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Full text of "Peter Oliver, the last chief justice of the Superior court of judicature of the province of Massachusetts Bay"

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|3cter ODUuer, 














Read before the New England Historic Genealogical Society, September, 1S85, and before the 
Bostonian Society, November, 18S5. 


Vnt (DIti Corner ^oohstorc, 

283 Wasliiiigton Street. 

1 88G. 




[Reprinted from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for 
July and October, 18S0.] 

Copyright, 1886, 
By Thomas Weston, Jr. 

Tress of David Clapp & Son. 



rpHE judiciary of Massachusetts has always been distinguished for 
1- its ability and its high personal character. Tliese character- 
istics have come down as a part of our heritage of the past. The 
judges of the colonial period were rarely men of other than un- 
questioned integrity, and often combined eminent legal ability with 
the most liberal culture the times could produce. Their reputation, 
however, seems never long to have survived them. They have left 

Note— Althongh frequent mention is made of Judge Oliver in the boolvs and papers re- 
lating to the period in wliich he lived, no detailed account of his life has come down to us. 
Gov. Hutchinson, in his History of Massachusetts, gives a full account of his impeachment, 
and Gov. Washburn, in his Judicial History of Massachusetts, devotes a few pages to his 
life; and this is about all that has been published concerning him. 

I have been enabled to supply, from what I deem authentic local tradition, much con- 
cerning his life and character. He lived in Middleljoro', Mass., some thirty years.- Soon 
after the sale of his estate by the commissioners appointed to sell confiscated property of 
royalists, my grandfather came into possession of a portion of his real estate and the iron 
works he formerly owned in Middleboro". The housekeeper of Judge Oliver, a very 
intelligent wojnan, lived to an advanced ago. She spent some time in the latter part 
of her life in the fiimily of my grandnither. ISIy father remembers many of the stories and 
anecdotesshe was always fond of relating concerning Judge Oliver and the life at Oliver 
Hall. Several years ago some of these stories were published in the Middleboro' Gazette, 
by Dr. Granville Sproar, as they were related to him by this lady. From these sources I 
have gathered much for this article. 

I have also been especially interested in whatever relates to his life and character, from 
the fact that Oliver Hall stood near my father's house, who for many years owned the 
estate upon which Judge Oliver had lived ; and I early became familiar with the many local 
traditions, concerning him and his home, which then lingered about the place. 

The accompanying hcliotypc of Judge Oliver is from Copley, painted in England, in 1772. 

scarce any traces of their learning, of their legal attainments or 
of their influence, even in shaping the laws which so effectually 
secured, during the formative period of our history, the amplest 
protection of life, property and reputation to the humblest citizen. 
But a single volume of reported decisions* has come down to us, 
and the cases there reported are so fragmentary and meagre as to be 
of no value, except as legal curiosities, and give us no proper esti- 
mate of the learning and ability of the court at that period. 

Among these judges, no one was more distinguished than Peter 
Oliver, the last of the chief justices of the Superior Court of 
Judicature of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, tlie highest court 
in the Province, under the Crown. The course he conscientiously 
took during the turbulent times which followed his appointment as 
Chief Justice, and which culminated upon the breaking out of the 
war for Independence, his intimate personal connection with the 
leading officers of the Crown, his warm espousal of tlie cause of his 
King, provoked the bitter hostility of the patriots, and he left 
upon the evacuation of Boston, in disfavor, never to return. Had 
his life gone out in any other period of our history, liis name 
and character would doubtless have stood among the highest in 
the long line of illustrious men who had adorned the Bench of 
Massachusetts. The little that can be gatliered from the scanty 
records of his time, and the local traditions wliich have survived con- 
cerning him, represent a life and character that ought not to be 

The Oliver fiimily was one of the oldest and most respectable in 
the Massachusetts Colony. His ancestor, Thomas Oliver, came 
from London in the William and Francis, in the year 1()32, and 
settled in Boston. He was a surgeon by profession, one of the 

* Quincj's Mass. Reports. 

ruling elders in tlic First Church, and a man much esteemed in 
the colony.* Upon his death, which occurred January 1, 1656, 
he was spoken of in Hull's Diary as "living to a great ajje, and 
in his former years as very serviceable." One of his sons, James 
Oliver, was a captain in King Philip's war, and reputed a brave 
man ; another son, Peter, was an eminent merchant in the town of 
Boston, one of whose sons married a granddaugliter of Gov. Brad- 
street. Daniel Oliver, a son of the last named and the father of 
Judge Oliver, was a wealthy merchant of Boston, and for several 
years a mandamus councillor. His two sons, Andrew and Peter, were 
destined to fill very conspicuous places in the later times of the Pro- 
vince. Andrew was for many years Provincial Secretary and after- 
wards Lieutenant Governor, and did much towards hastening the 
progress of events which finally precipitated the colonies into open 
hostility with the motlier country. His second wife was a sister of 
the wife of Gov. Hutcliinson, and the relation was made still more 
intimate by intermarriages between tlie children of both the Olivers 
with those of Gov. Hutchinson, f Peter Oliver was also connected by 
marriage with Copley the distinguished portraitpainter of the period. 
The family were thus closely related to some of tlie most prominent 
supporters of the Crown, and early espoused the cause of royalty. 
George IH. had no more able or zealous friends in America than 
the Olivers. 

Peter Oliver was born in Boston, March 17, 1713. But little is 
known of his early boyhood. He used to say that his father spared 
no pains in the education of liis two boys. They both showed a 
taste for books, and at an early age Peter had attained considerable 
proficiency in the literature of the times. 

* New Eng. Hist, and Gen. Reg., April, 1866. 
t Mem. Hist, of boston, vol. ii. {>. 539. 


He entered Harvard College in 1726, at the age of 13 years. In 
his class were John Cotton, Joseph Mayhew, Stephen Minot, Samuel 
Parsons, Peter Prescott, and others who afterwards occupied promi- 
nent positions in the Province. 

It seemed to be the wish of the father that young Peter should be 
bred a gentleman and follow no business or profession. While 
in college he was interested in history, political science and general 
literature, and showed great fondness for the law as a science. His 
father took pains early to introduce his sons into the best society of 
the Province, and before he came to manhood he had formed an in- 
timate acquaintance with many of the prominent men of the times.* 
This early acquaintance, which seems to have continued, contributed 
not a little in giving him the position and the great influence he 
afterwards exerted in the events which were to transpire in his 
maturer years. At his graduation he was undoubtedly as well fitted 
for the bar as any of his classmates who afterwards commenced 
practice before the courts. He was one of the best scholars of his 
class, and his close habits of study followed him all through his life. 
His proficiency and reputation as a scholar gained for him in after 
years the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Oxford University. 

On July 5, 1733, Mr. Oliver married INIary, the daughter of 
William Clark, of Boston, Avho was a prominent man in the town, 
a member of the General Court for the years 1731, 1732, 1733, 
1734, and a man of influence throughout the province. ]\Irs. Oliver 
was an accomplisiied lady, well fitted for the social position she was 
called to fill. The charm of her conversation, her courtly manners, her 
generous hospitality at Oliver Ilall, aided not a little in making 
this famous place so memorable in the social history of the times. 

* Amoiif,' these early fiiciuls was the celebrated lawyer, Jcreniiali Gridley, and this friend- 
ship continued during his life. 

After her removal to Middlcboro', slie was a constant attendant at 
the cliurch in the town, and her many deeds of kindness and christian 
charity have come down with the traditions of the pLace as memorials 
of lier goodness. 

