Timothy Ruggles – The Rise and Fall of a Massachusetts Loyalist

By Bill Daley

Timothy Ruggles of Sandwich was a prominent leader in the Massachusetts colony during the time immediately preceding the American Revolution in 1775. Had he not been a Loyalist, he might have been one of the founding fathers of the new nation.

He was born in Rochester, Massachusetts in 1711, the son of Reverend Timothy
(Harvard College 1707) and Mary Ruggles and was the fifth generation of his
family born in America. His father wanted him to be a learned man and sent him
to Harvard. However, he did not follow his father into the ministry because he did
not have the reserved temperament of a clergyman. Instead, he was more
inclined towards the adversarial disposition of a lawyer. Consequently, he
studied law and graduated in 1732. Upon graduation, he opened up a practice in
his home town of Rochester where he was also elected as a Representative of the
General Court, or Assembly, at the age of 25. From the beginning, he was
ambitious and driven towards success. Being over six feet tall, he projected a
commanding presence over his much shorter associates.

Newcomb Tavern today

His practice took him to County Courts in Plymouth and Barnstable. When
traveling to Cape Cod, he usually stayed at the Newcomb Tavern in Sandwich. It
was the first inn to open in Sandwich and the building still stands as a private
home on Grove Street. The tavern was being run by Bathsheba Bourne
Newcomb, a beautiful, dark skinned and wealthy widow with 7 children. There
must have been an instant spark of passion between these two fiery personalities
because they were married within five months of Bathsheba’s burying her first
husband. Neither cared about the opinions of others. Timothy (age 25) and
Bathsheba (age 32) were wed in1736 by her father, Judge Melitiah Bourne, the
wealthiest man in Sandwich. The fact that she was beautiful, independently
wealthy and from a prominent family; must have played a role in his decision to
become the instant head of a large family. He was no stranger to a house full of
children because he was the eldest of 12.

They resided at the inn in Sandwich and immediately began a family of their own.
However, Timothy initially kept his official residence in Rochester because of his
re-election to the General Court from that town. The unexpected death of lawyer
Nathaniel Otis created a need for an attorney in Sandwich and Ruggles filled the
void and officially became a Sandwich resident in 1739.

Ruggles hung his lawyer’s shingle outside the inn and maintained the dual role of
attorney and inn keeper. In 1821, a family descendent wrote, “He was social,
witty, profane, wise about human nature, and quick to drop ceremony and
convention when they ceased to be of social value.” Hard manual work was not
beneath him and he personally attended both the stable and the bar. Oddly
enough, he was a virtual teetotaler who only drank an occasional small beer.

James Otis Sr.

All the while, he continued to expand his law practice and was recognized as one
of the leading lawyers in the province of Massachusetts. He served as a
representative of the Crown for a fixed fee which often brought him into opposition
with James Otis Sr., a Cape Cod neighbor from Barnstable who was representing
individuals who had charges brought against them by the authorities. Later in his
career, Ruggles would find himself vying against James Otis Jr., a strong advocate for the cause of independence, but that would happen many years later.

In the meantime, Ruggles political career continued to move forward and among
the many posts he held was that of Excise Collector for Barnstable County. He
remained popular among his new townspeople and was elected to 6 terms as
Sandwich’s Representative to the Assembly in Boston during the 17 years he
lived there. During his time in Sandwich, he not only built up his practice, but also
his family. He had seven children with Bathsheba, 4 girls and 3 boys.

In 1753, at age 42, he was seeking a grander life style and he moved his wife and
their 7 children to Hardwick, a new town outside of Worcester, Massachusetts.
The relocation had been in the planning stage for some time and Ruggles acted in
concert with 6 other Ruggles families who moved to the area where they had
acquired a very large tract of land. Timothy was by far the richest and most well
known person in the new town. Bathsheba’s children from her first marriage were
now older and some were married and they did not make the move to Hardwick.
William Newcomb Ruggles now ran the Sandwich tavern.

