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, September 13, 2015

A Preemptive Resignation from New York’s Stamp Agent

After Parliament enacted the Stamp Act in early 1765, Treasury Department officials asked London alderman Barlow Trecothick for recommendations about which American gentleman to appoint as stamp agent for each colony.

Trecothick had started out working for the rich Boston merchant Charles Apthorp, married an Apthorp daughter, and then settled in London as a merchant doing business with North America and the Caribbean. He had argued against the Stamp Act, so officials hoped that other opponents of the law would accept his choices as fair.

The stamp agents would have to be reliable for the imperial government, of course. Trecothick figured it would help if they were established in American business or legal circles. And since selling the stamped paper and stamps would bring in a steady income, he wanted to reward his own connections—that’s just how the Empire worked.

For New York he chose the merchant James McEvers (1705-1768, shown here). McEvers was another brother-in-law of Charles Ward Apthorp, whose move from Boston to New York in the early 1760s turned out to be a major blow to Boston’s economy.

Everything seemed to be going along fine until the newspapers brought word of the demonstration and riot in Boston on 14 August. Twelve days later, McEvers wrote to Jared Ingersoll in Connecticut about his correspondence with the Treasury Department’s “Secretary to the Stamp-duties”:
I rec’d a Letter from John Brettel Esq. Forwarded by you, Inclosing a Bond to Execute for the Due Performance of the Office of Stamp Master for this Province, which I Readely Did (and Return’d it per the Last Paquet that Sail’d from hence) as there was then Little or no Clamour here about it, and I Immagin’d I Should be Able to Transact it; but since Mr. [Andrew] Olivers Treatment att Boston has Been Known here and the Publication of a Letter from New Haven, the Discontent of the People here on Account of the Stamp Act Publickly Appears, I have Been Threaten’d with Mr. Olivers Fate if not Worse, to Prevent which I have Been under a Necessity of Acknowledgeing I have Wrote for a Resignation which I have Accordingly Done, and have Been Inform’d you have Done the Same, of Which I Beg you’l Advise me, and if you have not should be Glad to Know how you Purpose to Act, as it may be some Government to me in Case I Cant Procure a Release.
On the same day McEvers also wrote to Trecothick, explaining that he wanted to be relieved of the office.

The New York merchant worried that backing out would cost him respect in London, but local Whigs insisted that he would benefit in America. A letter from New York published in the 6 Sept 1765 Pennsylvania Gazette said:
We congratulate our Countrymen upon the late Resignations of the Stamp Officers - ------ and especially the Friends and Well wishers of the Gentleman appointed to that Office in this City. The Number of his Friends and Well wishers, which was considerable before, is greatly increased by this Resignation; which has entirely cleared his Character from the Imputation of joining in the Design to enslave his Country; for we are well assured, as his Appointment was without his Solicitation or Knowledge, so his Resignation was voluntary, and not the Effect of any Menace or Disturbance, nothing of which has yet appeared in this Place.
Thus, the 14 August demonstration and riot in Boston not only caused Massachusetts’s stamp agent to resign, but also inspired the New York stamp master to do the same.

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