1774 Solemn League and Covenant
In the spring and summer of 1774, news had reached Boston that Britain's Parliament had enacted a number of measures in retaliation for the Tea Party of late 1773. Known in the colonies as the "Intolerable Acts", these most notably closed the port of Boston, revoked the colony’s charter, and outlawed town meetings. Outraged, Samuel Adams and his colleagues in the Boston committee of correspondence considered a non-importation pledge known as the "Solemn League and Covenant".* The Covenant called for its signers to halt the purchase of British goods after August 31 and, further, to stop dealing with those who did not sign. The document was fiercely resisted by area merchants. In addition, there was growing sentiment amongst Bostonians toward waiting for a more comprehensive, inter-colony non-importation agreement. Although Adams ultimately managed to find support at the Boston town meeting in late June, it did not come easily. In an effort to swing around the Boston opposition, Adams and the committee of correspondence sent the document into the surrounding countryside via the network formed by each town's committee of correspondence. Apparently, many towns found it difficult to support the action, and those who did usually made modifications to the language on the printed form they received from Boston. In the end, the effort was eclipsed in the fall of '74 by similar actions taken by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Westford and Concord are two of the towns that supported the pledge. A detailed account of Concord's deliberations, the changes that were made to their copy of the document, and an examination of those in the town who did and did not sign it, can be found in Gross. Westford's copy of the document also survives and can be found in the collections of the J.V. Fletcher Library. An excellent analysis of Westford's signers can be found in Prescott.
* The name of the document mimicked that of the
1644 pledge between England's Parliament and Scotland, pledging religious
reform in return for support against Charles I during the English Civil Wars.
Westford's copy of the Covenant
Westford's copy of the 1774 Solemn League and
(Courtesy J.V. Fletcher Library, photo by D. Lacroix)
The original document consists of a printed form that left spaces for filling in the name of the town and the acceptance date. At 16" x 20", ample space was left for signatures. The document was signed by 207 men from all ages and social standing. It is also interesting to point out, as the Prescott's note in their work, that all were at least literate enough to sign their own names, that is to say, none simply made their mark - typically an "x" - as is often seen in documents signed by those who were illiterate.
In the following transcription of the document, note that
items which were written into the form are indicated in red italics, and items struck
from the original form by the town are
WE the Subscribers, inhabitants of the town of Westford having taken into our serious consideration the precarious state of the liberties on North-America, and more especially the present distressed condition of this insulted province, embarrassed as it is by several acts of the British parliament, tending to the entire subversion of our natural and charter rights; among which is the act for blocking up the harbour of Boston: and being fully sensible of our indispensable duty to lay hold on every means in our power to preserve and recover the much injured constitution of our country; and conscious at the same time of no alternative between the horrors of slavery; or the carnage and desolation of a civil war, but a suspension of all commercial intercourse with the island of Great Britain: Do,
in the presence of God, solemnly and in good faith, covenant and engage with each other, 1st, That from henceforth we will suspend all commercial intercourse with the said island of Great Britain, until the said act for blocking up the said harbour be repealed, and a fullrestoration of our charter rights be obtained. And,
2dly, That there may be the less temptation to others to continue in the said, now dangerous commerce, we do in like manner solemnly covenant that we will not buy, purchase or consume, or suffer any person, by, for or under us to purchase or consume, in any manner whatever, any goods, wares or merchandize which shall arrive in America from Great Britain aforesaid, from and after the last day of August next ensuing. And in order as much as in us lies to prevent our being interrupted and defeated in this only peaceable measure, entered into for the recovery and preservation of our rights, we agree to break off all trade, commerce and dealings whatever with all persons, who perfering their own private interest to the salvation of their now perishing country, shall still continue to import goods from Great Britain, or shall purchase of those who do import.
3dly, That such persons may not have it in their power to impose upon us by any pretence whatever, we further agree to purchase no article of merchandize from them, or any of them, who shall not have signed this, or a similar covenant, or will not produce an oath, certified by a magistrate to be by them taken to the following purpose: viz. I of in the county of do solemnly swear that the goods I have now on hand, and propose for sale, have not, to the best of my knowledge, been imported from Great Britain, into any port of America since the last day of August, one thousand seven hundred and seventy four, and that I will not, contrary to the spirit of an agreement entering into through this province import or purchase of any person so importing any goods as aforesaid, until the port or harbour of Boston, shall be opened, and we are
fullyrestored to the free use of our constitutional and charter rights. And,
Lastly, we agree, that after this, or a similar covenant has been offered to any person and they refuse sign it, or produce the oath, abovesaid, we will consider them as contumacious importers, and withdraw all commercial connexions with them, so far as not to purchase of them, any article whatever, imported from Great Britain and publish their names to the world.
Witness our hands, Ju
nely, 4th 1774
The town records confirm the overall support given to the Covenant. Indeed, it is interesting to note that support was given to the idea of returning the names of those who did not sign the document. As can be seen below, the votes included support for a broad spectrum of issues related to the increasing tension with Britain, from providing monetary support to congressional delegations to (possibly coincidentally) the resupply of military stores.
July 4, 1774.Hodgman points out the following entry in the town records as an indication that the "suitable person" who was chosen to preside over the July 14th fasting day was most likely the Rev. William Emerson of nearby Concord. He and Joseph Thaxter would later correspond regarding the troubles with Westford's loyalist minister, the Rev. Willard Hall.
Voted unanimously to take under our consideration the Papers sent from Boston to our town in consequence of sd Boston Harbour being Blocked up. Voted unanimously that the covenant lastly sent to Westford (with some small alteration thereon) should be signed by our town.
Voted that the Covenant signed by the inhabitants of Westford Relating to Boston affairs be kept or Left in the town Clerk's hands During the town's Pleasure, and also to Return the names of those who do not sine this paper.
The following votes were passed by the town altho no article was in the warrent to suport the same, but the town desired that the minitue of the same should be kept of them. Voted unanimously that the proportion of money due from our town to support the committee of congress be taken out of our town treasury and paid.
Voted unanimously to hold thursday the fourteenth day of July current as a day of fasting in this town, and furthermore If Mr. Hall Decline the same, then to imploy some suitable person to cary on the Solemnities of sd Day.
Voted also that the Selectmen provide a new stock of powder and ball and flints for this town's use.
January 23, 1775.Excerpts from the town records found in Hodgman.
Pay to Mr. Jonathan Keep the sum of £1-15-6-3 for what he paid Mr. Emerson for preaching our fast last summer.
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