Colonial History

Justice Hathorne

He pointed his finger once more, and a tall man, soberly clad in Puritan garb, with the burning gaze of the fanatic, stalked into the room and took his judge’s place.

“Justice Hathorne is a jurist of experience,” said the stranger. “He presided at certain witch trials once held in Salem. There were others who repented of the business later, but not he.”

“Repent of such notable wonders and undertakings?” said the stern old justice. “Nay, hang them–hang them all!” And he muttered to himself in a way that struck ice into the soul of Jabez Stone.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named, and we have examined the lives of each of them including the “life” I made up for the fictional the Reverend John Smeet.

The judge who presided over the case was Justice John Hathorne.  Born in August of 1641, Hathorne was a merchant of Salem, Massachusetts.  Hathorne prospered as a merchant with trading ventures to England and the West Indies.  He owned land around Salem and in Maine.  With economic power he combined political power, being Justice of the Peace in Essex County, and a member of the legislative upper chamber which combined the roles of legislature and high court.  In 1692 Hathorne was one of the men who questioned the accusers and accused and was in favor of bringing the accused to trial.  He was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts as one of the judges of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer that heard the trials.  Hathorne always voted to convict.

Subsequent to the trials he saw service in the militia in King William’s War, taking part in 1696 in the siege of Fort Nashawaak in what became New Brunswick in Canada and rising to the rank of Colonel. He was eventually appointed to the Superior Court.  He died on May 10, 1717.

Following the Salem witch trials, there was a wave of revulsion at the verdicts.  Few doubted at that time that witches did exist, but many attacked the fairness of the trials, especially the concept of “spectral evidence” which allowed the accusers to testify as to what demons purportedly told them about the accused.  Many people found this admission of supernatural hearsay to be not only fundamentally unfair but preposterous and feared that the accusers had been simply settling old family feuds with the accused. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Blackbeard

There was Teach, the bloody pirate, with his black beard curling on his breast.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named. This is the seventh in a series giving brief biographies of these men. Go here to read the biography of Simon Girty, here to read the “biography” of the Reverend John Smeet,  here to read the biography of Major Walter Butler, here to read the biography of Thomas Morton here to read the biography of King Philip, and here to read the biography of Governor Thomas Dale.  Our final member of the jury of the damned is Edward Teach, better known to history as Blackbeard.

It is odd that Blackbeard is almost the only pirate from the colorful Age of Piracy in the Sixteenth-Eighteenth centuries that most members of the general public could name, because he had a very short career, only two years, and was much less successful than many pirates, for example Henry Morgan, who achieved a knighthood and the office of Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.

Teach was probably born in Bristol, England in 1680.  He may have served as a privateer in Queen Anne’s War.  In 1716 the pirate Benjamin Hornigold placed Teach in command of a sloop, and together the duo committed numerous acts of piracy.  In 1717 Teach captured a French merchant ship, renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge and armed her with 40 guns, a formidable armament for a pirate ship.  His fame began to spread.  His nickname, Blackbeard, came from the long black beard he wore.  Teach adopted a fearsome personae in order to overawe the crews of the ships that he captured.  He lit fuses dangling from beneath his cap to enhance his image as a completely ruthless pirate. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Governor Dale

and cruel Governor Dale, who broke men on the wheel

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named. This is the sixth in a series giving brief biographies of these men. Go here to read the biography of Simon Girty, here to read the “biography” of the Reverend John Smeet,  here to read the biography of Major Walter Butler, here to read the biography of Thomas Morton and here to read the biography of King Philip.  Today we look at Governor Thomas Dale.

The Virginia colony was close to collapse.  Too many useless “gentlemen” of leisure who had come to the New World thinking they could pick gold off the ground and quickly return to England rich.  They had not bargained for a hard pioneer life and many seemed to prefer starvation rather than forsaking their lazy habits.  Into this fiasco in the making came Thomas Dale in 1611.  A Surrey man, Dale had served both as a soldier in the Netherlands and in the Navy.  He was a military man to his marrow and something of a martinet.  The Virginia Company, realizing that strong leadership was needed if the new colony was not to dissolve into anarchy appointed Dale as Deputy Governor and as “Marshall of Virginia”.

When he got to Jamestown Dale was alarmed at the dilapidated condition of the buildings and immediately convened a meeting of the council to appoint crews to begin rebuilding Jamestown.  Dale would serve as acting Governor for the colony for three and a half months in 1611 and in 1614-1616.  In the interim Dale served as “Marshall”.  Whatever his title, while he was in the colony it was clear to all that he was in charge.

He introduced the first code of laws to the colony, popularly known as Dale’s code, which is quite severe.  However, coming into a literally lawless community I can see why Dale would have erred on the side of sternness. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Morton of Merry Mount

There was Morton of Merry Mount, who so vexed the Plymouth Colony, with his flushed, loose, handsome face and his hate of the godly.

Stpehen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named. This is the fourth in a series giving brief biographies of these men. Go here to read the biography of Simon Girty, here to read the “biography” of the Reverend John Smeet and here to read the biography of Major Walter Butler.  In this post we direct our attention to Thomas Morton of Merry Mount.

A Devonshire man born in circa 1578, Morton was an attorney and a lover of plays and classical learning.  In 1624 he became involved in a trading venture to the Algonquian Indians in what is now Massachusetts.  In 1626 he founded the settlement of Merry Mount.  Morton ran a free and easy settlement, with the English settlers mixing freely with the Indians and quite a good time apparently being had by all.  On May 1, 1627 Morton erected a Maypole with much frolicking going on around it.

The pilgrims were shocked.  Governor William Bradford of Plymouth wrote: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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