Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: In The Early Years Of Independence; 1784-1814 / Clamor For Paper Money

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Clamor For Paper Money

The new Constitution was now safely launched, but troubles consequent upon the war were not over. The country and the several states were deeply in debt, and the people were called upon, both by Congress and by the state governments for means of liquidating these debts. Being heavily burdened, some of them conferred together that they might find means of redress. Various schemes were proposed for lightening their burdens; some of them wild and agrarian, proposing the canceling of debts, and an equal distribution of property among the people; others more rational, seeking only to ease the burdens which they could not wholly remove. A favorite plan with many was, that the government should order a new emission of paper money, funded on real estate, and loaned on interest. Petitions for this object were sent to the General Court. Competent persons, after a careful examination of the subject were confident that no relief could be gained by such a course; but many people clamored for it adoption. The state endeavored to apply a remedy, by issuing certificates to be received for taxes at par, in lieu of silver and gold; but nothing short of unlimited paper money would satisfy the malcontents. The insurrection in Massachusetts encouraged like proceedings in New Hampshire.

In September, 1786, a mob, consisting of about two hundred men, principally from the towns in the western part of Rockingham county, marched into Exeter, armed with muskets, swords and clubs, and endeavored to overawe the Legislature then in session there, so as to procure the enactment of laws in accordance with their views and wishes. That body, though held prisoners by the mob, that stationed sentinels with fixed bayonets at each of the doors of the meeting-house, in which they were convened, far from being intimidated, refused to legislate, under such circumstances, on the subjects which the insurgents desired, and proceeded, calmly and coolly to transact other business. In the dark evening which followed, a drum was heard at some distance from the meeting-house, and a shout-"Hurra for government!"-strong and hearty, as from many voices. The mob, alarmed, beat a hasty retreat. The Legislature, being thus released from durance, desired President Sullivan to issue a proclamation, calling for the power of the state to suppress the insurrection.

Orders were issued at eleven in the evening; and by sunrise the next morning, strains of martial music heralded the incoming of the militia. All the generals in the state, except one, who lived remote from Exeter, were assembled early in the morning, and a formidable force was soon collected to march against the insurgents, who were now drawn up in order, about a mile from the meeting-house. The opposing forces met, expecting battle, when suddenly Major-General Cilley charged on the insurgents, seized the leader and bore him back to the lines, a prisoner. His party of horsemen, following his example, captured each a man in like manner. The rest fled. The rebellion was quelled without bloodshed. Through the clemency of the government, all the prisoners taken, about forty in number, including the principal officers of the mob, were pardoned, except the ringleaders, who were tried and punished, as rioters.

The people generally were now more enthusiastic than before for the support of government. Two thousand men under arms had stamped out rebellion in New Hampshire. Three thousand unarmed citizens had witnessed and applauded the deed. The loyalty of the state was demonstrated; the dignity of the government, sustained.

It is safe to assume that the streets of Hampton were deserted that day. Col. Christopher Toppan, our representative in the beleaguered Legislature, was no laggard. Strong, resolute, accustomed to meet emergencies promptly, it is reasonably certain that he lost no time after the order was given; but, vaulting into his saddle, sped home through the darkness and aroused the soldiers with the too familiar signal, to arms! It was in the midst of the marsh haying, and the farmers had retired for a few hours' sleep, awaiting the night tide, to float them down to their work. Lights still glimmered here and there, as careful housewives spread the midnight lunch and packed the freshly-cooked food for to-morrow's fare on the marsh.

Hark! the alarm breaks upon the still night air. Instantly all is tremor and excitement. Men hastily don their uniforms scarcely yet tarnished from disuse; while women substitute the best of to-morrow's store for the cold lunch on the tables. No boats float down the river. At dawn, soldiers and civilians alike are ten miles away from Hampton marshes.

Anxious wives and mothers listen in painful suspense through the long hours of the day, for the booming of cannon which may write them widowed, childless. The unexpected silence becomes ominous, as neither sound nor smoke reveals the happenings at Exeter. Imagine, then, the revulsion of feeling, when another evening brings back the men, with cheers and peals of laughter, as they recount the ludicrous scenes.

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