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«A Pretty Story FRANCIS HOPKINSON Page | 1 This allegory was written by the lawyer, statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence Francis ...»

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A Pretty Story


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This allegory was written by the lawyer, statesman, and signer of the Declaration of

Independence Francis Hopkinson (1737–91) under the pseudonym Peter Grievous and

published in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1774, a year before the outbreak of fighting. It

presents, by means of a homey, personal, and familial tale, an accessible—and perhaps

unthreatening—account of the grievances that the colonists had with the English king and Parliament, growing from small beginnings and nourished by ordinary human desires and failings. It is also a useful introduction to the following selections in this section, which deal with the events that led up to the American Revolution.

Start by reading the story in its own terms, not yet as an allegory. How and why does disorder creep into this family? Who is responsible for the troubles? Trace the stages of displeasure, resistance, and rebellion among the children? Now consider the story as allegory. Identify each of the characters: the Nobleman, his wife, steward, children, neighbors, Jack, the Padlock, and the Overseer to Jack. What is gained, and what is lost, in presenting the great political struggle as a family quarrel? How apt is the allegorical tale? Why, according to the story, are the children (colonists) so patient and longsuffering? Why is the story incomplete? What is the meaning of its title?

Once upon a Time, a great While ago, there lived a certain Nobleman, who had long possessed a very valuable Farm, and had a great Number of Children and Grandchildren.

Besides the annual Profits of his Land, which were very considerable, he kept a large Shop of Goods; and being very successful in Trade, he became, in Process of Time, exceedingly rich and powerful; insomuch that all his Neighbours feared and respected him.

With Respect to the Management of his Family, it was thought he had adopted the most perfect Mode that could be devised, for he had been at the Pains to examine the Economy of all his Neighbours, and had selected from their Plans all such Parts as appeared to be equitable and beneficial, and omitted those which from Experience were found to be inconvenient. Or rather, by blending their several Constitutions together he had so ingeniously counterbalanced the Evils of one Mode of Government with the Benefits of another, that the Advantages were richly enjoyed, and the Inconveniencies scarcely felt. In short, his Family was thought to be the best ordered of any in his Neighbourhood.

He never exercised any undue Authority over his Children or Servants; neither indeed Page | 2 could he oppress them if he was so disposed; for it was particularly covenanted in his Marriage Articles that he should not at any Time impose any Tasks or Hardships whatever upon his Children without the free Consent of his Wife.

Now the Custom in his Family was this, that at the End of every seven Years his Marriage became of Course null and void; at which Time his Children and Grandchildren met together and chose another Wife for him, whom the old Gentleman was obliged to marry under the same Articles and Restrictions as before. If his late Wife had conducted herself, during her seven Year’s Marriage, with Mildness, Discretion and Integrity, she was re-elected; if otherwise, deposed: By which Means the Children had always a great Interest in their Mother in Law;1 and through her, a reasonable Check upon their Father’s Temper. For besides that he could do nothing material respecting his Children without her Approbation, she was sole Mistress of the Purse Strings; and gave him out, from Time to Time, such Sums of Money as she thought necessary for the Expences of his Family.

Being one Day in a very extraordinary good Humour, he gave his Children a Writing under his Hand and Seal, by which he released them from many Badges of Dependence, and confirmed to them several very important Privileges. The chief were the two following, viz. that none of his Children should be punished for any Offence, or supposed Offence, until his brethren had first declared him worthy of such Punishment; and secondly, he gave fresh Assurances that he would impose no Hardships upon them without the Consent of their Mother in Law.

This Writing, on account of its singular Importance, was called THE GREAT PAPER.2 After it was executed with the utmost solemnity, he caused his Chaplain to publish a dire Anathema against all who should attempt to violate the Articles of the Great Paper, in the Words following.

Hopkinson uses the term mother-in-law, which in English of the period also meant stepmother.

That is, the Magna Carta (1215). Learn more about the Magna Carta at www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/.