For a few years after his marriage Mr. Oliver seems to have 
spent his time in i-enddring his father such assistance as his business 
required. lie liad become interested in the early history of the 
colonies, and had given much thought to developing their agricul- 
tural and mimtrfiieturing resources. lie had already collected some- 
thing of a library and had transcribed several MS. local histories. 
Among them Avas a MS. copy of Rev. Mr. Hubbard's history of 
New England.* lie was also a close student of the stirring events 
which were transpiring in the Old Woi'ld, and kept an extensive 
correspondence with fi-iends in London. He probably spent some 
time in the old country at about this period. He early showed a 
fondness for royalty and a great love for the customs and institutions 
of Old England, which seemed to increase with his years. Although 
interested in everything that in his judgment could tend to develop 
the prosperity of the provinces, he never allowed anything to come 
between him and the cause of his King. 

In 1744, Mr. Oliver purchased about three hundred acres of land 
in Middlcboro', in what had been known as the Indian village of 
Muttock, on tiie Nemasket River, where he soon after removed from 
Boston, and made this estate his permanent home. 

The land he purchased in Middlcboro' had been recently occupied 
by the Nemasket Indians. In 1737, they had petitioned the General 
Court for leave to sell their lands at this place, " alleging that by long 
cultivation they had become worn out, and that there were no fish in 
the river, nor game in the forests for their sustenance, and prayed 

• Pres. Stiles's Literary Diary, 2d scries, Mass. Hist. Col., vol. ii. p. 200. 


for leave to remove to another part of the town wlicre the hind was 
better adapted for their cukivation, and game more abundant." 
While the subject-matter of tliis petition was being discussed in the 
General Court, Mr. Oliver's attention was directed to this locality as 
one of unusual beauty, and affording rare facilities for business. At 
the foot of the hill adjacent to the old settlement of the Indians, the 
town had previously authorized a dam to be built across the river, 
and the water privilege was one of the best in the county. The 
lands and great ponds in the vicinity abounded in the richest iron ore ; 
timber was abundant, and, notwithstanding the allegation in the pe- 
tition of the former inhabitants, the soil was more than ordinarily 
fertile. His purchase included the site of the fix'st settlers of the 
town, whose houses were burned in King Philip's war, and who had 
been consequently obliged to return to Plymouth. It bordered upon 
the oldest burial place of the settlers, and upon the other side was 
the spot where the Indian braves, for generations, had been laid to 
rest. Upon the summit of the high hill bordering upon the pond 
were the remains of the wigwam of the old Indian chieftain from 
whom the place had taken its name. 

Immediately after coming to Middleboro', Mr. Oliver repaired thts 
rriills on his estate, and made preparations for a large manufacturing 
business. Before his purchase, there had been built a saw mill and 
grist mill, which with many others in Plymouth county did a prosper- 
ous business for those early times. But his keen business eye foresaw 
that iron manufacture was to be the pi'ominent industry for the Pro- 
vince, and the branch of it next to tliatdone by the blast furnaces was 
to be that of making the hammered nails which were the only ones in 
use at that time. For that business a forge was necessary, and the 
mechanics of the county could readily construct one. There were 
one or two in the country, one at Ivaynham and one or two near 
Boston. But the necessary mill for this business was a rolling or 

slitting mill, which would take the iron hammered into bars from the 
forge and split them into nail rods, out of which tlie nails were to 
be hammered. These rods were then to be taken home by the far- 
mers and hammered into nails of any required length and size. 
There was but one such mill in the country, and that was in :Milton, 
near what is now Milton Mills. Its owner was reaping a large profit 
from it. All admittance to this wonderful mill was forbidden. Its 
mysteries were kept a profound secret ; its entrance was carefully 
ouarded, and the workmen were under heavy bonds never to reveal 
The mysterious process by which nail rods were there produced. 

At this time a young man by the name of Hushai Thomas lived 
in Middleboro'. Mr. Oliver had put him in charge of his works. 
He had superintended their repair, and was of bright parts, a 
natural mechanic, of accurate eye and keen perceptions in everything 
that related to his craft. Tradition has it that Judge Oliver offered 
him a large sum of money if he would build him a slitting mill that 
ANould do°the work done at :\Iilton. The offer was too tempting to 
be rejected without trial. Early in the week, one bright summer 
day, young Thomas was missing from his home. His wife knew 
nothing of'his whereabouts, although she did not seem to share the 
anxiety of the neighbors as to his f\ite. The next morning a shabby, 
ill-kempt, idiotic person came to the quiet town of :Milton, and was 
seen sauntering about the place, begging for something to cat. At 
first the villagers were fiightened at his appearance and were shy of 
him. He remained there for some weeks, and the honest people re- 
o-arding him as a poor, simple-minded unfortunate, allowed him to 
sleep in their barns. He was playful with the children, and they be- 
came gradually attached to the foolish fellow. He seemed to prefer 
to play about "the mill, and the workmen, as they went out and in, 
became accustomed to his idiotic ways. One day at noon, while 
playing with some small children, the workmen as they left for 


dinner neglected to cluse the door of the mill. The simple- 
minded man, to hide from the children, ran into it. lie was 
there but a short time and then ran out. The next day he dis- 
appeared, but, alas, the mystery of the wonderful mill went with 
him. In a i'ew days it was told that young Thomas had returned, 
and that foundations were being laid for a new mill at Oliver's works. 
The mill when completed produced as good work as that done by 
the mill at Milton, and the neighbors began to see that in some way 
the fortunes of young Thomas had wonderfully improved. 

During the French and Indian war Mr. Oliver was also largely 
engaged at his works in Middleboro' in making ordnance, shot and 
shell, for the colonies.* His prudent management, his extensive 
acquaintance and warm personal friends, made his business very 
lucrative, and enabled him to maintain a style of living far superior 
to the average citizen. 

Soon after coming to iSIiddleboro' he erected, for his country resi- 
dence, Oliver Hall. It stood on a level tract of land about half 
way up what is now known as Muttock Hill, on the Southeasterly 
side of the road leading from Middleboro' to Bridgewater. It 
commanded an extensive view of the adjacent country. The borders 
of the land upon which the house stood sloped to the banks of the 
Nemasket iviver and the large winding pond formed thereby. The 
grounds were very extensive, laid out after the manner of English 
parks, with broad avenues bordered with ornamental trees, shaded 
walks, with flower and fruit gardens, and a lawn in front of the 
house overlooking tiie pond r.nd river. 

