Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If You're Not With Us, You're Against Us!

In 1776, Hopestill Capen was arrested and thrown in a Boston jail. He is my second cousin, 8X removed and I stumbled upon his story while looking for a different Revolutionary War ancestor and it is too good not to share. Being a teacher of American history means being a student of American history. No matter how much I think I know, I'm constantly finding new twists that show history is never cut and dried, black and white. 

So when is a Loyalist not a Loyalist? When you are a Sandemanian. Yup, it's a real word and one I had to research to understand the story of Hopestill Capen. At first glance the Sandemanians seem to be pacifists but further exploration reveals that while they did not believe in taking up arms in rebellion, they did not discourage taking up arms to defend a government. While Hopestill Capen made it clear that he disagreed with British policies and favored a new government, he would not take up arms in the Patriot cause. Many Sandemanians, like other Loyalists, left the country when the British were driven out of Boston. Hopestill refused to go and wanted to ride out the war remaining neutral. His silk & dry-goods shop is now the Union Oyster House - called the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America. 

His own words: "But as to the charge of my being an enemy to my country, no accusation can be more unjust...had I not been check'd by the command of God...to be subject to the Higher Powers...I should have been one of the foremost in opposing the measure of the British Parliament...neither do I think myself in any way bound in conscience to become an informer against my country...but to be subject to all the laws that are made that are not contrary to the laws of my Maker."  And "...whenever it shall appear to my conscience that a change in government has taken place, and is so established that the power is of God, I shall know myself to be as tenaciously bound to adhere to God's law respecting being subject to that power, and to what I am from its support with cheerfulness" (Casey). In plain terms, I will be happy to support the Patriots at the point where they are clearly in charge of the government.

In October 1776 Capen's wife, Patience (Stoddard), petitioned for his release. She expressed that she and her children had suffered greatly because of Hopestill's confinement. More than 80 citizens of Boston signed the appeal and attested to the fact that he was an honest and peaceable man. The sheriff complained that this petition and a second appeal from Hopestill in December was insulting and asked for protection from Mr. Capen's insults. The petitions did not change things for Hopestill and ..."was summarily denied, as the Patriots tended to look upon even the vaguest hints of neutrality or loyalism as a threat to their authority. Capen's persecutors were concerned he and all the other Sandemanians were no different. He was held for over two years and finally released in October 1778, when he decided that emigration to Nova Scotia would be the only option if he wished to live in peace" (Smith 143). It is ironic that he was denied the basic right of habeas corpus espoused by the founding fathers. He never got a chance to defend his position in front of a judge or jury. 
Hopestill's appeal to his jailer, Mr. Wm. Greenleaf

Recently a 1776 broadside with notes in Capen's own hand sold for $7500 on icollector.comThe description of this item includes Capen's notes in the margin which say "I was liberated from prison twentieth of June on a fryday evening at 8 o'clock 1777 after suffering three hundred & 19 days...imprisonment in felons appartments all the time...July 1778 I was called on to abjune the King of England which I dare not in confidence do, for which I was again imprisoned to the day of noon following." This seems to be a bit different from Smith's account but quibbling how much time he spent in jail misses the point that he was held without a hearing or trial until he agreed to leave the country. 

It is unclear to me when or if Hopestill returned from Nova Scotia but he and his wife have headstones in Copps Burying Ground in Boston. His headstone reads "memorial" which leads me to believe he may have been buried elsewhere. These photos are from findagrave.com.

Patience Capen
Hopestill Capen

Sources & further reading on Sandemanians and Hopestill Capen

Bernard Capen (immigrant) - my 10th great-grandfather - line to Hopestill Capen
John Capen (1612-1692) - my 9th great-grandfather                           
Bernard Capen (1650-1691) - brother of James Capen - my 8th great-grandfather
John Capen (1685-1733) - cousin of James Capen 2nd - my 7th great-grandfather
Hopestill Capen (abt 1731-1807) - 2nd cousin of James Capen 3rd - my 6th great-grandfather

The rest of my Capen line:
Thomas Capen (1739- ) - 5th great-grandfather
Thomas Capen (1762-1808) - 4th great-grandfather
Timothy Capen (1793- ) - 3rd great-grandfather
Edward Abbott Capen (1838-1936) 2nd great-grandfather
Fannie May Capen (1878-1961) great-grandmother
T. Richard Carter (1914-2005) grandfather


  1. Hello - we are 10th cousins once removed. Bernard Capen is my 11th great grandfather. I am descended from his daughter Susan, who married William Rockwell. I'm sure if you have other New England ancestry, we're likely related on other lines.

    1. Hi Cousin, Almost all my lines go back to 17th century New England so I'm sure we have other connections. Finding new cousins interested in genealogy is one of the best benefits of blogging!