J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Missing Stamp Act Sources

Yesterday I quoted an extract from Jared Ingersoll’s letter of 11 Feb 1765, about the House of Commons debate over the Stamp Act, as it appeared in the 27 May Boston Post-Boy. Researching that text was a good reminder of how spotty the historical record remains.

When the Newport Mercury published that same text on the same day, its printer datelined the item “New London, 10 May.” That strongly suggests the text first appeared in print in the 10 May issue of the New-London Gazette. But no copies of that newspaper are known to have survived. Thus, the publication that sparked the “Sons of Liberty” movement is apparently lost.

The same situation applies to other descriptions of the debate. The 13 May Newport Mercury and 13 May Boston Gazette both contained a long description of the discussion in the House of Commons, paraphrasing opposition member Isaac Barré’s speech at length (but not emphasizing the same points as Ingersoll’s letter).

The 13 May article from Newport indicates that its source for that description was the New-York Gazette, or Weekly Post-Boy, published on Thursdays. But the run of that newspaper is not available for 1765. (That article also included the claim that there was “a majority of about forty voices in favour of the bill.” In fact, the vote was 245-49, so that report wasn’t completely reliable.)

Finally, in 1852 the historian Jared Sparks (shown above as a young clergyman) reported that Francis Dana (1743-1811) of Boston had “heard Barré’s speech, and wrote home an account of it at the time.” As far as I can tell, that letter has never been published. Does its text survive in the Sparks Manuscripts at Harvard (MS Sparks 44)? The Dana family papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society? Or nowhere? How did it accord with the other accounts?

In digging around I was also struck by how Boston shopkeeper Harbottle Dorr began his personal newspaper archive in 1765. Apparently he decided that something big started that year.

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