What Are the Hutchinson Letters?

The Wicked Statesmen by Paul Revere

In "The Spy From Across the Sea" and its sequel "Washington's Wild Rose, my character Sarah Carrington, aka Melody Otis, tells us she and her mother stole a set of letters written by Massachusetts Colonial Governor Thomas Hutchinson. In those letters, the governor said he believed the American colonies needed to have their freedoms suppressed, and more British troops needed to be sent to quell any rebellion by the American colonists. Sarah and her mother, disguised as ladies seeking passage to France, took the letters from the office of William Whately. Sarah's father then took them, delivering them anonymously to Benjamin Franklin.

Of course Sarah Carrington and her family are fictional, but the Hutchinson Letters are not. Here is a brief synopsis of what is known in history as "The Hutchinson Letters Affair:"

In December 1772 Benjamin Franklin anonymously received a number of letters that had been written to the British government by Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts. The letters urged the British to send more troops to suppress the American rebels and Franklin felt that his fellow revolutionaries should be aware of the letters’ content. He circulated them secretly under the condition that they not be made public.

Governor Thomas Hutchinson

Despite Franklin’s wishes, John Adams gave the letters to the Boston Gazette in June 1773. Bostonians were furious, and Hutchinson was forced to flee the country. The British government desperately sought who had leaked the letters. When three innocent men were accused in December 1773, Franklin stepped forward and admitted his part in the affair.

Benjamin Franklin

As a result of the scandal, Franklin’s reputation in England suffered greatly and he was publicly reprimanded by Parliament and dismissed as Postmaster General. Even after the reprimand, Franklin stayed in London, still keeping hope that Parliament and the colonies could come to reconciliation. But as history teaches us, Franklin had to finally admit the breach was irreversible. He eventually returned to Philadelphia where he joined both Continental Congresses in creating The United States of America.

And the person who stole the letters and gave them to Franklin? Even today, no one knows for certain who took those letters.

That is where my story begins.

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