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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Friday, May 20, 2016

Stamp Act Celebrations in Medford, Charlestown, and Cambridge

The same 26 May 1766 issue of the Boston Gazette that described Boston’s send-off to the Stamp Act in such detail also reported on celebrations in nearby towns. Militia companies played a big role in those activities.

Medford’s celebration appears to have started soon after news of the law’s repeal arrived the previous Friday, 16 May (though possibly one week later, depending on how one interprets the article).
…last Friday Evening, the Dwelling-House, Summer-House, &c. of the Hon. Brigadier General [Isaac] Royall were very handsomely illuminated, a Number of Chambers were fired, Rockets discharged, and Fireworks displayed, with many other Demonstrations of Joy—And the Military Company of Medford being that Day raised, they repaired in the Evening to the Brigadier’s House, and were generously entertained.

We also hear that a Number of other Houses in the said Town were illuminated, a large Bonfire made, and such Expressions of Joy as became a free & loyal People.
Royall’s house is still standing in Medford, and tomorrow has its own community open house.

Like Boston, Charlestown celebrated on Monday, 19 May.
At Noon the Independent Company belonging to Castle William muster’d, and discharged the Cannon at the Battery; and in the Afternoon the same Company met at the Long-Wharff, where a Number of the principal Gentlemen of the Town assembled, and the following Toasts were drank…
Charlestown’s toasts honored the King, Parliament, William Pitt, peace and harmony, and “All the True Sons of Liberty on the Continent.”

Cambridge held its celebration on Tuesday, 20 May:
last Tuesday in the Afternoon there was a great Assembly in the Meeting House, unto whom he [the Rev. Nathaniel Appleton] preached a most excellent Sermon, now in the Press, at the Desire of almost all that heard it, and at the Expence of General [William] Brattle, from the two last Verses of the 30th Psalm. The Solemnity began with Prayer, and was concluded by the young Gentlemen of the College singing two Anthems extreamly well suited to the joyful Occasion.

Immediately upon the Congregation’s coming out of the Meeting House, there was a Discharge of Field Pieces, &c. planted before General Brattle’s Door, many Gentlemen went to his House, and a vast Number of those of lower Rank, all Friends of Liberty, where the proper Healths were drank, accompanied with the discharge of the Cannon there…
The big homes, government buildings, and college buildings near the center of town were illuminated. In the evening there was a party for “many Gentlemen of the Town and many living out of the Town” at the courthouse. There was a “Bonfire (where Liquid was provided for every one that pleased to drink).” And there were fireworks “at the Charge of the Gentlemen of Cambridge.”

The following day, William Brattle led militia exercises on Cambridge common and hosted another banquet. He had been one of the most prominent opponents of the Stamp Act, skipping a Council meeting with Gov. Francis Bernard to lead a protest march with the Boston crowd.

Eight years later, however, Brattle had come around to supporting the royal government. As I discuss in the opening chapter of The Road to Concord, on 1 Sept 1774 he gave Gen. Thomas Gage’s troops the keys to the county militia’s gunpowder storehouse and two cannon—probably the same two fieldpieces that had been planted in front of his house (shown above) on 20 May 1766. That angered Brattle’s neighbors so much that he fled Cambridge forever.

TOMORROW: Illuminating Liberty Tree.

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