Daniel Gunn Jr, Prelude to War
Daniel Gunn Jr b. 2 Aug 1730 Westfield; d. 17 Feb 1764 Sheffield, Massachusetts
Esther King b. 12 Nov 1736 Westfield; d. before 1796 Spencertown, New York
Daniel Gunn III b. 26 Jul 1754 Sheffield, Massachusetts; d. 4 Mar 1834 Brutus, New York
Moses Gunn b. 1756 Sheffield, Massachusetts; 17 Nov 1830 Bloomfield, New York
Hezekiah Gunn b. 15 Jul 1758 Sheffield, Massachusetts
Noble Gunn b. 17 Jul 1760 Sheffield; d. 24 Nov 1830 Lenox, Ohio
Rhoda Gunn b. 19 Sep 1762 Sheffield; d. 14 Jan 1830 Bennington, Vermont
Daniel and Esther Gunn’s farm of 88 acres exemplified a typical division of land usage for that time, with 20 acres in grains and the remaining given over to other uses: wood lots, orchards, hay fields, pastures and kitchen gardens. Daniel probably used a team of oxen or horses to till his land.1 According to the South Berkshire Registry of Deeds, on September 20, 1764, Daniel Gunn transferred this property in Sheffield to his 10-year old son, Daniel Gunn Jr. (Daniel III). He must have been very ill because he died four months later.
Daniel’s will is accompanied by an inventory. In those times there was a well-defined pattern of estate distribution. Land almost always went to sons; household goods were bequeathed to daughters, and lifetime support went to the widow, at least until she remarried.2 Very few utensils were available for cooking, and in some households the most expensive objects were the pots and kettles. We know from the Berkshire County Probate Records that the only items for cooking owned by Esther Gunn in 1763 were an iron skillet and two iron pots.3
Friction with England and the Movement Toward Revolution
By the last half of the 1700s the heavy hand of British rule was becoming intolerable to many Americans. The Proclamation of 1763, signed by King George III, attempted to ease tensions with Native Americans by prohibiting any English settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains and requiring those already settled there to return east. Of course, the New England settlers were unhappy about this because they had become accustomed to moving west as new land was needed and they did not take well to their way being blocked.
The Sugar Act of 1764 was passed by the English Parliament to offset the French and Indian War debt and to help pay for the expense of administering the colonies. This act increased the duties on imported sugar and other items such as textiles, coffee, wines and indigo dye. It doubled the duties on foreign goods reshipped from England to the colonies and also forbid the import of foreign rum and French wine. In the same year the English Parliament also passed a measure to reorganize the American customs system to better enforce British trade laws, requiring Americans to buy goods only from England, a law which until then had often been ignored. A court was established in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that would have jurisdiction over all of the American colonies in trade matters. It also passed the Currency Act, which prohibited the colonists from issuing any legal tender or paper money, thus threatening to destabilize the colonial economy. Britain’s tax and mercantilist trade policies were deeply resented.
New Englanders reacted strongly against these measures. In August, 1764, Boston merchants began a boycott of British luxury goods. Then, in March of 1765 two more objectionable Acts were passed by the English Parliament. The first, the Stamp Act, imposed the first direct tax on the American colonies, presumably to offset the costs of the British military presence in America. For the first time in their 150-year history the Americans would have to pay tax not to their own local legislatures, but directly to England. All printed materials were to be taxed, including newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and playing cards. The second, the Quartering Act, required colonists to house British troops and to supply them with food. The colonists quickly united in opposition.
In July, the Sons of Liberty, an underground organization opposed to the Stamp Act, formed in a number of colonial towns. Its members used violence and intimidation to eventually force all of the British stamp agents to resign and also stop many American merchants from ordering British trade goods. On November 1, most daily business and legal transactions in the colonies ceased as the Stamp Act went into effect with nearly all of the colonists refusing to use the stamps. In New York City, violence broke out as a mob burned the royal governor in effigy, harassed British troops, and then looted houses.
