Lot 7
  • 7

[American Revolution]

10,000 - 15,000 USD
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  • paper
Hopestill Capen. The Following was Written with an Expectation That I Should Have the Liberty to Lay the Same Before the Court of Enquiry Before Whom I was Impeached as an Enemy to My Country and Cast into Prison [caption title]. Boston: no printer, 1776

Printed broadside (15 x 9 1/2 in.; 380 x 240 mm). Main text in two columns, autograph letter signed ("Hopestill Capen") on verso, Boston Prison, 16 December 1776, to William Greenleaf; one edge shaved touching a letter of the manuscript, lower edge a bit frayed. Matted, in a blue cloth folding-case.



Acquisition: William Reese


Evans 14672; Ford 1947; NAIP w020325; see J.H. Smith, "'Sober Dissent' and 'Spirited Conduct': The Sandemanians and the American Revolution, 1765-1781" in Historical Journal of Massachusetts 28,2 (2000)


one edge shaved touching a letter of the manuscript, lower edge a bit frayed. Matted, in a blue cloth folding-case.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A rare and interesting Revolutionary broadside, issued by a Boston Loyalist and religious dissenter from his prison cell, and with a manuscript letter by him on the verso. His case raises issues concerning dissent and liberty of conscience during the American Revolution, issues faced by many conscientious objectors in time of war.

Capen (d. 1807) was a dealer of dry goods in Boston before the Revolution. He was a Sandemanian, a Presbyterian sect that remained loyal to the King and Parliament during the war, but unlike many of his sect, Capen and his family refused to leave Boston when others evacuated. He was imprisoned on 6 August 1776 and released 20 June 1777. In 1778 he was called on to repudiate his allegiance to King George III, refused, and was again imprisoned. Throughout his imprisonment Capen argued that his loyalty to the King and Parliament was founded in his religious beliefs which stressed allegiance to prevailing civil authority. He said that should the Revolution triumph, he would be loyal to American civil authority.

Capen's printed appeal is dated 29 August 1776 from "Boston Goal." In it he argues that he is a prisoner of conscience: "this is a matter of conscience only with me, by which nothing but God's revealed-word in the Scriptures are any sure guide; and as I understand them I am bound in conscience to conduct ... as to the charge of my being an enemy to my country, no accusation can be more unjust, for I think every person acquainted with me can testify to the strong attachment and love I have to my country and should chuse to live in it if I could without being persecuted for that which in my conscience I cannot do."

He assures the Boston authorities that they have nothing to fear from him or his co-religionists, and that if the Revolution succeeds he will be loyal to the new government: "... whenever it shall appear to my conscience that a change of 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 do what I can for its support with cheerfulness; and how near such a change is I cannot tell; or if it ever will be, time alone will bring forth."

Of special interest in this copy is his autograph letter on the verso, addressed to his jailer William Greenleaf, restating his case by arguing: "You have never yet shewed me by what authority you have kept me thus in prison which you ought to have dun & now demand of you a coppey of my commitment and I likewise demand of you my just liberty as I look on you answerable for all the consequences of unjust imprisonment."

NAIP, Ford, and Evans combined locate a total of only five copies of this rare broadside (Syracuse University, Massachusetts Historical Society, Massachusetts State Library, British Library, Louisiana State Library). Evans notes that two of these copies (those in Massachusetts) contain Capen's letter to his jailer as in the present copy.