World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

James Bowdoin

Article Id: WHEBN0000392863
Reproduction Date:

Title: James Bowdoin  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Thomas Cushing, Shays' Rebellion, Dudley–Winthrop family, Samuel Adams, John Hancock
Collection: 1726 Births, 1790 Deaths, 18Th-Century American People, Boston Latin School Alumni, Burials at Granary Burying Ground, Deaths from Tuberculosis, Dudley–winthrop Family, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellows of the Royal Society, Gentleman Scientists, Governors of Massachusetts, Harvard University Alumni, Huguenot Participants in the American Revolution, Infectious Disease Deaths in Massachusetts, Members of the Colonial Massachusetts House of Representatives, People from Boston, Massachusetts, People from Colonial Boston, Massachusetts
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

James Bowdoin

James Bowdoin
Portrait by Robert Feke, 1748
2nd Governor of Massachusetts
In office
May 27, 1785 – May 30, 1787
Lieutenant Thomas Cushing
Preceded by Thomas Cushing
(as acting governor)
Succeeded by John Hancock
Personal details
Born (1726-08-07)August 7, 1726
Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay
Died November 6, 1790(1790-11-06) (aged 64)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party None

James Bowdoin II (; August 7, 1726 – November 6, 1790) was an American political and intellectual leader from Boston, Massachusetts, during the American Revolution. He served in both branches of the Massachusetts General Court from the 1750s to the 1770s. Although he was initially supportive of the royal governors, he opposed British colonial policy and eventually became an influential advocate of independence. He authored a highly political report on the 1770 Boston Massacre that has been described by historian Francis Walett as one of the most influential pieces of writing that shaped public opinion in the colonies.

From 1775 to 1777 he served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress' executive council, the de facto head of the Massachusetts government. He was elected president of the constitutional convention that drafted the state's constitution in 1779, and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1780, losing to John Hancock. In 1785, following Hancock's resignation, he was elected governor. During his two years in office poor economic conditions and harsh fiscal policy laid down by his government led to the uprising known as Shays' Rebellion. Bowdoin personally funded militia forces that were instrumental in putting down the uprising. His high-handed treatment of the rebels may have contributed to his loss of the 1787 election, in which the populist Hancock was returned to office.

In addition to his political activities, Bowdoin was active in scientific pursuits, collaborating with Benjamin Franklin in his pioneering research on electricity. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and was a founder and first president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to whom he bequeathed his library. Bowdoin College in Maine was named in his honor after a bequest by his son James III.


  • Early life 1
  • Scientific and other pursuits 2
  • Governor's Council and opposition to British rule 3
  • Government of Massachusetts 4
    • Shays' Rebellion 4.1
  • Death and legacy 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Portrait of Bowdoin as a child by John Smibert

James Bowdoin II was born in Boston to Hannah Portage Bowdoin and James Bowdoin, a wealthy Boston merchant.[1] His grandfather, Pierre Baudouin, was a Huguenot refugee from France. Pierre took his family first to Ireland, then to eastern Massachusetts (present-day Maine), before finally settling in Boston in 1690.[2] James Bowdoin I had a modest inheritance from his parents, but greatly expanded his father's merchant business and land holdings to became one of the wealthiest men in the province.[1][3] Young James attended the South Grammar School (now Boston Latin School), then graduated from Harvard College in 1745. When his father died in 1747, he inherited a considerable fortune.[4] He married Elizabeth Erving, daughter of his Harvard roommate, in 1748. They had two children.[3]

