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Edward Gove and His One-Man Revolution of 1683

What if you started a revolution and nobody came? New Hampshire’s Edward Gove found out in 1683 – and the answer is you are sent to the Tower of London to await your gruesome execution.

Gove’s story is well-preserved in The Gove Book: History and Genealogy of the American Family of Gove, written by William Henry Gove.

Gove was born in London. His father brought him to America around 1647 when he was 17. He gradually moved north from Charlestown, Massachusetts to Salisbury and finally into Hampton in 1665.

Edward Gove and other New Hampshire colonists had little use for John Mason and his property claims

The assault on Mason and Barefoot

In 1679, King Charles II declared that New Hampshire was no longer a part of Massachusetts. Rather, it would be governed as an independent province. At that point, the English hadn’t settled much of New Hampshire, which consisted of four towns: Portsmouth, Exeter, Hampton and Dover.

A council was elected to govern the new colony and it operated until 1683 with Edward Gove as a member. This brief period of self-governance abruptly ended shortly after a royal governor, Edward Cranfield, arrived late in 1682.

Cranfield had two unenviable tasks. First, he had to impose a tax on the colony. Second, he had to deal with Robert Mason. In 1622, Captain John Mason had been granted title to property north of the Merrimack River in Newburyport. But little had been done with the land by the Mason family.

John Mason had built mills for sawing lumber and milling grain, and he stocked his new colony with cannon and small arms. Upon his death, however, all his work decayed to ruin.

In 1652, a descendant had tried to reestablish ownership of the colony and, though he successfully sued one of the settlers occupying part of the land, he could never extract any payment. He returned to England empty-handed.

With the royal decision to detach New Hampshire from Massachusetts, the time seemed right to Robert Mason to try to enforce his family’s 60-year-old claim to the land once again. With visions of establishing himself a fiefdom, Mason named himself Lord Proprietor of New Hampshire. He then agreed to pay Cranfield a salary of 150 pounds to go to New Hampshire as governor and began demanding that the residents of the colony start paying him rent for their land. He was to send 20 percent of what he collected back to the king.

The elected government of New Hampshire was dissolved and replaced by an appointed king’s governing council. This council first tried to buy off Cranfield by topping Mason’s bribe. It voted him a payment of 250 pounds. Cranfield agreed to the payment, but continued working with Mason.

The governing council was growing increasingly annoyed by Mason as he continued to assert that he owned all of New Hampshire, denying them trees for fuel and threatening to sell their property. The governing council outlawed his proceedings and almost everyone flat-out refused to pay him rents.

Cranfield, too, was getting frustrated at the colonists unwillingness to pay. In Hampton, Gove – who was a large landowner – boiled over.

Gove had a history of being a hothead, appearing in court to answer complaints about his foul language and accusing his neighbor of being a thief. The time had come, Gove asserted, to defend the liberties of the colonists from Mason and Cranfield.

Gove assembled a group of 12 men who, like him, felt the time had come to revolt against Cranfield. The men armed themselves and rode from Exeter to Hampton aboard horses, one man blowing a horn and the others calling for their neighbors to come out and join them in rising up against the tyranny. (Alcohol may have played a role in this endeavor.)

Gove’s neighbors not only didn’t pick up arms to join him. They had him arrested. To those who knew Gove, the episode might have been viewed as Edward Gove popping off as he was accustomed to do.

To Cranfield, the incident was treasonous. Gove and his fellow riders were jailed and then tried. Gove’s neighbors tried to explain to the court that for Edward Gove, this type of behavior wasn’t terribly unusual nor was he all that difficult to control.

“Edward Gove now of Hampton…was some years since in a strange distemper seemingly lunatic,” one neighbor testified according to the Gove genealogy.

Another said:

“There be also many more than testify if need be . . . and some that can swear they were in company and did many times help to bind the said Edward Gove hand and foot (when he was out of his head) for fear he should do hurt to himself or others.”

Cranfield held off sentencing the majority of the revolutionaries, but not Gove. He sentenced Gove to death, and a gruesome death at that:

“You, Edward Gove, shall be drawn on a hedge to the place of execution and there you shall be hanged by the neck, and when yet living be cut down and cast on the ground, and your bowels shall be taken out of your belly, and your privy members cut off and burnt while you are yet alive, your head shall be cut off and your body divided in four parts, and your head and quarters shall be placed where our Sovereign Lord the King pleaseth to appoint. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

With that, Edward Gove was dispatched on a ship, lest he be rescued from prison, to the Tower of London since the colonists did not believe they had authority to actually carry out an execution.

As Gove languished in the tower for more than a year, Cranfield renewed pressing his case for taxes and rents.

The news outraged the New Hampshire citizenry and further hardened them against Cranfield. In one case, an officer of the government attempted to collect a tax due from people exiting a church in Dover. A young girl knocked him to the ground by striking him in the head with her Bible.

“At other places, the women met the collector of taxes at their doors with scalding water, which proved a perfect barrier to their ingress, and the men with clubs defied their approach, the officers being not infrequently roughly handled.”

In England, newly crowned King James II and his government was learning the details of Cranfield’s behavior in New Hampshire. Cranfield, himself, was beginning to doubt whether his plans would ever succeed.

The King pardoned Gove and allowed him to return home, ordering that his lands seized by Cranfield be returned to him. Meanwhile, he recalled Cranfield from his post. When news of Cranfield’s demotion reached New Hampshire a spontaneous committee formed to remove the erstwhile governor. They stripped him of his sword, tied him to a horse and escorted him to the border of Massachusetts and sent him on his way.

Gove was temporarily replaced by Capt. Walter Barefoot, who continued trying to implement Mason and Cranfield’s schemes with even less success than his predecessor.

An officer of the governor gets a thrashing with a Bible for trying to deliver a writ.

An officer of the governor gets a thrashing with a Bible for trying to deliver a writ.

One oft-told story involved Thomas Wiggins and Anthony Nutter visiting Mason at Barefoot’s home where he was staying. The disagreement over Mason’s claim quickly turned violent with Wiggins tossing Mason into the fireplace and kneeling on him on the coals. Barefoot tried to intervene and Wiggins gave him the same treatment, breaking two of his ribs in the process.

Nutter, meanwhile, stood by laughing until Mason reached for his sword. That prompted Nutter to take the sword away and, as neighbors began entering the house drawn by the screams of the maid, the violence ended. The rents, needless to say, went uncollected.

15 comments

  1. Rob Laughlin

    You made that up 😉 What a fantastic story!

  2. Cecily Muller

    I can think of a governor who needs to be thrown in a fireplace, as well as a few political candidates 😉

  3. I just discovered not long ago that Edward Gove is my 9th Great-Grandfather. I was shocked to learn this story, I have many ancestors that I’m proud of for there contribution to New England history but this one takes the prize 🙂

  4. I’ve known this story for some time, as Edward is my ninth-great-grandfather. An interesting aside I’ve found is that he is also Mark Twain’s great-great-grandfather.

  5. Edward Gove is my 8th great grand father. I shared this story just a couple of weeks ago on my family facebook page that i run. Edward is one of my favorite ancestors.

  6. I’ve heard the story of Thos. Wiggin’s singeing of Mason’s periwig for years but I never knew there was an engraving illustrating the feat. Is there a public source of this or a higher-resolution copy I could access? That’s mantelpiece material.

  7. Ed Gove is my 7th Great Grandfather. I knew of the Gove’s throughout my life but recently discovered Ed’s wonderful tale of rebellion. Sarah Gove Balch of Weare, New Hampshire was my direct connection to this interesting character.

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