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, November 18, 2015

“The effigy of a man who had been honoured by his country”

On 1 Nov 1765, New York had its first classic Stamp Act protest. This was the day the law was supposed to take place, and many other North American colonies had already seen such political disturbances.

James McEvers’s preemptive resignation as a stamp master meant that New Yorkers hadn’t had a good target for their demonstrations. Until, that is, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden made it clear that as the highest royal authority in the colony he would try to enforce the new law.

As reported in the Boston Post-Boy, reprinting news from New York, the anti-Stamp demonstration on 1 November followed the usual lines:
About 7 o’clock in the evening two companies appeared, one of them in the fields, where a moveable gallows was erected, on which was (suspended the effigy of a man who had been honoured by his country with an elevated station, but whose public conduct supposed to aim at the introduction of arbitrary power, and especially in his officiously endeavouring to enforce the Stamp Act, universally held by his Majesty’s faithful and loyal subjects in America, to be unconstitutional and oppressive) has unhappily drawn upon himself the general resentment of his country.

The figure was made much to resemble the person it was intended to represent. In his hand was a stamped paper, which he seem’d to court the people to receive;—at his back hung a drum, on his breast a label, supposed to allude to some former circumstances of his life. By his side hung, with a boot in his hand, the grand deceiver of mankind, seeming to urge him to perseverance in the cause of slavery.
According to other sources, the label identified the effigy as “The Rebell Drummer of 1715,” suggesting that Lt. Gov. Colden had supported the Stuart Pretender’s uprising that year. Colden had in fact been back in Britain as a young physician in 1715; he had even gotten married there. According to him, however, he had “carried above 70 Volunteers into Kelso” to support the Hanoverian forces under Lord Jedburgh. It appears men of Scottish descent like Colden remained vulnerable to accusations of Jacobite disloyalty, even fifty years later.

Back to the New York protest:
While the multitude gathered round these figures, the other party with another figure representing the same person, seated in a chair, and carried by men, preceeded and attended by a great number of lights, paraded through most of the public streets in the city, increasing as they went, but without doing the least Injury to any house or person. They proceeded in this order to the coach-house at the fort, from whence they took the Lieut. Governor’s coach, and fixing the effigy upon the top of it, they proceeded with great rapidity towards the fields.

About the same time the other party was preparing to move to the fort, with the gallows as it stood erect on its frame, and lanthorns fix’d on various parts of it. When the two parties met, and every thing was in order, a general silence ensued, and proclamation was made that no stones should be thrown, no windows broken, and no injury offered to any one,—and all this was punctually observed.

The whole multitude then returned to the fort, and though they knew the guns were charged, and saw the ramparts lined with soldiers, they intripidly marched with the gallows, coach, &c. up to the very gate, where they knocked, and demanded admittance, & if they had not been restrained by some humane persons, who had influence over them, would doubtless have taken the fort, as I hear there were 4 or 500 seamen, and many others equally intrepid, and acquainted with military affairs.

But as it seems no such extremities were intended, after they had shewn many insults to the effigy, they retired from the fort gate to the bowling green, the pallisades of which they instantly tore away, marched with the gallows, &c. into the middle of the green, (still under the muzzles of the fort guns) where with the pallisades and planks of the fort fence, and a chaise and 2 sleys, taken from the governor’s coach house, they soon reared a large pile of wood round the whole, to which setting fire, it soon kindled to a great flame, and reduced the coach, gallows, man, devil, and all to ashes.
All classic anti-Stamp demonstrations involved burning an effigy like that. By adding four of Colden’s vehicles to the fire, the crowd got more fuel. But they hadn’t destroyed anyone’s house.

TOMORROW: Yet.

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