Moses Harvey

image: Portrait of Moses Harvey

Moses Harvey
© 2008 Bryant White


Moses Harvey was born in Sunderland in 1723, the sixth of nine children born to Samuel and Esther (Warner) Harvey. Like many other young Massachusetts men who came of age during Britain's colonial wars with France and Native peoples, Moses served in the Massachusetts militia. He saw action, surviving a shot that passed through his hat but missed his head. Sometime around 1743-47, he married a woman named Esther. They farmed in Montague, Massachusetts, originally part of Sunderland until 1753. The Harveys had six or seven children. (1)

To say that Moses Harvey was not a quiet man would be an understatement. He had a reputation for having a hot temper and being an outspoken troublemaker. Moses' first recorded appearance on the local political scene was typically contentious: in 1772, he and another resident refused to provide money to repair the town's congregational meetinghouse. (2) Moses was a Baptist; as a dissenter, he resented having to pay taxes and other support to the Congregational Church which was the established church in Massachusetts until well into the 19th century.

In 1774, the British Parliament passed the so-called Intolerable, or Coercive Acts, to punish the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the destruction of tea in the Boston Tea Party and to tighten imperial control over the colony in general. The Massachusetts Government Act was part of this strategy. It took all control of the judicial courts away from the Massachusetts legislature and turned it over to the royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson. The same act forbade individual towns from issuing any resolves or engaging in other political activities, except for electing local officials and conducting local business. The message was clear: towns and their residents should keep their minds off, and their noses out of, imperial politics. Moses Harvey was among the Whigs, or Friends of Liberty, who refused to accept this Parliamentary decree. A Massachusetts Provincial Congress was formed. It instructed the liberty men to prevent the courts from sitting, since, in their view, they were no longer bastions of justice, but instead, instruments of tyranny, coercion and corruption. (3)

On August 30, 1774, Moses helped to lead a mob to close the quarterly session of the Court of Common Pleas scheduled to convene in Springfield. Moses apparently lived up to his reputation for hot headedness and bullying behavior. On the following day, Deerfield resident, Dr. Elihu Ashley, wrote in his journal, "Catlin was much abused by M Harvey." (4)

image: Elihu Ashley Diary Excerpt

In his diary, Dr. Elihu Ashley recorded the tension and violence of the years leading up to the American Revolution, including the role Moses Harvey played in shutting down the Court of Common Pleas in August, 1774. More info
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA

Seth Catlin was a Deerfield resident and a Loyalist. As an officer of the court, Catlin was charged with opening the court Harvey was determined to shut down. Only a few days later, on Sept. 3, Dr. Ashley anxiously recorded the rumor that Moses Harvey "was coming to mobb the Tories in Deerfield." (5) Apparently, this was only a rumor, but harassment and outright attacks by men like Harvey on men suspected of Loyalist sympathies were increasing. Several weeks after his reported abuse of Seth Catlin, Moses had the ill judgment (and audacity) to enter Catlin's tavern in Deerfield. Dr. Ashley reported in his journal on Sept. 19, 1774:

"[I] walked down to Catlins [tavern], found a No of People there, Revd Ashley, [Moses] Harvey from Montague. His Honr Harvey had a fine Trimming from the Gentn that were there respecting his abusing Catlin at Springfield, making him get down upon his Knees and ask forgiveness.” (6)

Predictably, Moses was among the Massachusetts men who formed militia companies, ready to fight if necessary to defend their rights as free Englishmen. Moses was elected captain of the Montague militia and was a member of Captain Brewer's Regiment, which marched to Cambridge in 1775 in response to the Lexington alarm issued after the battle of Concord and Lexington. Beginning in 1778, Moses was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives of the General Court. Despite his government duties, he continued to serve in the militia. Captain Harvey participated in the Saratoga Campaign with hundreds of other Hampshire County men.

image: Portrait of Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull

Captain Moses Harvey was among the hundreds of militia from Hampshire County, Massachusetts, who participated in the Saratoga campaign that ended in the surrender of British General John Burgoyne and his 5,000-man army.
Courtesy Capitol Rotunda, US Government, Washington DC

A Brush with the Gallows

After the war, Moses continued to serve as Montague's representative to the Massachusetts General Court. Moses watched in growing anger as fellow legislators laid heavier taxes, while ignoring pleas for fiscal relief from financially-strapped communities. In 1786, the state government issued a call to arms in preparation for possible action against Luke Day, Daniel Shays and other Regulators. Moses Harvey did not respond. Instead, he referred to his fellow legislators as "thieves, knaves, robbers, and highwaymen." (7) As he had in 1774 when he was confronted with British tyranny, Moses marched on the courts that were the symbol of oppression and corruption. By October, he found himself ousted from the state House of Representatives. It can safely be assumed that in December, when he received a letter from Insurgent leaders Thomas Grover and Elisha Pondell, he did not hesitate to answer their affecting plea for arms and assistance: "the seeds of war are sown…Our case is yours; don't give yourselves rest and let us die here, for we are all brethren."

image: Letter or T. Grover & E. Pondell to Mr. Harvey Regarding Reinforcements

The letter from Regulators Thomas Grover and Elisha Pondell to "Captain Moses Harvey" was reprinted in the Hampshire Gazette two months later. More info
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA

It is not known whether Moses Harvey was among the Regulators who marched on the Arsenal in January, 1787, but his vocal opposition and court closing activities already had condemned him in the eyes of his former fellow-legislators and other "Friends of Government." In April, the Supreme Judicial Court at Northampton handed down court verdicts for a number of captured Regulators, including Moses Harvey:

"…Moses Harvey, to pay a fine of 50 l. [pounds]- to set on the gallows with a rope round his neck one hour, and recognize with sufficient surety in the sum of 200 l. [pounds] to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the term of five years, for a like crime." (8)

As he sat for that long hour on the gallows with a rope around his neck, Moses may have reflected on the difference between the aftermath of the court closings of 1786, and those of 1774. Humiliating as his sentence was, Moses was more fortunate than Jason Parmenter, Henry McCulloch and the four other men condemned to death for high treason by the same court.

image: Report of Verdicts Handed Down by the Supreme Judical Court

The Hampshire Gazette published the sentences handed down by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for Moses Harvey and other Regulators found guilty of "exciting and stiring up sedition and insurrection in this commonwealth" More info
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA


Family tragedy marred Moses Harvey's final years: "All These my 4 sons dead in 3 months and 2 days; not any of my family left except my wife and one daughter." It is not known how his sons died; perhaps they died of illness, since their deaths are so close together. Moses Harvey, described in The History of Montague as one of the town of Montague's "most romantic characters," (9) died at the age of 72, on January 17, 1795.

About This Narrative

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People of Shays' Rebellion