Massachusetts

Robert Temple, High-Flying Tory, Brought Low in Plymouth, Mass.

Robert Temple, loyal to the British crown, tried to flee Massachusetts in 1775, but he didn’t get very far. His ship sprang a leak and had to put into Plymouth for repairs. Temple was captured, along with quite a lot of letters from unhappy British soldiers. The letters, of course, were opened.

Robert Temple came from an old English family that had risen above the rank of small gentry late in the 15th century. He and his family lived on Ten Hills Farm, part of the original estate of Gov. John Winthrop and now a neighborhood in Somerville, Mass. Temple was born on March 10, 1728, and baptized at Christ Church in Boston. He married Harriet Shirley, the daughter of William Shirley, who served for 11 years at governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. They had three daughters.

Map of Ten Hills Farm

Map of Ten Hills Farm

Temple, as described in the letter below, was a ‘high-flying Tory.’ He had been collector of the customs, a warden at Christ Church and member of the governor’s council. In 1775 he was a captain in the British army.

After his capture he was taken to a camp in Cambridge. His wife and daughters were allowed to stay at Ten Hills. Eventually he and his family made their way to Ireland, where Robert Temple died in 1781.

According to an extract of an anonymous letter from Hartford to a ‘gentleman in New York’ on June 5, 1775:

Mr. Hide, the Boston post, reports that a vessel bound to London, on board of which Mr. Robert Temple, a high-flying tory, was passenger, sprang a leak soon after her departure, and put into Plymouth, (New-England,) to refit. That the people took Temple prisoner, sent him to the camp at Cambridge, secured his papers, and opened a great number of letters, many of which were from officers of the Army at Boston. That those letters in general are full of complaints and expressions of uneasiness. Some of the officers desire and entreat to sell out, others say they are fighting in a bad cause, and apprehensive of a mutiny; others mention a difference between the General and the Admiral, and that the Army in general are disheartened and uneasy; other letters are full of invectives against the poor Yankees, as they call us. We hear the Provincial Congress will keep Temple as a hostage; but I hope they will let the vessel go with the above letters.

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