The Governors of Milton
by Anthony M. Sammarco
(from the Winter 2010 Newsletter)
Milton has been an independent town since 1662 when it was incorporated by the Great and General Court and set off from Dorchester. It has had six residents or tax payers who were appointed or elected to serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Province of New England, the Royal Colony of New England or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today, the Governor of Massachusetts is the chief executive, and executive magistrate, of the Commonwealth and currently resides in Milton. He, like most other state officers, senators, and representatives, was originally elected annually, however in 1918 this was changed to a two-year term, and since 1966 the office of governor has carried a four-year term. The Governor of Massachusetts does not receive an official residence, or housing allowance. The governor also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth's armed forces. Among our fellow Miltonians who served in the highest elected position are:
William Stoughton (1631-1701) was a landowner on Milton Hill who bequeathed to the town of Milton a tract of land to be used to support the poor of the town. This later became known as the Town Farm and is located at the end of Governor Stoughton Lane. Stoughton was graduated from Harvard College in 1650 with a degree in theology. He intended to become a minister and continued his studies at New College, Oxford, graduating with an M.A. in Theology in 1652. Stoughton was in charge of what has come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials, first as the Chief Justice of the Special Court in 1692, and then as the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693. Stoughton was governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1694 to 1699, while still serving as Chief Justice, and again from 1700 to 1701. He was an able and adroit politician who managed the Colony's politics using the power of his governorship and judgeship and appointments to both his council and to lower courts. Stoughton Hall at Harvard College was named after Stoughton, who left a large bequest upon his death. In 1726 the town of Stoughton, Massachusetts was named in his honor.
Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) kept a summer estate in Milton, at what is today the area of Adams Street and Governor Belcher Lane. He was graduated from Harvard College. In 1718, Belcher was elected to the Massachusetts Council and became colonial governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire when his predecessor, William Tailer, died. Initially supported by the people of Massachusetts, his popularity dramatically decreased when he brought the censure of the English government upon the colony. He left Massachusetts Bay Colony and was appointed governor of the province of New Jersey where he assisted in the founding of Princeton University, including building the library for the new school. Belchertown, Massachusetts, was named for him.
Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) kept a large estate at the crest of Milton Hill that he initially used as a summer house known as “Unquety,” which after 1765 became his principal residence. Graduated from Harvard College in 1727, he became a wealthy merchant. In 1769, upon the resignation of Governor Francis Bernard, he became acting Governor, serving in that capacity at the time of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, when popular clamor compelled him to order the removal of the troops from Boston. In March 1771, he received his commission as Governor, and was to be the last civilian governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. His administration, controlled completely by the British ministry, increased the friction with the patriots. The publication, in 1773, of some letters on colonial affairs written by Hutchinson aroused public indignation. The resistance of the colonials led the ministry to see the necessity for stronger measures. A temporary suspension of the civil government followed, and General Gage was appointed military governor in April 1774. Hutchinson left Massachusetts in 1774 and broken in health and spirit, he spent the rest of his life an exile in England.
Henry Joseph Gardner (1819-1892) lived much of his life in Dorchester but in later life lived on an estate on Brush Hill Road in Milton. Gardner served as the governor of Massachusetts from 1855 to 1858. As the candidate of the Know Nothing movement, he was elected governor as part of the sweeping victory of Know-Nothing candidates in the Massachusetts elections of 1854. Keeping with the nativist and anti-Catholic politics of the Know-Nothing movement, Gardner proposed an amendment to the Massachusetts state constitution banning appropriations of tax funds to Catholic schools, which was passed by the state legislature and ratified after approved by referendum.
Roger Wolcott (1847-1900) was the son of Joshua Huntington and Cornelia Frothingham Wolcott and lived on Home Farm, on upper Canton Avenue. Wolcott was graduated from Harvard University in 1870 and from the Harvard Law School in 1874. He served in the Massachusetts General Court from 1881-1884, and as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1892-1896. He became governor in 1896 as a result of the death of Frederic T. Greenhalge and served in that position until 1900. The trustees of Milton Academy named a dormitory after Governor Wolcott after his death in 1900.
Deval Laurdine Patrick (born 1956) is the present governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Patrick was graduated from Milton Academy in 1974 and from Harvard University in 1978 and the Harvard Law School. He spent a year working with the United Nations in Africa. Patrick served as United States Assistant Attorney General under the President William Jefferson Clinton serving the head of the Civil Rights Division. Patrick worked on issues including racial profiling, police misconduct, fair lending enforcement, human trafficking, prosecution of hate crimes, abortion clinic violence and discrimination based on gender and disability. He and his wife Diane Bemus Patrick live on Hinckley Road in the Columbines neighborhood of Milton.