Thomas Hutchinson (9 September 1711 – 3 June 1780) was a businessman, historian, and a prominent Loyalist politician of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in the years before the American Revolution. He has been referred to as "the most important figure on the loyalist side in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts." He was a successful merchant and politician, and was active at high levels of the Massachusetts government for many years, serving as lieutenant governor and then governor from 1758 to 1774. He was a politically polarizing figure who came to be identified by John Adams and Samuel Adams as a proponent of hated British taxes, despite his initial opposition to Parliamentary tax laws directed at the colonies. He was blamed by Lord North (the British Prime Minister at the time) for being a significant contributor to the tensions that led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.
Hutchinson's Boston mansion was ransacked in 1765 during protests against the Stamp Act, damaging his collection of materials on early Massachusetts history. As acting governor in 1770, he exposed himself to mob attack in the aftermath of the Boston massacre, after which he ordered the removal of troops from Boston to Castle William. Letters of his calling for abridgement of colonial rights were published in 1773, further intensifying dislike of him in the colony. He was replaced as governor in May 1774 by General Thomas Gage, and went into exile in England, where he advised the government on how to deal with the Americans.
Hutchinson had a deep interest in colonial history, collecting a large number of historical documents. He wrote a three-volume History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay whose last volume, published posthumously, covered his own period in office. Historian Bernard Bailyn wrote of Hutchinson, "If there was one person in America whose actions might have altered the outcome [of the protests and disputes preceding the American Revolutionary War], it was he." Scholars use Hutchinson's career to represent the tragic fate of the many Loyalists marginalized by their attachment to an outmoded imperial structure at a time when the modern nation-state was emerging. Hutchinson exemplifies the difficulties experienced by Loyalists, paralyzed by his ideology and his dual loyalties to America and Britain. He sacrificed his love for Massachusetts to his loyalty to Great Britain, where he spent his last years in unhappy exile.
Thomas Hutchinson was born on 9 September 1711 in the North End of Boston, the fourth of twelve children of Thomas and Sarah Foster Hutchinson. He was descended from early New England settlers, including Anne Hutchinson and her son Edward Hutchinson, and his parents were both from well-to-do merchant families. His father was involved in the family mercantile trade but was also active in political, military, and charitable circles and served on the provincial council. His younger brother was Foster Hutchinson.
Margaret Sanford Hutchinson, wife of Thomas Hutchinson (1750)
Young Thomas entered Harvard College at twelve, graduating in 1727. His father introduced him to the business world early, and he displayed remarkable business acumen. According to his autobiographical sketch of his childhood, Hutchinson turned a modest gift from his father of "five quintals of fish" into between £400 and £500 by the time he was 21. In 1732, he received some exposure to politics when he accompanied Governor Jonathan Belcher on a voyage to Casco Bay for negotiations with the Abenaki of Maine, then part of Massachusetts. The voyage was made in a vessel of which Hutchinson was part owner. In 1734, he married Margaret Sanford, a granddaughter of Rhode Island Governor Peleg Sanford. The Sanford and Hutchinson families had a long history of business and personal connections; Margaret, in fact, was a distant relative. The marriage secured a political alliance between Hutchinson and Andrew and Peter Oliver which lasted long after Margaret's death. Margaret Sanford's sister Mary (1713-1773) was the second wife of Andrew Oliver. Likewise, a daughter of Thomas Hutchinson married a son of Peter Oliver. The Oliver brothers were also related to Massachusetts governor Jonathan Belcher and to New Hampshire lieutenant governors William Partridge and George Vaughan (Harvard Class of 1696). The couple had twelve children, only five of whom survived to adulthood, before Margaret died in 1754 from complications of childbirth.