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, September 19, 2015

“About Five Hundred Men, all on Horseback, and having white Staves”

When Boston 1775 last left Connecticut stamp agent Jared Ingersoll, he’d been hanged and burned in effigy in half a dozen towns, a crowd had surrounded his New Haven home, and he’d promised not to carry out the Stamp Act if it proved unpopular. Which, frankly, it already appeared to be.

On 10 September, Ingersoll wrote a long letter to the Connecticut Gazette pointing out that he owed his post to the recommendation of London alderman Barlow Trecothick, known as a friend to American interests. Both he and Trecothick had argued against the Stamp Act. So surely they couldn’t have conspired to pass that law just to enrich themselves, right?
Again, when the measure of making ye Appointments in America was thus general [i.e., non-partisan], & come into as generally, will any body think that any one of the persons concerned Imagined he betrayed his Country by falling in with the measure? Perhaps at this time, when popular rage runs so very high, some may think the friends of America mistook their own & their Countrys true Interest, when they listened to these overtures, but who can think their intentions were ill?
And wasn’t it better for American colonists if other Americans collected the tax, rather than some appointee from Britain?

That didn’t convince Ingersoll’s opponents. An item in the 16 Sept 1765 Boston Gazette referred to him as “Gared Negrosoul,” rhetoric sinking low enough to cause collateral damage.

Ingersoll hoped that the Connecticut legislature could give him some cover before symbolic violence gave way to real damage. In yet another long letter, written 23 September, he reported:
Having received repeated and undoubted Intelligence of a Design formed by a great Number of People in the eastern Parts of the Colony to come and obtain from me a Resignation of the above mentioned Office, I delivered to the Governor [Thomas Fitch], on the 17th, at New-Haven, in his way to meet the General Assembly at Hartford on the 19th, a written Information, acquainting him with my said Intelligence, and desiring of him such Aid and Assistance as the emergency of the Affair should require. On the 18th I rode with his Honour and some other Gentlemen, Members of the Assembly, in hopes of being able to learn more particularly the Time and Manner of the intended Attack.

About eighteen Miles from hence, on the Hartford Road, we met two Men on Horseback with pretty long and large new made white Staves in their Hands, whom I suspected to be part of the main Body. I accordingly stopt short from the Company, and askt them if they were not in pursuit of me, acquainting them who I was, and that I should not attempt to avoid meeting the People. After a little Hesitancy they frankly owned that they were of that Party, and said there were a great Number of People coming in three Divisions, one from Windham through Hartford, one from Norwich through Haddam, and one from New-London, by the way of Branford, and that their Rendezvous was to be at Branford on the Evening of the 19th, from thence to come and pay me a Visit on the 20th. These Men said they were sent forward in order to reconnoitre and to see who would join them.

I desired them to turn and go with me as far as Mr. [Yale] Bishop’s the Tavern at the Stone House, so called [in Meriden]. One of them did. Here I acquainted the Governor and the other Gentlemen with the Matter; and desired their Advice. The Governor said many Things to this Man, pointing out to him the Danger of such a Step, and charging him to go and tell the People to return Back; but he let the Governor know, that they lookt upon this as the Cause of the People, & that they did not intend to take Directions about it from any Body.
Ingersoll wrote that he feared those men would go to New Haven, the local militia would turn out as “an Opposition to their Designs,” and “some Lives might be lost.” Given that the people of New Haven had already turned out against him, that looks like wishful thinking. In any event, he decided to meet the crowd at Hartford. But he also sent a letter to his family in New Haven “that they and my House might be put in a proper state of Defence and Security.”

On Thursday, 19 September, Ingersoll proceeded toward Hartford with his host and legislator Elihu Hall of Wallingford.
we went on together until we come within two or three Miles of Weathersfield, when we met an advanced Party of about four or five Persons. I told them who I was, upon which they turned, and I fell into Conversation with them, upon the general Subject of my Office, &c.

About half a Mile further we met another Party of about Thirty whom I accosted, and who turned and went on in the same Manner.

We rode a little further and met the main Body, who, I judge, were about Five Hundred Men, all on Horseback, and having white Staves, as before described. They were preceded by three Trumpets; next followed two Persons dressed in red, with laced Hats; then the rest, two abreast. Some others, I think, were in red, being, I suppose, Militia Officers.

They opened and received me; then all went forward until we came into the main Street in the Town of Weathersfield, when one riding up to the Person with whom I was joined, and who I took to be the principal Leader or Commandant, said to him, We can’t all hear and see so well in a House, we had as good have the Business done here; upon this they formed into a Circle, having me in the Middle, with some two or three more, who seemed to be the principal Managers, Major Hall and Mr. Bishop also keeping near me.

I began to speak to the Audience, but stopt and said I did not know why I should say any Thing for that I was not certain I knew what they wanted of me…
Which by this point seems remarkably obtuse.

TOMORROW: A parley in Wethersfield.

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