The legendary and heroic opposition by the people and leaders of Ipswich to a tax imposed by the Crown in 1687 is commemorated in the seal of the town of Ipswich, which bears the motto, “The Birthplace of American Independence 1687.” This act of resistance has been called ‘the foundation of American Democracy,’ and was the beginning of a series of events which eighty-eight years later culminated in the Revolutionary War.

1895_town_seal

The  town seal signifying Ipswich as the “Birthplace of American Independence” was designed by Arthur Wesley Dow, and has appeared on Town Meeting warrants since 1895.

The next time you’re waiting in line at the Ipswich Post Office, take a look at the large mural that covers the wall over the postmaster’s office door. The mural was painted in 1941 as part of the New Deal Public Works of Art Project by Saul Levine and depicts the town leaders of Ipswich gathered in opposition to the new tax imposed by the English crown.

Ipswich MA post office mural
An emergency town meeting was called by John Andrews, chairman of the Ipswich selectmen to debate a new tax imposed by the crown-appointed governor Sir Edmund Andros. Rev. Wise, John Andrews, town clerk John Appleton, Samuel Appleton, William Goodhue, Robert Kinsman, and Thomas French were arrested, tried before the court in Boston, and imprisoned.

In the early 1680s, King Charles II of England had revoked the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in an attempt to bring the colonies more closely under crown control. In 1686 the former governor of New York, Sir Edmund Andros, was appointed as governor of a new “Dominion” which included the Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island colonies. In 1688, its jurisdiction was expanded to include New York, and East and West Jersey. Andros invalidated existing land titles in Massachusetts restricted town meetings, and actively promoted the Church of England in largely Puritan regions.

In 1687, John Andrews was chairman of the selectmen, the town clerk was John Appleton and the minister at Chebacco Parish was the popular John Wise. They met with other town leaders to discuss the command of crown-appointed governor Sir Edmond Andros and his council that a new tax be assessed on the king’s subjects. A town meeting was hastily organized the next day which voted that “no taxes should be Levied upon the Subjects without consent of the Assembly chosen by the Freeholders.”

Passed unanimously at Ipswich Town meeting, Aug 23, 1687

Then considering that the said act doth infringe their Liberty as Free borne subjects of his Majestie by interfearing with ye statutory Laws of the Land, By which it is enacted that no taxes shall be levied on ye Subjects without consent of an assembly chosen by ye Freeholders for assessing the same. They do therefore vote that they are not willing to choose a Commissioner for such an end without said priviledges and moreover consent not that the Selectmen do proceed to lay any such rate until it be appointed by a General Assembly concuring with ye Governor and Counsel.

For this act, Rev. John Wise, John Andrews, John Appleton, Samuel Appleton, William Goodhue, Robert Kinsman, and Thomas French were arrested and tried before the court in Boston. They were severely handled, imprisoned for several weeks and fined. Sam Appleton refused to give the bond and was kept a prisoner from November until March under very cold harsh conditions.

mural_appleton
Ipswich muralist Alan Pearsall honored local “bad boy” and bail holdout Samuel Appleton with prominence in the right corner of the Ipswich Riverwalk Mural. Below him to the left are his brother John Appleton, Rev. John Wise and other Ipswich town leaders being arrested.

Resistance leaders in neighboring towns were apparently not treated as harshly. The book History of the Town and City of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts by James Robert Pringle states that “among the rebellious towns was Gloucester and, as a result, seven of the prominent citizens were arraigned and fined at Salem for the refusal of the town to honor the terms of the warrant. The names of the citizens were William Haskell, James Stevens, Thomas Reggs and Thomas Millet, the selectmen, Timothy Somes, constable and William Sargent. All but Somes were fined 40 shillings each to which 1 shilling was added for fees. Somes was discharged on the payment of fees.

A group of provincial militia and citizens gathered in Boston on April 18, 1689 and arrested several dominion officials as well as members of the Church of England who were suspected of sympathizing with the administration. Major Samuel Appleton was among the men who helped escort Andros to Castle Island in Boston Harbor as a prisoner. Leaders of the former Massachusetts Bay Colony then reclaimed control of the government, rescinded the tax order, and Andros was shipped back to England. Rhode Island and Connecticut resumed governance under their earlier charters as well.

The leaders of the revolt against Andros

These were sturdy men who had built Ipswich, hardened veterans of King Phillips War and the campaign against the French in Quebec. The king had just tossed out the rules and placed a bureaucrat named Sir Edmund Andros in charge of a new “Dominion of New England”.

The Reverend John Wise was outraged. A born rabble-rouser, he jumped on his horse and flew from Chebacco Parish to call on brothers Sam and John Appleton. Along with several other town leaders they planned their strategy and in a hurriedly-called meeting the next day convinced residents to stand firm against unjust taxation and the loss of local rule. The town had already voted unanimously on Feb 11, 1685 against the surrender of the charter, and at this meeting refused to appoint a tax collector. Andros sent soldiers to Ipswich, and Rev. Wise, John Andrews, John Appleton, Samuel Appleton, William Goodhue, Robert Kinsman, and Thomas French were arrested and hauled off to Boston.

Sir Edmund Andros is hauled to jail in Boston

At the sham trial our townsmen based their defense on the Magna Carta of England to which one of the judges asserted, “You must not think the laws of England follow us to the ends of the earth. Mr. Wise, you have no more privileges left you, than not to be sold as slaves.” They were imprisoned for several weeks, fined up to £50 each, and eventually released under £500 bond for each individual, quite a sum in that day. Sam Appleton refused to pay bond, scorned even the appearance of submission, made no petition for bail, and he refused to make any apology. He was kept a prisoner from November until March in an unheated dungeon.

News of the Ipswich resistance spread throughout the colony. On April 18, 1689 a group of provincial militia and citizens gathered in Boston and arrested several “Dominion” officials as well as several suspected sympathizers. Major Samuel Appleton helped escort Andros to Castle Island in Boston Harbor as a prisoner. Leaders of the former Massachusetts Bay Colony then reclaimed control of the government, rescinded the tax order, and Andros was shipped back to England, where at about the same time the Prince of Orange put down James II. It was a taste of things to come almost nine decades later in the Revolution of 1776.

ipswich_town_seal

birthplace_independence_burnham
Continue reading: from the Journal of American History, published 1915

2 thoughts on “Ipswich Massachusetts: Birthplace of American Independence

    1. We can’t be certain–we don’t have the artist’s notes. The Rev. John Wise is certainly the dressed in black. Sam and John Appleton are the other two primary proponents. Sam Appleton was “elderly” compared to the others, so the artist probably portrayed him as the balding man in the orange jacket standing next to Wise, looking out at us. The person seated on the stool behind him would probably be John Appleton or John Andrews, the town clerk.

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