The “Birthplace of American Independence”

The legendary and heroic opposition by the people and leaders of Ipswich to a tax imposed by the Crown in 1687 is commemorated in the seal of the town of Ipswich, which bears the motto, “The Birthplace of American Independence 1687.” This act of resistance has been called ‘the foundation of American Democracy,’ and was the beginning of a series of events which eighty-eight years later culminated in the Revolutionary War.

Ipswich Town seal 1895

The town seal signifying Ipswich as the “Birthplace of American Independence” was designed by Arthur Wesley Dow, and has appeared on Town Meeting warrants since 1895.

In the early 1680s, King Charles II of England had revoked the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in an attempt to bring the colonies more closely under crown control. In 1686 the former governor of New York, Sir Edmund Andros, was appointed as governor of a new “Dominion” which included the Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island colonies. In 1688, its jurisdiction was expanded to include New York, and East and West Jersey. Andros invalidated existing land titles in Massachusetts, restricted town meetings, and actively promoted the Church of England in largely Puritan regions.

In 1687, John Andrews was chairman of the selectmen, the town clerk was John Appleton and the minister at Chebacco Parish was the popular John Wise. They met with other town leaders to discuss the command of crown-appointed governor Sir Edmond Andros and his council that a new tax be assessed on the king’s subjects. A town meeting was hastily organized the next day which voted that “no taxes should be Levied upon the Subjects without consent of the Assembly chosen by the Freeholders.”

The mural above the Ipswich Postmaster’s door was painted in 1941 by Saul Levine as part of the New Deal Public Works of Art Project, depicting town leaders of Ipswich gathered in opposition to the new tax imposed by the Crown.

Passed unanimously at Ipswich Town meeting, Aug 23, 1687

“Then considering that the said act doth infringe their Liberty as Free borne subjects of his Majestie by interfearing with ye statutory Laws of the Land, By which it is enacted that no taxes shall be levied on ye Subjects without consent of an assembly chosen by ye Freeholders for assessing the same. They do therefore vote that they are not willing to choose a Commissioner for such an end without said priviledges and moreover consent not that the Selectmen do proceed to lay any such rate until it be appointed by a General Assembly concuring with ye Governor and Counsel.”

For this act, Rev. John Wise, John Andrews, John Appleton, Samuel Appleton, William Goodhue, Robert Kinsman, and Thomas French were arrested and tried before the court in Boston. They were severely handled, imprisoned for several weeks and fined. Sam Appleton refused to give the bond and was kept a prisoner from November until March under very cold harsh conditions.

Historic Ipswich ancestry
Ipswich muralist Alan Pearsall honored Samuel Appleton with prominence in the right corner of the Ipswich Riverwalk Mural. In the panel on the left are his brother John Appleton, Rev. John Wise, John Andrews and other Ipswich town leaders being arrested for the town’s resistance to taxation in 1687.

Resistance leaders in neighboring towns were apparently not treated as harshly. The book History of the Town and City of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts by James Robert Pringle states that “among the rebellious towns was Gloucester and, as a result, seven of the prominent citizens were arraigned and fined at Salem for the refusal of the town to honor the terms of the warrant. The names of the citizens were William Haskell, James Stevens, Thomas Reggs and Thomas Millet, the selectmen, Timothy Somes, constable and William Sargent. All but Somes were fined 40 shillings each to which 1 shilling was added for fees. Somes was discharged on the payment of fees.

A group of provincial militia and citizens gathered in Boston on April 18, 1689 and arrested several dominion officials as well as members of the Church of England who were suspected of sympathizing with the administration. Major Samuel Appleton was among the men who helped escort Andros to Castle Island in Boston Harbor as a prisoner. Leaders of the former Massachusetts Bay Colony then reclaimed control of the government, rescinded the tax order, and Andros was shipped back to England. Rhode Island and Connecticut resumed governance under their earlier charters as well.

The leaders of the revolt against Andros

These were sturdy men who had built Ipswich, hardened veterans of King Philip’s War and the campaign against the French in Quebec. The king had just tossed out the rules and placed a bureaucrat named Sir Edmund Andros in charge of a new “Dominion of New England”.

Sir Edmund Andros being hauled to jail in Boston
Sir Edmund Andros being hauled to jail in Boston

The Reverend John Wise was outraged. A born rabble-rouser, he jumped on his horse and flew from Chebacco Parish to call on brothers Sam and John Appleton. Along with several other town leaders they planned their strategy and in a hurriedly-called meeting the next day convinced residents to stand firm against unjust taxation and the loss of local rule. The town had already voted unanimously on Feb 11, 1685 against the surrender of the charter, and at this meeting refused to appoint a tax collector. Andros sent soldiers to Ipswich, and Rev. Wise, John Andrews, John Appleton, Samuel Appleton, William Goodhue, Robert Kinsman, and Thomas French were arrested and hauled off to Boston.

At the sham trial our townsmen based their defense on the Magna Carta of England to which one of the judges asserted, “You must not think the laws of England follow us to the ends of the earth. Mr. Wise, you have no more privileges left you, than not to be sold as slaves.” They were imprisoned for several weeks, fined up to £50 each, and eventually released under £500 bond for each individual, quite a sum in that day. Sam Appleton refused to pay bond, scorned even the appearance of submission, made no petition for bail, and he refused to make any apology. He was kept a prisoner from November until March in an unheated dungeon.

News of the Ipswich resistance spread throughout the colony. On April 18, 1689 a group of provincial militia and citizens gathered in Boston and arrested several “Dominion” officials as well as several suspected sympathizers. Major Samuel Appleton helped escort Andros to Castle Island in Boston Harbor as a prisoner. Leaders of the former Massachusetts Bay Colony then reclaimed control of the government, rescinded the tax order, and Andros was shipped back to England, where at about the same time the Prince of Orange put down James II. It was a taste of things to come almost nine decades later in the Revolution of 1776.

Andros timeline

  • 1684 King Charles II in 1684 established the Dominion of New England.
  • 1685 Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was revoked by Charles II
  • 1685 Charles II died and King James came to throne.
  • 1686, former New York governor Sir Edmund Andros was appointed as dominion governor. Denied the validity of existing land titles in Massachusetts.
  • 1685 The town voted unanimously against the surrender of the charter
  • 1687 tax imposed by the Crown. Ipswich leaders arrested
  • 1688 William III and Mary II overthrow King James and take the throne
  • 1689 King James is overthrown and Andros overthrown. Simon Bradstreet resumed the governorship, and was annually re-elected governor until 1692.
  • 1691 William and Mary issued a charter establishing the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and appointed William Phips its first governor.
  • 1692 John Appleton also a judge on the Court of Oyer and Terminer in Ipswich on April 16, 1692 for the trial of persons charged with witchcraft. All were acquitted.
Ipswich the birthplace of American Independence
Continue reading: from the Journal of American History, published 1915


Ipswich MA town seal

2 thoughts on “The “Birthplace of American Independence””

  1. In the Post Office mural, which one is Samuel Appleton? One of his direct descendants wants to know.

    1. We can’t be certain–we don’t have the artist’s notes. The Rev. John Wise is certainly the man dressed in black. Sam and John Appleton are the other two primary proponents. Sam Appleton was “elderly” compared to the others, so the artist probably portrayed him as the balding man in the orange jacket standing next to Wise, looking out at us. The person seated on the stool behind him would probably be John Appleton or John Andrews, the town clerk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s