The Hall was approached from the road through an avenue lined 
with ornamental trees, which wound from the top of the hill passing 
the Hall, and descended by gradual descent to the margin of the 

* Hist, of riyinoutli Ceiinty, p, 1023. 


banks of the pond and river.* About the grounds were many shaded 
walks and groves, beautified by the choicest shrubs and flowers. 
As this avenue wound about the grounds down the sloping hill it 
passed a summer house on the borders of the pond, pleasantly situat- 
ed under the shade of the original oaks of the forest. It was beauti- 
fully designed, and had accommodation for a large number of guests. 
Just back of it was a flowing spring of water, with an ingenious 
device for cooling wine kept in an adjoining apartment. The Hall 
itself was patterned after the Manor House of the old country, 
stately and spacious. Its frame was shipped from England. Its 
internal decorations, its carving, its wainscotting, its hangings were 
all made expressly for it in London. It had its grand staircase, its 
spacious parlor, its high ceilings. The Library formed an L of the 
Hall, and was entered through an elaborate carved lattice work. It 
was a large room, high studded, and upon its shelves were to be 
found the best books the times could produce. It was one of the 
best libraries in the province. The Hall had elegant guest chambers 
and extensive servants' apartments. The parlor, library and dining 
hall were richly wainscotted, their walls covered with elabor.ate hang- 
ings, and the floors laid in polished English oak. Gov. Hutchinson 
remarked at one time after visiting Oliver Hall, that it was the finest 
residence in his Majesty's dominions in New England. f 

The spacious and elegant apartments, the generous hospitality of 
the host and the elegance and extent of the grounds, made Oliver 
Hall a fiivorite resort of the wealth and fashion of the time. Gov- 
ernor Bowdoin, considered one of the wealthiest men of the colony, 
was often there, Governor Hutchinson and family spent many sum- 
mers there. Andrew Oliver, then Lieut. Governor, and Sir John 

* Traces of tUis avenue and the site of the summer house are still to be seen on these 
t Middleboro' Gazette. 


and Sir Grenville Temi)lc, were among the frequent guests. Dis- 
tinguit-hed gentlemen from the old country visiting the province were 
considered as not completing their tour through the colonies without 
a visit to the famous country seat of the Chief Justice.* 

A description of the social parties there given, and the prominent 
men and elegant women in attendance, would form an interesting 
chapter in the social history of the times. One of these famous 
occasions, the old housekeeper of tiie Hall was ever fond of narrating. 
A special messenger came riding all the way from Boston bearing 
the news of the birth of an heir to His Majesty, King George the 
Third. He approached tlie Hall on a gallop, swinging his hat and 
shoutin"- " Long live the King ! a prince has been born to the royal 
family of England." She took great pleasure in describing the grand 
company assembled that night in the Hall, how the tables were 
loaded and toasts given in honor of the occasion. Governor Hutch- 
inson was there, and Governor Oliver came with some ladies from 
Boston. He wore a suit of scarlet silk velvet, with gold buttons 
and lace ruffles for the sleeves and bosom ; short breeches, white 
silk lono- stockings with gold shoe and knee buckles made up his 
suit. Governor Hutchinson was dressed nearly in the same way, 
only his suit was trimmed with gold lace. Many other illustrious 
men with their wives and daughters were there, dressed with all of 
the taste and elegance of the times. There was dancing and music 
and wine in abundance, and the assembly did not disperse until late 
at night. f 

During the early years of his residence in Middleboro', ]Mr. Oliver 
found time to attend to many public duties, representing the town in 
the General Court during these years. He was specially interested in 
agriculture, horticulture and floriculture, t taking great pains to 

* Mi(l(llcl)oro' Gazette. t lljiJ- 

+ 2d iSeiies Mass. His. Col. Vol. 3, p. 169. 


introduce tlie choicest Icintls of fruit and flowers adapted to tlie 
locality. John Adams in his diaiy speaks of seeing some rare 
flower, the seed of which came from Judge Oliver's garden.* He 
imported some new breeds of stock, which he supposed would be 
better than those found on the farms of his neighbors. He seemed 
always anxious to improve the condition of the farming interest in 
the county, and gave it an impetus which was not lost during his 

His cliief deliolit seemed to be in gatherinc: about him men and 
women of the culture and refinement of the times, and discussing in 
his spacious and well-filled library tlie questions of literature and 
politics of the day.f Scholars from all parts of the colony carae to 
consult his books and manuscripts, and for such information as he 
only could give them in matters of history, literature and art. 

Nor were his tastes confined merely to literary and political 
subjects. He was considered as an authority in matters of archi- 
tecture and music. After his appointment to the Court of Common 
Pleas he planned, in 1749, and superintended the erection of the 
Court House in Plymouth,:]: which stood as late as 1815, a structure 
much admired for its architectural beauty. He had a cultivated ear 
and a ffood voice for sinijino;, and so desirous was he to improve the 
musical tastes of the people of the town, that he took an active part in 
the singing in the church near his domains. One of the venerable 
dames of the parish, disgusted with the innovation of the times and 
the new-fangled music in the meeting-house, in writing to one of 
her friends, expressed her contempt and disgust by saying, " even 
the Judge of the land was bawling in the gallery with the boys." 

* .Tolin Adams's (Diary) Works, Vol. 2. p. 137. 

t He left a very full l)iary of tlie prominent events of his life, with an account of the 
public men of his time with whom he was associated, wliich is about Ijeing published in 

J Thatcher's Hist. Plymouth, p. 174. 


Notwithstanding his wealth, official position and style of living, ho 
mingled freely with the people, was always considerate towards 
them and did much towards furnishing them with remunerative em- 
ployment at his works or on his estate. No poor man ever went 
from his door without his necessary wants being supplied. The 
people of the town looked up to him for advice upon all matters of 
business, or whenever they needed counsel, and always found in him 
a warm and sympnthetic friend. His strong common sense, his 
extensive reading, his knowledge of law and men were of great 
service to them, and his advice much sought after and usually heeded. 
His kindness of heart, his. generosity and the interest he seemed to 
take in their welfare, gave him great influence in the place of his 
home. At one time he complained to a friend that there was only 
one man in town who would express an opinion contrary to his if 
he had previously stated his views on the subject ; with his townsmen 
his word was regarded as law. 

Mr. Oliver was appointed a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas 
for Plymouth County during Governor Shirley's administration, in 
December, 1747, and continued to hold that office until his promotion 
to the bench of the Superior Court. At the time of his appointment 
the Court of Common Pleas had been in existence since 1702.* It was 
originally known in the Old Colony as the Associates' Court, | but 
during the administration of Andros it assumed the name of Court of 
Common Pleas, and so continued until the Revolution. Upon the 
adoption of the Constitution the Court was continued with substan- 
tially the same jurisdiction and powers. Under the Charter the Jus- 
tices of this Court did not go beyond the County for which they were 
commissioned. Their salary was small and not uniform, iind but a 
small portion of their time was occupied in the discharge of their offi- 

* VVuslibum's Jud. lli.s. Mass. 354. f Baylies. 


cial duties. His acceptance of the position did not seem to interfere 
Avith liis business or his habits of study whicli he had continued from 
his early years. At this time his business was hirge and hicrativc, 
and enabled him to live in the princely style we have already indi- 
cated. The grounds about Oliver Hall were carefully cultivated 
and improved, and he continually added such adornments as his 
taste suggested. 

With him, on the bench of this Court, were Isaac Lothrop, Elijah 
Gushing and Thomas Clapp. These men, though not educated for 
the bar, were all of them men of mark and ability, and enjoyed the 
confidence of the bar and of those who came before the Court. 
Upon the dedication of the new Court House which Judge Oliver 
had planned, and whose construction he had superintended, his first 
duty was to pronounce an eulogy upon the death of his associate 
Judge Cushing, which was published at the time, one copy of which 
has come down to us and is in the Library of the Athenanun. This 
Court, however, although composed of men of high character, was 
not surrounded with the pomp and display of the Superior Court, 
and its justices did not assume the rank and dignity accorded to the 
latter Court. The barristers of the province, whose talents and legal 
abilities would well compare with the practitioners of the time before 
the highest Courts in Westminster, were often before this Court. 
It was the fashion for them often to speak disparagingly of it, and 
they professed to have a contempt for any ruling on matters of law 
or opinion, which this Court might give, which happened to be 
against their particular client. 

