HARVARD VETERANS, KING WILLIAM’S WAR, AND THE WITCHCRAFT DELUSION (1689-1698)
Several Harvard Veterans played key roles in King William’s War (1689-1698). It was a long and often inhumane conflict that accomplished little other than loss of life among the populations of New England, New France, and the Native Americans who fought on both sides. Historians often characterize it as the first of four French and Indian wars, and when it was over, not a single boundary had changed in North America or in Europe.
The period stood in stark contrast to the twelve years of relative peace New England had experienced since the conclusion of King Philip’s War in 1678. Government transitions and witchcraft delusions magnified the contrast.
There was widespread support for the War effort among Harvard faculty, students, or alum. They mostly considered it to be a war of survival, fearing that the outcome would leave control of North America in the hands of the French, with the English being driven into the sea.
KING JAMES II
War clouds developed when James II ascended to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland in April 1685. At the beginning of his reign, the principle of divine right provided widespread support from his subjects, even though he was a Catholic ruling Anglican subject.[i] His personal adherence to the Catholic faith soon sowed seeds of discord when he attempted to bring religious toleration to his kingdoms. When the Parliaments of England and Scotland voted against his religious tolerance measures, James unsuccessfully attempted to impose them by decree, further increasing dissent.[ii]
In June 1688, descent turned to political crisis when James’s son and heir, James Francis Edward, was born. Dissenters and former supporters feared the creation of a Roman Catholic dynasty. To ensure Anglican succession, they favored his Anglican daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William III of Orange.
James II was oblivious to the extent of discord. When he prosecuted seven Anglican Bishops (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) for failing to read his Declaration of Indulgence (tolerance of Catholic worship) in their churches, opposition reached revolutionary levels. His opponents characterized the prosecutions as an assault on the Church of England. He lost the support of the courts when they acquitted the bishops. James’s political authority collapsed and anti-Catholic riots soon erupted in England and Scotland. Civil war seemed inevitable unless the opposition removed James II from the throne.[iii]
THE CRISIS OF THE MASSACHUSETTS CHARTER
Meanwhile, Parliament had revoked the Massachusetts Charter in 1684. This was because the Massachusetts Bay colony, as a joint-stock colony (unlike a royal colony or proprietary colony) had been mostly self-governing for over sixty years. The colony had grown insubordinate in the eyes of Parliament and the crown, accusing the colony of thwarting English authority to legislate in New England. English grievances included assertions that Massachusetts was governing outside its charter (in New Hampshire and Maine), denying religious freedom (to anyone not a Puritan Congregationalist), coining its own money (the pine tree shilling) and deliberately violating the Navigation Acts (intended to manage trade within the English empire).[iv]
Revocation of the charter broke the Puritan oligarchy that had ruled since the establishment of the colony. Joseph Dudley (College, 1665), a hero of the Great Swamp Fight during King Philip’s War [see Article 2: HARVARD AND KING PHILIP’S WAR (1675-1678)], took on the duties of acting Royal Governor in October 1685. Dudley, whose official title was President of the Council of New England, ruled with an appointed council and no representative legislature.[v]
In late 1686, Sir Edmund Andros arrived as Royal Governor from England and quickly made enemies of most of most New Englanders. Landowners resented the taxes he imposed on their land and feared Andros might take their land titles. Merchants defied the Navigation Acts that Andros aggressively strove to enforce. Puritans hated the new policy of religious toleration. Finally, the lack of representative government angered most citizens (Andros limited town hall meetings to once a year and only to elect town councils).[vi]
Harvard graduate Rev. John Wise (College, 1673) of Ipswich, became the voice of New England landowners. He was the first man in America ever known to articulate opposition to TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. He strongly defended of the “civil and sacred liberties and privileges of his country,” and was “willing to sacrifice anything, but a good conscience, to secure and defend them.”[vii]
Wise put the citizens' charges against Andros in writing and sent them to the government in England. He argued the practice or taxation without the consent of an elected general assembly infringed on the colonists' liberty “as freeborn English subjects of His Majesty.”[viii]
When Governor Andros found out about the document, he responded by prosecuting Wise, along with five others from Ipswich, as criminals. The chief judge in the case was none other than Joseph Dudley. After Wise and the others made their defense, Dudley ruled that the laws of England did not follow its subjects “to the ends of the Earth.” After convicting Wise, Dudley told him he had no privileges left, except not to be sold as a slave.[ix]
WILLIAM AND MARY and THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION
New England’s hatred of Andros (and Dudley) had grown nearly unanimous. When William and Mary took the throne of England in 1689, as part of the Glorious Revolution, the old guard Puritans imprisoned Andros. A Harvard graduate, Adam Winthrop (College 1668), played a key role in Andros’s surrender. He was the son of Adam Winthrop Sr. and grandson of John Winthrop, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Adam Winthrop was “Captain of one of the Boston companies of militia which assembled 18 April 1689 and a signer of the message demanding that Andros 'forthwith surrender and deliver up the government.'” His contemporaries lauded him for helping to end James II’s (and Andros’s) “attempt to crush self-government in New England." [x] The citizens soon elected Winthrop to serve as Representative from Boston in the sessions of the General Court summoned meet from 1689 to 1692.
