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, June 10, 2016

“And what I say, you may depend is Fact.”

On 21 Nov 1765, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter ran this item from Nova Scotia in a roundup of reports on protests against the Stamp Act:
At the late Exhibition of a Stamp man’s Effigies at Halifax, were the following Labels: On the Stamp-man’s Breast, was affixed his Confession, viz.
Behold me hanging on this cursed Tree,
Example to those who would Stamp men be.
It was for the Sake of Gain I took this Place;
The more the Shame, O pity my sad Case.
B—e was the Auther of this cursed Act,
And what I say, you may depend is Fact.
But alas! the Devil is too sly;
Instead of Gain has left me here to die.
Whosoever carries this away is an Enemy to his Country.
What greater Glory can this Country see
Than a Stamp-master hanging on a Tree.
On one Pocket the following. B—e’s Speech:
O mourn with me my poor and wretched State
I now repent; but alas! too late.
America I sought to overthrow,
By stamping them to Death, you all must know,
But Pitt o’erthrew my Schemes, did me confound,
And brought my favourite Stamp-Act to the Ground.
On the Stamp-man’s Right Arm, A.H.
On a Board Lord B——e with Satan dictating him.
The hanging effigies strung with poetic labels, the blame for the Earl of Bute and praise for William Pitt, the invocation of the devil—those were all elements of the standard anti-Stamp iconography established in Boston on 14 August.

The most distinctive detail about the Halifax effigy was the label with initials “A.H.” That pointed to Nova Scotia’s stamp agent, Archibald Hinshelwood.

Another deviation from the norm was that the Halifax protesters never got around to burning their effigy. It went up on 12 October, hung overnight, and, despite its warning label, was carried away by two gentlemen for disposal in the morning.

To assess Isaiah Thomas’s account of this demonstration, the most important detail is the date. Halifax’s protest took place two weeks before the Stamp Act was to take effect and eight weeks before Thomas issued his first issue of the Halifax Gazette with mourning bands. His actions as a young printer therefore could not have prompted the action.

TOMORROW: More games printers play.

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