Edward Randolph (1632-1703), it is said, was one of the most hated men in pre-Revolutionary America! He was baptised in Canterbury on 9 July 1632, the son of a doctor and one of fifteen children. On 12 November 1650, Edward entered Gray’s Inn as a law student and a year later was a pensioner student at Queen’s College, Cambridge, but does not appear to have graduated. Sometime before 1660, Edward married Jane the daughter of Thomas Gibbon of West Cliffe, near St Margaret’s at Cliffe and they lived in the village.
His family owned a significant amount of land in East Kent, some of which came into the possession of Edward. By the 1660s, he was selling his timber to the Royal Navy victualling office at the Maison Dieu, Dover. For what reasons the couple found themselves in dire financial straits is unclear, but in 1666 he sold some of his land and they decided to flee the country in order to escape their creditors. Before they left, Jane’s father came to the rescue and Edward found employment working as a muster master for the Federation of the Cinque Ports as well as still being involved in the timber trade.
Then in 1672, fire swept through their home at West Cliffe and the family were again reduced to dire poverty. Through family connections, Randolph first went to Scotland and then secured a government post in colonial Massachusetts to respond to a lawsuit brought by Robert Mason. Captain John Mason (1586-1635) was the original proprietor of New Hampshire but in 1641, the settlements there formed a coalition with Massachusetts. Robert Mason, the founder’s grandson, had put his case before the Privy Council for Trade and Plantations, to try and regain control of what he perceived as his lands and if not, compensation. Edward’s job was to investigate these claims and also to report back on a number of other issues that were of concern to the Privy Council.
Arriving in Boston on 10 June 1676, Edward quickly became aware that the political elite was hostile to any representative of the English government – the governing body was moving towards self-government. For instance, due to a shortage of hard currency in 1652, they had established their own mint but what had been an interim measure had become permanent. Further, the governing body were refusing let people make Appeals to the courts back in England. Finally, and most disturbing of all, as far as Edward was concerned, the elected representatives were swearing an oath of allegiance of their own dictates.
Edward left Boston for London on 30 July and on 20 September presented a lengthy and detailed report in which he described what he perceived was happening. He scathingly attacked the legality of the Massachusetts government giving examples of abuses, murders, fraud and ‘legalised’ counterfeiting. He also recommended that persons of other religious persuasions than Puritans, along with Native Americans, to be incorporated into running the Colony. In the following May (06.05.1677) he presented his treatise ‘Representation of Ye Affaires of New England’, in which he questioned the legal interpretation of the 1629 Massachusettes Charter.
This had been given by Charles I (1625-1649) and in all probably was drawn up on the assumption that it was to resolve conflicting land claims. However, the Charter had encouraged mass Puritan emigration to the colony, which had evolved into a government comprising of a small group of Puritan religious leaders. They, Edward argued, were intolerant of other religious beliefs and English laws.
It was evident that the Privy Council for Trade had taken notice of Edward’s report and in June 1678, he was commissioned collector of customs in New England under the Plantation Duty Act. This was part of the Navigation Acts that were first introduced in 1651. In essence, they demanded that all goods from English colonies had to go via England before being transported to other colonies. Further, the Acts gave England the monopoly right of producing manufactured goods while the colonies were only allowed to produce complimentary goods, i.e. cotton could be produced in the American colonies but it had to be spun and woven into cloth in England.
As the collector of Plantation Duty, Edward had to ensure that taxes paid in colonial ports were equal to English customs duties. Making Boston his base, Edward quickly ran headlong into the ruling fraternity who were openly insisting on the right to self-government and purposely making it difficult for him to prosecute those who broke the Navigation Acts.
In 1684, Edward’s frequent reports to London along with his treatise, culminated in the annulment of the Massachusetts Charter and the creation of the Dominion of New England (1685-1689). This was an administrative union of the English colonies in the New England region and initially headed by Joseph Dudley (1647-1720). Sir Edmund Andros (1637-1714) followed him and, as far as Edward was concerned, trade rather than religion became dominating interest with the Navigation Acts rigidly enforced.