Harvard’s John Wise was also a representative at those sessions. After joining Winthrop in reorganizing the former Legislature, Wise sued Joseph Dudley under the new regime for “denying him the benefit of the habeas corpus act.” He reportedly recovered damages.[xi]
After imprisoning Andros, the former ruling Puritan oligarchy attempted to get the original colonial charter reinstated but found tepid support for their cause among colonists not part of the former power elite. Without the support of the majority, the oligarchy, led by Increase Mather (College, 1656) found it impossible to revert to its former government structure. Instead, Mather settled for a royal colony with a governor appointed by the King. Under the new governmental structure, the citizenry threw off Puritan rule that had only allowed members of the Puritan (Congregational) Church to vote. Instead, the population gained greater political power and religious freedom. All property-owning men now had a vote and Protestants were free to worship as they pleased (Catholics, not so much). [xii]
CHANGES AT HARVARD COLLEGE
There were changes at Harvard College during this time as well. Having lost power and influence in government, Puritan leaders realized the only way to maintain anything resembling their old power was by maintaining control of Harvard College. “Of all the institutions of the country,” historian Joshia Quincy wrote, “the College, next to the civil government, was that which they deemed the most important.” Since the College had been under their control since its founding, they believed they should still lead the College. Just as in government, the previously excluded citizens opposed them. Despite the odds against them, Increase and Cotton Mather led the charge to maintain control of the College by maintaining a “perpetual excitement” among the old power elite.[xiii] The Puritan elite was successful in maintaining control.
YOUNG DANIEL DENISON
The experience of Harvard student Daniel Denison (College, 1690) provides a glimpse of the experiences and hardships undertaken by Harvard’s veterans leading up to and during King William’s War. Denison had been but a boy when peace came to southern New England after King Philip’s War. Being from the village of Ipswich, he had experienced the horrid aftermath of war. He saw widows and maimed veterans throughout southern New England and experienced the devastated economy that after twelve years had not mounted a complete recovery.
When Denison enrolled at Harvard in 1886, he had a legitimate expectation for peace and recovery to continue. There were no rumors of war, and further progress seemed assured. Harvard had grown in the number of students and also in worldwide reputation since its founding fifty years prior in 1636. The General Court of Massachusetts had played an instrumental role in this growth with a series of Acts (1642, 1650, and 1657) improving the University’s corporate governance and powers. In 1661, the Court even answered the question, once and for all, of who “founded” Harvard. In an address to the Commissioners of Charles II, they named John Harvard as the “principal founder.”[xiv]
WAR COMES TO HARVARD
A year before Denison enrolled, Rev. Increase Mather took on the role of acting Harvard President “to take special care of the government of the College.” He served as acting president from that time until he became president in 1693, serving 16 years in leadership.[xv]
As Denison’s years at Harvard progressed under Mather, rumors of war reached southern New England from the north, where the French and Iroquois Confederacy had been at odds for decades in the so-called Beaver Wars. In 1687, news of French raids into Iroquois territory (later upstate New York) reached southern New England. Even so, the struggles to the northwest had little impact on Harvard.[xvi]
The first signs of unraveling peace occurred in late 1688 when Louis XIV of France sent his forces into the Rhineland and the Low Countries (parts of Germany and the Netherlands today). King William III of England countered the French expansion by beginning the War of the League of Augsburg which lasted from 1689 to 1698 (known in North America as King William’s War).
