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"I Have No Remorse of Conscience for My Past Conduct" - Haverhill Loyalist Richard Saltonstall

February 5, 2018

Nothing helps the Nerds forget the agonizing defeat of the New England Patriots like a little historical research. And to help us block last night’s game we're going to travel to Haverhill, Massachusetts. 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Richard Saltonstall. 

Richard Saltonstall Jr. was born on April 5, 1732 in Haverhill, Massachusetts and was the eldest son of the Honorable Richard Saltonstall, a prominent and very influential Superior Court Justice. In 1754 he graduated from Harvard University with a Master of Arts (“Magister Artii”) degree.  At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Saltonstall secured himself a colonel’s commission and commanded a battalion of Massachusetts soldiers. Following two years of military service he was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1761 he was sent to the Massachusetts House of Representatives by his fellow Haverhill residents and in 1763 he was appointed Sheriff of Essex County, a position he held until the eve of the American Revolution. 

 

Saltonstall even commanded a regiment of Essex County militia. On March 4, 1762, Governor Francis Bernard signed a commission declaring him “to be Colonel of a Regiment of Foot . . . to be employed in his Majesty's Service under the Commander in Chief of his Majesty's forces in North America.”

 

When the Stamp Act Crisis erupted in 1765, Saltonstall openly expressed his support for the Crown’s fiscal policy. In response, a mob from Haverhill and neighboring Salem, New Hampshire gathered together, armed themselves with clubs and descended upon his mansion. Saltonstall quickly came to the door and met the crowd. According to one 19th Century account, he asserted that as Sheriff of Essex County he was bound by an oath of allegiance to the king and was obligated to carry out the duties of the office, including supporting the Stamp Act. Saltonstall allegedly warned the crowd that they were not pursuing a wise or prudent course by threatening him with violence. To diffuse the tense situation, Saltonstall then invited the mob to a nearby “tavern and call for entertainment at his expense. They then huzzard to the praise of Colonel Saltonstall."

The appearance of an angry mob outside his home did little to sway Saltonstall's political views. On August 29, 1765, Governor Bernard ordered him to raise a company of militiamen from Essex County for the purpose of protecting government stamps when they arrived from England and stored in Castle William. “Whereas in pursuance of the advice of his Majesty’s Council I have authorised you by my Warrants to raise & inlist a number of Men not exceeding sixty to be formed into an independent company, to serve in his Majesty’s Castle William, in addition to the Garrison there; The following are your instructions for the execution of such Warrants . . . As Soon as you shall have inlisted a considerable Number of Men, You shall return them to Castle William under the command of one of you by the best rout or conveyance which you shall be able to contrive; & the rest shall follow as soon as may be.”  Saltonstall accepted the role although it is unclear if he successfully raised a company.

 

Despite being branded a “Tory” and openly criticizing the illegal actions of his neighbors, Saltonstall remained free from harassment until 1774. In October of that year, the various militia units under his command removed him as regimental commander and replaced him with Andover’s Samuel Johnson. Shortly thereafter, a second mob appeared at his house. Led by Timothy Eaton, a member of Haverhill’s Committee of Correspondence, the mob notified Saltonstall that “his bold and unpatriotic words [had] . . . become obnoxious to the public opinion of the town.” Unlike before, Saltonstall was unable to calm the crowd and was met with threats of violence. The mob only backed off when Saltonstall promised “to give them no more cause for offense” and signed a loyalty oath. 

Not surprisingly, the Haverhill Loyalist immediately fled for the safety of Boston. 

 

During the Siege of Boston he was appointed a Captain in the Loyal American Association, a Loyalist militia company that was raised to “prevent all disorders within the district by either Signals, Fires, Thieves, Robers, house breakers or Rioters”. 

 

Saltonstall remained with the Loyal Americans until the British evacuated Boston in March, 1776. Afterwards, he sailed for England and lived in London. 

In 1778, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed the Banishment Act, which prevented Richard Saltonstall and hundreds of other American Loyalists from returning back to Massachusetts.  Afterwards, his own brother, Nathaniel Saltonstall, seized his Haverhill home and moved into it. Nathaniel had sided with the American rebels during the war.  In a letter to a friend, Saltonstall expressed great sadness at being exiled from the “delightful place of his nativity.”

In his Loyalist Claims application Saltonstall remained true to his principles. "I have no remorse of conscience for my past conduct. I have had more satisfaction in a private life here than I should have had in being next in command to General Washington, where I must have acted in conformity to the dictates of others, regardless of my own feelings."

Richard Saltonstall died on October 5, 1785. He was unmarried and had no children. 

 

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