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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Wednesday, September 09, 2015

“Since we are doomed to Stamps and Slavery”

As I wrote yesterday, Jared Ingersoll opposed the Stamp Act as one of the Connecticut colony’s agents in London, but once the law passed he gladly accepted the job of collecting that tax.

In the summer of 1765, other Connecticut men tried to get in on the same action by telling Ingersoll they were ready to be his deputies for their parts of their colony. One such plea came from William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819, shown above), who wrote on 3 June:
Since we are doomed to Stamps and Slavery, & must submit, we hear with pleasure that your gentle hand will fit on our Chains & Shackles, who I know will make them set easie as possible. . . . .

If you propose to have a Subaltern in every Town, I shall be at your service for Stratford if it be agreeable.
Johnson also delivered and endorsed a similar request from Nathaniel Wales, Jr., of Windham, dated 1 June:
Notwithstanding my small acquaintance yet as I understand you are betrusted with the afair of the Stamp Duty I beg Leave to hint that if in ye. plan you should want a person in Each County town to dispose of Blanks or paper I should be glad to be improved for ye purpose, if it should suit you & you can confide in me; and as I keep an office in the Center and dont practise Riding abroad can doubtless serve you. 
But those men and others wrote their letters before New Englanders heard (in exaggerated form) about the Virginia Burgesses’ resolutions against the Stamp Act, and before Bostonians had their first public protest and riot on 14 August. Public sentiment shifted from resignation to resistance.

Five days after the disturbances in Boston, Wales wrote to Ingersoll again:
I receved yours and observe its Contence, and for answer must say that I wrote my first to you without much Consideration and while matters were much undigested both in my and other peoples minds; but on further Consideration I am of opinion that the Stamp Duty can by no means be Justifyed, that it is an imposition quite unconstitutional and so Infringes on Rather destroys our Libertys and previlidges that I Cant undertake to promote or Encorage it without acting dirictly Contrary to my Judgment and the true Intrest of my own native Country; and tho I would be a Loyal Subject yet that I may be & not Endeavour to promote that Law which in my privit Judgment is not Right, as ye case may be, I must therefore on the whole refuse accepting—if offered—any trust relative to Distributing the Stamps, nor would I accept thereof had I thousand pounds annexed to the trust. So that what trouble I have given you I must beg your pardon for
Wales wrote that letter a week before the people of Windham hanged and burned Ingersoll in effigy. For all we know, Wales might even have been involved in that demonstration—he was an active Whig by 1768.

Likewise, Johnson went on to represent Connecticut at the Stamp Act Congress, formed to protest the law he had once offered to administer. He sought compromise at the start of the Revolutionary War, which his neighbors found suspicious, but over time regained enough influence to be sent to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

TOMORROW: The people of Connecticut are not satisfied.

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