In July 1689, the Beaver Wars took on a horrific character when the Iroquois League put French settlers on spits and roasted them at Lachine near Montreal.[xvii] The French in Canada, already at war against the Iroquois, wasted no time in engaging the English when the war began in Europe. They mounted winter-time raids against English settlements that resulted in the death of some 200 English colonists.[xviii]
In February 1690, when English settlers had no reason to suspect an attack, 110 French militiamen and 96 pro-French Iroquois attacked Schenectady, a village in the New York colony. Seeking revenge for the Iroquois attack on Lachine, they crept silently into the settlement, guarded only by two snowmen at the gates. The attackers took the settlers by complete surprise, slitting their throats and crushing the skulls of 60 men, women, and children. They took 27 as prisoners.[xix]
The attack on Schenectady was only the beginning. On 27 March 1690, the war came further south when a French war party attacked Salmon Falls, New Hampshire. When the attack was over, 34 settlers were dead. The French burned the settlement and took 54 prisoners. The prisoners didn’t fare well. By the time the war party reached Montreal, their captors had tortured most of them to death.[xx]
Southern New Englanders reacted with alarm. They had to strike back, otherwise they feared the French would destroy the English settlements and drive them into the sea. Massachusetts Governor William Phips acted first when, on 11 May 11 1690, he led 700 militiamen and seven ships to take Port Royal on the Bay of Fundy. He laid siege to the port, and with little bloodshed, took it. His success boosted confidence and led Massachusetts to fund a late-summer expedition to Quebec with Phips once again commanding. This time, the mission objective would be twofold. First, destroy Quebec, the enemy’s power base. Second, plunder and bring back spoils of war. Massachusetts funded the campaign by selling bonds to be repaid with interest using the plunder taken from Quebec.[xxi]
PRIVATE DANIEL DENISON
When Daniel Denison graduated from Harvard College in July 1690, he rushed to Ipswich, Massachusetts to join his militia company as a private soldier.[xxii] He left with Phips’s expedition to Quebec in August. Six weeks later, packed in a troop-transport-ships and buffeted by the Atlantic Ocean for weeks, the air and sea spray grew cold and the ships darker and damper. The 18 transport ships and 4 warships were making slow progress up the Atlantic Coast with 2,000 militiamen toward the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. [xxiii]
Things could be worse - sickness could catch hold or scant rations could run out. Like the other soldiers, Denison’s biggest fear was probably the weather. Storms along the Atlantic coast had claimed many a ship in the late summer and early fall. Why not an entire fleet on its way to capture Quebec?
As Denison considered the 63 officers chosen for the expedition, he would have thought of the two from Harvard. Captain Philip Nelson (College, 1654) was a veteran of King Philip’s War. He was a Justice of the Peace and a large landowner (said to own 3,000 acres). He was also captain of a military company. He survived the expedition to Quebec, but there is no record of his specific actions.
Harvard graduate, Captain Ephraim Savage (College, 1662) was also part of the expedition. He was captain of a militia company with members from Reading and elsewhere in Middlesex County.[xxiv] A veteran of King Philip’s War, Savage was a trader in Boston. He became a member of an artillery company in 1674. In 1676, during King Philip’s War, the General Court ordered (then) Sergeant Savage to march up and take the command of a garrison in desperate need of provisions. Though his mission involved no combat, it was a success. In October 1677, the General Court made him an ensign. In 1683, he became captain of the militia company his father had once commanded.[xxv]
[i] Tim Harris, Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685–1720 (Penguin Books: London, 2006), 6-7.
[ii] Tim Harris, Stephen Taylor, eds, The Final Crisis of the Stuart Monarchy (Boydell & Brewer: Suffolk, 2015), 144-159.
[iv] Viola Florence Barnes, The Dominion of New England: A Study in British Colonial Policy (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1923), 6, 10-18.
[vi] Barnes, The Dominion of New England, 46.
[vii] John Langdon Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge University, Vol. 2, (Charles William Sever: Cambridge, 1881) 428-429.
[x] Sibley, Biographical Sketches, Vol. 2, 427-29
[xi] Sibley, Biographical Sketches, Vol. 2, 432.
[xii] Josiah Quincy, The History of Harvard University (John Owen: Cambridge, 1840), 65-67.
[xv] Quincy, The History of Harvard University, 38.
[xix] Grenier, “King Williams War: New England’s Mournful Decade.”
[xx] Grenier, “King Williams War: New England’s Mournful Decade.”
[xxi] Grenier, “King Williams War: New England’s Mournful Decade.”
[xxiv] Lawrence Park, Major Thomas Savage of Boston and His Descendants (David Clapp & Son: Boston, 1914), 11-14.