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 30, 2015

“They soon returned to the Charge with redoubled Fury”

Yesterday I quoted the 2 Sept 1765 Newport Mercury’s description of the Rhode Island capital’s anti-Stamp Act protest on 27 August. Locals hung up effigies of stamp agent Augustus Johnston and supporters Martin Howard, Jr. (shown here), and Dr. Thomas Moffatt, and then burned those effigies when night fell.

It all seemed to be over. The newspaper went on to a paragraph about assembly elections. But then there were more disturbances, perhaps inspired by news of the destruction of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house in Boston on 26 August.

The Mercury resumed its reporting:
Early on Wednesday Evening [28 August], as four Gentlemen, among whom was Martin Howard, jun. Esq; were walking down Queen Street, a Person, in Consequence of a private Pique, assaulted one of them, who soon disengaged himself, and retreated. The other Gentlemen manifested some Resentment in his Behalf; but the Return they met with, induced them to withdraw, and go towards Mr. Howard’s House.

An Account of this Affair immediately spread among the People, a Mob collected, and marched directly to Mr. Howard’s; and not finding the Gentlemen there, they shattered some of the Windows, and went off. But not satisfied with the Mischief they had done, they soon returned to the Charge with redoubled Fury, broke the Windows and Doors all to Pieces, damaged the Partitions of the House, and ruined such Furniture as was left in it, the best Part being happily removed out between the Attacks.

This being done, the Mob drew off, and proceeded to the hired House that Doctor Moffatt lived in, where they committed Outrages equally terrible, in tearing the House in Pieces, and demolishing his Furniture. The Cellars of both Houses were ravaged, and the Provisions, Wines, &c. destroyed and lost.—

From the Doctor’s they went in Quest of the Gentleman first aimed at, who had luckily, by that Time, got on board the Cygnet Man of War, which lay upon the Back of the Fort.

After this, they surrounded the House of the then Stamp-Master; but upon Promises of his resigning that Office, they offered no Violence to his Habitation.—It was near Eleven o’Clock when they were about to perform this last Act of Devastation; but desisting from this they contented themselves with rendering more complete the Ruin of the two Houses aforementioned.——
The London journalist John Almon later published a report with more detail about the crowd’s interaction with the stamp master, though he didn’t get the man’s name right:
They then proceeded towards the house of Augustine Johnston, Esq; who had been appointed stamp-master for Rhode Island, but were met and parlied with by a gentleman, who, telling them the house was not Mr. Johnston’s property, they desisted from any farther attempts, but insisted that Mr. Johnston’s effects should be delivered to them next day, unless he would resign his place, which he did on his coming to town next day, in the following terms, and then they dispersed:
To the Inhabitants of the town of Newport,
Gentlemen,

As I find my being appointed the stamp-officer of this colony has irritated the people of this town against me, though the office was bestowed on me unasked and unthought of; and being willing, as far as it is in my power, to restore tranquility to the town, do engage, upon my honour, that I will not accept of the said office, upon any terms, unless I have your consent for the same.

Augustine Johnston.
August 29, 1765.
In Boston, the mob on 26 August had been dissuaded from attacking Charles Paxton’s house by his landlord, as discussed here. Someone evidently made a similar claim for Johnston’s house, but I’m not sure that was true: according to this page, he inherited the house from his grandfather in 1765. And the Newporters didn’t mind tearing apart Dr. Moffatt’s “hired house.”

In another respect, the Newport crowd behaved like the Boston crowd two nights before: they didn’t focus all their anger on the stamp-tax collector but attacked other men who supported Parliament’s new taxes. A lot of Newport’s Customs officials also took refuge on the Royal Navy’s Cygnet that night; among them was John Robinson, who later moved to Boston and got into a brawl with James Otis, Jr., in 1769.

TOMORROW: But that still wasn’t the end of it.

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