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 20, 2015

“The Sight of me seemed to enrage the People”

Yesterday we left Jared Ingersoll on 19 Sept 1765 in the middle of a circle of five hundred club-bearing men on horseback in Wethersfield, Connecticut. (That’s the handsome Wethersfield meeting-house, built in 1761, and burying-ground in the photo.)

For anyone following these sestercentennial posts, it should come as no surprise what those men wanted Ingersoll to do: resign from his job collecting the Stamp Tax. He insisted that he had “always declared that I would not exercise the Office against the general Inclinations of the People.” Which those men were no doubt attempting to express.

Ingersoll went on to say that he “had given Orders to have the stamp’d Papers stopt at New-York” and not shipped to him in New Haven unless the colonial legislature would “plainly shew their Minds and Inclination to have the stampt Paper brought into the Colony.” He also warned the crowd “that the Governor, would have Power and Instructions to put in another if I should be removed” from office.

That led to this open-air exchange, as Ingersoll reported it a few days later:
They said, Here is the Sense of the Government, and no Man shall exercise that Office.

I askt if they thought it was fair that the Counties of Windham and New-London should dictate to all the rest of the Colony?

Upon this one said, It don’t signify to parly—here is a great many People waiting and you must resign.

I said I don’t think it proper to resign till I meet a proper Authority to ask it of me; and added, What if I won’t resign? what will be the Consequence?

One said Your Fate.

Upon which I looked him full in the Face and said with some Warmth, MY FATE you say.

Upon which a Person just behind said, The Fate of your Office.

I answered that I could Die, and perhaps as well now as another Time; and that I should Die but once.

Upon which the Commandant (for so, for Brevity sake, I beg Leave to call the Person who seemed to have the principal Conduct of the Affair) said we had better go along to a Tavern (and which we did) and cautioned me not to irritate the People.
Ingersoll went to the tavern but didn’t refrain from irritating people. Instead of dismounting, he told the men that they should tell him all they had to say and he’d ride on to Hartford. “They said No, You sha’n’t go two Rods from this Spot, before you have resigned; and took hold of my Horse's Bridle.” Though Ingersoll “was told repeatedly that they had no Intentions of hurting me or my Estate; but would use me like a Gentleman,” he understood that was on condition that he cooperate. So he got off his horse and went into the tavern with the crowd leaders.

In the discussion that followed, Ingersoll perceived a gap between those designated spokesmen and the men outside:
Upon the whole, This Committee behaved with Moderation and Civility, and I thought seemed inclined to listen to certain Proposals which I made; but when the Body of the People come to hear them they rejected ’em, and nothing would do but I must resign.

While I was detained here, I saw several Members of the Assembly pass by, whom I hailed, acquainting them that I was there kept and detained as a Prisoner; and desired their and the Assembly’s Assistance for my Relief. They stopt and spoke to the People; but were told they had better go along to the Assembly where they might possibly be wanted. Major [Elihu] Hall also finding his Presence not altogether agreeable, went away; And Mr. [Yale] Bishop, by my Desire, went away to let the Governor and Assembly know the Situation I was in.

After much Time spent in fruitless Proposals, I was told the People grew very impatient, and that I must bring the Matter to a Conclusion; I then told ’em I had no more to say, and askt what they would do with me?

They said they would carry me to Windham a Prisoner, but would keep me like a Gentleman.

I told them I would go to Windham, that I had lived very well there, and should like to go and live there again.

This did not do. They then advised me to move from the front Window, as the Sight of me seemed to enrage the People. Sometimes the People from below would rush into the Room in great Numbers, and look pretty fierce at me, and then the Committee would desire them to withdraw.
Ingersoll and the committee spent three hours in this sort of back-and-forth. Finally the militia leader Ingersoll called the Commandant came up to warn “that he could not keep the People off from me any longer; and that if they once began, he could not promise me where they would end.”

TOMORROW: Where they ended.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

Mr Ingersoll lived to tell the tale -- but how? O the suspense!

Leigh Standish said...

The colonists' common cry when confronting Ingersoll on the Wethersfield Green was "Liberty and Property", as they fully understood the unbreakable link between the ability to privately own property, free from dispensation of the Crown, and the ability to maintain any form of personal liberty. This notion of private property flowed directly from the Magna Carta, when the Lords secured their rights to title and property in perpetuity, without fear of recision from the Monarch.