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 15, 2015

“They stampd the Image & timber & made a great bonfire”

Yesterday I started quoting John Avery’s 19 Aug 1765 letter describing Boston’s first public anti-Stamp protest five days before. He continued this way:
About Day [i.e., the end of the day] the Mob to about three thousand assembled & cut the sd. Gentleman [effigy of Andrew Oliver], the Devil & Jack Boot down & naild them to a Board which was supported by Four, and carryed thro’ the Town.

When they came by the New Stamp Office they made a Halt, and in about a Quarter of an Hour levell’d it with the Ground. They made another Halt opposite his house where they sawed of his Head and then Proceeded to Fort Hill to burn him, after which they attacked his House, broke his Windows, his Fences were torn down & a fine flower Garden almost destroyed and damag’d his furniture.

The next Day he wisely resigned his office; however notwithstanding his Resignation the Minds of the Populace were so amazingly inflamed that the next Night the Mob assembled again with a Determination to level his House but with great difficulty was Pacyfied.

What will be the Consequence I know not neither do I care but hope that all the Provinces will follow this laudible Example & I pray God that New England assert their Rights & Priviledges and may maintain them & die like Freemen rather than live like Slaves. There are a great many other Impositions that desire as much Notice of in their Order.
Another eyewitness to those events, less involved in planning or trying to manage them, was the young businessman Cyrus Baldwin. The Massachusetts Historical Society has digitized his letter to his brother Loammi dated 15 August. Baldwin described the same events this way:
after sun sett the North gave up & the South keept not back the mob Increased every moment. and they took the Image down, after the performance of some Cerimonies it was brought by the Mob through the main street to the Townhous, carried it through and proceeded to the supposd Stap Office near Olivers Dock and in less than half an hour laid it even with the ground then took the timbers of the house and caryd ’em up on Fort Hill where they stampd the Image & timber & made a great bonfire.

at length the fuel faild they Immediately fell upon the stamp Masters Garden fence took it up stampd it and burnt it, if any piece happen’d to be cast upon the the fire before it was stampd it was puld of and the Ceremony pasd upon it and put on again. not contented with this they proceeded to his Coach house took off the doars stampd ’em & burnt ’em while they was doing this the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] began to read the proclamation for the mob to withdraw which Insenc’d the Mob so much that they fell upon the Stamp Masters dweling house broke glass Casements & all; also broke open the doars enterd the house & bespoil’d good part of the house & furniture, braking the looking glasses which some said was a pitty, the answer was that if they would not bare staming they was good for nothing. the Coach & booby-hutt were drag’d up the Hill & would have been stamp’d & burnt had not some Gentlemen Oppos’d it & with much difficulty they prevented it.

they continued their fire till about 11 oClock then Retired. I beleve people never was more Univassally [illegible] pleasd not so much as one could I hear say he was sorry, but a smile sat on almost every ones countinance. It is reported that Mr. Olver the said Stamp Master wrote to the Governor [Francis Bernard] & Counsel that it was not worth while for him or any body else to accept the office of a Stamp Master in this place. . . . Tis hopd that Mr. Oliver has Suffer'd will be Sufficient warning to others not to take Offices that Encroach upon American liberty.
And indeed there weren’t any volunteers stepping forward to take Andrew Oliver’s place. What had seemed like a profitable appointment was turning quite costly, to both property and popularity.

TOMORROW: The view from the top.

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