Monday, October 14, 2013

Military Monday (October 14, 2013) -- A Prelude to the Dorr Rebellion?

Sometimes a possible meaningful connection is staring you right in the face and you miss its significance.  This might very well be the case with the 1840 muster order to my 3rd great grandfather.  I have had the original order in my genealogy collection for several years, but until now I had not appreciated the possible significance of this and another order I have dated twelve days after the one shown above.

I have previously written and published an article about the 1842 Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island. [See,]  The focus of the Dorr Rebellion article was the accusation that my 3rd great grandfather, Joseph Carpenter, was a "Dorrite." Joseph was the future father-in-law of Ruth Miller (my 2nd great grandmother).  Ruth Miller married Samuel Carpenter, the son of Joseph and Nancy (Bullock) Carpenter, on April 12, 1852.  Ruth was the daughter of Eber Miller and his wife Abby Hunt.  

Eber Miller is also my 3rd great grandfather.  He lived all his life in Cumberland, Rhode Island and was the owner of the home at 551 High Street in Cumberland that later passed into the Carpenter family with the marriage of Eber's daughter Ruth to my 2nd great grandfather, Samuel Carpenter.  [Eber's ownership of the High Street property is shown on the 1838 map of Cumberland posted here at The Prism on September 23, 2013.  My mother grew up on the very same property.]  

Eber Miller was in the First Company of the Fifteenth Regiment of the Rhode Island Militia in 1840. As the scanned image of the original order pictured above indicates, Eber was required to muster on Wednesday, September 16th, 1840 at 1:00 PM at Lovett Haven's Inn in Cumberland.  He was ordered to appear "armed and equipped as the law directs for military duty" and once there he was to "await further orders."

In 1840, the state of Rhode Island was still operating under the colonial charter received in 1663 and that charter provided that only landowners could vote.  By the 1840s one had to own land worth at least $134 in order to have the right to vote in elections and a decade earlier the effect of this restriction was that only 40% of the state's white men could vote; this meant 60% of even the white males in the state had no right to vote and thus could not participate in the governance of the state.  By 1841 Rhode Island was almost the only state that did not grant universal suffrage to at least its white male population! 

In March 1840 the Rhode Island Suffrage Association was formed to correct the intolerable situation where a minority of the white population was running the state through severe restrictions on the right to vote.  Thomas Dorr, a young lawyer and the the son of a prominent Rhode Island family, took a major part in the agitation over widening the right to vote and in a short time became the leader of the movement.  Eventually, Dorr's activism led to an extralegal "People's Convention" in October 1841 that resulted in a new state constitution to compete with the General Assembly's so-called "Freemen's Constitution" (which made some small concessions to more democratic governance).  Later the people divided into "Dorrite" and "Charterist" camps and Thomas Dorr and Samuel Ward King both claimed to be the elected Governor of Rhode Island.

Given the tensions that were brewing in Rhode Island after the formation of the Rhode Island Suffrage Association in early spring 1840, it appears that by the fall of 1840 the militia was being called to muster and drill armed and equipped for military duty in anticipation of possible civil unrest and violence.  My 3rd great grandfather, Eber Miller, was called to militia duty during the mounting agitation over voting rights not knowing that his daughter's future father-in-law was shortly to have the security of a home for his family (which included Eber's future son-in-law, Samuel Carpenter) threatened by accusations of being a "Dorrite."

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The scanned image of the 1840 muster order is from the original in the collection of the author. 
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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1 comment:

  1. Very, very interesting John. I have saved this link for future reference. I may need to go up to Cumberland town hall and see if my relatives were included in this call. Thanks for sharing! Diane