In December, British General Thomas Gage, commander of all English military forces in America, asked the New York assembly to make colonists comply with the Quartering Act and house and supply his troops. They refused to completely comply. The American boycott of English imports spread, and over 200 Boston merchants joined the movement
In March, the Stamp Act was repealed after much debate in the English Parliament, which included an appearance by Ben Franklin arguing for repeal and warning of a possible revolution in the American colonies if the Stamp Act was enforced by the British military. But at the same time the English Parliament ominously passed the Declaratory Act stating that the British government has total power to legislate any laws governing the American colonies in all cases whatsoever. In August, violence broke out in New York between British soldiers and armed colonists, including Sons of Liberty members. The violence erupted as a result of the continuing refusal of New York colonists to comply with the Quartering Act. In December the New York legislature is suspended by the English Crown after once again voting to refuse to comply with the Act.
In June, 1767, the English Parliament passed the Townshend Revenue Acts, imposing a new series of taxes on the colonists to offset the costs of administering and protecting the American colonies. Items taxed include imports such as paper, tea, glass, lead and paints. The Act also established a colonial board of customs commissioners in Boston. In October, Bostonians decide to reinstate a boycott of English luxury items. In February, 1768, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts wrote a circular letter opposing taxation without representation and calling for the colonists to unite in their actions against the British government. The letter was sent to assemblies throughout the colonies and also instructed them on the methods the Massachusetts general court was using to oppose the Townshend Acts. In April, England’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, ordered colonial governors to stop their own assemblies from endorsing Adams’ circular letter. Hillsborough also ordered the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the general court if the Massachusetts assembly did not revoke the letter. This just inflamed the colonists more. By month’s end, the assemblies of New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey had endorsed the letter.
In May, 1768, a British warship armed with 50 cannons sails into Boston harbor after a call for help from custom commissioners who are constantly being harassed by Boston agitators. In June, a customs official was locked up in the cabin of the Liberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock. Imported wine was then unloaded illegally into Boston without payment of duties. Following this incident, customs officials seized Hancock’s sloop. After threats of violence from Bostonians, the customs officials escaped to an island off Boston, then requested the intervention of British troops. In July the governor of Massachusetts dissolved the general court after the legislature defied his order to revoke Adams’ circular letter. In August, Boston and New York merchants agreed to boycott most British goods until the Townshend Acts were repealed. In September, at a town meeting in Boston, residents were urged to arm themselves. Matters were getting serious. Later that month English warships sailed into Boston Harbor and two regiments of English infantry landed and set up permanent residence to keep order.
In 1770 the population of the American colonies reached 2,210,000 persons. In that year violence erupted in January between members of the Sons of Liberty in New York and 40 British soldiers over the posting of broadsheets by the British. Several men were seriously wounded. Then in March as a mob was harassing British soldiers, the soldiers fired their muskets pointblank into the crowd, killing three instantly, mortally wounding two others and injuring six. After the incident, British troops were withdrawn from Boston to nearby harbor islands. The captain of the British soldiers, Thomas Preston, was arrested along with eight of his men and charged with murder.
In April, in an attempt to appease the colonists, the Townshend Acts were repealed by the British. All duties on imports into the colonies were eliminated except for tea. Also, the Quartering Act was not renewed. In October, trial began for the British soldiers arrested after what had become known as the Boston Massacre. Colonial lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy successfully defended Captain Preston and six of his men, who are acquitted. Two other soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter, branded, then released.
In June, 1772, a British customs schooner, the Gaspee, ran aground off Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay. Colonists from Providence rowed out to the schooner and attacked it, set the British crew ashore, then burned the ship. In September, a 500 pound reward was offered by the English Crown for the capture of these colonists, who were then to be sent to England for trial. The announcement that they would be sent to England further upset many American colonists.
The Tea Act took effect on May 10, 1773. It put a three penny per pound import tax on tea arriving in the colonies. It also gave the British East India Company a virtual tea monopoly by allowing it to sell directly to colonial agents, bypassing any middlemen, thus underselling American merchants. In September, Parliament authorized the company to ship half a million pounds of tea to a group of chosen tea agents. A few weeks later, three ships bearing tea sailed into Boston harbor. At the end of November, two mass meetings occurred in Boston over what to do about the tea aboard the three ships. They decided to send the tea back to England without paying any import duties. The Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson, was opposed to this and ordered harbor officials not to let the ships sail out of the harbor unless the tea taxes had been paid. On December 16 colonials disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded the ships and dumped all 342 containers of tea into the harbor in what became known as the Boston Tea Party.
