Who is Oxenbridge Thacher?

O.K., a simple google search and one can find that he was a Boston resident, a lawyer in fact, and with a little more searching he was a friend of John Adams. He also wrote a pamphlet, “The sentiments of a British American” in 1764 as a result of the Stamp Act. I also found a bio sketch: “Oxenbridge Thacher, who was born in 1720. He also was educated at Harvard, in 1738, and became a lawyer. His name has been frequently mentioned in terms of high esteem as a compeer with Adams, Quincy and Otis. Governor Hutchinson, in his History of Massachusetts, mentions him “as an active and influential opposer of the measures of Parliament; a lawyer of great eminence, and a learned and able writer.”

Why do I ask? In a letter Adams wrote (John Adams to H. Niles) in 1818 and a fairly famous letter at that for this quote: “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people…” But if you keep reading you come to this:

The characters the most conspicuous, the most ardent and influential in this revival, from 1760 to 1766, were, first and foremost, before all and above all, James Otis; next to him was Oxenbridge Thacher [my emphasis]; next to him, Samuel Adams; next to him, John Hancock; then Dr. Mayhew; then Dr. Cooper and his brother. Of Mr. Hancock’s life, character, generous nature, great and disinterested sacrifices, and important services, if I had forces, I should be glad to write a volume. But this, I hope, will be done by some younger and abler hand. Mr. Thacher, because his name and merits are less known, must not be wholly omitted. This gentleman was an eminent barrister at law, in as large practice as any one in Boston. There was not a citizen of that town more universally beloved for his learning, ingenuity, every domestic and social virtue, and conscientious conduct in every relation of life. His patriotism was as ardent as his progenitors had been ancient and illustrious in this country. Hutchinson often said, “Thacher was not born a plebeian, but he was determined to die one.” In May, 1763, I believe, he was chosen by the town of Boston one of their representatives in the legislature , a colleague with Mr. Otis, who had been a member from May, 1761, and he continued to be relectcd annually till his death in 1765, when Mr. Samuel Adams was elected to fill his place, in the absence of Mr. Otis, then attending the Congress at New York. Thacher had long been jealous of the unbounded ambition of Mr. Hutchinson, but when he found him not content with the office of Lieutenant-Governor, the command of the castle and its emoluments, of Judge of Probate for the county of Suffolk, a seat in his Majesty’s Council in the Legislature, his brother-in-law Secretary of State by the king’s commission, a brother of that Secretary of State, a Judge of the Supreme Court and a member of Council, now in 1760 and 1761, soliciting and accepting the office of Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature, he concluded, as Mr. Otis did, and as every other enlightened friend of his country did, that he sought that office with the determined purpose of determining all causes in favor of the ministry at St. James’s, and their servile parliament.

I did a search on my favorite Pre-Revolutionary blog (Boston 1775) and found only this (link) humorous entry by Adams of some gossip:

Thus it seems that the Air of Newbury, and the Vicinage of Farnham, Chipman &c. have obliterated all the Precepts, Admonitions, Instructions and Example of his Master Thatcher, and have made him in Thatchers Phrase a shoe licker and an A—se Kisser of Elisha Hutchinson. Lowel is however very warm, sudden, quick, and impetuous and all such People are unsteady. Too much Fire. Experientia docet [experience teaches].

Not the same ThaTcher obviously.  Anyway, Adam’s speaks very highly of Oxenbridge Thacher and when I came across his name I was interested as I have never heard it before. Perhaps he is the missing link in my “Taxation without representation is tyranny” quote hunt… hmm.

Any thoughts?

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5 Responses to Who is Oxenbridge Thacher?

  1. J. L. Bell says:

    Thatcher was one of the established Boston attorneys Adams looked up to when he was entering the legal profession, and looked back on with even more admiration in old age.

    Thatcher died in 1765 while still only in middle age, leaving a widow, a school-age son named Peter, and other children. He didn’t leave a large estate, in part because he didn’t have a chance to inherit his father’s estate. Peter was rushed through Harvard in order to start earning a living as a minister, like his grandfather. In 1775 the young Rev. Peter Thatcher wrote the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s official report on what happened at Bunker Hill.

    The second paragraph above does refer to Oxenbridge Thatcher, who mentored John Lowell of Newbury and became disappointed at the younger man’s political leanings.

    Despite Adams’s admiration for Thatcher, it’s hard to be sure what the older man’s views on the major issues of the Revolution would have been. He died when the Stamp Act was being debated, but most Americans opposed that. The later issues, and the final split with the Crown, left behind some British colonists who had opposed the Stamp Act as well.

  2. Chris says:

    So it is the same person!?, I’m not sure where the spelling error started as I am dealing with a transcription of Adam’s letter that omits the “T”. John once again thank you for your excellent analysis and commentary!

  3. J. L. Bell says:

    Spelling in the eighteenth-century British Empire was much more free-wheeling than it is now. John Hancock’s name got spelled “Handcock” some of the time, and Paul Revere even appears to have signed his name “Rivere” on one deposition. “Quincy” could appear as “Quinsy” or “Quincey” or “Quinsey,” so the “Thatcher/Thacher” difference wouldn’t have mattered to people. And just imagine what people did with “Faneuil Hall”!

  4. Michael Schack says:

    I hope no one has forgotten Dr. Joseph Warren and his role in pre revolutionary Boston.

  5. antonia thatcher says:

    thatcher = thacher. Spelling was not as well defined in the past, ridged. It is a variation of spelling the same name.

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