One of the ablest lawyers who practised in this time in the Courts 
of riymouth County was Timothy lluggles. He was a barrister of 
large practice, his only rival being James Otis. He was generally 
known as Brigadier lluggles, from his conspicuous service in the 
French and Indian wars. The late venerable Abraham Holmes, in 


an adilress before the Bristol bar in 1834, gives this anecdote of 
Brigadier RusTSfles, in a case before this Court at this time. While 
he was engaged in the trial of a cause, a very old woman who was a 
witness, told him that she could stand no longer and asked him 
where she might sit ; liuggles looking about and seeing no vacant 
seat except on the bench, told her inadvertently to go and sit there. 
The old woman hobbled to the bench, crept up the stairs, got within 
the enclosure occupied by the Judges before they noticed her, and 
was sitting down, when one of them asked her what she was there 
for. She replied that Mr. Ruggles had told her to go up there and 
sit down. The Court with offended dignity asked him if lie had so 
told her. Ruggles could not evade the question and answered that 
he had. The Court asked, how came you to do this. Sir? He could 
not retreat, and must make the best of it, and looking with a digni- 
fied smile, hesitatingly said, I — I — really thought that place was 
made for old women. The Court regarded this answer as an insult, 
but, after consultation, concluded the easiest way out of it was to let 
the matter drop, and the trial proceeded, and the old lady kept her 
place. Mr. K,uf>;gles, however, did not hesitate a few years after 
to accept the same position as a Justice of that Court for Worcester 

Upon the death of Judge Saltonstall in 1756, Judge Oliver was 
appointed his successor on the bench of the Superior Court. f The 
importance of the various matters over which it had jurisdiction, it 
being the appellate Court of the Colonies, the high character of the 
men who were on its bench, the pomp and dignity which attended 
its deliberations, all served to impress upon the people the impor- 
tance of this, the highest judicial tribunal of the land. The court 
then consisted of Stephen Sewell as Chief Justice, and Benjamin 
Lynde, John Cushing and Chambers Kussell as associate justices. 

* Washburn, p. 22G. f D''. Eliot Siiys, " It was a very popular appointment." 


This was tlic happiest period of his life. He was known and 
honored throughout the Province. His judicial ability was recog- 
nized by the entire bar, and his accession to the bench of this Court 
was cordially welcomed by his associates. His income from his 
business was large. Oliver Hall had become celebi'ated in both 
countries, not only for its generous hospitality, the beauty and extent 
of its grounds, but for the men of rank and culture that were there 
entertained. A writer of the times says of this place, that it was 
" Where the native grove under his forming hand had become such 
an one as Thomson found in the shades of Hagley."* The 
troubles between the Colonies and the JNIother Country, which 
ere long were to undermine his influence and render him an exile, 
had not assumed such form and magnitude as to indicate the 
results which were to follow. 

The duties of his office now absorbed much of his time, and he 
discharged them conscientiously and fearlessly. His business was 
entrusted to the care and management of others. He nevertheless 
always found time to continue his studies in literature and in the 
politics and history of the times. 

His salary at this time was but 100 pounds per annum, f a sum 
wholly inadequate to meet his personal expenses. The Judges of 
this Court were obliged to maintain the same pomp of style and 
display as the English judges of the period. They wore the same 
style of robes, wigs and swordsj when on the bench, and wherever 
they were great deference was paid to them. Judge Oliver always 
made his journey to and from Boston with his coach and four, his 
coat of arms emblazoned on the panels of the doors, with attending 
outriders and postillion. Wherever these courts were to be held, the 
High Sheriff of the County, the prominent men of the place and the 

* 2d Series Mass. His. Col., Vol. 3, p. 169. 

t Washburn, p, 162. t '^ Loyalists of Am, Rev., p. 128. 



barristers were in the habit of goini^ out to meet them as they np- 
proached the town, and escorting them with great pomp and disphiy 
to the public inn where they were to remain during the term of 
Court. None of the English Courts of the times were more dignified 
than that of the Superior Court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. 

No better idea of its dignity while in session in 1761 can be given 
than by transcribing President Adams's description of it in a letter 
to Mr. Tudor.* It was at the hearing upon the matter of granting 
the celebrated Avrits of assistance. It was in the Council Chamber 
of the old State House in Boston, where the courts were held for 
Suffolk. All the members of the Court were present. The most 
prominent counsel of the province were engaged on the one side or 
the other ; there was Gridley for the petitioner, and Thatcher and 
James Otis for the remonstrants. He says, "In this chamber near 
the fire were seated the five Judges, w ith Lieut. Governor Hutchin- 
son at their head as chief justice ; all in their fresh robes of scarlet 
English cloth with their broad bands and enormous judicial wigs. 
In this chamber were seated at a long table all the barristers of 
Boston and its neighboring County of ^Middlesex, in their gowns and 
bands and tye wigs. They were not seated on Ivory chairs, but 
their dress was more solemn and more pompous than that of the Ro- 
man Senate when the Gauls broke in upon them." Mr. Adams adds, 
" then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to 
the arbitrary claim of Great Britain." 

It is worthy of note in the light of events which soon after followed, 
that Judge Oliver, although known to be an intense royalist, lionestly 
supporting every measure of the Crown, as a matter of course, 
before and long after the trial of this great question of the power of 
this Court to grant writs of assistance, w'as reii^arded by the bar and 

♦ Letter written in 1817. John Ad.uTis\s Works, Vol. X-, p^'ge 2io. 


the entire community not only as a polished gentleman,* but as an 
able and fearless Judge, wiio would under all circumstances do exact 
justice in all matters that came betbre him. 

Perhaps the most memorable trial before this Court in which 
Judge Oliver sat as an associate Judge was that of Capt. Preston 
and his soldiers in 1770, for manslaughter in what is familiarly 
known as the Boston Massacre. His charge to the juryf in this case, 
is the only one that has come down to us, of the many he gave 
during his administration of justice. It is a model of its kind and 
fully justifies the high estimate given him, as an able and impartial 
judge, if 

The excitement over this aflfiiir was intense. The court met a 
week after the tragedy in King Street. Indictments were immedi- 
ately found against Capt. Preston and his men. On account of the 
high state of feeling the court liad continued the case until the next 
term. But the desire of tlie people was so intense for their immedi- 
ate trial, that a considerable number of prominent men of Boston, 
with Mr. Adams at their head, went in a body to the Superior Court 
and were so earnest for a speedy trial that the Court thought it 
advisable to annul their order for a continuance, and appointed a 
special term for the trial. § Attempts were made to prejudice the 

* John Adams in his diary, under date of November 9, 1771, tlms alluded to the sulject 
of this sketch. "Dined this day, spent the afternoon and drank tea at Jiidije Ropes's with 
Judges Lynde, Oliver, and Hutchinson, Sewall, Putnam and Winthrop. Mrs. Ropes is a 
fine woman, very pretty and genteel. Our Judge Oliver is the best bred gentleman of all 
the judges by far; there is something in every one of the others indecent and disagreeable 
at times in company— affected witticisms, unpolished fleers, coarse jests, and sometimes 
rough, rude attacks — I)ut these you don't sec escape Judge Oliver." — {John Adams's If'orAs 
and Diary, Vol. 2, p. 291.) A writer in the Mass. Hist. Col. 2d Scries, Vol. 3, p. 169, thus 
alludes to him. "Judge Oliver was one of the Corinthian ornaments of the County of 
Plymouth while he resided in it." 

t Trial of British Soldiers, Boston, 1807, p. 114. 

