Chronicles of America 

The Special Mission of Randolph

Edward Randolph, who was sent over in 1676 to make inquiry into the affairs of the colony, was a native of Canterbury, a former student of Gray's Inn, and at this time forty-three years old. The fact that he was connected by marriage with the Mason family accounts for his interest in the efforts of Gorges and Mason to break the hold of Massachusetts upon New Hampshire and Maine. He was a personal acquaintance of Sir Robert Southwell, the diplomatist, and of Southwell's intimate friend, William Blathwayt, an influential English official interested in the colonies. He had been in the employ of the government, and now, probably at the instance of Southwell and Blathwayt, he was selected to fill the difficult and thankless post of commissioner to New England. That he had ability and courage no one can doubt, and that he pursued his course with a tenacity that would have won commendation in other and less controversial fields, his career shows. His devotion to the interests of the Crown and his loyalty to the Church of England steeled him against the almost incessant attacks and rebuffs that he was called upon to endure, and his entire inability to see any other cause than his own saved him from the discouragements that must certainly have broken a man more sensitive than himself. He exhibited at times some of the obduracy of the zealot and martyr; at others he displayed unexpected good sense in protesting against extremes of action that he thought unjust or unwise. He was honest and indefatigable in the pursuit of what he believed to be his duty, and was ill-requited for his labors, but he was a persistent fault-finder and his letters are masterpieces of complaint. He was thrice married, his second wife dying at the height of his troubles in Massachusetts, and he had five children, all daughters, one of whom proved a grievous disappointment to him. Though he held many offices, he was always in debt and died poor, at the age of seventy, in Accomac County in Virginia. He was far from being the best man to send to New England, but his natural obstinacy and his determination to overcome difficulties were intensified by the discourteous and tactless manner in which he was received by the Puritans. He had no sympathy with the efforts of the "old faction" to save the colony, and the people of Massachusetts responded with a bitter and lasting hate.

Randolph landed at Boston on June 10, and remained in the colony until the end of July, about six weeks altogether. He visited Plymouth, New Hampshire, and Maine, interviewed men in authority and all sorts of other people, and he came to the conclusion that the majority of the inhabitants were discontented with the Boston régime. The magistrates ignored his presence as much as they dared, refusing to recognize him as anything but an enemy representing the Mason and Gorges claims, and insisting that though the King might enlarge their privileges he could not abridge them. Randolph, thoroughly nettled, returned to England prepared to do his worst.

He sent several reports to the King and constantly appeared before the Privy Council and the Lords of Trade, each time doing all the damage that he could. He had undoubtedly got much of his information from prejudiced sources or from hearsay, and he was as eager to retail it as had been the Massachusetts authorities to blast the moral character of the King's commissioners. He denounced the "old faction" as cunning, deceptive, overbearing, and disloyal; he called the clergy proud, ignorant, imperious, and inclined to sedition; and he denounced those in authority as "inconsiderable mechanicks, packed by the prevailing party of the factious ministry, with a fellow-feeling both in the command and the profits." His picture of the colony, containing much that was near the truth, was at the same time distorted, out of proportion, and in parts almost a caricature. His most effective reports were those which laid stress upon the failure of the colony to obey the navigation acts and the royal commands, and upon its use of the word " Commonwealth," as if the corporation were already an independent state. These reports were accepted by the English authorities as correct statements of fact, for they seemed to be confirmed by the evidence of London merchants and by at least one West Indian governor, who knew the colony and had no personal interests at stake.

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