“In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, AMEN! Whereas our Lord and Master, to the Honour of God and for the common Profit of this Farm hath granted, for him and his Heirs forever, these Articles above written: I, his Chaplain and spiritual

Pastor of all this Farm, do admonish the People of the Farm Once, Twice, and Thrice:

Because that Shortness will not suffer so much Delay as to give Knowledge to the People Page | 3 of these Presents in Writing; I therefore enjoyn all Persons, of what Estate soever they be, that they and every of them, as much as in them is, shall uphold and maintain these Articles granted by our Lord and Master in all Points. And all those that in any Point do resist, or break, or in any Manner hereafter procure, counsel or any Ways assent to resist or break these Ordinances, or go about it by Word or Deed, openly or privately, by any Manner of Pretence or Colour: I the aforesaid Chaplain, by my Authority, do excommunicate and accurse, and from the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and from all the Company of Heaven, and from all the Sacraments of holy Church do sequester and exclude.”


Now it came to pass that this Nobleman had, by some Means or other, obtained a Right to an immense Tract of wild uncultivated Country at a vast Distance from his Mansion House. But he set little Store by this Acquisition, as it yielded him no Profit; nor was it likely to do so, being not only difficult of Access on Account of the Distance, but was also overrun with innumerable wild Beasts very fierce and savage; so that it would be extremely dangerous to attempt taking Possession of it.

In Process of Time, however, some of his Children, more stout and enterprising than the rest, requested Leave of their Father to go and settle on this distant Tract of Land.

Leave was readily obtained; but before they set out certain Agreements were stipulated between them—the principal were—The old Gentleman, on his Part, engaged to protect and defend the Adventurers in their new Settlements; to assist them in cha[s]ing away the wild Beasts, and to extend to them all the Benefits of the Government under which they were born: Assuring them that although they should be removed so far from his Presence they should nevertheless be considered as the Children of his Family, and treated accordingly. At the same Time he gave each of them a Bond for the faithful performance of these Promises; in which, among other Things, it was covenanted that they should, each of them in their several Families, have a Liberty of making such Rules and Regulations for their own good Government as they should find convenient; provided these Rules and Regulations should not contradict or be inconsistent with the general standing Orders established in his Farm.

In Return for these Favours he insisted that they, on their Parts, should at all Times acknowledge him to be their Father; that they should not deal with their Neighbours Page | 4 without his Leave, but send to his Shop only for such Merchandize as they should want.

But in Order to enable them to pay for such Goods as they should purchase, they were permitted to sell the Produce of their Lands to certain of his Neighbours.

These Preliminaries being duly adjusted, our Adventurers bid Adieu to the Comforts and Conveniencies of their Father’s House, and set off on their Journey—Many and great were the Difficulties they encountered on their Way: but many more and much greater had they to combat on their Arrival in the new Country. Here they found Nothing but wild Nature. Mountains over-grown with inaccessible Foliage, and Plains steeped in stagnated Waters. Their Ears are no longer attentive to the repeated Strokes of industrious Labour and the busy Hum of Men; instead of these, the roaring Tempest and incessant Howlings of Beasts of Prey fill their minds with Horror and Dismay. The needful Comforts of Life are no longer in their Power—no friendly Roof to shelter them from inclement Skies; no Fortress to protect them from surrounding Dangers. Unaccustomed as they were to Hardships like these, some were cut off by Sickness and Disease, and others snatched away by the Hands of Barbarity. They began however, with great Perseverance, to clear the Land of encumbering Rubbish, and the Woods resound with the Strokes of Labour; they drain the Waters from the sedged Morass, and pour the Sun Beams on the reeking Soil; they are forced to exercise all the powers of Industry and Economy for bare Subsistence, and like their first Parent, when driven from Paradise, to earn their Bread with the Sweat of their Brows. In this Work they were frequently interrupted by the Incursions of the wild Beasts, against whom they defended themselves with heroic Prowess and Magnanimity.

