Introduction to Empire

The first known exchange of goods for the wine of Spain and the eastern Atlantic islands was undertaken not by the Puritans but by one of their predecessors in the New World, that stubbornly independent Anglican of Noddles Island in Massachusetts Bay, Samuel Maverick. In 1641, when the Puritan fishing merchants were first being contacted by the Londoners, he was engaged in a triangular trade by which he paid for purchases in Bristol by sending whale oil to Anthony Swymmer, his agent in that west-country port, and clapboards to one William Lewis in Málaga on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, who remitted to Swymmer credits for Maverick's account in the form of Spanish money and fruit.
'Legacy of the First Generation'
When it became evident that the New England leaders were suspect in Whitehall, a number of disaffected New Englanders who had long nursed grievances against the Puritan regime trooped to the council tables seeking revenge. Among them were merchants hoping to find in England levers of influence by which to arrange circumstances in New England to fit their desires. They were the first to take advantage of the fact that political affiliation with people in official London society, especially with those in circles close to the king, could be the key to commercial success in New England.

Foremost was Samuel Maverick, the ancient settler of Boston, still smarting from the indignities conferred on him by the Puritans. Between 1660 and 1663, appearing before the Council for Foreign Plantations, conferring with the Lord Privy Seal, and writing to Clarendon frequently and at length, he managed to keep up a steady drumbeat of charges against the New England Puritans. The Massachusetts magistrates, he argued, fancied themselves independent of England, kept most of the population in subjection to their will by limiting the franchise to church members ("noe Church member noe freeman, Noe freeman no ovate"), deprived them of liberties due all Englishmen, and had no regard whatever for the interests of the home country. They were, surely, tyrants and traitors. Yet it would take little effort to set things right. At least "3 quarter parts of the inhabitants in the whole Country are loyal subjects to his Majeste in their harts," and, at the first sign of royal authority, would throw off the Puritan yoke and bring New England with its wealth in land and trade as well as its military power safely into the hands of the king. And in case the rulers were stubborn and refused to hand over the reins of government, "debarring them from trade a few months, will force them to it."

Maverick's purpose was not merely to revenge himself on his enemies but to advance England's fortunes and with them his own by influencing policies then being worked out to reduce the power of the Dutch at sea and in the colonies. He urged the appointment of a royal commission to investigate the situation in the northern American colonies, to put an end to the evils being committed daily in New England, and to arrange for the conquest of New Amsterdam. Hoping to have a share "(as a servant) in that work," he mustered what support he could to have himself appointed a member of the commission.

While responding to immediate pressures with ad hoc decisions, the Plantation Board and Privy Council also considered more permanent policies. As petitions, claims, and accusations continued to flow in, it became clear that an extensive investigation would have to be made, and the king in council instructed a royal commission to visit New England. Its purpose was to draw the colonies closely under English rule by insisting that the obligations and the liberties, secular and religious, of Englishmen be maintained. The commission was told not to sit in judgement on any matter within the jurisdiction of the colonies "except those proceedings be expressly contrary to the rules prescribed by the Charter, or ... arise from some expressions or clauses contained in some grant under our Great Seale of England." This was a wise consideration, especially as a guard against the excessive zeal of one of the four commissioners — Samuel Maverick, "Esquire."

In its efforts to come to terms with the Massachusetts authorities the commissioners met with a type of obstinacy for which not even the warnings of Thomas Breedon could have prepared them. Excited rumors of Maverick's presence on the commission had brought Puritan hostility to a pitch. By the spring of 1665, when the commissioners presented their credentials to the General Court, they had become devil figures, incarnations of evil to the inflamed Puritans. The General Court declared their commission invalid on the ground that the authority it conveyed conflicted with that of the Massachusetts charter, and refused to authorize their activities within its jurisdiction.

Though the commissioners had been instructed to maintain an impartial position among "the great factions and animosityes" in New England, they soon discovered that if they were to proceed at all it would be necessary for them to rally the support of some part of the population. Maverick took special delight in seeking out and organizing the dissident elements in Massachusetts. On the very afternoon of his arrival in America he wrote to Breedon in Boston, on whose sympathy he could surely rely, ordering him to reprimand the General Court for its action in an admiralty matter. He attempted to lay the groundwork for the success of the commission's efforts in Massachusetts by making a three-week tour of the port towns, renewing old friendships, managing, he later boasted, to "undeceive both Majestrates, Ministers and other considerable persons."

Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century

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