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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Monday, May 16, 2016

Hancock and the Harrison

In 1763 the London merchant Jonathan Barnard took on Gilbert Harrison (d. 1790, his monument in the church at Newton Purcell shown here) as a full partner and successor.

One of Barnard and Harrison’s major customers in Boston was Thomas Hancock, who died the following year.

John Hancock inherited his uncle’s business and business contacts, and he started a busy correspondence with Barnard and Harrison. In late 1765 the Stamp Act threatened that relationship.

Hancock warned the Londoners on 14 October: “I have come to a Serious Resolution not to send one Ship more to Sea nor to have any kind of Connection in Business under a Stamp.” If any of his own ships arrived after 1 November, he would “Haul them up” instead of sending them back out.

In that same 14 October letter, however, Hancock announced that he had launched a new brigantine, owned in thirds by himself, Barnard and Harrison, and a Nantucket partnership named Barker and Burwell. As a tribute to his London contact, Hancock had named that ship the Harrison. “She sail'd for Nantuckett 11th Inst. compleatly fitted for the sea, and as pretty a Vessell & as well Executed as I ever saw a Vessell & I think tolerable Dispatch.”

Through November Hancock continued to complain about the Stamp Act, urging his London partners to lobby for its repeal. The next month, Hancock reported that officials in Boston weren’t enforcing the Stamp Act since the local Sons of Liberty had made sure there was no stamp master to distribute stamped paper. On 21 December he wrote to Barnard and Harrison:
This I hope you will receive by the ship Boston Packet. John Marshall, commar., which is now fully loaded with oyl, & have cleared him out at the Custom house, the officers certifying that no Stamps are to be had, which is actually the case, & you may rely the people on the Continent will never consent to the Grievous imposition of the Stamp Act. Our Custom house is now open as usual & clearance taken without stamps. That I apprehend there will be no risque on your side, here. I am under no apprehensions.
Despite his confidence, Hancock was facing a risk: the royal authorities could seize his ship and its cargo of whale oil for sailing without the proper paperwork.

The Boston Packet got through, and Barnard and Harrison assured Hancock that they had joined with other London merchants doing business with North America to urge the government to repeal the law. By early 1766 it was clear that such pressure was working.

On 26 February Hancock responded to that good news by writing:
I am very glad you have interested yourselves for us & wish your application may produce the Desired Effect. I am sure it is as much for the interest of Great Britain as ourselves to Ease our trade & in the case of the Stamp Act, there seems a necessity of Repealing it for almost to a man throughout the Continent, they are determined to oppose it, but I hope very soon to hear some good acct. from you. Do give me the earliest notice that the Parliament determines. I imagine the Brig Harrison will be the first Vessel here if the Stamp Act be repealed.
In early April the Harrison, captained by Shubael Coffin, left Britain for Boston. It carried loaf sugar and women’s stays for Samuel Eliot, “English and India Goods” for Frederick William Geyer, and the February London magazines for John Mein. And it carried a copy of the London Gazette with important news.

The Harrison reached Boston on 16 May 1766 after a voyage of six weeks and two days. The merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary:
Capt. Shubael Coffin arr’d from London abo. 11 of Clock & brot. the Glorious News of the total Repeal of the Stamp Act which was signed by his Majesty King George the 3d. of Ever Glorious Memory, which God long preserve & his Illustrious House.
The 19 May Boston Gazette noted:
It is worthy Remark that the Vessel which bro’t us the glorious News of the total Repeal of the Stamp Act is owned by that worthy Patriot, JOHN HANCOCK, Esq; who first ventured his Ship with a very rich Cargo for London, with a Clearance without the Stamp.
TOMORROW: Much rejoicing.


D Hayes said...

As early as 1965 the Colonials of Boston who opposed the Stamp Act were referring to themselves as "Patriots." This is 10 years before the fighting in Lexington and Concord. More evidence of John Adam's belief that revolution had occurred in the minds of the people long before any armed resistance.

J. L. Bell said...

Doesn't "patriot" normally suggest loyalty to the nation and current government, not a wish to separate from and/or revolt against it?