X The trial was before the full bench, and in accordance with the practice of the court at 
this time each judge gave a charge to the jury. 

yV Hutchinson's Hist., Vol. 3, p. 2SG. 


minds of tlie people against the prisoners. Popular feeling was so 
strong that an appeal was even made through tlie newspapers to 
prejudice the Court against them. Judge Oliver in his charge to the 
jury alluded to this as an insult to him personally and his associates. 
So intense was the feeling and so great was the pressure brought to 
bear upon some of the judges that they through fear of personal 
liarm hesitated to sit at the trial. Governor Hutchinson, in a private 
letter at tiiat time, says, he "found it difficult to prevail upon three 
of the judges to sit at the trial for fear of losing their popularity." 
In tiiis letter he refers to the firmness of Judge Oliver in his charge 
to the jury, and his exposition of the law in opposition to the false 
principles of government lately set up. 

As further illustrating the excitement of the times and the weak- 
ness of some of the members of the Court, he says, under date of 
Aug. 28, 1770: "I have persuaded Judge Lynde, who came to 
town with his resignation in his pocket, to hold his position a little 
longer. Timid as he is, I think Trowbridge more so. The only 
<lifference is that little matters, as well as great, frighten Lynde. 
Judge Oliver appears to be firm, though threatened in yesterday's 
paper, and I hope Cushing will be so likewise." 

Notwithstanding the timidity of some of the Court, at the trial 
they all showed great firmness and presided with strict impartiality. 
The prisoners were feai-lessly and ably defended by John Adams 
jind Josiah Quincy. The trial lasted eight days, and resulted in the 
iicquittal of Capt. Preston and six of his soldiers, and tlie convic- 
tion of two of them for manslaughter. Although the popular clamor 
was strong for the conviction of Capt. Preston and his men, and the 
prejudice against them most bitter, these verdicts were soon after re- 
garded as just, and the trial a triumph of justice. 

In 17()!>, when Chief Justice Plutchinson left the bench for tlie 
position of governor of the Province, Judge Oliver's friends su])- 


posed as a matter of course he would succeed to that office. But 
stroiii^ political and other influences secured that position for Mr. 
Justice Lynde, and it was not until his resignation in 1772 that 
Judge Oliver was appointed chief justice. 

At this time no position in the Province was more important or 
more embarrassing. The time was at hand when every man of in- 
fluence and position must show his colors. The popular tide was begin- 
ning unmistakably to set strongly in one direction. AVith Judge Oli- 
ver's high social and official position, his popularity, his great wealth, 
his ability, his scholarship, liis many friends, that current would surely 
bear him to the top. In the other direction was the love he bore to 
his King, his conscientious views of the relation of the colonies 
to the mother country, and of the rights of the Crown. The choice 
involved the probable loss of everything dear to him in the land 
of his birth. He hesitated not for a moment ; conscientiously 
yet fearlessly he assumed the duties of his high office, resolving 
that he would faithfully perform them at all hazard, even if there- 
by he should lose everything and suffer the ignominy which coming 
generations might heap upon him. He as well as the ])atriot 
leaders counted the cost of the decision. 

Upon assuming the duties of his office, popular prejudice and pas- 
sion were running higher than ever before in the history of the colo- 
nies. The spirit of liberty and desire for independence were over- 
riding all established precedents. 

Events followed each other in rapid succession. Never before 
had there been such intense excitement in all parts of the province. 
]Matters could not thus long continue without open resistance on the 
j)art of the people to the lawful authority of the Crovvn. It seemed 
evident to him that the leaders of the patriot party were not careful 
to allay this excitement, and that every official act of the officers of 
the King was in some way construed as inimical to their cause. 


Certain it is, that under other circumstances many of these acts 
vvliich were so bitterly denounced would have been entirely over- 
looked. Those who had been sworn to execute the laws of the land 
could not but regard with jealous eye the course of the patriot lead- 
ers in so often ignoring the well-established law and precedent of 
colonial rule. They never seemed to comprehend how strong and 
deep was tlie desire for independence, and how oppressive and unjust 
were the measures tliat the British ministry were endeavoring to 
force upon a people whose ancestors and whose whole training for 
generations all so thoroughly embued them with a spirit of liberty. 

The legislature, too, always heretofore conservative, was now 
most radical in its opposition to everything that seemed to be en- 
croaching on the part of the Crown upon the liberties of the people, 
and in the exercise of powers authorized although seldom heretofore 
exercised by the royal officers, and at the same time quite willing to 
overlook usurpations by themselves of any rights and privileges on 
their part, as established by statute and precedent, if thereby they 
might further the cause which now the people seemed to have so 
much at heart. 

JS ever was there a parliamentary body which more accurately reflected 
the advanced thought and opinion of the masses in opposition to the 
odious measures of his majesty's ministry, than the house of represen- 
tatives during these years. The turbulent spirit of the times was no- 
where more strongly manifested than here. The subject-matter of 
much of the legislation, as well as the spirit in which it was debated 
and passed, clearly pointed out the breach between the King and the 
Province which must sooner or later come. Undoubtedly the Gen- 
eral Court of Massachusetts, for these years, was one of the most 
potent f(»rces of the patriot party, which led to Lexington and Bun- 
ker Hill, and July 4, 177(). 

A'otuitlistanding the political excitement of the times, the pro- 


vince was never more prosperous in its financial condition than now, 
and was in this respect the envy of the otlier colonics.* Its treasury 
was full, and this too without the income brought by the obnoxious 
Stamp Act and other expediencies for increasing the revenue. The 
people seemed fully to realize that there was no occasion for the 
passage of these most obnoxious and unjust measures to help swell 
the coffers of a profligate ministry. The temper of the legislature 
was such towards those who were known to be in sympathy with the 
ministry, that the minority, fearing they would withhold the cus- 
tomary grants for the salaries of the public officers, recom- 
mended to the ministry, that there should be a modification of the 
charter by which salaries of such officers, which had heretofore been 
voted by the General Court and paid by the province, should here- 
after be paid by the King. The salary of the chief justice, which had 
been only two hundred pounds per annum, was wholly inadequate 
to meet his personal expenses. f The payment of this small sum even 
had been delayed until the legislature should choose to vote it. This 
most unfortunate recommendation on the part of the minority was 
adopted by the ministry, and by this change the salary of the chief 
justice was raised to four hundred pounds. The fact that the jus- 
tices of the highest court in the land should thus be made dependent 
on the Crown, provoked the most bitter indignation on the part of 
the legislature, and to the leaders of the patriot party no measure 
thus far in the history of the times met with such determined re- 

When the change in the charter affecting the salaries of the gov- 
ernor and justices of the Superior Court was first pronudgated, the 
legislature was not in session, liut inunediately a petition was pre- 
sented to the selectmen of Boston praying for a public meeting to 
consider this most odious measure. Mr. Hancock opposed it, and 
* Ilutcliiiison, Vol. 3. p. 3o0. t HiiU., Vol. 3, p 3S8. 


it was not granted by them. This seemed to excite suspicion in the 
minds of the people, and the news of the change in the charter was 
widely disseminated and provoked the most bitter opposition. Sev- 
eral addresses to the governor were made regarding it, and his re- 
ply exasperated the patriot party more than ever. Town meetings 
■were called all over the province to protest against the obnoxious 
grants, and sharp and bitter were the debates thereon. It was 
. brought into the legislature, but for various reasons postponed until 
its next meeting. 

