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, October 28, 2015

When “Clamours run very high” in Philadelphia

As of 8 Sept 1765, the stamp agent for Pennsylvania, John Hughes, had heard demands for his resignation, but he brushed them off. Then on 12 September, he reported to the man who had secured that appointment for him:
Our Clamours run very high, and I am told my House shall be pull’d down and the Stamps burnt. To which I give no other Answer than that I will defend my House at the Risque of my Life. I must say, that all the sensible Quakers behave prudently.
The irony is that Hughes and the man he was writing to, Benjamin Franklin, were leaders of the political alliance that had broken down the Quaker dominance of the Pennsylvania legislature.

On 15 September, Philadelphia received news of the change in government in London: George Grenville, who had sponsored the Stamp Act, was no longer prime minister. That news caused celebrations in the city, which soon turned into actions against the men seen as supporting or carrying out the unpopular law.

Hughes wrote out periodic reports to Franklin about what followed:
Sept. 16. in the Evening. Common Report threat[ens] my House this Night, as there are Bonfires and Rejoicings for the Change of Ministry. The sober and sensible Part of the People are doing every thing towards being in Readiness to suppress a Mob if there should be any Intention of Rising. I for my Part am well-arm’d with Fire-Arms, and am determin’d to stand a Siege. If I live till tomorrow morning I shall give you a farther Account; but as it is now about 8 aClock, I am on my Guard, and only write this between whiles, as every Noise or Bustle of the People calls me off.

9 aClock. Several Friends that patroll between my House and the Coffee House, come in just now, and say, the Collection of Rabble begins to decrease visibly in the Streets, and the Appearance of Danger seems a good deal less than it did.

12 aClock. There are now several Hundreds of our Friends about Street, ready to suppress any Mob, if it should attempt to rise, and the Rabble are dispersing.

Sept. 17. 5 in the morning. We are all yet in the Land of the Living, and our Property safe. Thank God.
In those same days, crowds visited Franklin’s house—though they knew he was three thousand miles away in London. It was up to his wife Deborah (shown above) and their friends to dissuade the crowd from causing any damage.

The stamped paper for the Middle Colonies arrived in the Delaware River on 5 October. With it came Hughes’s official commission as stamp agent. A large crowd gathered outside the State House and chose a committee that included James Allen (1742-1778), Robert Morris, and Charles Thomson to call on Hughes and find out what he planned to do with the paper now.

Hughes was sick in bed, but he received the committee. He told them that he wouldn’t enforce the Stamp Act unless the law was generally accepted in the colonies—which was not looking likely. Hughes refused to formally resign, however. The crowd visited again two days later, but he stuck to his position, and his bed. The people went away, figuring that was the best they could do until November, when the law was to take effect.

TOMORROW: To the south.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is one ferocious-looking lady. I don't think I'd attack _her_ house.