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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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Revolution 250’s Liberty Tree Lantern Ceremony, 14 Aug.

In August of 1765, Bostonians carried out public protests against the Stamp Act that set the template for other actions up and down the coast of British North America.

On 14 August, there was a public demonstration against the impending law under the big elm beside the one road into town during market day. Such actions were rare, if not unheard of, in the British Empire.

To add to that event’s whiff of possible sedition, in the evening some of the crowd attacked the property of Andrew Oliver, Massachusetts’s agent for stamped paper. I’ll describe that day in more detail as it comes around.

For many contemporaries and historians, the colonial movement against the Stamp Act represents the beginning of the American Revolution. (John Adams argued that the process began earlier, but I argue that he had personal reasons for doing so, and that the disputes he highlighted were confined to the narrowly based Massachusetts attorney and merchant class.)

To commemorate Boston’s seminal role in the struggle for American independence, historians, historic sites, tour groups, and non-profit organizations have formed Revolution 250. This coalition meets to develop and promote programs and special events associated with key anniversaries.

Among the groups creating programs so far are Boston National Historical Park of the National Park Service, the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, Old North Church, Old South Meeting House, and the Old State House/Bostonian Society.

On the evening of Friday, 14 August, Revolution 250 will welcome Bostonians to a community event at the site of the original Liberty Tree—the name that Boston Whigs gave to that big elm back in 1765. That’s now a small city park on the corner of Washington and Essex. The ceremony is supposed to get under way at 8:00 P.M.

The artistic non-profit Medicine Wheel Productions, with financial support from Boston National Historical Park, is working with five community groups to create 108 copper lanterns modeled on those hung on Liberty Tree in subsequent years. (Why 108? When Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, that was the voting margin, so Americans honored that “glorious majority.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

Folks can follow “Revolution250” on Facebook and @REV250BOS on Twitter to keep up with news and opportunities. There will be many more public events, which I’ll announce here. Additional financial support is coming from Eastern National, the Boston Cultural Council, and other organizations. Even the New York Times is recognizing Revolution 250’s ambition to add to Boston’s public history.

1 comment:

Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

I liked the precision of your phrase "...Massachusetts’s agent for stamped paper," John.

It wasn't until reading an article in a journal of accounting history of all places that I learned that, at least initially, the Stamp Act would have obliged colonial printers, lawyers, merchants, etc., to purchase special pre-stamped paper shipped in from London contractors.

I had always thought that the stamps were sold separately to taxpayers who then had to affix them to the taxable items to certify that the tax had been paid.

It seems to me that the British-based firms contracted by the Crown to supply this stamped paper would have engrossed a huge share of the colonial paper market, another aspect of the Act that I would think would have added to its unpopularity here...

I think a lot of Stamp Act literature isn't as clear about the logistics of the measure as it could be. But I know that Boston1775 is always there to perform that service!