Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to
the tempestuous sea of liberty. — Thomas Jefferson

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Charter Oak

After King Philip's War was over in New England, Charles II. turned his attention to the colony of Massachusetts Bay, where four things did not suit him. The Navigation Law, which applied to all the colonies, was not kept in Massachusetts; there were many quarrels between that colony and the settlements in Maine; Massachusetts would not have an Episcopal church; and it had coined money. To punish the colony for these things, Charles took away its charter (1679), and said that thereafter New Hampshire should form a separate royal province.

The Massachusetts people were, of course, angry at being deprived of their charter; still, they managed to keep the money they had minted. These coins bore on one side a rudely stamped pine tree. Charles having asked to see one of them, the man who showed it to him carefully explained that the picture represented the Royal Oak, whose branches had concealed the king when Cromwell's soldiers were seeking for him. This clever explanation so amused the merry monarch that he allowed Massachusetts to retain its "pine-tree shillings." We are also told that the mint master was allowed a certain number of these coins as pay. When his daughter married, he made her sit down in one scale, filled the other with "pine-tree shillings" till the scales balanced, and gave her with this dowry to his new son-in-law, telling him he now had a wife who was really worth her weight in silver.

[Illustration] from Story of the Thirteen Colonies by Helene Guerber

When James II. came to the throne, he sent Governor Andros to rule over New England and New York. This man, wishing to make sure all the power would be in his hands, tried to get hold of the charters of the colonies. But when he asked the people of Rhode Island to give up theirs, they gravely answered they did not have any.

Next, he went to Hartford and asked the Connecticut Assembly to surrender their charter. The people, unwilling to give it up, argued about the matter until it grew so dark that candles had to be brought into the room. Seeing that the governor would yet compel them to obey his orders, a patriot, Captain Wadsworth, suddenly flung his cloak over the candles, and taking advantage of the darkness and confusion, seized the charter, which he cleverly hid in a hollow oak. This tree stood in Hartford until 1856, when it blew down; but the spot where the Charter Oak once stood is now marked by a monument.

As there were no matches in those days, it took time to relight the candles; but as soon as that was done, Andros again demanded the charter. No trace of it could now be found. Andros, in a rage, then called for the record books of the colony, and writing Finis ("The End") at the bottom of the page, declared he would rule Connecticut without any charter at all.

He next proceeded to Boston, where he made the people equally angry by insisting upon holding Episcopal services in the Old South Church, by laying extra taxes upon them to pay for the building of a fine new chapel, and by trying to assume all the power. His tyrannical ways finally made the Bostonians so indignant that they put him in prison.

Some of the governor's friends, who were called Tories, because they sided with the king, now tried to rescue him. They cleverly smuggled women's garments into the prison, and Governor Andros, dressed like a lady, would have gotten out of prison safely had not his big feet roused the suspicions of the guard. Shortly after, he was sent to England to be tried, and although he later governed Virginia, he never came back to New England. His master, James II., being as much disliked in England as Andros was in the colonies, had meanwhile been driven out of the country, where his son-in-law and daughter, William and Mary, came to reign in his stead (1688).

The New England people, like most of the English, were delighted with this change of masters. They had cause to be, for Connecticut and Rhode Island were now allowed to keep their old charters, while Massachusetts received a new one, by which the Plymouth colony and Maine were added to it, and by which the right to vote and partly govern themselves was assured to the people.

But we are told that Governor Fletcher, who ruled over Connecticut after Andros, had so little respect for its charter that he once went to Hartford to assume command over the militia there. He, too, was met by Captain Wadsworth, who, having called out his men as requested, bade them beat the drums every time the governor tried to have his orders read.

This scene must have been very funny; for while the governor roared, "Silence!" Wadsworth loudly cried, "Drum! drum, I say!" Finally the captain laid his hand on his sword, saying very firmly: "If I am interrupted again, I will make the sun shine through you in a minute." Frightened by this threat, Governor Fletcher returned in haste to New York, and never made another attempt to tamper with the Connecticut charter.

At about the same time an interesting meeting was held by several Connecticut ministers at New Haven. They had decided they needed a new school, so each man brought a few books, which he laid down on the table, saying they were his contribution to the new institution. This school was held in different places at first, but in I7I8 it took the name of Yale College, because a man of that name gave some books and money for its use.

A few of the old Tories, both in England and America, remained faithful to the banished James, and among them was the governor of New York. When William and Mary were proclaimed rulers, this governor fled, leaving the colony without any head. Leisler, a patriotic citizen, knowing the French and Indians in the north would take advantage of this state of affairs to invade the province, now rallied his friends around him, and with their help began to govern for William and Mary.

But as Albany at first refused to obey Leisler, there was some trouble and bloodshed. Soon a messenger came over from England, to say that the king and queen were going to send over a new governor, named Sloughter. This messenger bade Leisler, in the meantime, give up the power to him; but the patriot refused to do so, and surrendered it only to Sloughter when he finally came.

Because of this refusal, Leisler and eight of his friends were accused of treason, and sentenced to death. But Sloughter, feeling that the trial had been hardly fair, would not sign their death warrants, so they could not be put to death. Leisler's foes, therefore, had to wait until a dinner party took place, when they made the drunken governor sign the papers, and hanged Leisler. A few years later, the whole affair was brought before Parliament, which declared that Leisler had died innocent, and paid his family a certain sum of money because he had been wrongfully accused and killed.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell