Metcalf Bowler was a wealthy businessman and politician from Rhode Island. He participated in the Albany Congress and was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. After he died, it was discovered that he sold information to the British near the end of the American Revolutionary War.
- Bowler was born in London in 1726.
- His father was Charles Bowler.
- In the 1740s, Metcalf moved to Boston with his father.
- They eventually settled in Newport, Rhode Island.
- His father was a tax collector.
- In 1750, Bowler married Ann Fairchild. They had four children together.
Portrait of Ann Metcalf Bowler by John Singleton Copley [Wikipedia].
- Bowler was a successful merchant and farmer in Rhode Island.
- He was a renowned horticulturist and cultivated the Rhode Island Greening apple.
- He wrote a pamphlet, “A Treatise On Agriculture And Practical Husbandry” that was published in 1786.
- In 1754, Bowler attended the Albany Congress.
- In 1765, he represented Rhode Island at the Stamp Act Congress.
- From 1767 to 1776, he served in the Rhode Island Assembly.
- From May 1768 to June 1769, he served as an Associate Justice on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
- From June 1770 to February 1777, he served as Chief Justice on the Rhode Island Supreme Court
- In 1754, Bowler attended a session of the Albany Congress.
French and Indian War
- Bowler operated as a privateer during the French and Indian War.
- He equipped four ships which were used to carry out the seizure of enemy vessels.
- His ships were called the Prince Frederick, New Concert, Diana, and Defence.
Delegate to the Stamp Act Congress
On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required a stamp to be placed on all legal documents and many printed materials in the colonies.
In May, news of the new law reached the colonies. There was immediate opposition, including riots in Boston, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Savannah, Georgia.
On June 8, 1765, the Massachusetts Assembly sent a circular letter to the legislatures of the other colonies, inviting them to send delegates to a congress in New York to discuss a unified response to the Stamp Act. The precedent for such a meeting had been set by the Albany Congress in 1754.
Nine of the 13 colonies, including Rhode Island, chose to send delegates to the meeting, which was held in New York City. Bowler was elected as a delegate from Rhode Island, along with Henry Ward.
The Stamp Act Congress convened on October 7, 1765. On October 19, the Stamp Act Congress issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Congress sent petitions to the King and both houses of Parliament and asked for the Stamp Act to be repealed.
Bowler signed his name to the official documents of the Stamp Act Congress.
On November 1, 1765, the Stamp Act took effect, but there were no stamp masters available to distribute the stamps. They had resigned or refused to perform their job due to violence and intimidation against them.
On March 18, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, primarily due to protest from British merchants who believed it would damage their prospects of doing business in the colonies. However, on that same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which declared it had the “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”
- In 1772, Bowler was involved in the investigation into the Gaspee Affair.
Rhode Island Committee of Correspondence
- Bowler served on Rhode Island’s Committee of Correspondence.
Rhode Island Declaration of Independence
- On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first colony to declare independence from Britain and Bowler signed the document.
American Revolutionary War
- On April 25, 1775, Bowler sent a letter to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in which he assured them that Rhode Island stood with them against the British.
- In December 1776, he was forced to leave Newport when British forces occupied the town. He went to Providence. In his absence, the British ruined his estate.
After the American Revolution
- Bowler ran a dry goods shop in Providence, Rhode Island.
- In 1787, he opened the Queen’s Head Tavern in Providence.
- Bowler died on September 14, 1789, at the age of 63, in Providence, Rhode Island.
- He was buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Providence.
Bowler’s legacy as a Patriot was tarnished in the late 1920s when a librarian cataloging the papers of General Sir Henry Clinton discovered letters from Bowler that revealed he was a paid informant for the British. Bowler signed the letters as “Rusticus.”
He hoped to trade information in return for the safety of his estate, which was used as a hospital and severely damaged by the British.
He provided Clinton with details on the strength of American forces in the area, the coming of the French Navy, among other things, but it is unclear if the information actually aided the British.
Metcalf Bowler is significant because he participated in the Albany Congress and was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. However, more than 100 years after his death, his legacy was tarnished when it was discovered that he sold information to the British near the end of the American Revolutionary War.
Visit Vernon House
Charles Bowler purchased this home in Newport, Rhode Island in 1753. In 1759, he sold it to Metcalf. In 1773, he sold it to William Vernon in 1773. Today, it is known as Vernon House.