The people of Ipswich have a long tradition of heated debate at Town Meeting. In 1687 Samuel Appleton and other town leaders called an emergency town meeting to debate new taxes imposed by the Crown. They were imprisoned for their refusal to appoint a tax collector, an act for which Ipswich is known as the “Birthplace of American Independence.”
A town meeting in 1765 may have been the most heated. Tension came to a boil with passage of the “Stamp Act” in March, 1765, which required that legal documents and official papers should be written on stamped paper and that stamps should be affixed to printed books and newspapers. Town Meeting assembled in Ipswich on October 21, 1765 and condemned the Stamp Act as “taxation without representation” as their predecessors had done almost 80 years earlier. The meeting issued the following instructions to Dr. John Calef, our Representative in the General Court:
“That as our subordination to our Mother Country has its foundation entirely in our Charter, you are strenuously though decently to maintain that any measure not consistent with those charters & that deprives of any right in them is neither consistent with such subordination nor implied in it.”
Dr. John Calef was born in Ipswich in 1725, the son of Robert Calef and Margaret, daughter of Deacon John Staniford, and was married to Dorothy Jewett, the daughter of Rev. Jedediah Jewett of Rowley. Dr. Calef served the colony as a surgeon during the “Old French War” but had loyalist leanings and opposed the growing hostility against the British Government.
Dr. Calef represented the town of Ipswich in the General Court for several years, but as a Loyalist he went against the town’s wishes repeatedly in Boston. He was among only 17 out of 109 members of the Massachusetts Assembly who voted to retract the “Massachusetts Circular Letter” which was adopted in response to the 1767 Townshend Acts. Calef was replaced as Representative by General Michael Farley, but Ipswich citizens’ anger at Calef lingered as war with England approached.
The September 26, 1774 Ipswich Town Meeting gave the following instructions to its representatives,
“We agree with the advice given by a Congress of this country that a Provincial Congress be formed and meet together to consult on what is to be done by this people as a body and we would have you unite with such a Congress.”
Life for loyalists in Massachusetts communities outside of Boston was becoming increasingly dangerous. Mobs dragged government officials from their beds in the middle of the night and forced them to take oaths of fidelity to the patriot cause. Those who refused were sometimes tarred and feathered, and their homes were ransacked.
In the fall of 1774, now six years after Dr. John Calef was removed from office, a great crowd of Ipswich citizens gathered about his residence near the South Green and demanded a formal confession of his wrongful votes. In some towns, Loyalists were chased out of town, but Calef got off relatively easy by making a profuse apology.
The Essex Gazette recorded Dr. Calef’s written statement to the hostile assembly:
“Inasmuch as a great Number of Persons are about the House of the Subscriber, who say that they have heard I am an Enemy to my Country, etc. and have sent a large Committee to me to examine me respecting my principles, in compliance with their request I declare, First I hope and believe I fear God, honor the King, and love my Country. Secondly, I believe the Constitution of civil Government held forth in the Charter of Massachusetts Bay Province to be the best in the whole world, and that the Rights and Privileges thereof ought to be highly esteemed, greatly valued and seriously contended for, and that the late Acts of Parliament made against this province are unconstitutional and unjust and that I will use all lawful means to get the same recovered; and that I never have and never will act by an omission under the new Constitution of Government, and if I have ever said or done anything to enforce said Act I am heartily sorry for it; and as I gave my vote in the General Assembly on the 30th of June 1768, contrary to the minds of the people, I beg their forgiveness and that the good people of the Province would restore me to their esteem and friendship again.”
On June 10, 1776, Ipswich Town Meeting voted that “the representatives shall be instructed if the Continental Congress should for the safety of the Colonies declare them independent of Great Britain the inhabitants here will solemnly pledge their lives and fortunes to support them in the measure.” The war was on.
Although the mob that had gathered in front of John Calef’s home two years earlier voted to accept his apology, the people of Ipswich never forgave him. By 1777, a price had been put on his head. He sold his house to John Heard, and fled with his family to Castine in the Penobscot region, where he worked as a surgeon for the British troops at Fort George. The area was ceded to the Americans as part of the peace settlement and became part of Maine. In 1784, the remaining Loyalists were forced out, and Dr. Calef moved with his family to St. Andrews Parish, Charlotte County, New Brunswick, where he was the only qualified doctor. Calef was appointed surgeon to the British garrison at Fort Howe and served there until 1800. He practiced medicine until his death in 1812, and is remembered in New Brunswick as a hero.
In 1800, John Heard sold the Calef house to Capt. Samuel Caldwell, who moved it to Poplar Street where it still stands today. On the now-empty lot, Heard built the mansion on South Main St. which is now the Ipswich Museum.
- The Loyalists of New Brunswick, Esther Clark Wright. Lancelot Press, 1981
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Vol II, by Thomas Franklin Waters
- Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution by Lorenzo Sabin
- The Siege of Penobscot by the Rebels, by John Calef
- Maine Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 2, Fall 1979, p73