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Letter from Joseph Mayhew to the Massachusetts Council



Chilmark, January 18, 1776.

HONOURED SIR: Judging it to be of importance to the County of Dukes, whereto I belong, that the honourable Council of this Colony be informed of the state of civil affairs here, I think it to be my duty to give your Honour the following intelligence, with respect hereto, to be by your Honour communicated, if you shall think fit.

Now, four, out of the nine, commisioned to be Justices in this County, viz: Jonathan Allen, John Worth, Enoch Coffin, and Thomas Cook, Esquires, and, also, William Mayhew, Esq˙, appointed Sheriff, and Mr˙ Robert Allen, appointed Coroner, remain unsworn, appearing unwilling to be so, and neither of them, except Jonathan Allen, Esq˙, being present, when the other civil officers here were sworn, which was done on the 22d of November last.


Of the five Justices who have been sworn, two, viz: Ebenezer Smith and Bariah Norton, Esquires, live at Edgartown; and two, viz: James Athearn and Shubael Cotter, Esquires, at Tisbury, and I, only, at Chilmark; and the only person Coroner, Mr˙ Ebenezer Norton, lives at Edgartown.

As I have thus informed your Honour who, of those who have been commissioned to be civil officers, have declined being sworn, I hope it will not be thought impertinent if I account for this in the following manner:

The real state of things here, sir, as I apprehend, is this: There are some here who are really not well-affected to the present Government, nor to the measures now pursued in defence of our civil liberties, and these ill-affected persons endeavour to embarrass the establishing of civil government in this County, and, through their suggestions, in part, at least, many persons here, perhaps near one-half of the people of this County, imagine that it is best for us, considering our situation, to be still, and in no way to show ourselves to be on the side of the assertors of our civil liberties, lest we, thereby, provoke the invaders of our coasts to ruin us; and it is (as, I think, I have sufficient reason to believe,) through such an apprehension as this, that so many of those, who have been lately appointed civil officers, are unwilling to be sworn.

I mean, sir, that many here were thus intimidated, till the honourable General Assembly of this Colony discovered their late resolution, with respect to the defence of this country; but how far people here, are, hereby, emboldened to appear in defence of their rights and liberties, I cannot yet tell. And as, for aught I know, some, or all of those whom I have above-mentioned, are unwilling to be sworn, may have their fears so far removed as to manifest a desire to have the oath administered to them, and I am at a loss what we, who are empowered to administer the oath, ought to do in this case, I am very desirous of the direction of the honourable Council herein.

As to a Sheriff for this County, about the want of which officer here, I am peculiarly concerned. I hope it will not appear assuming in me, if I mention Major Peter Norton as a suitable, and, perhaps, all things considered, the most suitable person to be Sheriff of this County, and, also, to be Colonel of the Regiment of Militia here, the latter of which offices, he, as I perceive, prefers. And if he is not made Sheriff, I humbly propose that he be made a Justice of the Peace at least, if not a Justice of the Pleas also, for this County. A great part of this letter may perhaps, appear as a vain repetition of what I wrote above a month ago to the Hon˙ Colonel Otis, as President of the honourable Council; but having reason, sir, to fear that my letter has miscarried, I have thought it proper for me to write as above.

This, honoured sir, with great respect and deference to the honourable Council, and to your Honour in particular, is from, honoured sir, your Honour' s most obedient, and most humble servant,


To the Honourable President of the Council.