Last week I came across two interesting letters by Margaret Hutchinson, the daughter of Thomas Hutchinson, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and later governor of the state during the events in Boston that led to the Revolutionary War: the Stamp Act riots, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party. I reached for my copy of historian Bernard Bailyn’s prize-winning book The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson to refresh my memory about one of the most vilified individuals of the Revolutionary War. Boston born, Hutchinson was an upright man who believed his actions in the crises were, though unpopular, legal and responsible. He loved Massachusetts, had collected materials on its founding and history, and eventually wrote a book about the colony.
In 1771, Lord Fitzwilliam, a young naval officer and son of a nobleman, applied to Hutchinson for his daughter Margaret’s hand. Known as “Peggy,” she was the youngest of his five children and his favorite; his wife had died at her birth. Hutchinson refused the suitor on the grounds that the families were not on the same social level, advising Fitzwilliam not to marry “down.” He wrote: “In my station . . . I should think it my duty to do all in my power to discourage one of [Lord Fitzwilliam’s] sons from so unequal a match with any person in the Province, and I should most certainly be highly criminal if I should countenance and encourage a match with my own daughter.” Some fathers would have jumped at the chance for their daughter to “marry up.”
As the situation in Massachusetts deteriorated, Hutchinson was replaced by military Governor General Thomas Gage. In 1774, Hutchinson booked passage for England taking Peggy and his son Elisha with him. He was never to return. In a letter to Elisha’s wife, Polly, in Massachusetts, Peggy described their sea voyage and her feelings on arriving in London.
You wish for an account of what has passed since we saw each other, it seems a little age since the chariot drove from the door and conveyed me from so many dear friends, to suffer more than I should have thought possible for me to have borne. I had not left you many hours before I was the most miserable creature on earth: it is impossible for me to describe or give you any idea of what I endured the first fortnight; the second was bad enough, and I am not yet what I used to be. Your beloved [Polly's husband] has I suppose given you an account of our passage. . . . London my dear is a world in itself; you ask me how I like it? very well for a little while: it will do to see once in one’s life, and to talk of ever after; but I would not wish to fix my abode here. In the country methinks, had I my friends with me, I could not but be happy: for seventy miles round it is a perfect garden, and exceeds all that the most romantic fancy could paint. I cannot say much in favour of the climate; the weather has been as cold as our November, and excessively damp, except two or three days, and I have not been free from a cold since I came.