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, November 22, 2015

How the New Yorkers Came to a Deal

On 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York sent a report to London about how an angry crowd was besieging him inside Fort George with the province’s stamped paper.

In his letter to the Marquess of Granby, Colden wrote, “I expect the Fort will be stormed this night—everything is done in my power to give them a warm reception.”

Capt. John Montresor of the Royal Artillery, who had been busy strengthening the fort, wrote in his journal that 5th of November:
Advertisements and many papers placarded throughout this city declaring the storming of the Fort this Night under cover of burning the Pope and pretender unless the Stamps were delivered.
But in fact there was a compromise in the works. The next day Colden updated his messenger on the developments:
In the forenoon yesterday the Common Council of the City presented an Address to me Requesting that in order to restore Peace to the City & to prevent the effusion of Blood, I would deliver the Stamp’d Paper into the care of the Corporation, who in that case undertook to protect them. I was surprised at the Proposition, but upon their adding a Clause whereby the Mayor & Corporation became engaged for the full amount of the Paper &c and Duty, in case they were lost, destroyed or carried out of the Province, I consented to take the advice of his Majesty’s council upon it.
Colden was worried about the slippery slope: “The delivering the stamp’d Papers on the threats of a Mob, who may still make further demands greatly affects the dignity of his Majesty’s Government; & may have a tendency to encourage perpetual mobish proceedings hereafter.”

New York’s provincial Council advised that “the City appeared to be in perfect annarchy, and the power of Government either Military or Civil insufficient—that the defense of the Fort would involve the destruction of the City.” Those gentlemen recommended taking the deal. Colden then asked Gen. Thomas Gage for his advice as commander of the king’s army in North America, and he concurred. Colden had thus covered himself bureaucratically as much as he could.

Therefore, on the evening of 5 November the lieutenant governor turned the stamped paper in Fort George over to a committee led by Mayor John Cruger (shown above), who had participated in the Stamp Act Congress the previous month.

Cruger signed this receipt:
Received of the Honble. Cadwallader Colden, Esq. his Majesty’s Lt. Govr. and Commander in Chief of the Province of New York, Seven Packages containing Stamp’d Paper & Parchment all marked No. 1, J. McE., New York which I promise in behalf of the Corporation of the City of New York to take charge & care of, and to be accountable in case they shall be destroyed, or carried out of the Province as particularly set forth and declared in the Minutes of the Common Council of the said Corporation of this Day. Witness my hand in the City of New York this fifth day of November 1765.
TOMORROW: Was that enough to calm the populace?

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