In October of 1774, Boston newspaper publishers Benjamin Edes and John Gil printed a letter that told of a startling sight in Bridgewater in their Boston Gazette:
Passing through this town the other day, I observed the at a distance forward the appearance of a person hanging by the neck on a gallows about 15 feet high; upon advancing, I perceived a considerable discoloration of his face, which I suppose was owing to a stagnation of the blood and should have remained ignorant of his person, had I not discovered an inscription over his head, in large capitals, thus, Col. E_s_n. I found he had hung there some time, and was informed that being a traitor to his country, there was no one, (not even his dearly beloved lieutenant colonel) who would vouchsafe for the kindness to cut him down, so that he would in all probability be soon reduced to a skeleton. This ignominious fate its thought will soon be the portion of several others of the same club, and be a solemn warning to everyone who seek to be aggrandized upon their country’s ruin.
Fortunately for Edson the story was a warning not a prophesy. If Edson needed any reminders, here was a warning in black and white about how precarious his position had become. After a 35-year career as judge, church deacon, colonel of the militia and popular elected member of the General Court, it seemed there was at last no more room for him in Bridgewater.
Joshua Edson Joins the Council
In the summer of 1774, Britain’s Parliament put Bridgewater’s Joshua Edson in this very tight spot. Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act, which called for the colonial military governor to appoint the members of the Massachusetts Council, one of the colony’s governing bodies. This changed the prior practice of having cities and towns elect their representatives to the council, though the General Court was still elected.
Edson had been elected by popular vote more than ten times to represent Bridgewater in the colonial legislature. So, it may not have seemed a controversial decision when Governor Thomas Gage chose to name Edson to the Massachusetts Council. But it proved otherwise.
These newly appointed councilors gave a focal point to Massachusetts’ struggling patriot movement, and protesters like the Sons of Liberty demanded the councilors resign. Most did, but Edson did not. He is probably best described as a moderate political figure of that time.
Educated at Harvard, he prospered as a farmer and a merchant. Historians suspect he was unhappy with the treatment of Massachusetts by the English parliament, but unconvinced that open rebellion was warranted, or likely to succeed.
A Frost Sets In
Edson’s relations with his neighbors grew frosty. One oft-repeated story tells of the time he tried to lead a hymn in the church where he was a deacon. Traditionally the deacon would read aloud and the congregation sing with him. This time as Edson read the lines, the congregation remained silent.
One night in the early fall of 1774, a crowd gathered outside his home. Members of the crowd accused him of being a traitor, and demanded he resign his position on the new council. Edson managed to quiet the crowd, and it dispersed. But the experience must have convinced him that he could no longer survive in Bridgewater.
Days later Edson saddled his horse and rode out of Bridgewater, headed to Boston where’s Gage’s British troops could offer him protection. When word spread that Edson was leaving, a large group of his neighbors lined the streets to watch him pass, though they let him through unmolested. He left his wife Abigail and son Joshua behind.
Losing it All
By the time war broke out, Edson was safely under the protection of British troops. When the British were driven from Boston in 1776, Edson was among the evacuating Tories who went to Halifax, and from there to British-held Long Island.
The Continental Congress ordered Edson’s estate seized. His house on Bridgewater’s common, known today as the Tory House, was sold.The Congress then included Edson’s name on a list of loyalists who were permanently banished from returning to their homes.
Living now under the protection of the British Army, Edson twice had to appeal to the British government for financial support, as he had lost everything.
Edson would died before the end of the war, most likely in 1778 in Long Island, a one-time respected and prosperous citizen of Bridgewater reduced to living in exile, deprived of even seeing his family for the last five years of his life.
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