Nonetheless, Andros had very little tolerance for Puritan beliefs and his regime echoed that of James II (1685-1688) in England. Further, he was alerted to the fact that Dover’s Regicide Member of Parliament, John Dixwell, was living in New Haven under an alias. It was almost certain that Edward would have been able to identify Dixwell, as he would have known the Regicide during the time of the Civil Wars and Interregnum (1642-1660). However, Dixwell was not arrested and he died in his bed five weeks after Andros was overthrown in 1689.
Andros was supported by a nominated council consisting mainly of colonists while assemblies, which had previously existed, were suspended. Religious tolerance was emphasised by the English army redcoats, with great pomp, attending High Anglican services conducted by a surpliced clergyman in Boston. Edward’s role, within the regime, was strengthened and enlarged when in 1688, New York and the Jerseys were added to the Dominion.
Early in 1689 intelligence was being received that James II had been overthrown in England and replaced by William of Orange. As William III (1689-1702). The new king sent orders for the reinstatement of all dispossessed magistrates but instead Andros imprisoned its bearer for sedition.
In April 1689, the people of Boston rose up and Andros was forced to surrender, the Dominion of New England had come to an end. On 18 April, Edward and other members of the dominion government were seized and imprisoned. Edward was sent back to England in chains in February 1690. A brief hearing was held in London where he was exonerated.
Edward was, in October 1691, given the post as surveyor-general of customs of the American colonies. This included the Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean. He reached Virginia in 1692 to begin a full inspection of almost every port in his jurisdiction. He found that abuses of the Navigation Acts were rampant and record keeping appalling. On his return to England in September 1695, Edward summarised his findings in a report to the Customs Commissioners. The result of which, was the 1696 Navigation Act for Regulating Frauds and Abuses in Plantation Trade and was largely drafted by Edward.
That year William III appointed eight paid Lords Commissioners of Trade and Foreign Plantations to promote trade in the American Plantations and elsewhere. They became known as the Lords of Trade and were not members of the Privy Council. Over time the Lords of Trade evolved into the Board of Trade. The Lords of Trade, although not holding Edward in the high esteem their predecessors had, did send him back to the American colonies in December 1697.
On an official visit to Bermuda, arriving on 16 May 1699, Edward was promptly imprisoned and again sent back to London in chains after nine months in prison. On return to the capital, he put over his case and successfully had the governor of Bermuda sacked. Edward also proposed a consolidation of the American colonies under direct royal authority. This was taken up by the Lords of Trade in a parliamentary Bill, but was never enacted. At about the same time Edward returned to America where he died in April 1703 and was buried in Accomack County, Virginia.
Following the death of his first wife Jane, in 1679, Edward married Grace Grenville in 1681. She died in December 1682 and was followed by Sarah Platt, whom he married in 1684 but she again predeceased him. He had four daughters by his first wife and one by his third. Edward’s wealth at the time of his death was not a great so it was evident to all that he had not personally profited by the posts he held.
The positive effects of the Navigation Acts on Dover can be seen in a write up ‘A Gentleman’ on a ‘Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain’, in 1794, he wrote, ‘… The Packets for France go off from here, in time of Peace, as also those for Ostend, with Mails for Flanders; and all those Ships which carry Freights from New York to Holland and from Virginia to Holland, come generally hither, and unlade their Goods, enter them with the Custom-house Officers, pay the Duties, then enter them again by certificate, reload them and draw back the Duty by Debenture, and so they go away for Holland …’
Under the Lords of Trade, some of the Navigation Acts were repealed and the call for independence from Britain, by the American colonies, continued to grow. One of the Acts that was retained appertained to tea. On 16 December 1773, a group of Boston citizens protesting about the tea tax refused to allow the unloading of three tea-carrying ships that had arrived in the port. That evening, disguised as Native Americans, they boarded the vessels and emptied the tea into Boston Harbour. This was the famous Boston Tea Party and three years later saw the start of the American War of Independence (1776-1783), the repercussions of which were felt strongly in Dover in England.
- Dover Mercury 20 September 2007