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 01, 2017

How Bostonians Pledged Not to Buy Imported Goods

A few days back, I quoted from the town meeting on 28 Oct 1767 that set out Boston’s response to the Townshend Act. (That meeting is part of the inspiration for the “Devil and the Crown” public-history event in the works for this Saturday.)

That reaction took the form of printed sheets like the one above, which the selectmen were directed to distribute “among the Freeholders of this Town.” Those papers spelled out this pledge:
We therefore the Subscribers being sensible that it is absolutely necessary, in Order to extricate us out of these embarrassed and distressed Circumstances, to promote Industry, Oeconomy and Manufactures among ourselves, and by this Means prevent the unnecessary Importation of European Commodities, the excessive Use of which threatens the Country with Poverty and Ruin, DO promise and engage, to and with each other, that we will encourage the Use and Consumption of all Articles manufactured in any of the British American Colonies, and more especially in this Province; and that we will not from and after the 31st. of December next ensuing, purchase any of the following Articles, Imported from Abroad…
And below that text was lots of space for people to sign. Because a boycott like this works only if everyone participates.

A few years back, the Harvard librarian John Overholt spotted eight signed copies of this sheet in the university’s collection. He fast-tracked them for digitization, and now we can read those pages here.

Dr. Sam Forman then spearheaded an effort to transcribe all the names on the documents. As his analysis shows, fifty-two women signed the pledge. That’s about 8% of the total—a small slice, but one that shows women as business owners and consumers were part of Boston’s movement against new taxes.


Dr. Sam Forman said...

Hello JL. Thank you for promoting public commemorations of the 1767 anti-Townshend duties boycott.
I had posted names and descriptive statistics of the 665 readable signatories in installments. There were 52 women in total. Fewer than 10% of the 665 to be sure, but a figure a bit higher than the one you quoted for 4 of the 8 surviving non-consumption subscription pages. The documents comprise a rare, perhaps unique listing, in their own hands, of politically active Whig women of Boston in the Fall of 1767. href= "http://www.drjosephwarren.com/2013/08/subscribers-to-boston-1767-non-consumption-alphabetic-a-h/"

Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

Huzzay for Dr. Forman and the Eyebll Posse!

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Sam. I'll up the percentage by a point.

(The link in Sam's comment won't work, but there's a link to the same page in the article above. Here's the second half of the list.)