SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: Using contemporary records from the Governor of Massachusetts at the beginning of the American War of Independence, DAVID MORGAN has pieced together what might have passed during a visit to old friends in Croydon
There was an emotional early morning meeting at the vicarage in Croydon early in August 1774.
Reverend East Apthorp, the American-born Vicar of Croydon, and his wife Elizabeth were being visited by Thomas Hutchinson and his daughter Margaret.
It was the first time the four had met in England since Hutchinson and his family left their home in the colonies, where they were one of the foremost families in Massachusetts.
Or, at least, they had been one of the foremost families there.
The family friendship between the Apthorps and the Hutchinsons was a long and enduring one and all four would have been eagerly anticipating the reunion.
The Boston Tea Party in December 1773, one of the most significant events in American history, had such a damaging impact on Hutchinson’s standing as the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts that within six months, he was forced to leave the country.
Thanks to the Governor’s diary and family letters, today, 250 years later, we can try to imagine how their meeting might have gone.
“Welcome to Croydon, Thomas. And to you too, Peggy,” the vicar said, using Margaret’s more familiar name, as might have been the case between good, close friends.
“Come and sit down and tell us the news. How was your voyage? How are you settling in over here? We have so much to catch up on.”
Hutchinson began slowly. “I still find it difficult to come to terms that we are here in England, and not in Boston.
“But we are where we are and we must be optimistic about the future. Uprooting yourself from one continent to another, when I’m 63 years old, is not the easiest thing to manage.
“I know you did it successfully when you were much younger than me, East, so I know it can be done. We have been through so much in the last year and to cap it all, the voyage we have just experienced was another nightmare. I thank God we are here, safely.
“I can barely speak of it. Peggy, could you please tell our hosts the miseries of our travels?”
“Of course, Papa.
“We only just managed to make it out of the harbour in time before the new regulations came in, restricting the movement of all shipping except for those involved in that horrid war. Thankfully we were able to get berths for Papa, myself and my brother Elisha on the Minerva. We also brought three of our servants.
“Right from the beginning we were so seasick, especially Papa and myself. We both had to spend much time in our cabins. Elisha wasn’t so badly affected by the swell of the waves, thank goodness. It might have been the first week of June, but the weather was so cold, we were forced to wear our winter clothing.
“The temperatures were as cold as we have had them at home in January.
“The captain, Mr Calahan, called us on deck one morning in that first week, to see a huge island of ice, about three times the size of our vessel, pass by. It was rather too close for his liking, he told us. But the worst was yet to come. One of our servants, poor Mark, took ill with cold about the 10th. They did everything they could but he died and we had to bury him at sea.”
Elizabeth was clearly upset by this news. “Oh, how awful for you both,” she said.
Peggy thanked her. “I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Mr Calahan, the captain, too,” she continued, “having to read the burial service. Elisha kept up our spirits, though, by saying how lucky we were to be travelling across the ocean in such a fine ship and being so well looked after. There was a cow on board to provide fresh milk.
“In fact, there were so many other animals it was more like being a passenger on Noah’s Ark!
“We should have landed at Portsmouth on the 28th, but didn’t reach the Isle of Wight until midnight. The captain made the decision to sail on to Dover where we finally landed between the next afternoon, but even then we had an anxious time. The wind suddenly rose, and with the waves getting higher by the minute we were grateful to be able to tie up safely at the quay.
“Before we left Dover, Papa discovered that the 29th Regiment and a part of the 14th were garrisoned in the castle. As these two regiments had been quartered in Boston, he knew several of the officers who were most pleased to see him and talk about the current troubles.”
Elizabeth was keen to find out about their accommodation in London.
“We have been most fortunate that an apartment had been procured for us to rent in Parliament Street,” Thomas said.
“It is just a couple of miles from the Stock Exchange and it is a good walk there when we need to go. There is a handsome drawing room, a dining room, four bedrooms and a kitchen, all well furnished, together with rooms for servants. I have purchased a coach and appointed a coachman, a footman and a cook.
“That accommodation is fine for now but I have been making enquiries and we should move into a house in Golden Square before too long.”
Elizabeth then just blurted out the question she had wanted ask from the beginning of their meeting. “Thomas, what was it like to meet the King?”
On only his second day in England, Hutchinson was granted an audience with King George. The London Chronicle of July 2 reported it thus: “Yesterday, Thomas Hutchinson, late Governor of Massachusetts Bay, attended the Levee at St James’, was graciously received and had the honour of a conference with His Majesty.”
Having seen the newspaper report, Elizabeth was looking forward to hearing their friend’s personal account.
Hutchinson’s reply wasn’t what she had expected.
