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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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Reenacting a Riot along Washington Street, 15 Aug.

As I wrote yesterday, on 14 August the Revolution 250 coalition will host a ceremony illuminating and hanging lanterns in Liberty Tree Plaza, at the intersection of Washington and Boylston Streets, to commemorate the sestercentennial of Boston’s first public protest against the Stamp Act.

Among the organizations in Revolution 250 is the Bostonian Society, and its historian Nathaniel Sheidley will be a speaker at that ceremony. But the protest under the big elm wasn’t the end of the protests in August 1765, and the Bostonian Society and its volunteers will present another side of the story the next day.

After night fell on 14 Aug 1765, the crowd made their anger toward stamp agent Andrew Oliver clearer. One might think that hanging him in effigy during the daytime would be clear enough, but that evening they also demolished the small building he was expected to use as his stamp office, tore down his fence, and tried to steal his carriage before gentlemen intervened. They burned all the wood they took away in a bonfire. Twelve days later, a crowd attacked the mansion of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson in the North End, demolishing (or stealing) his windows, furniture, clothing, and papers.

On Saturday, 15 August, at 4:00 P.M., the Bostonian Society and Revolution 250 are sponsoring a “Reenactment of the Stamp Act Riot.” No actual mansions will be harmed in this event, but reenactors in period costume are invited to march raucously from the corner of Washington and Winter Street (near the Downtown Crossing T Station) to the Old State House, calling for Oliver’s resignation.

To me these twin events on Friday and Saturday, the lantern ceremony and the march, represent the two sides of the town’s August 1765 anti-Stamp disturbances. Back then town fathers recoiled from the violent destruction of Hutchinson’s house and started to emphasize civil protest and steely unity; likewise, the Friday lantern ceremony promotes community and liberty over political or personal conflict. Yet Boston’s attacks on the property of Stamp Act officials and their supporters, repeated in other American towns, were probably just as important in keeping the new law from going into effect.

Ironically, our civic ceremony will take place at night (the better to see the lantern illumination), and our riot reenactment will take place in the day.

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