Ruggles began a life style commensurate with his wealth and that of English
country gentlemen. He entertained his guests in a lavish style and conducted
hunts on the property and hosted many grand dinners. Surprisingly, it was around
this time that he stopped eating meat and became a vegetarian. Russell Lovell’s
book about Sandwich gives us a good description of the Ruggles 400 acre farm.
He writes:

“Timothy and Bathsheba established no ordinary farm in Hardwick.
He laid out a deer park and stocked it. He bought imported and local horses of
excellent breeds and developed splendid hunting and riding horses. He bought
prize bulls and developed a dairy herd. He laid out a large orchard with many fruit
varieties. In all these activities, especially the selection of stock, the breeding
patterns of his animals and the grafting and propagation of his trees, he displayed
the greatest interest and observation in advanced scientific practices. He was able
to entertain in baronial style, and his home became a magnet for travelers from all
over the state.”

Ruggles continued to be active in politics and like he had done in his other
communities, he was elected as Hardwick’s Representative to the General Court
in 1754; a position he would hold for the next 17 years. He was also appointed a
judge in Worcester.

The French and Indian War against the British and its American colonies broke out
shortly after his move to Hardwick. His leadership skills and loyalty to the cause
were quickly evident when he raised a regiment of colonial volunteers from
Worcester County and he assumed their command as Colonel. It was not long
before he participated in a joint Colonial-British regulars attack on Crown Point in
the Lakes region of New York. It failed and Ruggles was vocal in rebuking the
British tactics of marching columns of troops against entrenched enemy positions.
The English, under the command of Sir William Johnson, did not appreciate
criticism from a colonial volunteer.

The next year, 1756, the all Provincial American forces won a significant victory at
Lake George and this time Ruggles was second in command. He continued to
fight in the campaigns of 1756, 1757 and 1758 and was subsequently named
Brigadier General in charge of Provincial forces from Massachusetts and Rhode
Island. In 1759, as second in command to Lord Amherst, the joint British and
Provincial forces attacked Fort Ticonderoga and wrested it from the French. Fort
Ticonderoga would later play an ironic role in his life. He participated in
campaigns in each season through 1762 when the battles largely ended in
America. Ruggles had achieved wide spread recognition as a fine officer who
demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and whose troops would willingly serve
under him.

After the war, he triumphantly returned to Hardwick and was amply rewarded by
the Crown for his efforts. He was named Survey-General of the King’s Forests
receiving 300 pounds per year and was also granted 1500 acres in nearby
Princeton. His political career blossomed and he was named Chief Justice of the
Worcester Superior Court. Not only did he continue to represent Hardwick in
Boston, but he was named Speaker of the House in 1762/1763. Around this time,
young John Adams wrote in his journal, “Ruggles grandeur consists in the
quickness of his apprehension, steadiness of attention, the boldness and strength
of his thoughts and expressions, his strict honor, conscious superiority, and
contempt of meanness. People approach him with dread and terror.”

Up until this time, the colonists considered themselves as staunch Englishmen as
they had done for the last 150 years. Circumstances were about to change and so
would the attitudes of some and later many of the colonists.

The French and Indian War had cost a huge sum of money and England insisted
that the American colonies help pay the debt of 147 million pounds accrued during
the war. England also had a 10,000-man army still stationed on the western
borders of the colonies to protect against Indian attacks and possible French
encroachments. The Crown wanted the colonies to help bear the costs.

Consequently, Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 that taxed legal
documents, newspapers and playing cards. The stamp was evidence that the tax
had been paid. Stamps were familiar in England adorning all kinds of documents
and they generated 300,000 pounds per year for the Crown. However, this was
the first time Parliament had placed an external tax on the American colonies.
Ruggles, who fought in the war, appreciated the price that England had paid in
lives and pounds. He was a Tory and loyal to the King and thought it was a
reasonable approach and cautioned for moderation. He was in the minority.

