Friday, February 24, 2017

The Colrain (Massachusetts) Flag, 1812

The town of Colrain in Franklin County in north west Massachusetts was settled in 1735, having originally been called ‘Boston Township No. 2’, but then renamed in 1743 for the Ulster emigration port town of Coleraine. One of Colrain's early settlers from Ulster was a Matthew Clark, born in Carrickfergus around 1700. Others were called Smith, Ulster-born yet descendants of ‘Scotch Presbyterians’. One source describes these first settlers as ‘intensely Protestant and generally Presbyterians and next to the devil they abominated the king’. In a short history of the town, author Belden Merims wrote that –

'And settled it was, by a hardy band of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians seeking freedom to worship as they wished. They had not found that freedom in eastern Massachusetts, where they had come as early as 1720 from northern Ireland, which they had not found hospitable. However, in 1743 they renamed their town Coleraine after Coleraine, Ireland ...

The Boston Tea Party took place on 16 December 1773. About six weeks later, the men of Colrain gathered to author the Colrain Resolves, on 31 January 1774 - so therefore a year earlier than the Fincastle Resolutions. Colrain then only had a population of 297; the leading men of the town were Hezekiah Smith, Daniel Donelson, William Stewart, James Stewart, John Woods, John Morrison, Joseph Caldwell and Thomas Bell – provoked to action because they were convinced that ‘the sole authority of the British Parliament is unjust, arbitrary, inconsistent and unconstitutional … when our valuable liberties and privileges are trod under foot … it is the duty of every true-hearted American to free themselves from impending ruin …’. Merims wrote –

… Colrain’s Scotch-Irish settlers had no love for the English. Resentments festered, and in January, 1774, at (John) Wood’s Tavern the prominent men of the town gathered and drew up what became known as the Colrain Resolves. Predating the Declaration of Independence by 18 months, the six resolves declare the rights of the individual, objection to taxation without representation, legal authority for independence, the right of the group to self-government, the necessity for action, a listing of specific grievances, the necessity for independence rather than mere reform, and the struggle for independence transcending the individual.'

This interesting article says that the Scotch-Irish were more literate than others in the region, and that these Resolves have ‘a clarity which those of other towns lack’. Here they are in full. 

A generation later, in May 1812, Colrain was the first place to raise a US flag at a public building, which was the local schoolhouse. The flag was made by two sisters called Rhoda and Lois Shippee, and had 15 stripes and 15 stars, which was the design of the first official US flag up until 1818. A memorial stone marks the spot today.

• Here is an 1844 history of Colrain, lots of great detail included. It is interesting that the minister of the Presbyterian church there in 1769, Rev Daniel McClallen, had been born in Pennsylvania in 1737 but educated in Ireland. He was perhaps related to one of Colrain’s leading citizens, Hugh McClallen who was born in Maghera around 1743. Daniel’s grave can be seen here, Hugh’s can be seen here.

The Early Settlers of Colrain, Mass. by Charles H. McClellan (1885) is online here. The author proposes that James Stewart of Colrain had been present at the Siege of Derry in 1688

The Scotch-Irish in Colrain, A Community Study in Eighteenth Century Massachusetts by Nancy Dolberg (published 1976)