“It was a most extraordinary encounter. For my part I was humbled by how much detail his Highness knew of the American situation. He is much more knowledgeable about things than people give him credit for.
“As East will know, I have been warning the government for what, 10 years now, about how ill-received their Stamp Act would be among the colonials. The King told me that he wants to give speedy relief to the situation and he desires to comply with every reasonable request.
“The King signed a warrant for me to receive a salary, which makes me an official servant of the government while I stay in England. Perhaps now that I am here at hand, Lord North might take better attention to my advice. I am sure that with my help, the Prime Minister will stabilise the colonies and eventually defeat the rebels.
“I am very confident of that.”
The Stamp Act in 1765 saw the government in London impose a tax on all legal documents drawn up in the American colonies, a measure that reached directly into the pockets of anyone who had business at either the courts or the customs house, which in a trading city such as Boston, was pretty much everyone. Resentment built up over the years. With colonials denied a vote in elections in Britain or in Massachusetts, the slogan “No taxation without representation” grew in popularity.
In August 1765, the Hutchinsons’ grand family home in Boston had been a target for attack, with rioters hurling stones through its windows and the mob ransacking the place, using axes to break in through the doors and trashing or stealing anything they could get their hands on. After getting his children off to a neighbours’ house for safety, Hutchinson fled in fear for his own life.
“Such ruins were never seen in America,” he wrote in his diary after returning to see his home. The mob had taken about £900 – worth about £170,000 in today’s money – in coin and cash, “and emptied the house of every thing whatsoever except a part of the kitchen furniture not leaving a single book or paper in it and have scattered or destroyed all the manuscripts and other papers I had been collecting for 30 years together besides a great number of publick papers in my custody”.
Now his friend was safely back in England, the Vicar of Croydon, East Apthorp, must have suspected that they would never get to return to the land of his birth. Loyal to the crown himself, Apthorp had also been forced to leave America himself because of his public statements of loyalty to the king.
Apthorp still received the newspapers from Boston and regular correspondence from his own brother Thomas. Things were not going well.
Elizabeth was keen to keep the conversation going on a more personal level, asking Peggy if her father had taken her to see any of the sights in London yet.
Peggy’s eyes lit up. “Just this week we had the most fascinating and exciting day yet, in London. Papa had an invitation to go to meet with Mr Woolridge in the Crescent, right by The Tower. Afterwards we were taken to see the curiosities there.
“We were fortunate to meet an old gentleman, Mr Rainsford, almost 80 years old, who was a Deputy Lieutenant. Papa wanted to see the cell where the Earl of Essex was held before his execution. He was the last person to be executed at the Tower, did you know?
“And then in the evening we went to the Haymarket, to Foote’s Theatre and saw his new comedy play, The Cozeners. Edwin John played the part of Flaw and did make us laugh so, didn’t he Papa?”
Thomas nodded. There hadn’t been much for him and his beloved daughter to laugh about recently.
The rest of their time together in Croydon with their old friends sped by before Thomas and Peggy took their leave and carried on their journey into Sussex.
Just two years later, Thomas Hutchinson’s heart was broken. His beloved Peggy died of consumption on September 21 1777, when aged just 23. She had suffered terribly in the two years after she arrived in London. Thomas had bought the services of many eminent physicians, but to no avail. Among his daughter’s treatments mentioned in his diary were, “three hemlock tablets at night and for her to eat freely of cucumbers”.
His diary for September 25, 1777, reads: “The dear remains of my daughter deposited in a brick grave built in the church at Croydon, near Mr Apthorp’s tomb and that of Miss Katy Hutchinson lately buried there.”
The Croydon Parish Church is what is known today as Croydon Minster.
Katy, the niece of Elizabeth Apthorp, had been buried on January 25 1777. Her mother, who lived to the ripe old age of 84, was buried next to her daughter. The Apthorp tomb was built for two of his children who died in their infancy.
On the September 16, 1779, Thomas called in at Croydon once again, to see the Apthorps and to visit Peggy’s grave. While in the church, Thomas asked Apthorp if there was room in the grave for his own body when the time came. Apthorp told him there was.
It was June 3, 1780, when Thomas Hutchinson died from a stroke.
He was brought to Croydon to be buried next to his beloved daughter Peggy. His son Billy, who had also accompanied him to London, had died on February 20 of that year.
Three members of one of the most powerful and privileged families in the Americas were finally united in peace. In Croydon.
Read more: From Massachusetts to the Minster: Americans in Croydon
Read more: The church fire that consumed a thousand years of history
Read more: On Croydon’s Tudor trail to track down the court of Henry VIII
- David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours for groups or to provide illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups
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