True Freedom

Thomas Pownall was shown into the Great Chamber, where Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson sat enthroned in a floral-pattern walnut chair.

‘Governor Pownall,’ drawled Hutchinson, with little enthusiasm.

He had heard the horses as they drove up to the house, guessing from their number that it must be Pownall. How vain to visit in the gubernatorial phaeton with the greys he was so proud of, rather than just take a one-horse chaise.

And why for heaven’s sake was Pownall wearing that ridiculous waistcoat? Oh yes! Lincoln yellow. Pownall was a Yellerbelly, a Lincoln man.

Thomas Hutchinson was the most notable historian in the American colonies. He fondly pictured in his mind his magisterial History of Massachusetts, ten years in the writing, presently lying as a nearly completed manuscript on his desk in the library.

So he had naturally traced his own lineage back through generations of Hutchinsons until he reached William and Anne Hutchinson, who had made their way from Boston, Lincolnshire, to Boston, Massachusetts 125 years ago.

What piqued Hutchinson was the parvenu Pownall not realising that he, Hutchinson, would understand the reference implied in the yellow waistcoat. You underestimate Thomas Hutchinson at your peril, little man, thought Hutchinson.

Hutchinson respected Pownall as a governor, he admitted to himself grudgingly. One simply could not respect him as a man. He was not serious.

The main importance of Governor Pownall was his younger brother, John. John Pownall was an under-secretary at the American Department in London. He was the most influential authority on the American colonies in the government, deferred to on American matters even by his superiors. Hutchinson made sure that whatever Governor Pownall reported back to John Pownall was exactly what Hutchinson wanted him to know.

There was a pause, a heavy silence between the two of them. Hutchinson noted that the Governor was standing with his tricorn hat facing inwards, not outwards. No gentlemanwould do that. ‘No ton,’ Hutchinson thought to himself. ‘No breeding.’

‘Pray sit down, sir,’ Hutchinson drawled, but with the force of a command.Governor Pownall hastened to sit down, crossing one plump stockinged calf high over the

other thigh. Hutchinson gave a patrician wince of disdain.
It was as if nature itself had illustrated the difference in social standing between the

two men: the aristocratic Hutchinson, tall, gracious of form with fine aquiline features; then the man of the middling sort, Thomas Pownall, like a plump little robin but with a yellow, not a red, breast.

Pownall knew very well what Hutchinson thought of him. He touched his Yellerbelly waistcoat, defiantly. ‘I’m as pleased as a dog wi’ two tails,’ he thought to himself in Lincolnshire dialect. ‘You won’t get me!’

Pownall broached the subject which had brought him here. ‘Mr Hutchinson, Iunderstand you have put a measure before the Assembly, in my name, seeking to reducesmuggling and increase tax revenue.’

‘That is your policy, is it not? Those are your views?’

Pownall fought down a flash of anger. ‘As you know very well, those are my views but the route to seeing those views carried through into policy does not lie in the Assembly, where, as you also know perfectly well, they have absolutely no chance of success.’

‘That remains to be seen.’

‘No, it does not,’ Thomas Pownall ground out through clenched teeth. ‘LieutenantGovernor Hutchinson, your co-operation with the government’s policy of achieving customspayments by gradual persuasion has been noted. Should you depart from that policy, such adeparture will also be noted.’

The patrician Hutchinson eyebrow went up. ‘I see.’

Thomas Pownall saw John’s sardonic face before him. ‘I’ll tell my brother of you,’ heheard John say, in his mocking way. And of course that was exactly what Thomas was saying.

And it worked. Even the tacit invocation of John Pownall’s name was enough.

‘Leave it with me,’ Hutchinson said. ‘The measure will be withdrawn from theAssembly. I shall explain that I misunderstood the Governor’s intentions. Please accept my apologies for the misjudgement, Governor Pownall.’

The two men shook hands. ‘Thank you, Mr Hutchinson. That is good of you.’Pownall meant it. He spoke softly now – this was important. It was vital to Boston’s future.‘The war is as good as won, you know? After Quebec there is no doubt. We will soon driveout the French and the Indian tribes that backed them.’


‘Parliament is going to pursue the colonies, very much including the Americancolonies, for payments in the form of taxation.’

Hutchinson waved a languid, blue silk-sheathed arm, but respectful now, if notactually humble. ‘You know the situation in London far better than I. Is that the prevailingview?’

‘Yes. We must persuade the merchants of Massachusetts to pay more – paysomething, for God’s sake – in revenue. If we can persuade the biggest merchants, Rowe and above all John Hancock, the others will follow. In this way we shall mollify Parliament andblunt the heaviest of its demands regarding taxation, even before they fall on us.’

‘And we persuade Mr Hancock to pay his dues how, exactly?’ ‘I have no idea.’
‘Neither have I.’

With that, Thomas Pownall returned to the Province House to find a letter awaiting him from London. The letter bore the stamp and crest of Lord Hillsborough, whose many responsibilities included the headship of the American Department, though his offices were in the Board of Trade.

The letter was characteristically harsh, even brutal. It informed Thomas Pownall that he had been recalled from his post as Governor of Massachusetts. Thomas Pownall, it seemed, had become too close to the citizens, merchants and institutions of Boston.

Thomas read with growing dread and disbelief that he had ‘gone native’. He even repeated the phrase out loud, white in the face with shock. The phrase was not of itself unusual – although it was unusual in a formal letter, perhaps. It was more often used of East India Company employees who had – in another colonial phrase – been out in the Indian sun too long and forgotten their responsibilities to home.

‘Gone native.’ Thomas said it again, out loud. ‘Gone native’; John accused him of that in letter after letter. It was one of John’s set phrases. John – being John – wanted a harder line taken with Boston than Thomas was prepared to agree to.

John, Thomas’s own younger brother, was behind this terrible blow to his life andwork. Thomas was sure of it.

Excerpt from True Freedom – How America came to fight Britain for its independence © Michael Dean 2019