OF MASSACHUSETTS LOYALISTS
PROF. WILBUR H. SIEBERT
OF THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society
For January, 1912
THE COLONY OF MASSACHUSETTS LOYALISTS
AT BRISTOL, ENGLAND
The port of Bristol, England, early became a resort of American
loyalists, and continued so both during and after the
Revolution. Thomas Hutchinson, recently governor of Massachusetts
Bay and himself a fugitive in England, made a brief
visit there with his son Elisha on January 10, 1775, and
found another New England refugee, one of the Waldos, already
living there. After viewing the town, the governor declared it
to be "well accommodated with well built houses for lodgings,"
but outside of three or four small squares he discovered no
elegant residences "fit for a first-rate tradesman to live in."1
The attractiveness of Bristol for Americans was expressed by
Hutchinson after a second visit, which he made to the place
over two years later, when he remarked significantly: "The
manners and customs of the people are very like those of the
people of New England, and you might pick out a set of Boston
Selectmen from any of their churches."2 The fact that living
was cheaper there than in many other communities was an additional
attraction of weight.
Already in 1775, loyalists were landing at Bristol or passing
through on their travels about the country. Col. Benjamin
Pickman of Salem arrived in April or May, having sailed from
his home town five weeks earlier.3
A Boston shipmaster, by the name of Johnson, also
came in this year with his wife and children;4
and before the summer was over a group of New
Englanders, consisting of "Mr. Amory and wife, Quincy,
Greene, Sears, and Callahan and wife," visited Bristol —
probably having just arrived from America — and thence
made an excursion to Aylesbury, the place where Sir Francis
Bernard was then residing.5
Before the lapse of the year, the nucleus of a loyalist colony
had formed at Bristol, its members
being James Boutineau and family of Boston, one of the Auchmutys,
Mrs. Borland and family of Cambridge, one of the
Waldos, already mentioned, and possibly others.6 During the
next two years this group was evidently growing, for the
Salem refugee, Samuel Curwen, who was an occasional visitor
at Bristol and at times a resident there, mentions additional
names of his fellow colonials who were living in the town.7
Under date of September 29, 1777, he reports having spent
the evening at Mr. Henry Barnes', "where he took tea with
thirteen Americans";8 and
a week later he writes to his friend,
the Rev. Isaac Smith at Sidmouth: "The number of our country
folks here is eighteen, viz.: Mr. Boutineau and lady, Mr.
Benjamin Faneuil and lady, Judge Sewall and lady, Mr. Barnes
and lady and neice, Mr. Fenton and daughter and son, Mr. Fr.
Waldo, Mr. Timmins, Col. Hatch's two daughters at school,
The variation in names given by Mr. Curwen in his references
at various periods to calls, teas, dinners and evenings at quadrille,
shows that the loyalist circle in Bristol was enlarging, although
removals to other towns and occasionally death tended
to keep down the number. It is also noteworthy that the
names which appear in Curwen's Journal are almost exclusively
those of exiles from Massachusetts. From other sources,
however, we know that loyalists from other American colonies
dropped into Bristol, though there is no evidence to show
that they became permanent residents there. In December,
1778, Judge Howard (probably Chief Justice Martin
Howard of North Carolina) arrived from New York;10
late in the following July, Lieutenant Governor William Bull
of South Carolina was in Bristol;11
as was also Peter Van Schaack of Kinderhook, New York, about
three and a half months later still.12
Two years after the list of eighteen names given above,
Curwen begins (September 24, 1779) a new series of entries
relating to Bristol: the new names are readily recognized as
those of Massachusetts loyalists.13
In a letter written April
19, 1780, Curwen presents another census of Americans in
Bristol as follows: "Col. [Thomas] Oliver [late lieutenant
governor of Massachusetts] and six daughters; Mr. R. Lechmere,
his brother Nicholas, wife and two daughters; Mr. John
Vassal, wife and neice. Miss Davis; Mr. Barnes, wife and neice;
Mr. Arbuthnot; Mr. Nathaniel Coffin, wife and family; Mr.
Robert Hallowell, wife and children; Judge Sewall, wife, sister,
and two sons; Samuel Sewall, with his kinsman, Mr. Faneuil,
and wife; Mr. Francis Waldo and Mr. Simpson, together with
Mrs. Borland, a son and three daughters." Curwen concludes
his list with the statement: "I send this by young Gardner,
who with Mr. Leavitt and Capt. Carpenter leaves us to-morrow,
and will shift for their passage to America as they
to this census, the Bristol colony had now reached
between forty and fifty members.
The list could not have been complete: for George Inman
and wife of Philadelphia arrived in Bristol from London in
March, or about a month before Curwen wrote the letter above
quoted. There they remained "for the greater part of the time
till after Christmas." Mr. Inman relates that he and his wife
met many of the American families settled in the town, and
gives the following names: "Thomas Oliver, John Vassals,
Lechmere, Sewal, Bob Holbrook, Nat. Coffin, who died soon
after, Mrs. Borland, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Fennel [Faneuil], Mr.
Barnes, Mr. Coulson, and Mrs. Merchant, our friend Betsy
Davis who resided with her aunt Mrs. Vassall. But [with] some
of these," he goes on to remark, "by some means or other, a
coolness took place, after which my visits to them were more
out of form than friendship." He adds that "in August of
this y'r  R. Temple arrived at Bristol in a flag of truce
from Bost. with his family, whom I saw and spent an evening
with at the White Lyon."15
It is notable that several of the
names mentioned by Inman, in addition to his own, do not
appear in Curwen's list.