Scientific and other pursuits

Bowdoin may have met Benjamin Franklin as early as 1743, and the two became frequent collaborators and correspondents on scientific subjects. During his Harvard years, he was educated in the sciences by John Winthrop, and developed an interest in electricity and astronomy. In 1750 Bowdoin traveled to Philadelphia to meet with Franklin. Bowdoin was interested in Franklin's experiments on electricity, and Franklin solicited his advice on papers he prepared for submission to the Royal Society. Through the offices of Franklin, some of Bowdoin's letters were read to the Society.[5] Bowdoin was instrumental in gaining support in the provincial assembly for an expedition to Newfoundland to observe the 1761 transit of Venus across the sun,[6] and in the same year published a treatise suggesting improvements to the telescope.[5] In 1785 he published a series of memoirs arguing against Isaac Newton's theory that light was transmitted by "corpuscles", citing both natural observations and Scripture.[7]

Bowdoin maintained a lifelong interest in the sciences. In 1780 he was one of the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as its first president until his death and left the society his library. Bowdoin published not only scientific papers, but poetry in both English and Latin. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Edinburgh and made a fellow of Harvard. His 1788 election to the Royal Society of London was the first such honor bestowed on an American after independence.[8]

Bowdoin also had extensive business interests. Although he was often characterized as a merchant, and he engaged in the Atlantic trade, his principal interest was in land. His inheritance included major tracts of land, most of which he kept, in present-day Maine as well as in the agriculturally rich Elizabeth Islands off the state's south coast. Bowdoin expanded his holdings, eventually acquiring property in all of the New England states except Rhode Island. He was one of the managing proprietors of a large territory on the Kennebec River, where he was frequently involved in legal proceedings with squatters on the land, and with competing land interests. The dealings with squatters in particular left Bowdoin with a dislike of the lower classes in Massachusetts society, something that affected his politics.[9] His inheritance also included an ironworks in Attleboro (now Bridgewater) that he sold in 1770, apparently because it was too time-consuming to manage.[10] Despite the upheavals of the Revolution, Bowdoin was careful to always manage his financial affairs. He supported the cause of independence financially, but he did so without damaging his own business interests, unlike John Hancock, whose business suffered from neglect.[11]

In later years he served as the first president of the

Political offices
Thomas Cushing
as acting governor
Governor of Massachusetts
John Hancock
  • Works related to James Bowdoin at Wikisource

External links

  • The colonists' account of the Boston Massacre, which Bowdoin was partly responsible for writing

Further reading


  1. ^ a b Danver, p. 217
  2. ^ Winthrop, pp. 91–94
  3. ^ a b Manuel and Manuel, p. 44
  4. ^ Winthrop, p. 94
  5. ^ a b Manuel and Manuel, p. 74
  6. ^ Woolf, pp. 501–502
  7. ^ Greene, pp. 355–356
  8. ^ Stearns, pp. 243–244
  9. ^ Kersaw, pp. 62, 66–69
  10. ^ Kersaw, p. 62
  11. ^ Manuel and Manuel, pp. 52–57
  12. ^ Manuel and Manuel, pp. 53, 84
  13. ^ a b c Manuel and Manuel, p. 86
  14. ^ Walett, p. 321
  15. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 88
  16. ^ a b c Alexander, p. 112
  17. ^ Walett, pp. 324–325
  18. ^ a b Winthrop, p. 104
  19. ^ Walett, p. 333
  20. ^ Walett, p. 327
  21. ^ Morse, p. 22
  22. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 93
  23. ^ Manuel and Manuel, pp. 96–97
  24. ^ Winthrop, pp. 58–60
  25. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 101
  26. ^ Winthrop, pp. 60–61
  27. ^ Manuel and Manuel, pp. 109–110
  28. ^ Morse, pp. 21–22
  29. ^ Hall, p. 134
  30. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 39
  31. ^ Winthrop, p. 111
  32. ^ a b Hall, p. 136
  33. ^ Manuel and Manuel, pp. 143–145
  34. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 142
  35. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 146
  36. ^ a b Manuel and Manuel, p. 249
  37. ^ Allan, p. 317
  38. ^ Hall, pp. 136–137
  39. ^ Hall, pp. 137–138
  40. ^ Richards, p. 85
  41. ^ Richards, pp. 87–88
  42. ^ Szatmary, pp. 38–42,45
  43. ^ Richards, pp. 6–9
  44. ^ Szatmary, p. 38
  45. ^ Szatmary, pp. 79–80
  46. ^ Szatmary, p. 80
  47. ^ Manuel, p. 219
  48. ^ Szatmary, p. 92
  49. ^ Zinn, p. 93
  50. ^ Szatmary, p. 97
  51. ^ Szatmary, pp. 98–99
  52. ^ Szatmary, pp. 84–86
  53. ^ Szatmary, pp. 102–105
  54. ^ Richards, p. 32
  55. ^ Richards, p. 33
  56. ^ Richards, pp. 38–39
  57. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 241
  58. ^ Fowler, p. 268
  59. ^ Allan, pp. 328-329
  60. ^ Allan, p. 333
  61. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 238
  62. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 240
  63. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 247
  64. ^ Winthrop, p. 130
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^ Manuel and Manuel, p. 237
  68. ^ Adams, p. 10; Adams makes incorrect statements about their relationships and origins.
  69. ^ Chadbourne, p. 241


See also

Landmarks bearing the Bowdoin name in Boston include Bowdoin Street, Bowdoin Square, and the Bowdoin MBTA station. Bowdoin, Maine, incorporated 1788, was named for Bowdoin; neighboring Bowdoinham, Maine (incorporated 1762) was named either for his grandfather Pierre or his brother William.[68][69]

An orrery constructed by clockmaker Joseph Pope, now in Harvard's science department, includes bronze figures of Bowdoin and Benjamin Franklin that were supposedly cast by Paul Revere. (Bowdoin was responsible for having the device rescued when Pope's house caught fire in 1787.)[66][67]

He died in Boston on November 6, 1790, of "putrid fever and dysentery".[63] Bowdoin's funeral was one of the largest of the time in Boston, with people lining the streets to view the funeral procession.[64] He was interred in Boston's Granary Burying Ground. Among his bequests was a gift to Harvard College for awards that are now known as the Bowdoin Prizes.[65] His son James III donated lands from the family estate in Brunswick, Maine, as well as funds and books, to establish Bowdoin College in his honor.[36]

Bowdoin's tomb in the Granary Burying Ground

Death and legacy

In 1788 Bowdoin served as a member of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the United States Constitution.[57] A strong supporter of Federalism, Bowdoin worked hard for its ratification, bringing a skeptical Samuel Adams and his supporters into the fold by inviting him to a dinner with other pro-ratification delegates,[58] and offering Federalist support to John Hancock in future elections.[59] Bowdoin's Federalist supporters backed Hancock in the 1789 election, even though Bowdoin also stood for election.[60] He remained active in his charitable and scientific pursuits in his later years, continuing his leadership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[61] as well as that of the Humane Society. He also continued to engage in new business ventures, buying in 1789 an interest in one of the first American merchant ships to sail to China.[62]

The crushing of the rebellion and the harsh terms of reconciliation imposed by the Disqualification Act all worked against Governor Bowdoin politically. In the election held in April 1787, Bowdoin received few votes from the rural parts of the state, and was trounced by John Hancock.[56]

The same day that Lincoln arrived at Petersham, the state legislature passed bills authorizing a state of martial law, giving the governor broad powers to act against the rebels. It also authorized state payments to reimburse Lincoln and the merchants who had funded the army, and authorized the recruitment of additional militia.[54] On February 12 the legislature passed the Disqualification Act, seeking to prevent a legislative response by rebel sympathizers. This bill expressly forbade any acknowledged rebels from holding a variety of elected and appointed offices.[55]

Because the federal government had been unable to raise any significant number of troops and Bowdoin could no longer trust local militias in the western counties, he proposed in early January 1787 the creation of a private militia to be funded by eastern merchants. Revolutionary War General Benjamin Lincoln raised funds and men for the effort, and had 3,000 men in Worcester by January 19.[52] A standoff at the Springfield Armory on January 25 resulted in the death of several rebels, and Lincoln broke the main rebel force on February 4 in Petersham, ending large-scale resistance.[53]

[51] Under the leadership of Bowdoin and Samuel Adams, the legislature enacted a Riot Act, suspended

[47] Protests and court shutdowns continued, with one correspondent writing in October, "We are now in a state of Anarchy and Confusion bordering on Civil War".[46] was shut down by similar action on September 5, the county militia (composed mainly of men sympathetic to the protestors) refused to turn out, much to Bowdoin's chagrin.Worcester When the court in [45] After the legislature adjourned in August 1786 without substantively addressing these complaints, rural Massachusetts protestors organized

This contemporary woodcut depicts two of the rebel leaders, Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck.

[42] These actions, which were combined with a general post-war economic depression and a credit squeeze caused by a shortage of [41] Bowdoin, seeking to make payments the state owed against the nation's foreign debt, raised taxes and stepped up collection of back taxes.[40] Governor Hancock had, during his time in office, refused to vigorously act to collect delinquent taxes.

Shays' Rebellion

In 1785, apparently sensitive to rising unrest in western Massachusetts over the poor economy, Hancock offered to resign, expecting to be asked to stay in office. However, the legislature made no such request, and he eventually did resign, pleading poor health. The gubernatorial race that year was dominated by Bowdoin, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Cushing (who was widely viewed as a standin for Hancock but lacked his charisma), and Revolutionary War General Benjamin Lincoln.[32] The campaign was at times nasty. Bowdoin and Samuel Adams went after the Hancock-Cushing faction, seizing on the recently established and locally controversial social club (known either as "Sans Souci" or the "Tea Assembly"), at which card play and dancing took place (these activities had previously been banned in socially conservative Boston), as a sign of moral decay that took place under Hancock's term. Cushing supporters accused Bowdoin of cowardice in the war and insulting the people for refusing the lieutenant governorship in 1780.[37][38] The electorate gave no candidate a majority, and the General Court ended up choosing Bowdoin over the others in bitterly divisive voting.[39]

Bowdoin ran against Hancock in subsequent elections, but was never able to overcome Hancock's enormous popularity.[32] The contest between the two men was just one element of a long-running rivalry that encompassed business, politics, and religion, and was apparently deeply personal. The two men were both involved in the administration of Harvard, where their feud sometimes became ugly. For example, in 1776, while Hancock was simultaneously treasurer of Harvard and president of the Second Continental Congress, a committee headed by Bowdoin decided that securities physically held by Hancock were at risk because of the war, and a delegation was sent to Philadelphia to receive an accounting of them and physical custody of the papers. Hancock's dilatory responses and refusal to produce an accounting of the college books dragged on for several years, as a result of which Bowdoin orchestrated his censure by the Harvard board of overseers. The matter reached a peak of sorts in 1783 when the college's issues with Hancock were read and discussed in an open meeting at which Hancock was the presiding officer.[33] Both Bowdoin and Hancock attended the Brattle Street Church, where they competed with each other over the size and quality of the improvements to the building (and even the location of a new one) that they funded.[34] James Warren captured the differences between the two men: "I don't envy either of them their feelings. the Vanity of one will Sting like an Adder if it is disappointed, and the Advancements made by the other if they dont succeed will hurt his Modest pride."[35] The rivalry between the men was so bitter that the founding of Bowdoin College, named in his honor, had to be delayed until after Hancock died.[36]

In the first gubernatorial election, held in 1780, Bowdoin ran for the office against John Hancock. In the absence of formal party politics, the contest was one of personality, popularity, and patriotism. Hancock was immensely popular, and unquestionably patriotic given his personal sacrifices and his leadership of the Second Continental Congress. Bowdoin was cast by Hancock supporters as unpatriotic, citing among other things his refusal to serve in the First Continental Congress (even though it was due to his illness).[28] Bowdoin's supporters, who were principally well-off commercial interests from Massachusetts coastal communities, cast Hancock as a foppish demagogue who pandered to the populace.[29] Hancock won the election easily, receiving more than 90% of the vote. The Massachusetts House of Representatives offered Bowdoin either the lieutenant governorship or a seat in the state senate, but Bowdoin declined both on account of his poor health.[30] After the election Hancock appointed him to a commission to revise and consolidate the state's laws.[31]

Bowdoin as named as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 but did not attend, citing the poor health of his wife.[21] A bout of poor health, probably caused by tuberculosis, at the time also affected him.[22] Bowdoin was again ill in 1775 when the American Revolutionary War broke out, and the family was relocated from British-occupied Boston (which was then under siege by area militia) first to Dorchester, and eventually to Middleborough, where he resided until 1778. (Bowdoin's Beacon Street mansion was occupied by General John Burgoyne.)[23] Despite his convalescence he was kept apprised of events occurring in and around Boston, and was elected president of the executive council of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. This position, which he held until 1777, made him the de facto head of the Massachusetts government.[24] Citing his ongoing poor health, he resigned the post and withdrew from public view. He continued to correspond with other revolutionaries, and enjoyed their confidence, although his absence from the war effort would lead to later political difficulties.[25] He began to return to public life in 1778, and when Massachusetts wrote its own constitution in 1779, he was president of the convention called to create it, and chairman of the committee that drafted it. John Adams, also a committee member, is generally credited as the major author of the new constitution, although Bowdoin and Samuel Adams likely made significant contributions.[26][27]

John Hancock (British mezzotint, 1775) was a perennial opponent of Bowdoin in matters political and personal.

Government of Massachusetts

After the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, Bowdoin was chosen by the Boston town meeting to serve on a committee that investigated the affair. The committee took depositions and produced a report describing the event that was published as A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. The work was highly critical not only of the governor, but also the behavior of the British Army troops that were stationed in Boston,[13] and is characterized by historian Francis Walett as one of the major propaganda pieces influencing public opinion in the colonies.[19] Bowdoin's opposition to British policies continued during the Hutchinson administration, and when letters by Hutchinson were published to outrage similar to the Bernard letters affair, Bowdoin again penned works highly critical of the governor and calling for his removal.[20] Hutchinson's successor, General Thomas Gage, vetoed Bowdoin's reelection to the council in 1774, citing "express orders from His Majesty" that he be excluded from that body.[18]

Bowdoin won reelection to the assembly in 1770, and was promptly reelected to the council the same year, soon after Bernard left the province.[16] Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson acquiesced to Bowdoin's return to the council, reasoning that he was less dangerous there than as an outspoken critic in the lower house.[18] However, the seat Bowdoin vacated in the assembly was taken by Samuel Adams, another leading political opponent of the royal governors, and Hutchinson was faced with the prospect of opposition on both fronts.[16]

Bowdoin was elected to the provincial assembly in 1753 and served there until named to the governor's council in 1756.[13] Although at first supportive of the royal governor, his politics became more radical as British colonial policy became increasingly unpopular, and Bowdoin believed those policies would have a negative effect on the New England economy. Personal factors may also have played a role in Bowdoin's shift in views: John Temple, the local customs commissioner and Bowdoin's son in law, was embroiled in nasty disputes with Governor Francis Bernard in the 1760s.[14][15] By 1769 Bowdoin was one of the principal spokesmen of the opposition to the governor on the council.[13] In that year Bernard rejected Bowdoin's renewed election to the council.[16] Bowdoin, however, was instrumental in causing Bernard's downfall from office. Private letters critical of the provincial government that Bernard had written were published in 1769 to great outrage. Bowdoin rebutted the charges and claims made in Bernard's letters, and published a highly polemic pamphlet arguing for Bernard's removal that was sent to the colonial secretary, Lord Hillsborough.[17]

Governor Francis Bernard

Governor's Council and opposition to British rule


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.