I am staying in my family’s house in York Harbor for the month of June, mostly writing with occasional breaks for gardening and sightseeing. But you know me: I can never really get away from Salem! On this past Saturday, a single word was uttered which provided me with a connecting link between my hometown and my principal place of residence: rescinders. This is not a word you come across often, but within a couple of days I did, quite by happenstance. I love it when that happens, so here’s the context and the connection, starting with yet another preservation challenge back in Massachusetts concerning a structure associated with Revolutionary War Brigadier General John Glover. Glover is associated with two standing structures, a landmark house not far from Marblehead Harbor and a “retirement” home located on the Marblehead/Swampscott/Salem line which had a long and varied history following his death in 1797. “Glover Farm” was most recently the “General Glover House,” a restaurant owned and operated by Anthony Athanas of Pier 4 fame, but the entire property, including the 1762 house in which John Glover lived and died, has been left to deteriorate following its closure in the 1990s. While various officials of the town of Swampscott have proclaimed the property “blighted,” the Swampscott Historical Commission (which seems to be 10x more proactive than its counterpart in Salem) voted to issue a demolition delay and is seeking ways and means to save it in collaboration with the Swampscott Historical Society and local preservationists and any- and everyone who is interested in material heritage.
Glover Farm as the General Glover Inn, part of Sunbeam Farm, 1920s-1930s, Swampscott Public Library. Anthony Athanas opened the General Glover House in 1957 and here are menu covers and ads from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s from guidebooks of those eras. It looks like the perfect “ye olde” restaurant: I wish I had went!
General Glover was a true American hero, outfitting his own ships as privateers, ferrying General Washington across the Delaware on that fateful Christmas night in 1776 and serving at Saratoga, Newport, and the Hudson River highlands successively between bouts of ill health on his part and returns to Marblehead to attend to his ailing wife. He sought retirement at the close of the Revolution, and General Washington notified him of Congress’s approval in a letter dated July 30, 1782, closing with wishes for a restoration of health, attended with every happiness in your future walks of life. Apparently Glover found that happiness at the rural farm some distance from Marblehead’s busy docks, in a house that its still standing despite decades of active development all around it. I started digging into this particular Glover House when my friend and former colleague, Nancy Lusignan Schultz, brought it to my attention: as chair of the Swampscott Historical Commission, she is right at the center of the preservation efforts (which you can learn much more about in this podcast). But as soon as I realized who built the house, I was caught, or caught up: it was William Browne, Salem’s richest and most notorious Loyalist, whose considerable properties were confiscated after he fled to Britain in 1776, eventually ending up as the colonial Governor of Bermuda. Browne deserves much more scrutiny than I can give him here, but he was a powerful man in Salem and Massachusetts, whose fall from grace came when he became one of the 17 “Rescinders” who were described by John Adams as Wretches, without Sense or Sentiment after they voted to rescind the Massachusetts Circular Letter which had been drafted by the provincial Assembly in response to the Townshend Acts in 1768. The Letter called for resistance, and was sent to all of the other colonies, prompting the protest of Governor Francis Barnard on behalf of London. Bernard ordered the Assembly to rescind the letter, and the Assembly put the matter before a vote: 92 nays and 17 yeas, with Salem’s representatives Browne and Frye loudly voting YEA. This lead to one of the most important moments in Salem’s political history, a town meeting assembled to vote for replacements for Browne and Frye which exposed the deep divisions of the day, and about 30 Salem Loyalists. Browne and Frye and their 15 fellow wretches were “memorialized” by the ever-ready Paul Revere in his adaptation of a British broadside entitled The Scots Scourge issued under the title A Warm Place—[in]Hell and Boston merchant John Rowe noted the names in his diary, “for my own satisfaction.”
A Warm Place—Hell by Paul Revere, American Antiquarian Society.
How I love Rowe’s sentiment: I record the 17 yeas, that were so mean-spirited to vote away their Blessings as Englishmen, namely their Rights, Liberties and Properties and how lovely that one of Browne’s properties should go to such a self-sacrificing patriot as General John Glover. But this is not the end of my rescinder rap. I was so focused on Frye and Browne and Salem that I did not take note of all the names on Rowe’s list immediately. I drove up to York on Friday and went to an open house at our local Historic New England property on Saturday: the Jonathan Sayward House, where I interned in college. As soon as I stepped in the parlor, I remembered: he was a rescinder too, and there he is on Rowe’s list, just above Browne (Maine was of course part of Massachusetts until 1820). Sayward did not suffer as much loss as Browne, who I believe was a much bigger fish: no exile (just confinement to this very home), no confiscation, and reconciliation after it was all over. George Washington and King George III share wall space in the Sayward House today.
Portrait of Jonathan Sayward, Rescinder, in his family home, anonymous artist, and the right parlor, above. Below, our hero, Brigadier General John Glover: a study by John Trumbull drawn while Glover was living at his farm, 1794. Yale University Art Gallery.