Berkshire Tories

: 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.