Upon the coming in of the legislature in February, 1774, it was 
evident that this question would be the most important one to be 
considered during the session- The previous legislature, aware of 
the action that the ministry would probably take, had raised the sala- 
ry of the justices of this court one hundred pounds more than they 
had formerly received. Early in the session they had voted that the 
justices of the court give to the Assembly their decision upon the 
question whether or no they would receive their salaries from the 
Crown. The Court met, and agreed that they would give no sepa- 
rate answer, but would carefully consider the subject-matter, and 
then would give such reply, as a whole, as should to them seem 
proper. During the recess, however. Judge Trowbridge had been 
persuaded to refuse the salary from the King and accept it from 
the legislature, and addressed a note to the speaker informing him 
of his action, without consulting with his associates. Judge Oliver, 
on being informed of this breach of faith on the part of so eminent 
a m:ni as Mr. Justice Trowbridge, determined to render himself 
unal)lc to com})ly Avith what seemed to him an improper and un- 
reasonable demand of the house of representatives made under such 
implied threats, and formally accepted the full amount of the salary 
granted by the Crown.* 

* Hutchinson, Vol. 3, p. 442- 


The Assembly on coming toi^ether resolved that the conduct of 
Judge Trowbridge was satisfactory, and the next day passed a 
resolve, "that unless the other justices shall within eight days inform 
the house whether they had received in full the grants made by the 
assembly for hist year's salary, and shall also explicitly declare th:it 
for the future, according to invariable usage, they will accept the 
grants of the general assembly without accepting any grant from the 
Crown for the same time, the house will then have further proceedings 
on their conduct." 

Three of the justices gave such answers as were satisfactory. 
Judge Oliver felt that the course of the house of representatives in 
this matter was an insult to his dignity and to the Court over which 
he presided, and declared if need be he would stand alone rather 
than yield to such an impertinent demand. 

In his answer he set forth, "that he had been a justice of the Su- 
perior Court for 17 years: that his salary had been insufficient for 
his support : that he had thrown himself on former assemblies for 
the redress which he could not obtain : that his estate was much im- 
paired by neglect of attendance upon his private business : that he 
had repeatedly intended to resign his office, but had been dissuaded 
from so doing by respectable members of the Assembly, who en- 
couraged him to hope for better support : that when his ]Majesty, 
in his great and good name, granted him a salary as he had done to 
others in like station in other colonies, he thought himself bound to 
take it, for the time which is past, and that he should not dare re- 
fuse it for the time to come."* 

This bold and fearless answer of the ciiief justice was unexpected, 
and as it was read in the house produced a profoimd sensation. 
Upon receiving this answer from him they sent a remonstrance to 
the Governor and Council, declaring that by such conduct "the Chief 

* Ilutcbiuson, Vol. 3, p, 143. 


Justice liad perversely and corruptly tloiic that wliieh hath an obvi- 
ous and direct tendency to the perversion of" law and justice ; that 
he thereby had proved an enemy to the constitution of the province, 
and placed himself under bane and detached himself totally from his 
connections with the peo[)Ie and lost their confidence ; and rendered 
himself totally disqualified any longer to hold and act in the oflfice 
of a Justice of the Superior Court, and they therefore pray that 
he may be forthwith removed."* 

Upon presenting this remonstrance an order was soon after pass- 
ed, that it was improper for the chief justice to sit in Court while 
these proceedings were pending before the governor. The house 
also asked that the term of the Court which came in on the 15th of 
February might be adjourned. Tiic majority of the Court came in, 
but the chief justice, advised by his friends not to be present lest he 
should meet with bodily harm from the populace, so great was the 
feeling against him, did not attend. The grand jury refused to act, 
and the Court finally adjourned without further action. | 

Never before had there been such excitement, not only in the 
streets of Boston but even in the General Court itself. The chief 
justice was hung in effigy, if and subject to such insult whenever he 
appeared in public that he was forced to avoid the public thorough- 
fares of the town.§ 

On the 24th, the house of representatives voted to impeach the 
chief justice before the Council. The measure had been advised by 
John Adams, who was chairman of the committee. But Sanniel 
Adams was the actual leader in all these bold proceedings, j] 'J'he 
connnittce, with John Adams at their head, waited uj)on the gover- 
nor, desii'ing him to be in the chair with the Council, that he might 

* lliitcliiiisoii, Vol. n, p. 413. t Iliiil. 

+ John Adams's AVorks (Diary), Vol. 2, p. 334. 
^ Iluti'hiiison (Diary), pp. 14G, 147. 
JJ Life or.Saimit'l Atlaiiis, Vol. '2, )>. 13-J. 


licnr tlicm ns ilicy presented the Iinpeacbment.* His Excellency 
refused to act upon the articles of inipeacluncnt, as in his opinion 
he had no jurisdiction over the matter. 

The house, upon rcceivinij: the answer of the governor, after a 
stormy debate, decided to make no reply, but soon after framed and 
passed a new order impeacliing before the General Court of the 
Province, Peter Oliver, Esq., Chief Justice of the Superior Court, 
of certain iiigh crimes and misdemeanors, and ordered the commit- 
tee to prepare the articles of impeachment. f His official conduct for 
seventeen years was most critically examined — his public and pri- 
vate life underwent the most rigid scrutiny, in the liope that some- 
thing might be discovered upon which additional charges might be 
framed against him.| His bitterest enemies could not discover the 
faintest indication of a single blemish to mar his character ; and 
tliese new proceedings only embodied the same charge of receiving 
a salarv from the King, with an additional count that in tlie reply 
to the house he had said that the salary granted by the Assembly had 
been inadequate to his support, which they alleged was ungrateful, 
false and malicious, and tended to bring scandal upon his ^Majesty's 
o-overnment in the province, and was sufficient cause alone for his 
removal. The house of representatives in their haste seemed to for- 
get that his salary had only been two hundred pounds per annum, 
with great delays in its payment, and that it was not until after the 
o-rant made by the Crown of four hundred pounds that they liad 
raised it to three hundred per annum. He had been repeatedly as- 
sured by leading members of tlie house that his salary, being inade- 
quate, should be raised, and after the change by thus increasing it 
to this amount, they seemed to confess that it liad been altogether 
too small. 

« Tlicsc Articles of Impcachincnt arc still extant in the band writing of John Adams. 

t Hutchinson, Vol. 3, p. 445. 

+ Hutchinson (Diary), p. 116. 


