April 4, 2024

By Kelley Blake


April 4, 1774

On this very day, 250 years ago . . .

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Most colonists believed the British readied to punish the Bostonians for their Tea Party.  The King and Parliament were increasingly angered by the first-hand accounts carried by vessels returning from Boston and other colonial ports. Exactly how and when punishment might be exacted worried folks far beyond the Massachusetts Bay.  

On the Shore, Spring’s joy was dampened by the untimely death of popular minister Richard Hewitt of Hungars Parish. The forty-two-year-old Hewitt was a William and Mary trained scholar whose writings dared Virginians to think independently. Hewitt had accepted the rectorship of Hungars in 1761 and enjoyed the generous benefits of his office, including profitable harvests of parish lands, the labor of enslaved workers, skilled indentured servants, a lovely home, and fine horses.  All were typical perquisites of Anglican leadership in the colony.  

Unlike many clergymen, however, Hewitt appears universally well liked. He was described as selfless and generous, with a pleasant eloquence both inspiring and entertaining.  He counted Burgess and vestryman Severn Eyre among his dear friends and the two traveled together to New England in the summer of 1770.  They toured Harvard with John Adams and the future president was deeply impressed with these two Northampton men of “genius and learning,” both “zealous” in the cause of liberty. 

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Hewitt soon proved it.  In 1771, ambitious and “pernicious” Virginia church leaders proposed to install a bishop over the entire Anglican church in the American colonies.  Hewitt and colleague Reverend Samuel Bland strongly and publicly opposed any such action.  They argued a bishop would be a powerful new agent of the Crown and denounced the Virginia clergy for pressing without the consultation of other colonies or their own membership.  The movement failed and the House of Burgesses unanimously thanked Hewitt and Bland for their “wise and well timed opposition.” 

Sadly, Burgess Severn Eyre died in January 1773 amid much lament. Hewitt’s death in March 1774 was marked by a two-column front page obituary in the April 14 Virginia Gazette.  The anguished anonymous author glorified Hewitt, even while mourning Northampton’s lost position as the “seat of muses” now that Eyre was in “Heaven’s high mansion” and Hewitt was “forever gone.” 

The loss of such exceptional talent might have daunted a lesser place, but both Shore counties would produce new “muses” with extraordinary wartime abilities.  On this day, though, the question remained: if Britain should strike back at Boston, what were the two counties prepared to do? 

Join WESR on the 4th of each month to learn more about Virginia and the Shore’s role in the War for Independence.  Get ready for the Revolutionary Shore!  

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