James Otis Jr.

Many in the colony openly rebelled against the tax. People in New York, Virginia and Philadelphia took to the streets in protest. Mobs in Rhode Island hanged the tax officials in effigy. New Englanders called for a boycott of British goods. In
Boston, the Sons of Liberty destroyed the home of Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson. James Otis Jr., a Ruggles opponent and the son of his old adversary
on Cape Cod, called it a violation of the colonists’ constitutional rights. When the younger Otis was elected as a member of the Assembly, Ruggles confided to a dinner guest, “Out of this election will arise a damned faction which will shake this
province to its foundation”.

 

The Massachusetts Assembly called for a meeting of all of the colonies to discuss
and act upon the Stamp Act. In June, 1765, representatives of 9 of the 13
colonies met in New York. It was the first national convention of the colonies and
it was convened without the approval of the Crown. Massachusetts sent 3
representatives with the two more important being Timothy Ruggles and James
Otis Jr. The Royal Governor of Massachusetts awaited instructions from London,
but knew that the colonial congress would be completed by the time he received
direction. Therefore, he attempted to mitigate the situation by using his leverage
to have Loyalist Ruggles made President of the Congress. The fact that his peers
voted him President indicates that loyalty to the Crown was still a moderate and
popular position to most Americans in 1765. Ruggles had reached the apex of his
career.

The Congress sent a deferential petition to the King and Parliament stating the
“Essential Rights and Liberties of the Colonists.” Among many items, they listed
2 privileges essential to freedom; 1) – that they are free of all taxes unless
consented to by their representatives and 2) – that they are entitled to a trial by their
peers (and not by the Admiralty Court). It was a moderate document in that it did
not either reject or acknowledge Parliament’s authority. Nevertheless, Ruggles
was 1 of 2 representatives who refused to lend his signature to the proceedings.

This was the beginning of his down fall from popularity along with all other Tories
and he would eventually face virulent attacks. One of the earliest denunciations
came in the form of a censure from the Massachusetts Assembly, led by James
Otis Jr., for the Brigadier’s refusal to approve the actions of the Stamp Act
Congress despite his being President of the group.

Within a year Parliament repealed the Stamp Act due to the protests in the
colonies and the political pressures brought by the English merchant class who
were experiencing large losses due to the colonial boycotts. However, the strains
and tensions between the colonies and England would continue to grow in the
ensuing years. The inhabitants of Massachusetts would move from a quiet
accommodation with the British imperial system to massive rebellion against it.
Despite Ruggles censure, the Brigadier would continue to be elected as the
Representative from conservative Hardwick and was re-elected to the General
Court as late as 1770.

England was still in a quandary as to how to pay for the war debts and the new
Chancellor of the Exchequer levied the Townsend Act upon the American
Colonies which taxed common goods imported into the colonies. Once again it
was vehemently opposed by the Americans who boycotted English goods and
smuggled in other products to avoid the tax and threatened violence against the
custom officials. “Taxation without representation is tyranny”, a phrase credited to
Otis, was on the lips of many colonists. Like its predecessor, the Stamp Act, it too
was quickly repealed – except for a symbolic, small tax on tea. In December 1773
the Sons of Liberty, furious about even a small tax, conducted the Boston Tea
Party and dumped 40 tons of British tea into the harbor. It would be the prelude to
the Revolution.

The British responded rapidly and harshly to the deteriorating situation in Boston.
In 1774, England closed the port of Boston, the busiest port in America, as the
Crown tried to isolate the rebellious locals. General Gage arrived in the city,
declared martial law and was made Governor General of the colony. He ended
the native democracy of the colony by refusing to convene the Assembly.

Furthermore, he changed the nature of the Governor’s Council. Instead of its
members being nominated by the Assembly, Gage personally appointed 36 Tories
to the Governor’s Council. Many of the appointees declined the position because
the practice was fiercely opposed by the populace and because they faced
violence from the Sons of Liberty.

