Thomas Hutchinson — Controversial Governor of the Massachusetts Colony


Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a prominent figure in Massachusetts during the lead-up to the American Revolution. He is most well-known for serving as the Governor of Massachusetts during a significant portion of the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party

Thomas Hutchinson, Portrait

Thomas Hutchinson. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Who was Thomas Hutchinson?

Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was born into a wealthy merchant family in Boston on September 9, 1711. After receiving his education at Harvard University, he embarked on a political career. He was elected as a Boston Selectman in 1737 and to the Massachusetts General Court in 1738. Hutchinson served as the Speaker of the General Court from 1746 to 1748. Hutchinson continued to rise in political circles and was appointed to the Governor’s Council.

Albany Congress and Albany Plan of Union

In 1754, with tensions rising between Great Britain and France, Hutchinson attended the Albany Congress as a Massachusetts delegate. Hutchinson played a role in the development of the “Albany Plan of Union,” which is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Although it was Franklin who presented the plan at the conference, others, including Hutchinson, had similar ideas. Hutchinson likely played a role in the final draft of the plan.

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Writs of Assistance Case and Fued with James Otis

Hutchinson was appointed Lieutenant Governor in 1758 and later became chief justice in 1760. The fact that he held both positions at the same time was controversial. In 1761, he presided over the hearing for the “Paxton Case,” in which lawyer James Otis argued against the legality of Writs of Assistance. From then on, Otis harbored an intense dislike for Hutchinson, which fueled his passion for the Patriot Cause and his involvement in the American Revolution.

The Stamp Act Crisis and Riots

Although Hutchinson was not in favor of the Stamp Act, he believed it was his duty to enforce it. However, his support for the law made him a target for the Sons of Liberty in Boston. On August 26, 1765, a violent mob stormed his home and ransacked it. Although Hutchinson and his family were able to escape unharmed, the house was severely damaged.

The Boston Massacre

On the night of March 7, 1770, British troops fired into a mob, killing a handful of Americans. The mob refused to disperse in the wake of the killings, which created the possibility of further violence. Hutchinson arrived on the scene and spoke to the mob from the balcony of the State House, asking the people to disperse. They refused to do so until he promised to investigate the incident. The mob broke up and order was restored. The “Boston Massacre” troubled Hutchinson to such a degree that he submitted his resignation as Lieutenant Governor. However, his resignation was rejected and he was appointed Governor.

The Bloody Massacre, Engraving, Revere
The Boston Massacre. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Hutchinson Letters Affair

As Governor, Hutchinson’s popularity decreased as the American Revolution dragged on. The situation in Boston reached a crisis point in June 1773 when his confidential letters, expressing derogatory views and support for restrictions on liberties, were leaked to the press by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Cushing. Although the letters were written years before, the Boston Patriots used them against Hutchinson as a clear sign that he was working against the very people he governed.

The Tea Crisis and the Boston Tea Party

Hutchinson continued to press the Patriots and insist on enforcing the British tax laws that were so unpopular. After the Tea Act was passed, ships carrying tea arrived in Boston Harbor. Although Patriot leaders wanted to have the ships sent away, Hutchinson refused.

This further fueled animosity toward him and resulted in petitions for his removal. Despite his attempt to leave his position, Hutchinson was still present in Boston during the Boston Tea Party in 1773, as he sought to enforce the Tea Act. On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty boarded the ships and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor.

Boston Tea Party, Illustration, Currier
The Boston Tea Party. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Opposition to the Intolerable Acts

The unrest in Boston led to his recall by the Board of Trade and he sailed to England. He was replaced in May 1774 by General Thomas Gage, who was tasked with enforcing the Intolerable Acts in Massachusetts as punishment for the Boston Tea Party.

After leaving Massachusetts, Hutchinson spoke out against the Intolerable Acts that closed Boston’s port and suspended the Massachusetts Constitution. However, his arguments were in vain. 

The Death of Thomas Hutchinson

Hutchinson died in London on June 3, 1780. Hutchinson’s historical writings, including his colonial history, gained recognition, with the final volume covering the central period of his political life published posthumously in 1828.

Thomas Hutchinson Facts

  • Thomas Hutchinson was born on September 9, 1711, in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • His parents were Thomas Hutchinson, a wealthy merchant, and Sarah Foster.
  • He was a descendant of Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts for her religious beliefs.
  • Hutchinson enrolled at Harvard when he was 12 years old and graduated in 1727.
  • He was introduced to politics by Governor Thomas Belcher when he accompanied him on a mission to Casco Bay in 1732 to meet with the Abenaki People.
  • In 1734, he married Margaret Sanford.
  • His cousins were government officials Andrew Oliver and Peter Oliver.
  • He replaced Francis Bernard as Governor of Massachusetts.

Why is Thomas Hutchinson Important?

Thomas Hutchinson is important to United States history for his support for British policies during the American Revolution, while he was Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Massachusetts. Hutchinson also played a role in developing the Albany Plan of Union. He was also intensely interested in preserving the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and wrote several volumes on the subject. He also wrote a detailed account of the Salem Witch Trials.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Thomas Hutchinson — Controversial Governor of the Massachusetts Colony
  • Date 1711-1780
  • Author
  • Keywords Thomas Hutchinson, Albany Plan of Union, Writs of Assistance, James Otis, Stamp Act, Stamp Act Crisis, Stamp Act Riots, Boston Massacre, Hutchinson Letters Affair, Tea Crisis, Boston Tea Party, Intolerable Acts, Coercive Acts
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 15, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 10, 2024