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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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

“Unaffected Gaiety” on the Repeal of the Stamp Act

News that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act arrived in Boston on 16 May 1766, as described yesterday. That quickly set off a public celebration.

The town’s newspaper printers collaborated on a broadside announcing the news from London (readable in more detail through the Massachusetts Historical Society).

The 19 May Boston Gazette reported:
It is impossible to express the Joy the Inhabitants in general were in, on receiving the above great and glorious News—

The Bells were immediately set a Ringing, and the Cannon fired under Liberty Tree and many other Parts of the Town. Colours were displayed from the Merchants Vessels in the Harbour, and the Tops of many Houses.

Almost every Countenance discovered an unaffected Gaiety on the Establishment of that Liberty which we were in the utmost Hazard of losing.
The “Cannon fired under Liberty Tree” must have been two small brass guns owned by the new Boston militia artillery company led by Adino Paddock. The “Colours” on display everywhere where variations on the British national flag.

The Whigs who had opposed the new tax so fervently weren’t the only ones glad that it was gone. John Temple, the Surveyor General of the Customs service in the port of Boston, must have been relieved to announce that he and his colleagues no longer had to worry about the unenforceable law.

Even Gov. Francis Bernard summoned his Council to share the news. He gave orders for the batteries in Boston, Charlestown, and Castle William to fire salutes in celebration of the news. He also invited those gentlemen to come to his official residence, the Province House, to toast the king’s health on the evening of Monday, 19 May.

That was perhaps a way to rise above the town’s official celebration, which at an afternoon meeting the selectmen scheduled for that same Monday evening. As a town meeting had already decided, there would be an illumination throughout Boston—candles in all the windows. (The governor authorized the Town House and Province House to be illuminated as well.) And there would be fireworks on the Common.

And those weren’t the last leaders heard from. On the evening of 16 May Boston’s “Sons of Liberty” had “a meeting…in Hanover Square,” near Liberty Tree, and “unanimously Voted”:
1. That their Exhibition of Joy on the Repeal of the Stamp Act be on the Common.

2. That the Fire Works be play’d off from a Stage to be erected near the Work-House Gates.

3. That there be an Advertisement published on Monday next, of the intended Exhibition, the place where, and the Time when it will end.
Thus, even as Bostonians prepared to celebrate their restored political unity with Britain, different levels of authority—the governor, the selectmen, and the Sons of Liberty or Loyall Nine—were jockeying to own the celebration.

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