The governor ngain declined to hear tlie committee, avoiding the 
issue by saying that lie was about to leave the provinces for Eng- 
land, and had not time to consider it, and rcconiniendcd the despatch 
ot" the necessary business before them, Tiie council and house 
were most diligent in discovering ways by wliicli the govermtr woidd 
be compelled to appoint a time for the consideration of the iin[)cach- 
ment. The governor concluded that the wisest course for liim was 
to dissolve the assembly, and had prepared a long message to that 
effect. While this message was being read before the council, the 
house, hearing of its purport, closed its doors, refused admission of 
the secretary to deliver the message and thus prorogue them, until 
they had voted their salaries and passed a resolve that they had done 
all that in the capacity of representatives of the people in this court 
could be done for the removal of Peter Oliver, Esq., the chief justice, 
from his seat in the Superior Court, and tliat it must be presumed 
that the governor refusing to take any measures therein is because 
he also received his support from tlie Crown,"* and after attending 
to a few minor matters they opened their doors and allowed the sec- 
retary to enter and deliver the governor's message proroguing them.f 

Tlie odium whicli the chief justice incurred in thus defying the sen- 
timent of the house of representatives soon spread throughout the 
j)rovince. The otlier justices, although sharing the same ])olitical 
opinion as Judge Oliver, having so sha[)ed their course as to incur 
no censure on the part of the General Court, were allowed to pro- 
ceed with their duties without the chief justice. But jurors refused 
to apj)ear while the chief justice was yet in office, uud early in 1774 
the whole course of judicial proceedings had stopped. | 

To add to the opprobriuux now so generally heaped upon Judge 

* Hiitcliiii!^on, Hist., Vol. 3, p. 454. 

t Life of'Saniuol Adams, Vol. 2, p. 137. 

t Iluteliin.soii, Hist., Vol. 3, p. 4-54. Jolm Aaams'si Works, Vol. 2,p. 3:52; Vol. 10, p. 240- 


Oliver* while the stormy proceedings of his impeachment were go- 
ing on, news arrived in Boston that Gov. Hutchinson, the chief 
justice and others had written letters to his Majesty's ministers in 
London, giving tliem false accounts of the affairs in the colonics, 
and advising extreme measures for their complete sul)jugation. 
These letters had been intercepted by Franklin and by his agents, 
sent to Holland, and from there returned to Boston. They were 
publicly read in Faneuil Hall to a large assembly of citizens, and 
the contents published and widely scattered throughout the country. 
Their contents set the whole province in a blaze. They proved to 
be the spark that was only wanting to fire the hearts of the patriots 
of the Ive volution. From every part of the province came loud 
and bitter denunciations against the infamous ministers of the 
Crown. Whoever questioned the measures of the patriot party was 
regarded with suspicion. To be in sympathy even with his Majes- 
ty's officers of the province was beginning to be regarded as hostile 
to the liberties of the people. In a few months more the chasm had 
become too wide to cross, and the conflict was ready to begin. 

The chief justice had always been a most zealous supporter of the 
royal prerogative, lie was known to be in full sympathy with his 
Majesty's ministry in their 2)olicy towards the American colonies, 
and the people at once assumed that he was one of the authors of 
these infamous letters. He regarded it as beneath his dignity to 
make denial of this groundless charge, and while he may liave known 
that such letters had been sent abroad by some of the unscrupulous 
officers of the Crown, there is no proof that he was the author of 
any of them. 

* Jolin Tnunbull, then a student in Jolin Adams's oflkc — the author of MacFinga! — thus 
icfc'n(jd to hini : 

" Did hoav'n nppfjiiit our C^hicf Jud,<;c, Oliver, 
Fill tliMt hii;li ijcni'li vvitli iirnoraniiis, 
Or lias it cuuncils by mandaiiuis ? " 


Boston was now under military rule, and the war for independ- 
ence had begun. The General Court never again assembled under 
the charter. Now other matters were more important than the trial 
of the chief justice upon the articles of impeachment, and no further 
action was ever taken upon them. Certain it is in the history of 
the country no judicial officer was ever threatened with impeach- 
ment upon such trivial charges, and which, under less exciting times, 
would never have been entertained by a legislative assembly. It 
illustrates the temper of the times, and how even deliberative bodies 
are sometimes swayed by the prejudice and excitement of the hour. 

The position in which Judge Oliver now found himself was pain- 
ful in the extreme. He had dared to resist the known will of the 
legislature of the province. lie had been im[)eached by the re[)re- 
sentatives of the people in his high and dignified office ; his friends 
had forsaken him ; public confidence in him was lost ; his influence 
destroyed ; his usefulness at an end. lie had been insulted by the 
mob* and hung in effigy. Fears for his personal safety even were en- 
tertained by the few friends who still adhered to him. It was 
deemed unsafe for him to attend the death-bed of his only brother, 
Lieut. Gov. Oliver, or even to be present at his funeral. f Xo man 
of the time encountered such obloquy and reproach. 

Tradition has it, that while the English ships were in the harbor 
to take Lord Howe and his troops from Boston, in the edge of the 
evening Judge Oliver was seen coming on horseback up the hill 
upon which stood Oliver Hall in Middleborough. He had come in 
this way from Boston. Xo one would have recognized him as the 
chief justice. He was alone and covered with mud ; his ficc hag- 
gard and careworn. He did not stop to eat or rest. Hastily en- 
tering the doorway of the Hall, he went directly to a secret closet 
in the great parlor where he kept his valuables, unlocked the 

* See MacFingal, Canto III. 

t Hiitfliinsoii (Diary), Vol. 1, p. H7. 


door, took his money nnd such articles of value as his saddle- 
bags Avould hold, cast along, sad look into his library, hurriedly 
glanced from room to room in what had been to him so delightful a 
home, hastily bade the housekeeper good-bye, and galloped out into 
the darkness of the night, never more to see the place where he had 
spent so many happy years and enjoyed so nuich with friends and 
neighbors.* The next morning he embarked with Lord Ilowe, and 
never after saw the land of his birth. f 

Oliver Ilall remained for some years after, Avith most of its fur- 
niture and adornments. But the populace were becoming more and 
more enraged against the tory traitors to their cause. Their fathers, 
their husbands and sons had been at Bunker Hill and never returned ; 
others had come back to tell of the hardships and sufferings at Long 
Island and :Monmouth. The cause of liberty and independence was 
the absorbing theme. The tory was the most hated and despised of 
all men. Every reminder of him was hateful. The patriots began 
to contrast the wealth and sumptuous living of the officers of the 
Crown with their own plain habits and customs. Every mark which 
their tory rulers had left seemed to cause fresh smarts to the wounds 
received at the hands of the mother country. No monument of Brit- 
ish influence remaining was so conspicuous as Oliver Hall. About 
midnight, after some of the soldiers of the town had returned from a 
hard-fought campaign, an unusual number of people seemed to be 
about the village, when suddenly the Hall was discovered to be on 
fire. No effort was made to extinguish it. It was a long time in 
burning. t The contents were Uxkcn out by whoever desired them, 
and to-day many relics of its former splendor may l^e found in the 

• Mr«. Mary Norcutt, account of the last time Jmljic Oliver was in Mid.llol.oro*. 

t He, with certain other loyahsts, was by act of General Court of Massachusetts, passed 
Oetol)er, 1778, banished from the country. 

