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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Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Legendary Meeting at the Stamp Act Congress

Here’s a lively picture of events during the Stamp Act Congress, which took place in New York two and a half centuries ago this month.

It comes from the pages of Richard Barry’s Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, a biography of delegate John Rutledge (shown here) published in 1942.
The day after Rutledge put up at the Kings Arms Inn, New York was startled by the arrival of two hundred Indians, heavily armed, but without war paint and in holiday attire. They came down the Albany Post Road as the retinue of Sir William Johnson, High Commissioner of His Majesty to the Six Nations, who was arriving from his castle a hundred miles beyond Albany for his annual visit.

John Rutledge hired a coach and rode out to the Mohawk camp to call on Sir William. As Rutledge entered the tent of the High Commissioner, nude red braves, Seneca warriors, lifted the flap. The visitor had never seen such native males, sleek, alert, silent.

“I see you’ve come to comb the King’s hair!” Sir William shouted as he greeted the young southerner. “Good! Only don’t take his wig off!” He laughed uproariously.

After they had talked a while, Rutledge wanted to know about the operation of the Hodenosenee, the parliament of the Six Nations. Sir William explained: each nation was sovereign internally, but externally, especially in war, the council of sachems was supreme; this gave individuality to six nations, yet they had the united strength of one; the autocratic power granted the chiefs in war was for limited periods and was not hereditary.

“If England is ever to become a great nation,” the High Commissioner summed up, “she must go to school to the Iroquois. The Six Nations control this continent, not by accident, but through the triumph of their science of government. If it had a chance their system could master Europe—or the world.“
Rutledge eventually chaired the congress’s committee to write a petition to the House of Lords, one of three documents it created. His biographer therefore claimed that “JR caused George III to repeal the Stamp Act.” As you might guess, Barry did not have a high threshold of evidence for what he wrote about Rutledge.

In fact, that story about Rutledge, Johnson, and the Iroquois visitors in New York is complete bunkum.

TOMORROW: Negotiating the burden of proof.

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