Ruggles was one of the appointed councilors and stubbornly decided he would
accept the position. When his Hardwick townsmen found this out, they ordered
him to immediately leave town. The next morning, just after daybreak, he rode out
of town alone fleeing to the safety of the British encampment in Boston. He was
met at a bridge by his brother, Benjamin who had taken the Patriot side. It was
reported that the Brigadier said, “I shall come back at the head of 500 soldiers if
necessary” to which his brother replied, “If you cross this bridge today, you will
never cross it again alive.” It was August 1774 and he never returned.

Mercy Otis Warren

Timothy Ruggles was now a vilified figure. The appointment of the 36 councilors by General Gage prompted Mercy Otis Warren, sister of James Otis Jr., to write her satirical play, The Group in late 1774. One of the lead characters is Brigadier
Hateall, a ferocious warmonger who is married to a lowly tavern woman, “nut-brown Kate, the buxom dowager.” The veiled similarities to Mr. and Mrs.
Ruggles could not be missed. Hateall says he would not abandon his position in the Governor’s Council even to save his wife, family and friends. He boasts of beating his wife and recommends the same course be taken to other wives if they object to quartering British soldiers in their homes. Mercy’s friend, John Adams, had the play published anonymously and the Patriots read it with delight. She reveled in savaging her former Cape Cod neighbor, a Tory and lifetime opponent of her brother and father.

In April 1775, the battles at Lexington and Concord were waged and the war had
begun. In June, the British forces decided to attack the colonialists atop Bunker
Hill. General Gage let it be known that he thought the rebels would run at the
sight of British cannon. Ruggles believed he was wrong and that the Americans
would fight bravely. When the battle ended in disaster for the British, Ruggles
was reported to have told him, “My God sir, your folly has ruined your cause.” The
Revolution was fully underway and Boston, under control of the British, became
the only safe place for the 1500 Tories who fled to it. Among them was Ruggles
who organized 200 Loyalist men called the Loyal American Volunteers. There is
no evidence that Ruggles ever fought against the American Forces.

The British and Loyalists continued to be hemmed in Boston by General
Washington’s forces and the stalemate continued until a young Colonel Knox
pulled, pushed and dragged cannon from the recently seized Fort Ticonderoga to
Boston. When the British realized their fleet was in jeopardy, they had no choice
but to evacuate Boston. On March 17, 1776, the British and Loyalists sailed away
having been driven out by the cannon from the fort that Timothy Ruggles had
helped capture 20 years earlier during the French and Indian War.

Ruggles evacuated to the English strong hold in New York and stayed on Staten
Island and later Long Island. While in New York he began a series of
unsuccessful efforts to gain British support for a Loyalist company. But the British
saw them as “colonists” and not their equals as “Englishmen”. His habit of
informing the British officers of their stupidity did not help his cause. A fellow
Loyalist, Edward Winslow, wrote at the time: “There was such a mixture of virtue
even with his obstinacy that while we depreciated it as unfortunate to ourselves,
we dared not oppose it.”

At the end of the war, Timothy Ruggles was among the 30,000 to 40,000 Loyalists
who were relocated to Canada by the British. The Crown rewarded him for his
service by granting him 1,000 acres in Wilmot, Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy
where at age 70 he built a new estate. He resided there until his death at age 83
in 1795.

Tories, for the most part, were people with entrenched power and wealth. They
were the office holders, large land owners, clergymen of the established church,
and judges. An inordinate number of Massachusetts Tories also were Harvard
graduates. They were conservatives who were reluctant to accept change and
were certainly opposed to a revolution that rejected the King and Parliament.