+ This is from Mrs. NorcuU's description of the burning of Oliver Hall. The Hall was 
burned about the year 1781). 


olil liouses and families of the place. The doors were taken off and 
may now be seen in a house some five miles away.* Tiie women tore 
off the paper-hangings, and for years afterwards used the sprigs of 
gold leaf as ornaments for their hair wlien they were to grace 
with their presence the fashionable parties in that or neighboring 

After the Hall had been burned its grounds were entirely neglect- 
ed, and passers-by seemed to take especial delight in destroying what 
the flames had left belonging to the hated tory. Some of the seats 
in the groves and the summer liousef on the banks of the pond 
remained for a few years, but finally rotted away and fell in 
pieces. The trees, many of them of the first growth of the forest, 
Avere cut by such of the neighbors as wanted wood, and in a few 
years but little was left to indicate what Judge Oliver's residence 
had once been. The estate was confiscated and afterwards sold by 
the commissioner appointed to sell the property of royalists. J 

There has always been a bitter prejudice against the loyal- 
ists who were on the bench at the beginning of the Revolution, 
which did not attach to the members of the bar, a large majority 
of whom were loyalists, and that prejudice has shown itself all 
through the history of the tim<3s. ISIost writers of this period 

* House of Sprague S. Stetson, Esq., in Lakevillc. 

t Judge Oliver in his diary, under date of June 7, 1776, describing bis visit to tlie conn- 
try seat of Lord Edgeumber, tlius alhides to his own grounds in Middlehorougii : — 

*' Tills morning visited Lord Edgcombc's seat. » # * * * We tiien descended 
the walks around the sea-shore, which were varied witli taste, and yet seemed formed on 
the plan of nature, with seats to rest on, and with hermitages; iiromontories on one side 
and the sea opening tliroug"h trees on tlic other, filled the mind with pleasure. But I was 
in one walk deprived of pleasure for a moment, it l)eing so like a serpentine walk of mine 
on the Ijaiiks of the river Nemasket, which so lately had been wrenched from me by the 
Harpy claws of Uebellion, that I was snatched from where I now was to the ioss of where 
I had so late l)ecn in the arms of contentment * * * "—Ilufchiitson's Diarj/ and Let- 
ters, VoL 2, p. f)7. 

+ Sec Acts of Gen. Court of Massachusetts, passed October, 1779. 


have been content to accept the estimate of those men as gathered 
from the utterances of their cotcmporarics, who were not in political 
sympathy with them, durini^r the turbulent times immediately pre- 
ceding the open rupture between the colonies and the mother coun- 
try. The justices of both the Superior Court and the Court of Com- 
mon Pleas, were conscientious and fearless men. Most of them had 
passed far beyond that period of life when opinions on political 
subjects would be likely to be changed. On the other hand, the 
leaders of the patriot party for the most part were in the flush of early 
manhood, of ardent temperament, keen to the oppressive acts of the 
Crown and zealous for the liberties of the people. Their measures and 
their methods were not calculated to change the convictions of the 
grave and thoughtful men on the bench. Neither could they be neu- 
tral at such times. They were bound to act in their official capacity 
according to their convictions, which they were not careful to con- 
ceal. Moreover, they thoroughly believed in the Crown and the 
principles of government on which it rested. All of their official 
surroundings served to make their convictions permanent. They 
had been trained either at the bar or by long experience on the bench, 
to adhere with great tenacity to the forms and precedents of the 
English law and of the English constitution. The form of govern- 
ment and its administration was to them a sacred thing. They had 
taken their solemn oaths faithfully to administer and maintain the 
constitution and laws of the realm. Such men could not have been 
true to themselves, and approved or even done otlierwise than 
condemn the measures brought forward by the patriot leaders 
under such exciting circumstances, and necessarily in their judgment 
of doubtful expediency and tending to overthrow the very foundations 
upon which the government rested. 

It is worthy of remark, in making our estimate of the character of 
Judge Oliver, that notwithstanding his love for his King and the laws 


and institutions of the mother country ; notwithstanding the many pub- 
lic insults he had received, and the strong provocations constantly thrust 
upon him by his political enemies, not a judicial act, during all of 
these stormy times, has come down to us which was hasty or incon- 
siderate, or where any trace of personality was manifested. His 
most bitter enemies could bring no complaint against him personally. 
His conduct was always open. There was no guile or deceit in his 
nature. He was always dignified, yet courteous, polite, patient. He 
cared nothing for personal vindication of his honor or for criticisms 
upon the correctness of his views upon government and public affairs. 
He seemed to carry with him the consciousness that in his official 
capacity he was in the discharge of his sworn duty, and was not 
careful as to what the consequences to him while acting in that 
capacity might be, or what would be the estimate that might be put 
upon them by others. While guarded in his public utterances concern- 
ing the leaders of the patriot party and their cause, his notes in his diary 
show that he regarded them as men of desperate fortune, unbounded 
ambition, and who were bringing ruin on their own happy and pros- 
perous country. Undoubtedly many of his associates who espoused 
the cause of the Crown were actuated by the general belief among 
them that the rebellion would soon be suppressed and they rewarded 
for their loyalty and the patriot leaders punished; but with him, 
his course was a matter of principle, conscientiously and delib- 
erately t-aken. 

The offence of which Judge Oliver was guilty was that of being 
true to his convictions, in opposition to that of a very large majority 
during the most exciting period of the history of the province. It 
was, however, then, in the estimation of the country, an offence of 
the greatest enormity. His position, his great ability as a jurist, 
his high sense of honor, his cultivated tastes, his learning, his zeal 
in guarding the I'ights of the people and of the government in times 


past, his just and impartial interpretation of tlie laws of the pro- 
vince as they had come down from their earliej^t ^settlements, his cor- 
rect application of the preambles of the common law which the colo- 
nists had brought witli them from tlie mother country, as applied to 
the new and varied condition of affairs here existing, his keen legal 
perceptions, his logical mind, his fearlessness in tlie discharge of 
what he believed to be his duty, his generosity, his irreproachable 
character, his many friends and associations with men of letters, 
what he had done by his personal exertions to promote tlie welfare 
of his town and county, were all forgotten.* It was enougli that 
when the struggle for independence was approaching he was found 
to be a loyalist, an officer under tlie Crown who had received his 
salary from the King and not at the hands of the legislature ; and 
this was sufficient to brand him with the opprobrium of the times. 

After leaving Boston he went to Halifax, and soon after removed 
to Burmington, England, where he died in 1797. At his death 
a tablet to his memory was placed in St. Philip's Clmrch, where it 
is still to be seen. He lived there a quiet and happy life, beloved 
and respected by all who knew him.t He was always a welcomed 
guest in the choicest circles of rank and culture of English society. 
He had no regrets for the sacrifices he had made or for the course 
he had taken. Nor did he even manifest any bitterness of feeling 
towards those who seemed to be his personal enemies or the many 
former friends who had deserted hira. His letters to ids children 
in this country were models of composition, showing the culture ot 
the scholar as well as the tender solicitude of the parent, often ex- 

* See John Adams's estimate of Judge Oliver, Vol. 2, pp. 131-328; also, sec Dr. Eliot, 
t Soon after his arrival in England he compiled a Scripture Lexicon, which went through 
several editions. It was a text-took at Oxford tor some time, from which University its 
author received the degree of Doctor of Laws. While a resident of Burmington he formed 
an acquaintance with Lord Lyttleton, which afterward ripened into intimacy.— Dr. F. E. 


pressing the wish that their lives and character might be irreproachable 
and the world better for their living. One of them closes with this 
quotation from his favorite poet, "That life is long that answers life's 
crreat end." 

JJOTE. — Judge Oliver married, as has been already stated, Mary, a 
daughter of William Clarke, Esq. He left issue — 1. Elizabeth, who mar- 
ried Major George Watson, one of whose daughters married Martin Brim- 
mer, Esq., and another Sir Grenville Temple ; 2. Daniel, horn October 8, 
1738, H. C. 1758, died s. p.; 3. Peter, born June 17, 1741, H. C. 17G1, 
M.D., married Nellie, eldest daughter of Gov. Hutchnison, and died at 
Shrewsbury, England, July 30, 1822, leaving issue; 4. William, born May 
23, 1743; 5. Andrew, born Sept. 15, 1746, H. C. 1765, married Phebe 
Spooner, and died at Middleboro', January, 1772. His daughter married 
Dr. Waterhouse of Cambridge. 6. Mary, born June 22, 1751, and died