In March, 1774, an angry English Parliament passed the first of a series of Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts by Americans) in response to the rebellion in Massachusetts. This shut down all commercial shipping in Boston harbor until Massachusetts paid the taxes owed on the tea dumped into the harbor and also reimbursed the East India Company for the loss of the tea. Bostonians then again called for a boycott of British imports. May 13, General Thomas Gage, commander of all British military forces in the colonies, arrived in Boston and replaced Hutchinson as Royal governor, and put Massachusetts under military rule. He is followed by the arrival of four regiments of British troops.
That same month the English Parliament enacted the next series of Coercive Acts, which included the Massachusetts Regulating Act 4 and the Government Act virtually ending any self-rule by the Massachusetts colonists. It also passed the Administration of Justice Act, which protected royal officials in Massachusetts from being sued in colonial courts, and the Quebec Act establishing a centralized government in Canada controlled by the Crown and English Parliament. The Quebec Act greatly upset American colonists by extending the southern boundary of Canada into territories claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia.
In June, a new version of the 1765 Quartering Act was passed by the English Parliament requiring all of the American colonies to provide housing for British troops. Then, in September, Massachusetts Governor Gage seized that colony’s arsenal of weapons at Charlestown. That summer the town of Westfield voted in favor of establishing a continental congress and by September it had organized two companies of soldiers in preparation for a conflict with England. It was only a matter of time until major hostilities broke out.
In late summer 1774 at the time the Inferior Court of Common Pleas was about to meet in Great Barrington, a large body of men, including 400 or 500 from as far away as Litchfield County assembled in Great Barrington, occupied the courthouse, and prevented the Court from holding its session. When the sheriff attempt to make passage for the judges, the men said they did not recognize the authority of the judges and insisted they all leave the town—which they did. David Ingersoll, a magistrate and prominent Tory, was taken into custody and imprisoned in Litchfield. In addition, two regiments of minutemen were raised by enlistment, one in the central and northern parts of Berkshire County under Colonel John Patterson of Lenox, the other in the southern part under Colonel John Fellows. They expected, and were preparing for, hostilities.5
In September and October, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia with 56 delegates, representing every colony, except Georgia. Attendees include Patrick Henry, George Washington, Sam Adams and John Hancock. On September 17, the Congress declared its opposition to the Coercive Acts, saying they are “not to be obeyed,” and also promoted the formation of local militia units. On October 14, a declaration was adopted that opposed the Coercive Acts, the Quebec Act, and other measures taken by the British that undermined self-rule. The rights of the colonists were asserted, including the rights to “life, liberty and property.” On October 20, the Congress adopted the Continental Association in which delegates agreed to a boycott of English imports, effected an embargo of exports to Britain, and discontinued the slave trade.
On February 1, 1775, a provincial congress was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during which the colonists began defensive preparations for a state of war. On February 9, the English Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. On March 23, in Virginia, Patrick Henry delivered his now famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. On March 30, the New England Restraining Act was endorsed by King George III, requiring the New England colonies to trade exclusively with England and banning fishing in the North Atlantic. In April, Massachusetts Governor Gage was ordered to enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress “open rebellion” among the colonists using all necessary force.
A war to free the Colonies from oppressive British rule was about to begin, and Daniel’s family, in particular his sons and his son-in-law, would be deeply involved.
- Miller, James R. “Early Life in Sheffield”, Sheffield Historical Society, 2002, p 15. ↩
- Miller, James R. “Early Life in Sheffield” p 67. ↩
- Berkshire County Probate Records, Daniel Gunn Jr. inventory 772. ↩
- The Massachusetts Bay Regulating Act substituted a governing council appointed by the king for the council elected by the people of Massachusetts. This Act also greatly extended the power of the crown-appointed governor: the governor could make and alter judicial appointments entirely at his own discretion; in addition, Boston town meetings could not be convened without the governor’s prior consent. ↩
- History of Great Barrington, 231-32. ↩