They thought of themselves as Englishmen who wanted stability in the colonies
and harmony with their mother country. They were proud of the British Empire and
they considered themselves as Englishmen and part of the most powerful and
The Brigadier was descended from a long line of Ruggles who were ministers,
lawyers, and representatives in the legislature. He was an integral part of the
power structure. As the clashes between London and the colonies increased, he
was resolute in his defense of the Crown. He was unbending in his loyalty to
Britain and he could not bring himself to cross over to the other side. As far as he
was concerned, the movement for independence was being driven by an unruly
mob and he rejected their violent efforts for separation from England. While his
opponents saw him as obstinate and inflexible, he saw himself as a man of
uncompromising principles. It was not in his nature to change sides.

Had he done so, his leadership skills, military expertise, and judicial ability would
have put him in a position to play a prominent role in the development of a new
country.

When Massachusetts in 1778 published a list of the top 300 Tories, Timothy
Ruggles was 3rd on the list (behind Governor Hutchinson and Tax Collector
Oliver). They were officially exiled from Massachusetts, their property seized and
they were forbidden to return on pain of death.

The Revolution split the Ruggles family. When he fled to Boston, Bathsheba did
not go with him and she never joined her husband in exile. Over the years their
relationship had withered and any bond between them was now gone. Perhaps his
nearly 7-year war time absence drained the relationship and added further to
Bathsheba’s independent spirit. Their 400-acre farm was confiscated by the
authorities and she went to live with her son Timothy III until her death. On the
other hand, the Brigadier had the loyalty of his 3 sons. John and Richard would join
Ruggles in Boston, New York and ultimately in Nova Scotia. Timothy Ruggles also
brought five slaves with him on his journey to Nova Scotia including two children.
Timothy III also moved to Nova Scotia after the death of his mother. The
Brigadier’s four daughters were married and stayed in Massachusetts.

His favorite daughter, Bathsheba, met a tragic fate. On July 2, 1778, she along
with her 3 accomplices were hanged for murdering her husband. The incredible
spectacle of the quadruple hanging took place in Worcester, very close to the court
house where her father had been the Chief Justice.

–Bill Daley

Originally written in 2008 and updated to include new information in 2021.

 

Bibliography
Baldwin, Charles C. The Worcester Magazine and Historical Journal. 1826.
Brown, Richard. Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts, the Boston Committee of
Correspondence and the Towns 1772 – 1774. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1970.
Brunnell, Paul. Thunder Over New England, Benjamin Bonnell, the Loyalist. Norwell
Mass: Christopher Publishing House, 1988.
Crane, Stephen. Great Battles of the World. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1900.
List of Graduates of Harvard College Who Were Tories in the American Revolution
Residing in Massachusetts. William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 7, No 2, Oct. 1898.
Lovell, R. A. Jr. Sandwich, A Cape Cod Town. Sandwich Mass.: Archives and
Historical Center, 1984.
Lovell, Russell A. Jr. Annals of the Revolution – Timothy Ruggles Parts 1-3. The Acorn
(Sandwich Historical Society): 1 (Nov. 1974); 2 (Feb. 1975); 3 (May 1975).
Morgan, Edmond S. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. UNC Press, 1995.
Murphy, Brenda. The Cambridge Companion to American Women Playwrights.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Navas, Debrah. Murdered By His Wife. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press,
1999.
Stark, James H. The Other Side of the American Revolution. Salem: Salem Press Co.,
1910.
Stuart, Nancy Ruben. The Muse of the Revolution, The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis
Warren and the Founding of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.
Also, Jim N. Ruggles of Canada has provided rich information about his ancestor,
Timothy Ruggles. He stated that the Book of Negroes listed all the Loyalists who returned
to Nova Scotia, Canada and it includes free blacks and slaves. The book shows that
Timothy Ruggles left Long Island with 5 slaves, including two children when he left for
Canada with the other Loyalists.

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9 Responses to Timothy Ruggles – The Rise and Fall of a Massachusetts Loyalist

  1. WILLIAM F DALEY says:

    The Timothy Ruggles article has been updated with new information (from a Ruggles descendent in Canada) and includes pictures as well.

