Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Nathaniel Freeman Papers, 1773-[1818]

James S. Schoff Revolutionary War Collection

Finding aid created by
Catalina Oyler, March 2008, and Philip Heslip, May 2010

Summary Information
Title: Nathaniel Freeman papers
Creator: Freeman, Nathaniel, 1741-1827.
Inclusive dates: 1773- [1818]
Extent: 138 items (0.5 linear feet)
The Nathaniel Freeman papers contain letters and documents relating to the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety of Sandwich, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War. The committee, of which Freeman was the chairman, investigated alleged Tory activities around Cape Cod. The cases of Seth Perry and John Jennings are particularly well documented.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1975-1986. M-1727, M-1832, M-1937, M-2263 .

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Nathaniel Freeman Papers, James S. Schoff Revolutionary War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into three series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Depositions
  • Series III: Documents

Each series is ordered chronologically.


Nathaniel Freeman, (1741-1827) surgeon, jurist and statesman, was prominent in Massachusetts politics during and after the Revolutionary War. Born in Dennis, Massachusetts, to Edmund Freeman, he represented Sandwich in the General Court of Massachusetts in 1773, and was appointed chairman of the town's newly formed committee of correspondence. In 1775, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and served there again in 1778-1780. He served in the Massachusetts militia, becoming a brigadier general by 1781, and was honorably discharged in 1793. During and after the Revolutionary War, Freeman acted as the Barnstable County superintendent and as the judge of probate in of the Court of Common Pleas (1775-1811). In 1811, he was appointed chief justice of the Massachusetts Court of Sessions. He retired from medicine in 1804.

The committee of correspondence was responsible for investigating reports of Tory activity, conducting hearings, and administering the oath of allegiance in the Cape Cod area. In 1778, the committee investigated the activities of Edward Davis, who was seen in the company of known Tories. The inquiry exposed a group of Loyalists, their lines of communication with sympathizers in other towns and with the British at Newport, and their attempts to pass counterfeit money. The committee also supervised the training and equipping of local militia, and maintained communications with other neighboring committees.

Freeman was twice married, first to Tryphosa Colton (d. 1796) of Killingly, Connecticut, and then to Elizabeth Gifford. In all, Freeman had 20 children, including Nathaniel Freeman, Jr. (1766-1800), a Massachusetts congressman, and Russell Freeman (1782-1842) a Maine lawyer.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Nathaniel Freeman papers (138 items) contain letters, depositions, and documents relating to the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety, of Sandwich, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War. The committee, of which Freeman was the chairman, investigated and prosecuted alleged Tory activities in the Cape Cod area. They heard the pleas of accused Loyalists and their friends and family, and administered the oath of allegiance to them. The committee also supervised the equipping and disciplining of the militia and maintained official communication with Boston and other nearby towns. Of particular interest are letters and petitions concerning suspected Loyalists who were imprisoned and banished to Rhode Island. The collection provides a picture of how small town governments in the rebelling colonies dealt with those loyal to the British Crown.

The Correspondence series (47 items) is comprised of official letters addressed to Nathaniel Freeman and the Committee of Correspondence. These letters, spanning 1773-1804, largely concern efforts to banish Loyalists from the area, and include responses of the accused parties. Of note are six letters pertaining to an alleged Loyalist sailor named Seth Perry. These consist of a personal letter to Freeman from jail asking for lenience; a letter informing Freeman of Perry's escape to Newport; a letter from Perry to Freeman requesting permission to reunite with his family and manage some recently inherited property in Sandwich; and a 1785 letter from Freeman to the governor of Massachusetts disputing Perry's claim to property because of his wartime disloyalty.

Other notable letters include:

  • March 8, 1774: Long patriotic letter from James Warren that uses the "house divided" quotation from scripture
  • November 9, 1774: Letter from John Winthrop, President of the Commercial Club of Boston, congratulating Freeman for his patriotism and heroism during an unspecified Tory attack

The Deposition series (65 items) documents depositions generated by the committee to investigate allegations of Loyalist activity near Barnstable, Massachusetts. Included are depositions taken in March and April 1778 relating to the case of Edward Davis, a "one-legged man" who met with many of the town's Tory sympathizers. The investigation exposed a number of Loyalists; their communications with fellow sympathizers from surrounding towns; their dealings with the British at Newport, Rhode Island; and their attempts to pass counterfeit money. Also notable are 10 depositions relating to Loyalist John Jennings and 8 items concerning Loyalist Seth Perry, including his claim against the state in 1785 for confiscated property. Much of the collection consists of deposition copies, forwarded by Freeman to the governor of Massachusetts.

The Documents series (26 items) covers official materials from the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety, of Sandwich, Massachusetts, including notes from meetings and petitions from the citizens of Sandwich. The series holds 5 items with commentary on the Boston Tea Party and the Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts), including an official protest of the acts (September 30, October 5, and November 1, 1774), oaths from merchants not to sell tea until Parliament repeals the Boston Port Bill (1774), and and resolutions demanding the impeachment of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver over the letter controversy (March 14, 1774). The series also includes a certificate indicated that Rev. A. Williams took an oath of allegiance to Massachusetts Bay (April 13, 1778).

Of particular interest are 5 petitions, including the petitions from accused Loyalists who were imprisoned and banished: Seth Perry, Melaiah Bourn, Isaac Knowles, Abel Ellis, Price Tupper, and John Jennings (March 20 and April 27, 1778); the petitions from their wives requesting permission to join their husbands (with their children and possessions) in Rhode Island (June 17 and December 14, 1778); and the petition of Loyalist Seth Perry concerning rights to inherited land in Sandwich.

