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Berkshire Tories


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The tories of Berkshire, Massachusetts, were men who had been endeared to
the king by holding office under warrant from that sacred personage. They
have been gently dealt with by historians, but that is overstrained
magnanimity which concentrates its charities and praises for defeated
champions of the wrong, and reserves its censures for triumphant
defenders of the right. While the following incidents have been so well
avouched that they deserve to stand as history, their picturesqueness
justifies renewed acquaintance.

Among the loyalists was Gideon Smith, of Stockbridge, who had helped
British prisoners to escape, and had otherwise made himself so obnoxious
that he was forced for a time to withdraw and pass a season of penitence
and meditation in a cavern near Lenox, that is called the Tories' Glen.
Here he lay for weeks, none but his wife knowing where he was, but at his
request she walked out every day with her children, leading them past his
cave, where he fed on their faces with hungry eyes. They prattled on,
never dreaming that their father was but a few feet from them. Smith
survived the war and lived to be on good terms with his old foes.

In Lenox lived a Tory, one of those respectable buffers to whom wealth
and family had given immunity in the early years of the war, but who
sorely tried the temper of his neighbors by damning everything American
from Washington downward. At last they could endure his abuse no longer;
his example had affected other Anglomaniacs, and a committee waited on
him to tell him that he could either swear allegiance to the colonies or
be hanged. He said he would be hanged if he would swear, or words to that
effect, and hanged he was, on a ready-made gallows in the street. He was
let down shortly, brought around with rum, and the oath was offered
again. He refused it. This had not been looked for. It had been taken for
granted that he would abjure his fealty to the king at the first
tightening of the cord. A conference was held, and it was declared that
retreat would be undignified and unsafe, so the Tory was swung up again,
this time with a yank that seemed to mean business. He hung for some
time, and when lowered gave no sign of life. There was some show of alarm
at this, for nobody wanted to kill the old fellow, and every effort was
made to restore consciousness. At last the lungs heaved, the purple faded
from his cheek, his eyes opened, and he gasped, I'll swear. With a
shout of joy the company hurried him to the tavern, seated him before the
fire, and put a glass of punch in his hand. He drank the punch to
Washington's health, and after a time was heard to remark to himself,
It's a hard way to make Whigs, but it'll do it.

Nathan Jackson, of Tyringham, was another Yankee who had seen fit to take
arms against his countrymen, and when captured he was charged with
treason and remanded for trial. The jail, in Great Barrington, was so
little used in those days of sturdy virtue that it had become a mere
shed, fit to hold nobody, and Jackson, after being locked into it, might
have walked out whenever he felt disposed; but escape, he thought, would
have been a confession of the wrongness of Tory principles, or of a fear
to stand trial. He found life so monotonous, however, that he asked the
sheriff to let him go out to work during the day, promising to sleep in
his cell, and such was his reputation for honesty that his request was
granted without a demur, the prisoner returning every night to be locked
up. When the time approached for the court to meet in Springfield heavy
harvesting had begun, and, as there was no other case from Berkshire
County to present, the sheriff grumbled at the bother of taking his
prisoner across fifty miles of rough country, but Jackson said that he
would make it all right by going alone. The sheriff was glad to be
released from this duty, so off went the Tory to give himself up and be
tried for his life. On the way he was overtaken by Mr. Edwards, of the
Executive Council, then about to meet in Boston, and without telling his
own name or office, he learned the extraordinary errand of this lonely
pedestrian. Jackson was tried, admitted the charges against him, and was
sentenced to death. While he awaited execution of the law upon him, the
council in Boston received petitions for clemency, and Mr. Edwards asked
if there was none in favor of Nathan Jackson. There was none. Mr. Edwards
related the circumstance of his meeting with the condemned man, and a
murmur of surprise and admiration went around the room. A despatch was
sent to Springfield. When it reached there the prison door was flung open
and Jackson walked forth free.

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