What if you started a revolution and nobody came? New Hampshire’s Edward Gove found out in 1683 – and the answer is you are sent to the Tower of London to await your gruesome execution.
Gove’s story is well-preserved in The Gove Book: History and Genealogy of the American Family of Gove, written by William Henry Gove.
Gove was born in 1630 in London. His father brought him to America around 1647 when he was 17. He gradually moved north from Charlestown, Mass., to Salisbury, Mass., and finally into Hampton in what is now New Hampshire in 1665.
In 1679, King Charles II declared that New Hampshire no longer belonged to Massachusetts. Rather, it would be governed as an independent province. At that point, the English hadn’t settled much of New Hampshire, which consisted of four towns: Portsmouth, Exeter, Hampton and Dover.
The colony elected a council to govern itself, which operated until 1683 with Edward Gove as a member. This brief period of self-governance abruptly ended shortly after a royal governor, Edward Cranfield, arrived late in 1682.
Cranfield had two unenviable tasks. First, he had to impose a tax on the colony. Second, he had to deal with Robert Mason. In 1622, Capt, John Mason had gained title to property north of the Merrimack River in Newburyport. But the Mason family had done little with the land.
John Mason had built mills for sawing lumber and milling grain, and he stocked his new colony with cannon and small arms. Upon his death, however, all his work decayed to ruin.
In 1652, a descendant tried to reestablish ownership of the colony. Though he successfully sued one of the settlers occupying part of the land, he could never extract any payment. He returned to England empty-handed.
With the royal decision to detach New Hampshire from Massachusetts, the time seemed right to Robert Mason to try to enforce his family’s 60-year-old claim to the land. With visions of establishing himself a fiefdom, Mason named himself Lord Proprietor of New Hampshire. He then agreed to pay Governor Cranfield a salary of 150 pounds to go to New Hampshire. Mason also began demanding that the residents of the colony start paying him rent for their land. He agreed to send 20 percent of what he collected back to the king.
The elected government of New Hampshire was dissolved and replaced by an appointed king’s governing council. This council first tried to buy off Cranfield by topping Mason’s bribe. It voted him a payment of 250 pounds. Cranfield agreed to the payment, but continued working with Mason.
The governing council grew increasingly annoyed by Mason as he continued to assert that he owned all of New Hampshire. He also denied them trees for fuel and threatened to sell their property. The governing council outlawed his proceedings and almost everyone flat-out refused to pay him rents.
Cranfield, too, started getting frustrated at the colonists’ unwillingness to pay. In Hampton, Edward Gove – a large landowner – boiled over.
Edward Gove had a history of hotheadedness,. He appeared in court to answer complaints about his foul language and his accusation that his neighbor had stolen property. The time had come, Gove asserted, to defend the liberties of the colonists from Mason and Cranfield.
Gove assembled a group of 12 men who felt, as he did, that the time had come to revolt against Cranfield. The men armed themselves and rode horses from Exeter to Hampton, one man blowing a horn and the others calling for their neighbors to come out and join them in rising up against the tyranny. (Alcohol may have played a role in this endeavor.)
Gove’s neighbors not only didn’t pick up arms to join him. They had him arrested. Those who knew him might have viewed the episode as Edward Gove popping off as usual.
To Cranfield, the incident amounted to treason. He had Gove and his fellow riders jailed and then tried. Gove’s neighbors tried to explain to the court that, for Edward Gove, this type of behavior wasn’t terribly unusual nor was he all that difficult to control.
“Edward Gove now of Hampton…was some years since in a strange distemper seemingly lunatic,” one neighbor testified according to the Gove genealogy.
The Tower of London
“There be also many more than testify if need be . . . and some that can swear they were in company and did many times help to bind the said Edward Gove hand and foot (when he was out of his head) for fear he should do hurt to himself or others.”
Cranfield held off sentencing the majority of the revolutionaries, but not Gove. He sentenced Gove to death, and a gruesome death at that:
“You, Edward Gove, shall be drawn on a hedge to the place of execution and there you shall be hanged by the neck, and when yet living be cut down and cast on the ground, and your bowels shall be taken out of your belly, and your privy members cut off and burnt while you are yet alive, your head shall be cut off and your body divided in four parts, and your head and quarters shall be placed where our Sovereign Lord the King pleaseth to appoint. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.”
With that, Edward Gove was dispatched on a ship, lest he be rescued from prison. The colonists sent him to the Tower of London since they did not believe they had authority to actually carry out an execution.
As Edward Gove languished in the tower for more than a year, Cranfield started pressing his case again for taxes and rents.
The news outraged the New Hampshire citizenry and further hardened them against Cranfield. In one case, an officer of the government attempted to collect a tax due from people exiting a church in Dover. A young girl knocked him to the ground by striking him in the head with her Bible.
“At other places, the women met the collector of taxes at their doors with scalding water, which proved a perfect barrier to their ingress, and the men with clubs defied their approach, the officers being not infrequently roughly handled.”
In England, newly crowned King James II and his government learned the details of Cranfield’s behavior in New Hampshire. Cranfield, himself, began to doubt whether his plans would ever succeed.
The King pardoned Edward Gove and allowed him to return home, ordering the return of his lands seized by Cranfield. Meanwhile, he recalled Cranfield from his post. When news of Cranfield’s demotion reached New Hampshire a spontaneous committee formed to remove the erstwhile governor. They stripped him of his sword, tied him to a horse and escorted him to the border of Massachusetts. From there he went on his way.
Capt. Walter Barefoot temporarily replaced Cranfield and tried to implement Mason and Cranfield’s tax schemes. He had even less success than his predecessor.
One oft-told story involved Thomas Wiggins and Anthony Nutter visiting Mason at Barefoot’s home, where Mason was staying. The disagreement over Mason’s claim quickly turned violent. Wiggins tossed Mason into the fireplace and knelt on him on the coals. Barefoot tried to intervene and Wiggins gave him the same treatment, breaking two of his ribs in the process.
Nutter, meanwhile, stood by laughing until Mason reached for his sword. That prompted Nutter to take the sword away. Finally the violence ended when neighbors began entering the house, drawn by the maid’s screams. The rents, needless to say, went uncollected.
This story about Edward Gove was updated in 2023.
Image: Tower of London By © Hilarmont (Kempten), CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38250655.