Foxborough, Massachusetts History

Foxborough Namesake, by Jack Authelet, used by permission
Pictures by Donald Wright

Historians have often recalled with pride that our town of Foxborough was named for the Honorable Charles James Fox, member of the English House of Commons and staunch supporter of the Colonies.

The Honorable J.B.C. Cogswell, President of the Massachusetts Senate, when presenting an oration at the celebration of our Centennial, even went so far as to suggest that the selection of Mr. Fox in naming the town attested to the patriotism of our founding fathers.

ap09-006 (27K) In reality, those seeking to have this area set aside as a town had no say in the selection of a name. Our petition for incorporation, like many others, was submitted blank, with the name to be filled in by the granting authority.

The choice was more than appropriate, however, for a community legislated into existence in the year 1778.

Early Support

As early as 1774, Charles James Fox had spoken out in support of the Colonies and defended their conduct. He opposed the Boston Port Bill and endeavored to dissuade Great Britian from war with America. He was convinced that men fighting for their liberty would be successful, and foresaw eventual independence.

Fox incurred the wrath of George the Third who declared he would not admit Mr. Fox into his councils, even at the hazard of war.

ap14-001 (17K) But Mr. Fox was also a member of the Rockingham administration, to which the King eventually had to submit. Its first principle was the concession of independence to America, which the King had resisted.

In 1778, the very year that Foxborough was incorporated, Mr. Fox proposed and advocated throwing open the galleries of the House of Commons to the public, a bold position indeed.

An early and strenuous supporter of abolition of the African slave trade, he said in 1781 "High and low, rich and poor, are equal in the sight of God."

The Constitutional History of England records the following eulogium of Fox as a statesman: "The success of Mr. Fox was due to his natural genius. Familiary with the best classical models, he yet too often disdained the studied art of the orator, and was negligent and unequal in his efforts. But when his genius was aroused within him, he was matchless in demonstrative argument, in force, in wit, in animation and in spontaneous eloquence. More than any orator of his time, he carried with him the feelings and convictions of his audience, and the spirit and reality of the man charm us scarcely less in his printed speeches. Wanting in discretion, he was frequently betrayed into intemperance of language and opinion; but his generous ardor in the cause of liberty still appeals to our sympathies and his broad constitutional principles are lessons of political wisdom."

Choosing a Name

Before the adoption of the Constitution of Massachusetts on October 25, 1780, there were three periods of time which reflect a trend in selecting a name.

Charles Fox Monument (behind Boyden Library History clearly points out that nearly every town in England bears the same name that it did before either Norman conquest in the year 1066. Our own ancestors, before the second charter, when naming an incorporated town, named if after some English town. Consequently, towns named during the colonial charter have a Saxon tie, such as Ipswich, Lynn, Gloucester, Salisbury, Wenham, Manchester, Barnstable, Sandwich, Yarmouth, Falmouth, Lancaster, Worcester, Dorchester, Plymouth, Weymouth, Wrentham and Dunstable.

During the Provincial period from June 8, 1692 to June 17, 1774, it was considered a prerequisite of the royal governors to give names to newly incorporated towns. After a bill incorporating a new town had been passed to be enacted, and had been sent down to the secretary's office to be engrossed on parchment, the engrossing clerk left a blank space for the name of the town to be filled in. The Governor , when signing an act of incorporation, filled in with his own hand the name for such a town, suiting his own fancy.

Charles Fox Monument (behind Boyden Library When selecting a name, the royal governors complimented English Tory statesmen of their respective times by using such names as Hardwick, Mansfield, Grafton, Richmond, Lenox, Walpole, Warwich, Shelburne, Pelham and Halifax.

Later, during the Provincial period, the royal governors took to immortalizing themselves and to naming newly incorporated towns after their predecessors in office. Hence such names as Phippsburg and Pownalborough, then in the province of the Massachusetts Bay, but later in the State of Maine, Bellingham, Bernardstown, Belchertown, Shirley, Dudley and Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was incorporated in 1774, the last time a royal governor dared to meet a Massachusetts House of Representatives.

After the battle of Bunker Hill , no Tory British statesman or royal governor was ever complimented by naming a town after him. Names selected following the battle were Hancock, Washington, Lee, Adams, Franklin, Warren, Montgomery and Foxborough.

Name Change

As the political climate had changed in the Colonies, residents were sensitive about having their town named for royal governors or Tory statesmen hostile to the rights of the Colonies. During the May 1776 session of our General Court, 14 towns - including the Town of Mansfield named for Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of England - petitioned to have their names changed.

Charles Fox Monument (behind Boyden Library

Pressured by the business before them during the political year of 1776-1777, the General Court acted on only one of the 14 petitions, changing the name of the town of Hutchinson to Barre, removing all traces of the former name selected by General Cage.

Unexplained by historians is a town meeting vote taken in Foxborough on May 4, 1818 to form a committee of five "to agree upon and propose a new name for the town." No further action was recorded.

Turning the Tide

The incorporation of our town followed by only eight months the surender of the British Army under Burgoyne, which had intended to crush New England, soul of rebellion. The prisoners had been quartered in huts and tents on Bunker Hill, and France had acknowledged the independence of the United States and was at war with Great Britain.

The assembling of the British Parliament had been unduly postponed in order to afford the King an opportunity to congratulate the British Legislature on the suppresson of the rebellion in America by the victories that should be obtained by the army under Burgoyne. Parliament met before the news of the capture of Burgoyne and the King made his address to them on November 20, 1777. Debate followed, but the administration was sustained, four to one.

The following day, parliament was humbled by the arrival of the news of the utter defeat of Burgoyne in several pitched battles, and the surrender of his entire force.

Charles Fox Monument (behind Boyden Library

On February 17, 1778, Lord North brought into the House of Commons his conciliatory bills. Mr. Fox arraigned the administration for the war with America, and in his speech asked what punishment would be sufficient for those ministers who adjourned Parliament in order to make propositions of concessions, only to neglect doing so until France had concluded a treaty with independent States of America.

Fox then informed the House of Commons, and through them the people of Great Britain, that following the capture of Burgoyne, France had ten days earlier concluded a treaty with the Americans. He declared that the conciliatory bills offered by Lord North were as useless to the peace as they were humiliating to the dignity of Britain.

The speech delivered by Fox in February was circulated in the Colonies the last Wednesday in May, 1778. Less than two weeks later, the papers of incorporation for a new town lay before the General Court. What more appropriate name could have been chosen to be penned in than one that would honor the memory of Charles James Fox.

Charles James Fox Memorial - Mayfield Park, Southampton, England

Fox is remembered in his home town of Chertsey England by a bust on a high plinth , erected in 2006 in a new development by a railway station in England. Fox is also commemorated in a termly dinner held in his honour at his alma mater, Hertford College, Oxford, by students of English, history and the romance languages. It was erected by William Chamberlayne on his estate at Weston, now within the Mayfield Park, Southhampton, England.

For more information contact the Foxborough Historical Commission where the following publications are located:

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