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 08, 2015

Stamp Act Riot and More in Newport, 29 Aug.

The Newport Historical Society has its own Stamp Act sestercentennial commemoration this month, scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, 29 August.

Starting at 1:00 P.M., there will be a big public reenactment in downtown Newport. The society’s announcement says:
Visitors can meet with craftspeople whose businesses were once present on Washington Square, such as a printer, tailor and milliner, along with historic interpreters portraying specific figures including sailors, rabble rousers and even prominent citizens like the Ellerys and Vernons. Events include an upper-class lady’s tea and children’s games; reenactments include an effigy demonstration much like the original protest and a “rank sacking” of the Society’s house museum, and will close with street theater in front of the Colony House.
Newport’s Stamp Act protests closely followed the model of events in Boston on 14 August. On 27 August, people paraded with effigies of the stamp agents, one of whom—Martin Howard (1725-1781)—was also the principal author of one of the only American pamphlets to argue that the new law was constitutional.

As night fell, citizens became more violent. They roughed up Customs official John Robinson. Howard intervened, making himself even less popular. The next night, a crowd broke into Howard’s house and chopped apart his furniture, then his doors, then his trees. Howard went aboard a British ship and left the colony. The Crown compensated him with an appointment as a judge in North Carolina. Robinson was made a Customs Commissioner based in Boston, where in late 1769 he got into a coffee-house brawl with James Otis, Jr.

Alongside its reenactment of these disturbances, the society is reinterpreting its circa-1697 Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House as a museum of the American Revolution in Newport rather than a traditional house museum. The first exhibit opens tomorrow, 9 August: “Revolution House: John G. Wanton and Newport at War.” Wanton took possession of the house in the fall of 1765 after the sudden departure of its previous owner—Martin Howard.

General admission is free through Friday, 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. (Donations welcome.) After that, Revolution House will become part of the regular tour of the Newport Historical Society’s sites.

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