George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Thompson, 17 January 1776

From William Thompson

Brookline [Mass.]
January 17: 1776

May it please Your Excellency

Having been unlawfully and forcibly dispossessed of my dwelling House on the 14th of December last after Sunsett, by an insolent and arrogant Mandate of John Parke Asst Qr Mr G[enera]l, executed by Capt. Hophni King and the Officers and Soldiers of his Company,1 all belonging to the Army under Your Excellency’s Command, of which Your Excellency has had full Information; and as since that Time I could not with propriety consider the House as mine—I now beg leave to acquaint Your Excellency, that for more than a Fortnight past, I and my Family have quitted it, with the Effects, Furniture, and Provisions that were therein, of great Value, not without Hope of soon obtaining that adequate Redress and Reparation that is my due, and which in Duty to Society as well as myself I am bound steadfastly to pursue. I am Your Excellency’s most humble Servt

Wm Thompson

ALS, MHi: Artemas Ward Papers.

Horatio Gates enclosed this letter in a letter to Artemas Ward of 20 Jan., in which he informed Ward that GW “desires you will acquaint Mr Thompson, that he may be placed in possession of His House, & Effects, as no Person can be expected to take charge of them, if he does not; Mr Thompson had as fair a hearing upon the Dispute between Him, & Mr Parke, as it was in The Generals Power to give—what more can Mr Thompson expect from The General—His Excellency hoped, as soon as the Body of The Militia went off, that you would Order all the Soldiers, (which necessity had Compelled you to Cover in Private Houses,) to be placed in the Barracks, as they, ought allways to be first Filled; & the private Houses only Quarterd upon, when the Service of the Publick Absolutely requires it: & this, The General has no doubt has been the directions You have constantly given at Roxbury: why Mr Thompson is so uncommonly resentfull I cannot see[.] The Publick Cause required his House to be taken with Others upon the late Urgent Occasion, and why Mr Thompson can’t with Thousands of much Greater Sufferers, patiently put up with the present, & wait Some more Favourable Season for a recompence: perhaps when this Gentlemen is Cool he think more dispassionately of this Affair & quietly resume the care of His House & Effects” (MHi: Ward Papers).

Ward’s aide-de-camp Samuel Osgood wrote to Thompson later on 20 Jan.: “Pursuant to Orders from his Excellency Genl Washington to Genl Ward, I have to inform you, that you may now be placed in the peaceable & quiet Possession of your House & Effects; & hope that whatever Injury you may have sustain’d as an individual in your private Interest; you will conclude, arose not from a Disposition to injure you particularly, but from extreme Necessity” (DLC:GW).

Unwilling to let the matter rest, Thompson replied to Osgood two days later: “Long before the Army was raised to defend the Lives, Liberties, & Properties of the Americans, I had the most unquestionable Right to my dwelling House by lawful purchase, Conveyance & Possession, was guarded in that Right by Laws universally known & understood, & held the rightful & peaceable Possession of it, till the 14th of December last, when, after Sunsett, a Number of armed Ruffians, by Order of John Parke Assistant Qr Mr all belonging to the Army, forcibly, & in open Defiance of right & repeated Cautions, broke open & took Possession of said House, in which I then had a large Sum of Money in Gold & Silver & Paper Currency, besides many valuable Effects, Furniture & Family Provision, for all which I am determined to seek ample Recompence, & it behoves the Perpetrators to make me full Reparation; You inform me that pursuant to Orders from his Excellency Genl Washington to Genl Ward, I may now be placed in the peaceable & quiet Possession of my House & Effects. I ask, how? and by whom? has either of the Generals or the Assistant Qr Mr or any, or all of the Army, lawful Authority to give me a surer Claim to peaceable & quiet Possession of my House than I had before the 14th December? I know it was the indispensable Duty of the Army to protect & defend me in such Possession, but instead of that, a part of them have brutally invaded & unrelentingly dispossessed me of my House & other Property, of which the Generals have had full Information, & the Offenders have not only escaped with Impunity, but been countenanced, in my Opinion, greatly to the Disgrace of the Army and to the Injury of the righteous Cause they were employed to support, and it shall be my Endeavor to convince some of them (of what they might to have known before) that they have no lawful Authority to take & Leave my House at their Pleasure, nor, without a Minutes Warning, to thrust me & my Family out of my House, as Brute Creatures are turned out of a Barn or Enclosure at the Pleasure of their Owners.

“It will be in vain for you to hope ‘that whatever Injury I have sustained as an Individual in my private Interest, I shall conclude, arose not from a Disposition to injure me particularly but from extreme Necessity’ so far was it from being extreme, that it is shamefull to urge it as an Excuse at all—when it is manifest—that the Company were removed to my private House, from a publick House, where they had been quartered before, half a Mile nearer to the Place of Duty & Danger than mine—that they passed by several Houses capable of receiving them before they came to mine—that a Company of fifty Men were ordered explicitly to enter my House by Force when not a single Soldier was then, or has since been quartered in Mr Smith’s House, within 100 paces of mine on one Side nor in Major Ruggles’s House, within 200 paces on the other Side, nor in three other Houses, within a quarter of a Mile on the Cambridge Road. . . . that tho Mr Parke had Orders dated the 7th of December to provide Quarters immediately for 2000 of Militia expected in three Days, yet he made no previous Application to me for my House, nor offered to treat with me for it, but on the 14th of December gave a most arbitrary Order to Capt. King to take Possession of it, & in Case of Resistance to enter it by Force: therefore I cannot conclude, that this Injury & high handed Outrage, arose from Extreme Necessity or any Necessity but what happened from his Neglect—But on the contrary I am certain it proceeded from the Arrogance of Power & Insolence of Office, & which if Satisfaction And Reparation is not seasonably made, will be exposed equally to the Knowledge, Astonishment & Contempt of the impartial World.” Thompson concluded his letter by declaring that instead of reoccupying his house, he intended to move farther away from the army “till I can find a Habitation secure from military Interruption” (DLC:GW).

William Thompson (b. 1732) was named to the Brookline committee of correspondence in November 1773 and was chosen a delegate to the provincial congress in August 1774. Thompson petitioned the General Court on 28 Dec. 1775 asking for reparations for the seizure of his house. His petition was referred to a committee, but apparently no action was ever taken on it (Mass. House of Rep. Journal, Nov. 1775-Feb. 1776 sess. description begins A Journal of the Honourable House of Representatives. At a Great and General Court or Assembly for the Colony of the Massachusetts-Bay in New-England. Boston, 1776. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records.) description ends , 84).

1Hopni (Hophni) King apparently commanded a militia company from Northfield, Massachusetts.

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