Saturday, March 5, 2011

Maximum Massachusetts 14: Cotton Comes to Haarlem

New Haarlem, Manhattan Island
11 July 1713

Colonel Pieter Schuyler was a member of the Council of New York's Governor Robert Hunter. He had also, as an officer of the colony's militia, been part of the army New York sent north to take Montreal in the summer of 1706. Cotton Mather had made his acquaintance during the negotiations for Quebec's surrender, and the two men had discovered a mutual interest in astronomy. Mather had extended to Schuyler an open invitation to make use of the telescope at Harvard College should he ever make a visit to Boston. Schuyler had responded with an open invitation for Mather to stay at his farm in New Haarlem should he ever make a visit to New York.

Cotton had finally taken Schuyler up on his offer, and the two men were spending a Saturday afternoon walking through the latter's apple orchard. The conversation had in time turned to the terms of the recently-arrived peace treaty ending Queen Anne's War.

"As you can well imagine," said Schuyler, "there was much astonishment and a deal of outrage when it was learned that Canada and Louisbourg were to be returned to French rule. I daresay it was the same in Boston."

"It was," Mather confirmed. "There were even some who suggested that we ought to ignore the provisions of the treaty, and keep Canada as we kept Acadia after the last war."

Schuyler shook his head. "A worthy dream, but a dream nonetheless. The Queen's ministers in London will not brook such defiance from mere colonials such as ourselves. However dearly it may cost us, we cannot hope to hold onto Canada."

The two men were silent for a time, and then Mather asked, "What do you suppose would happen if Governor Dudley did in fact refuse to return Canada to the French?"

"Then Governor Dudley would shortly find himself escorted back to London by a company of soldiers to answer to Bolingbroke for his impertinence."

"And suppose Governor Dudley were to resist being escorted back to London?"

Schuyler's expression made plain his uneasiness over this line of questioning. "Then Governor Dudley would be in a state of rebellion against the Crown, and the full might of Great Britain would be brought to bear against him."

"And suppose the full might of Massachusetts were brought to bear in support of Dudley? And that of New Hampshire, Nova Scotia, Rhode Island and Connecticut as well?"

Now Schuyler came to a halt, the afternoon sun lighting his hardening features. "Just what is it that you mean to say, Dr. Mather?"

"I mean to say that we in Massachusetts have resolved to defy the Queen and her ministers. Canada is not theirs to offer up. It is ours, and we intend to keep it. And if the Queen and her ministers refuse to recognize our claim, and attempt a resort to arms to compel us, then we will not hesitate to declare our independence of Great Britain."

"Are you mad, sir?"

"Utterly mad, sir, yes. If Bolingbroke is mad enough to return Canada to the French, then he drives us to equal heights of madness to prevent it. The return of Canada to the French would be the ruination of our colony, and sooner than remain passive, we would rise up and risk an equal ruination at the hands of Great Britain for the chance, however slight, of keeping what is ours."

A dawning suspicion showed in Schuyler's face. "Is this the reason for your journey here to New York? You wish us to join you in your rush to destruction?"

"There is strength in numbers," said Mather. "The men of Connecticut and Rhode Island felt as we feel about the treaty. It would be madness to allow the French to regain Canada, and any risk is worth essaying if we can prevent such a disaster. You yourself said there was outrage here in New York when the terms of the treaty were learned. Your colony has suffered as much as New England from the depredations of the French. Would your people be willing to join with us in defying Bolingbroke? Will you become part of our Commonwealth of New England?"

"Some might wish it," said Schuyler, "but New York is not Massachusetts. Our leading men would not support a movement for independence. Governor Hunter would stand against it, and the Assembly would stand with him. There is no way you will ever persuade New Yorkers to rebel against the Crown."

Schuyler's features softened. "I understand your reasons for doing this, my friend, and I wish you well. If you succeed, you will prevent a terrible disaster from overcoming America. But you cannot count on any help from New York. The best you can hope for is our neutrality in your upcoming struggle, and I cannot guarantee even that."

"Your words are hard, my friend," said Mather, "but truly spoken, and for that I thank you. I must leave on the morrow, to tell my colleagues in Boston that we must face this coming crisis alone."

(Proceed to part 15 - The Devil You Don't Know)

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