After some Time, however, by Dint of indefatigable Perseverance, they found themselves comfortably settled in this new Farm; and had the delightful Prospect of vast Tracts of Land waving with luxuriant Harvests, and perfuming the Air with delicious Fruits, which before had been a dreary Wilderness, unfit for the Habitation of Men.

In the mean Time they kept up a constant Correspondence with their Father’s Family, and at a great Expence provided Waggons, Horses and Drivers to bring from his Shop such Goods and Merchandize as they wanted, for which they paid out of the Produce of their Lands.

–  –  –

Notwithstanding their successful Progress, however, they were frequently annoyed by the wild Beasts, which were not yet expelled from the Country; and were moreover troubled by some of their Neighbours, who wanted to drive them off the Land, and take Possession of it themselves.3 To assist them in these Difficulties, and protect them from Danger, the old Nobleman sent over several of his Servants, who with the Help of the new Settlers drove away their Enemies. But then he required that they should reimburse him for the Expence and Trouble he was at in their Behalf; this they did with great Cheerfulness, by applying from Time to Time to their respective Wives, who always commanded their Cash.

Thus did Matters go on for a considerable Time, to their mutual Happiness and Benefit. But now the Nobleman’s Wife began to cast an avaricious Eye upon the new Settlers; saying to herself, if by the natural Consequence of their Intercourse with us my Wealth and Power are so much increased, how much more would they accumulate if I can persuade them that all they have belonged to us, and therefore I may at any Time demand from them such Part of their Earnings as I please. At the same Time she was fully sensible of the Promises and agreements her Husband had made when they left the old Farm, and of the Tenor and Purport of the Great Paper. She therefore thought it necessary to proceed with great Caution and Art, and endeavoured to gain her Point by imperceptible Steps.

A reference to the Intercolonial Wars, especially the French and Indian War, 1754–63.

In Order to [do] this, she first issued an Edict setting forth, That whereas the Tailors of her Family were greatly injured by the People of the new Farm, inasmuch as they presumed to make their own Clothes whereby the said Tailors were deprived of the Benefit of their Custom; it was therefore ordained that for the future the new Settlers should not be permitted to have amongst them any Shears or Sciss[o]rs larger than a Page | 6 certain fixed size. In Consequence of this, our Adventurers were compelled to have their Clothes made by their Father’s Tailors: But out of Regard to the old Gentleman, they patiently submitted to this Grievance.4 Encouraged by this Success, she proceeded in her Plan. Observing that the new Settlers were very fond of a particular Kind of Cyder which they purchased of a Neighbour, who was in Friendship with their Father (the Apples proper for making this Cyder not growing on their own Farm) she published another Edict, obliging them to pay her a certain Stipend for every Barrel of Cyder used in their Families! To this likewise they submitted: Not yet seeing the Scope of her Designs against them.5 After this Manner she proceeded, imposing Taxes upon them on various Pretences, and receiving the Fruits of their Industry with both Hands. Moreover she persuaded her Husband to send amongst them from Time to Time a Number of the most lazy and useless of his Servants, under the specious Pretext of defending them in their Settlements, and of assisting to destroy the wild Beasts; but in Fact to rid his own House of their Company, not having Employment for them; and at the same Time to be a Watch and a Check upon the People of the new Farm.

It was likewise ordered that these Protectors, as they were called, should be supplied with Bread and Butter cut in a particular Form: But the Head of one of the Families refused to comply with this Order. He engaged to give the Guests thus forced upon him, In order to raise money for its war debts, the British Parliament passed a number of laws forcing Americans in the colonies to buy British-made goods and imposing prohibitive duties on imports. The Wool Act of 1699 prohibited the American colonists from exporting wool, wool yarn, or wool cloth to markets outside the individual colony in which it was produced, and also restricted the import of woolens and linens created in other areas of the British Empire. The Hat Act of 1732 placed limits on the manufacture, sale, and exportation of American-made hats. The Iron Act of 1750 restricted manufacturing activities in British colonies, particularly in North America.

The Molasses Act of 1733 imposed a tax on molasses, sugar, and rum imported from non-British foreign colonies into the North American colonies.

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