, John How, Jr. added to the board and that, somehow, the General Court considered his addition to have a balancing influence.

The 1663 General Court decision was relatively quick being decided in about four months. Hudson believes that there were multiple petitions and multiple committees formed to conclude the continuing controversy. My reading is different.

I believe that the General Court was tired of the people of Marlborough. They were a problem in Sudbury in 1656 and a problem in Marlborough in 1663. They forced their minister to leave, and they would not accept the Court’s decision. Those who were initially appointed to the next committee, apparently, did nothing. Eventually, age and sickness forced some to be replaced on the committee.

The reformed committee was appointed in 1670 a full six years after the second petition is brought.  King Philip’s War intervened in the decision making in 1675 and 1676. The residents returned to Marlborough in 1677 and Thomas King died the same year. After his death a final decision was rendered in 1679 which essentially reflected the decision made after the first petition.

In an irony of history, Peter Rice, son of Thomas Rice, married Rebekah Howe, daughter of Abraham Howe and Hannah (Ward) Howe. It must certainly have been a Romeo and Juliet story. The Captain Peter Rice House, home of the Marlborough Historical Society, is a living monument both to the early strife, and the eventual resolution of the problems in colonial Marlborough.

Graves of Capt Peter and Rebekah Rice, Old Common Cemetery

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