In the same month in which Mr. Temple and his family
came to Bristol, James Russell was reported as a prospective
settler. Curwen communicates the multiplied good fortune
of this gentleman, who, he says, "by lucky captures by a letter
of mark has realized fifteen thousand pounds sterling, is soon
to be settled a Bristol merchant, and bound in the matrimonial
chain to Mr. R. Lechmere's second daughter, Mary."16 Whether
many members of the colony engaged in the commerical activities
of this thriving centre, we do not know. It is likely that
the majority of them had private resources which they were
able to supplement, in some instances at least, with an annuity
from the government. For example. Governor Oliver, Curwen,
and Samuel Sewall were recipients of pensions from the royal
treasury, although we learn that the Governor's pension was
"lessened £ioo, out of £300," when the revision of allowances
to loyalist refugees was effected early in 1783.17 Those who were
without private resources found it very difficult to get along.
A case in point was that of Robert Hallowell, of whom his
brother Benjamin wrote to Edward Winslow, February 10,
1784: "Your worthy friend Bobby continues still at Bristol
on account of the cheapness of living, and being amongst a
number of friends who use every means in their power to be
of service to him, the little money which he has been able with
great industry to pick up added to the allowance of £120 a
year Government, he is able to rub along."18
The group of loyaUsts at Bristol held together for some
years after the close of the American Revolution, and continued
to enjoy social intercourse among themselves in an unpretentious
way. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Barnes
of Marlborough, Massachusetts, who lived first in Canon's
Marsh and afterwards in a "grand old edifice" on King Street,
from which they could view "the Play House, the Assembly
House, the Merchants Hall and the Merchants Library." While
limited in means, they were nevertheless able to participate in
the "routs" and other social diversions of the time. Some of
the letters of Mrs. Barnes contain entertaining accounts of the
New England circle in which she moved. On April 1, 1786,
she wrote to her friends, the Misses Barker: "Wee have seventeen
American familys in Bristol, very Genteel well bred
People, all of one heart and one mind. In this circle we are
treated with Cordiality and respect, being quite upon a footing
with them in the stile of Vissiting which is no more than Tea
and cards — a little parade (to be sure) is nessisary upon these
ocations in order to keep up the Ball, but as it is not attended
with much Expence we readily consent to follow the Lead."19
Death began to invade the ranks of this group early in its
history. James Boutineau died before the middle of May
1778,20 Robert Temple
before 1783,21 and Nathaniel Coffin about
a year later.22 Other
members survived for some years. Harriet,
the wife of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Oliver and daughter
of Colonel John Vassal, passed away in 1808,23 and was followed
on May 6, 1811, by Samuel Sewall.24 The decease of Lieutenant
Governor Oliver occurred on November 29, 181525 while that
of Joseph Waldo came the next April, the latter being ninety-four
years of age.26
Most of these persons, like most of their fellow-countrymen
in Bristol, were from Boston. But other towns and other
colonies were represented. Governor and Mrs. Oliver, Colonel
and Mrs. Vassal, and doubtless Mrs. Borland were Cambridge
people. Judge Jonathan Sewall came from Charlestown, Massachusetts,
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Barnes from Marlborough, Massachusetts,
Thomas Coulson from Falmouth, Maine, John Fenton
from New Hampshire, and John Inman and wife from Philadelphia.
A number of them, if not the great majority, had
been transported to Halifax with the British troops at the time
of the evacuation of Boston in March, 1776, and from there had
gone to England. This was the case with Lieutenant Governor
Oliver and Robert Hallowell.
Among the members of the Bristol colony we find former
merchants, lawyers and officials, including a clerk in the court
of common pleas, a cashier and a comptroller of the customs at
Boston, two mandamus councillors, and the last royal lieutenant
governor and president of the council of Massachusetts. Some
of the most eminent and respectable families of New England
were represented at Bristol, among these being the Sewall,
Vassal, Russell and OHver families. Of the subsequent careers
of individual members we know but little: Jonathan Sewall
emigrated from Bristol to New Brunswick in 1788, where he
was chosen judge of admiralty. Sabine reports that he died in
that colony in 1796.27
1. Hutchinson, Diary and Letters, I. 346.
2. Ibid. II. 148.
3. Stark, Loyalists of Massachusetts, 266.
4. Hutchinson, Diary and Letters, II. 271.
5. Ibid. I. 513.
6. Hutchinson, Diary and Letters, I. 536; II. 18.
7. Curwen, Journal and Letters, 74, 76-77, 78, 141, 143-144.
8. Ibid. 155.
9. Ibid. 156.
10. Sabine, American Loyalists (ed. 1847), 369; Curwen, Journal and Letters, 20J.
11. Hutchinson, Diary and Letters, II. 269.
12. Ibid. 293.
13. Curwen, Journal and Letters, 221, 224-226, 235, 236.
14. Ibid. 237, 238.
15. George Inman, "Narrative of the American Revolution" in The Penn. Magazine
of Hist, and Biog., vii. 246, 247. A letter from Jonathan Sewall of August
24, 1780, also mentions the arrival of Mr. R. Temple and family at Bristol "in
thirty-two days from Boston." Curwen, Journal and Letters, 271, 276.
16. Curwen, Journal and Letters, 264.
17. Ibid. 367, 368.
18. Raymond, Winslow Papers, 166.
19. Tiffany and Lesley, Letters of James Murray, Loyalist, 259.
20. Hutchinson, Diary and Letters, II. 205.
21. Curwen, Journal and Letters, 497.
22. Ibid. 484.
23. Ibid. 515.
24. Ibid. 506.
25. Ibid. 515; Sabine, American Loyalists, 492, 497.
26. Ibid. 483.
27. Sabine, American Loyalists, 609.