  2. WILLIAM F DALEY says:

    Penny,
    The Timothy Ruggles paper has been updated with new information and pictures.

  3. WILLIAM F DALEY says:

    Hi Penny,
    Please excuse the fact that it has taken more than a year to respond to your question. Obviously there was a mix up on our end. I know there has been a new book published about Bathsheba since you wrote, although I don’t think it uncovered any new information. I would be happy to meet you and learn more about Hardwick and the Ruggles family.

  4. Jim Ruggles says:

    Hi, my name is James (Jim) Ruggles, and I am a direct descendant of Brig Gen Ruggles. I live in Toronto, Ontario currently, but our family has roots near Middleton, Nova Scotia since Timothy’s arrival there in 1783. I have visited Rochester, Mass. to see the gravesites of his father, mother and other members of the family and I have visited the (now private) home/tavern/hotel of Ruggles and Bathesheba Bourne in Sandwich.
    I am attempting an updated biographical sketch, and I am looking for information specifically on his early legal/political career in the Sandwich, Barnstable area, where he practiced. I have heard mention of his interactions with/against James Otis of the same area, but lack stories or details of trials, outcomes, successes/failures. I would also value any detail of family life while living in Sandwich. I know that Bathsheba Bourne was a widow with a sizeable family when Timothy married her, but that is about all…
    Are there records in the area which i might access online?
    I am also interested in detail of a later period in Ruggles’ life as a politician, when he was invited to duel with Thomas McKean. Any direction to detail would be appreciated. thanks Jim

    • patrick potter says:

      I too am a descendant of Timothy Ruggles through my Great Grandmother Phoebe and her Father George. I was dragged away from Halifax and have spent the last 30 years at UWO. I often find interesting links between my wife’s lineage and mine. Timothy Ruggles adversary, James Otis was her 2nd cousin just a few generations removed. I grew up on military bases but have a strong emotinal link to NS. Studied there. Worked there. Still hold on to land there. There was a Potter/Ruggles reunion that I missed 1990, moving to London that week. Any family histroy you can throw my way is appreciated. I can link you with Shirley Ruggles if you have not already connecyed who has a wealth of knowledge

    • WILLIAM F DALEY says:

      Jim,
      Thank you for your recent emails sent directly to me. I was amazed to learn that Timothy brought 5 slaves with him, including two children, when he sailed to Nova Scotia after the war with the thousand of Loyalists.

  5. Carol D. Andrews says:

    Hello again, Bill,
    I posted a reply to your fine biographical sketch of Timothy Ruggles a few years ago.
    Now I am wondering if you have uncovered any genealogical information about his wife Bathsheba that would explain Abigail Adams’ mocking description of her as “nut-brown?” Do you have a copy of her family tree?

    Could you please send an image of the house that was once the Newcomb Tavern?
    Thank you for your help.
    Carol D. Andrews

    • WILLIAM F DALEY says:

      Hi Carol,
      Abagail Adam’s description of Bathsheba as “nut-brown” seems to be intended as a slur. Evidently Bathsheba was not “fair” like most English descendants. Perhaps she spent a lot of time out doors and became tanned in the summer. The Bourne family achieved a prominent station in life in the colony, and I am not aware of any romantic relationships with people of color. However, Judge Melatiah Bourne did own several slaves which he referred to as “servants”. Perhaps Abagail was casting aspersions because the family owned slaves.
      Please see the updated story of Timothy which includes pictures and inforation on Bathsheba’s family, both the Bournes and the Newcombs.

  6. Penny Hannon says:

    My name is Penny Hannon. I am on the board of trustees for the Hardwick Historical Society in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Like you, we have a direct link to Brig. Gen. Timothy Ruggles. I was wondering if there is a way we can get in touch with each other about getting more information regarding him and maybe collaborating on an article.

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