Subject Terms

    • American Loyalists--Massachusetts.
    • Barnstable County (Mass.)
    • Boston (Mass.)
    • Boston Tea Party, 1773.
    • Bourne, Edward, fl. 1774.
    • Falmouth (Mass.)
    • Mashpee (Mass.)
    • Massachusetts. Council.
    • Northampton (Mass.)
    • Plymouth (Mass.)
    • Sandwich (Mass. : Town)
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Committees of correspondence.
    • Wareham (Mass.)
    • Agty, Thomas, fl. 1786.
    • Atkins, Cornelius, fl. 1777.
    • Avery, John, fl. 1778.
    • Bartlett, Josiah, 1729-1795.
    • Bourn, Melaiah, fl. 1778.
    • Bourne, Benjamin, fl. 1774.
    • Donnison, William, 1757?-1834.
    • Ellis, Abiel, fl. 1778.
    • Fith, Simeon, fl. 1775.
    • Hallet, Enoch, fl. 1778.
    • Hawley, Gideon, 1727-1807.
    • Hersey, Abner, fl. 1778.
    • Hilliard, Timothy, 1746-1790.
    • Hinckley, Samuel, fl. 1803.
    • Jennings, John, fl. 1778.
    • Knowles, Isaac, fl. 1778.
    • Machie, Andrew, fl. 1778.
    • Nye, Lot, fl. 1775.
    • Otis, James, 1725-1783.
    • Otis, Joseph, d. 1810.
    • Otis, Maria, fl. 1815.
    • Perry, Lydia, fl. 1778.
    • Perry, Seth, fl. 1778.
    • Sedgwick, Theodore, 1746-1813.
    • Sullivan, James, 1744-1808.
    • Tobey, Eliakim, fl. 1776.
    • Tupper, Prince, fl. 1778.
    • Warren, James, 1726-1808.
    • Watson, William, 1739-1815.
    • Winthrop, John, 1714-1779.
    Genre Terms:
    • Depositions.
    • Legal documents.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-16
    Depositions [series]
    Box   1 Folders   17-81
    Documents [series]
    Box   1 Folders   82-90
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Deposition List:

    • September 22, 1775: John Jennings
    • c.1775: Joseph Otis
    • January 16, 1776: William Nye
    • October 30, 1776: William Bassett
    • October 31, 1776: Samuel Fessenden
    • January 1, 1777: Elisha Pope
    • March 13-14, 1778: Edward Davis
    • March 26-27, 1778: Josiah Goodspeed
    • March 26, 1778: Benjamin Morey
    • March 26-28, 1778: Ebenezer Raymond
    • March 27, 1778: Elisabeth Bourn
    • March 27, 1778: Mary Bourn
    • March 27, 1778: Stephen Chipman
    • March 27, 1778: Benjamin Fessenden
    • March 27, 1778: Paul Jones
    • March 27, 1778: Samuel Jones
    • March 27, 1778: Iram Nye
    • March 27, 1778: Edward Wing
    • March 27, 1778: John Wing
    • March 28, 1778: Mary Bourn
    • March 28, 1778: Thomas Bourn
    • March 28, 1778: Joseph Jones
    • March 28, 1778: Ebenezer Raymond
    • March 28, 1778: Thomas Smith
    • March 28, 1778: Joanna Bourn
    • March 30, 1778: Samuel Freeman
    • March 30, 1778: Seth Perry
    • March 30, 1778: Thomas Smith
    • March 30, 1778: Abraham Williams
    • March 31, 1778: Hannah Bourn
    • March 31, 1778: Elijah Ellis
    • March 31, 1778: Lydia Perry
    • March 31, 1778: Sarah Perry
    • April 1, 1778: Simon Jones
    • April 2, 1778: Edward Bacon
    • April 2, 1778: Cornelius Crocker
    • April 3, 1778: Lot Hall
    • April 3, 1778: Otis Loring
    • April 3, 1778: Isaiah Parker
    • April 4, 1778: Barnabas Howes
    • April 4, 1778: George Loring
    • April 4, 1778: William Stone
    • April 15, 1778: Abigail Fessenden
    • April 15, 1778: Mehitable Fessenden
    • April 15, 1778: William Fessenden
    • [March 1778]: Cornelius Adkins
    • [March 1778]: Seth Perry
    • July 10, 1778: Edward Davis

    List of Committee Members:

    • Burgess, Zacchius
    • Dillingham, Simeon
    • Ellis, Mordecai
    • Fish, Nathaniel
    • Fish, Simeon
    • Freeman, Nathaniel
    • Freeman, Seth
    • Nye, Joseph
    • Nye, Stephen
    • Smith, Moses
    • Tobey, John

    List of alleged Loyalists:

    • Blackwell, John, Jr.
    • Bourne, Edward
    • Bourne, Elisha
    • Bourne, Lemuel
    • Bourne, William
    • Bumpus, Thomas
    • Chase, Ammi
    • Cobb, Nicholas
    • Ellis, Ephraim, Jr.
    • Perry, Stephen
    • Perry, Seth
    • Perry, Silas
    • Perry, Thomas
    • Trying, Frances
    • Webb, Nehamiah
    • Welborn, Joshua
    • Wheaten, Caleb

    Freeman, Nathaniel. A Charge to the Grand Jury, At the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, Holden At Barnstable, Within And for the County of Barnstable: March Term, A.D. 1802. Boston: Manning & Loring, no. 2, Cornhill, 1802.

    Thacher, James. American Medical Biography: Or, Memoirs of Eminent Physicians Who Have Flourished In America. To Which Is Prefixed a Succinct History of Medical Science In the United States, From the First Settlement of the Country. Boston: Richardson & Lord [etc.], 1828.