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 12, 2015

Portsmouth’s Anti-Stamp Protest

As I related yesterday, the Stamp Act administrator for New Hampshire, George Meserve, resigned his post immediately after he arrived in Boston on 10 Sept 1765 and realized how unpopular it would make him. But it took time for that news to reach Portsmouth.

Therefore, exactly 250 years ago on 12 September the people of that town hanged and burned Merserve in effigy. That was just what one did with stamp agents that fall.

I’ve previously quoted from Charles W. Brewster’s description of that event in Rambles About Portsmouth (1859), but a look at the New-Hampshire Gazette for 13 Sept 1765 shows me that account isn’t complete or accurate. (Likewise, the image above dates from the nineteenth century, alas.)

So here’s the first report of what happened, datelined “PORTSMOUTH, Sept. 13”:
YESTERDAY Morning by Day-Light, was exhibited to public View, at the Haymarket of this Town, the EFFIGIES of a S—p M—r, the D—l, and a Boot between them—previous to which,——

On Wednesday [11 September], immediately after the Post came to Town and brought the News of the arrival of Capt. Daverson from London at Boston, a special Court for the Trial of a Person in an unpopular Office, was held here—

The Prisoner made his Appearance at the Bar by his virtual Representative---After being charg’d with the unnatural Crime of accepting a Promise of Reward from his Grandmother, for using his Endeavour to impoverish and starve his Mother and her Daughter, of whom she had conceiv’d a Jealousy of her Growth and suppos’d Riches---to which he plead, Not Guilty, and put himself on his Country for Trial; several Arguments were used in behalf of the Respondent, but the Evidence being so full, the Jury brought him in Guilty, without going off the Stand---

The Judges then sentenced the Prisoner to be carried from hence to the Place of Execution, and there to hang by the Neck till Dead; then his Remains to be taken down and burnt to Ashes, which was attended by the Grand Deceiver, who held this Label——
GEORGE my Son, you’re young in Station,
But yet may serve me in this Nation;
Seven Hundred Sterling may be lost;
Take this, ’twill amply pay your Cost—
Offering him an empty Purse.

On one Arm of the S—p M—r in Capitals were placed G. M. on the other S— M— Before him was his Answer;
My Heart misgives, ’tis not the Thing,
High in a Halter, thus to Swing—
Another Label from the D---l to B--e was,
Go on, bold B--te, compleat their Fall,
And hurl Destruction on them all.
His Answer,
I would, Great Sir, but ’tis a Notion,
To be thus hamper’d in Promotion.
On B--te was placed the St—p A--t, and over the A--t——
B–te and the Deel, believe it fact,
First bred, then hatch’d this cursed A--t.
On the Post which supported the whole, was wrote in large CAPITALS,


N.B. It was remark’d, that about Nine o’Clock Yesterday Morning, the Devil attempted to quit the Place assign’d him, and had like to have made his Escape, but was by the Dexterity of his Enemies made secure again.

Last Evening the above Effigies were consumed in the Presence of some Thousands of Spectators, on a Hill near the Town, amidst the loud Acclamations of all present; a large Bonfire having been prepared for that Purpose. The whole was conducted with the greatest Order that could be expected on such an Occasion.
What was all that about a “Grandmother”? My best guess is that that’s connected with the many references to the Earl of Bute, George III’s first Prime Minister, who was Scottish. Was Scotland (the grandmother) seeking to impoverish Britain (the mother) and America (the daughter) through the Stamp Act? Bute had actually been out of power for years when the law passed, but Americans continued to blame him as a secret corruptor of the king right up until the war.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, in New York.

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