Before the town was named Somerset (part 2)
Jerathmael Bowers, Shawomet/Swansea's representative to the Massachusetts legislature, was always careful to consult with his constituents. Bowers attended each town meeting and used those occasions to explain legislative matters to his fellow townsmen. Then, he listened to what they had to say.
And that is exactly what he did on a September day in 1766 when he attended a town meeting at number one Main Street in Swansea Village. The merchants and farmers that day were focused on Bowers' description of the vandalism and physical violence that had targeted British officials in Boston. They heard all about two weeks of looting and destruction of private property. They heard about one mob that had stormed the Royal Governor's house, looted it, and then left it with only the brick walls standing. Now, the British Secretary of State was demanding that the colonial legislature pass a bill compensating the victims of Boston's riots to the tune of several thousand pounds. Bowers needed to know what town meeting members thought about this. How did its members expect him to represent them in this matter?
First, according to the record, the members instructed Bowers to vote against the bill. Secondly, they told him to vote against any bill that gave the victims anything. Perhaps, our townsmen thought it should be Boston's responsibility. Perhaps, they thought the victims got what they deserved. They left no explanations.
But the record does make it clear that the citizens of Shawomet/Swansea steadily became more supportive of whatever it took to check British authority. Someone had explained to our citizens what was at stake if they could be taxed by a British Parliament that did not include among its members anyone to represent the good people of their town. Someone had pointed out that if Parliament could tax tea, could it not tax a man's livestock? Or his ship? Or even his harvest?
Someone had orchestrated a boycott of British products that was particularly effective in the Somerset, Swansea, and Fall River area. Only one local merchant, George Brightman, refused to comply with the boycott. His name was reported in a widely read New England newspaper, and his business fell off considerably.
Someone was the source of the news from Boston that got to Shawomet so quickly. The town was alerted immediately when the first British warship lumbered into Boston Harbor. A special town meeting was hastily convened the next day. The only matter of business was to confer a military title on Thomas Peck, moderator of the town meeting. He was now Captain Peck. This was unprecedented. Someone was responsible for the town's growing resistance to British government. And the Royal Governor knew who it was. Jerathmael Bowers' appointment to the upper house of the Massachusetts legislature was vetoed by Sir Francis Bernard, named to the post of governor by King George lll. Three other men , all closely linked to Bowers, were rejected at the same time. They were James Otis, later credited by John Adams with sowing the seeds of independence; John Hancock, who would famously be the first to sign the Declaration of Independence; and Artemas Ward, destined to be General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. These three, along with Bowers, were a threat to British control.
Shortly before a British army occupied Boston, members of the legislature got out of town and took the extraordinary step of recreating themselves into a new and independent government located in the village of Concord. This body called itself the Provincial Congress, and the Swansea town meeting lost no time in sending Jerathmael Bowers as its delegate to the meetings. He attended all of them, joining with the rebel elite of Massachusetts in calling for the purchase of military supplies and making decisions that led to armed conflict with Britain. There is no record of his disagreement with any of it.
Jerathmael Bowers was still serving as the town's representative when, in 1775, he was accused of being hostile "toward the rights and liberties of America." His accusers were Israel Barney of Swansea and John Wheeler of Rehoboth. They claimed that Bowers had refused to accept Continental paper money in payment of a debt. Bowers was quickly acquitted of the charges by his own colleagues in the legislature.
By the summer of 1776, many local people had chosen not to fight for their rights as British subjects. They had come to accept separation from the Mother Country and now supported a war for independence. Jerathmael Bowers had passionately defended American rights within the British Empire. But five months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Bowers publicly announced his opposition to independence and resigned from his post as the town's representative.
He was disqualified from holding any civil or military office in Massachusetts by an act of the legislature in 1777. The next year, General John Sullivan of the Continental Army requested that Bowers be removed from the war zone because he was "too great an enemy of the American cause and too dangerous a person " to remain near the American Army in Providence. Sullivan based his request on an anonymous letter he had received from individuals who identified themselves as residents of Swansea.
Soon, the Bristol County Sheriff and "armed men" arrived at the Bowers mansion on Main Street in Somerset. They roughed up Bowers and "forcibly removed him from his wife and children." He was "confined in a Connecticut jail" and he was" denied communication with his friends and family for months." The quoted material is taken from a letter written by Bowers that is on record at the London Public Records Office.
In 1783, the war was over, and Jerathmael Bowers was back on Main Street. He immediately set out to recover his losses.
To be continued…