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 23, 2016

A Celebration Turned Tragic in Hartford

On 23 May 1766, the town of Hartford, Connecticut, celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act with a day of thanksgiving. Church bells rang, cannons fired, and ships on the Connecticut River displayed flags. As in Boston and elsewhere, the holiday was supposed to end with a “general illumination,” including fireworks.

According to a city history published in 1886:
A number of young gentlemen had come together to make sky-rockets in an upper chamber of the brick school-house, while the powder stored in the room below was being distributed to the militia. Two companies of soldiers had just received a pound for each man, when the powder scattered by this delivery was thoughtlessly set on fire by boys, and in an instant the building was reduced to a heap of ashes, and twenty-eight persons were buried in its ruins, six of whom died after being taken out of the crumbling mass, and the others were more or less injured.
In 1836, John Warner Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections cited the Connecticut Gazette of 31 May 1766 for this list of victims:
  • Mr. Levi Jones, John Knowles, (an apprentice to Mr. Thomas Sloan, blacksmith,) and Richard Lord, (second son to Mr. John H. Lord,) died of their wounds, soon after they were taken from under the ruins of the building.
  • Mr. William Gardiner, merchant, had both his thighs broken. [He died soon after.]
  • Mr. Samuel Talcott, Jun., very much burnt in his face and arms.
  • Mr. James Tiley, goldsmith, had one of his shoulders dislocated, and some bruises in the other parts of his body.
  • Mr. John Cook, Jun., had his back and neck hurt much.
  • Ephraim Perry, slightly wounded.
  • Thomas Forbes, wounded in his head.
  • Daniel Butler, (the tavern-keeper’s son,) had one of his ancles put out of joint.
  • Richard Burnham, son to Mr. Elisha Burnham, had his thigh, leg and ancle broke. [He was nineteen years old, and later died of his injuries.]
  • Eli Wadsworth, (Capt. Samuel’s son,) is much wounded and burnt, in his face, hands, and other parts of his body.
  • John Bunce, Jun., (an apprentice to Mr. Church, Hatter,) wounded in the head.
  • Normand Morrison, (a lad that lives with Capt. Tiley,) a good deal burnt and bruised.
  • Roderick Lawrence, (Capt. Lawrence’s son,) slightly wounded.
  • William Skinner, (Capt. Daniel’s son,) had both his thighs broke.
  • Timothy Phelps, (son to Mr. Timothy Phelps, shop-joiner,) had the calf torn off from one of his legs.
  • Valentine Vaughn, (son of Mr. Vaughn, baker,) had his skull terribly broken.
  • Horace Seymour, (son of Mr. Jonathan Seymour, Jun.,) two sons of Mr. John Goodwin, a son of Mr. John Watson, and a son of Mr. Kellogg, hatter, were slightly wounded.
  • Two molatto and two negro boys were also wounded.
Later newspapers added that Dr. Nathaniel Ledyard, a son of one of the town’s representatives in the colonial legislature, also died of his injuries. Like Jones and Gardiner, he was among the town’s “young and newly married men.” Here is Dr. Ledyard’s broken headstone and the ledger that he and his widow used for their accounts.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Looking at a Lantern

This lantern is in the collection of the Bostonian Society. According to its description, these words are painted on the bottom:
This LANTERN was on the Northwest Bough, (opposite Frog-lane), of the LIBERTY TREE; Illuminated last night with several hundred Lanterns, on the arrival of the News of the “Repeal of the Infamous GEORGE GRENVILLE Stamp Act.” Boston May 21st 1766 Eleazer Johnson
There was indeed a Capt. Eleazer Johnson active in Boston Whig politics (as well as other men of the same name in Charlestown and Newburyport, just to muddy the waters).

The lantern was donated to the Bostonian Society in 1889 by “Heirs of J. H. Hunneman”—presumably Joseph Hewes Hunneman (1812-1887). He had a first cousin named Eleazer Johnson Hewes (1803-1856), so it’s likely the family knew Johnson.

(Those cousins were both descended from Shubael Hewes (1732-1813), a butcher in Revolutionary Boston. Shubael Hewes was far from a Whig activist. He testified for the soldiers after the Boston Massacre, and he supplied meat to the British army during the siege of Boston. Yet Shubael Hewes didn’t leave with that army, either. He stayed in Boston and managed to regain the confidence of his neighbors enough to be elected to town office in 1781 and later. Other members of the family were active Whigs, including little brother George R. T. Hewes.)

There were articles about this lantern and two similar ones in The Magazine Antiques in 1930 and 1934. Discussing this lantern last year, Bostonian Society historian Nat Sheidley wrote:
In many ways the Bostonian Society’s lantern is relatively undistinguished. Like most lanterns of the second half of the eighteenth century, it is made of tin and glass. It is large enough to accommodate two candles, but at just over 20 inches by just under 8 ½ inches it is not oversized. It is painted green, red, and gold, and the tinwork is well executed but not overly ornate.

A closer look, however, reveals much that is of interest. The lantern bears a carefully wrought crown of elm leaf finials, a clear reference to the Liberty Tree itself. Importantly, the same finials are found atop all three surviving lanterns that hung from the Liberty Tree in May 1766. This suggests that the lanterns were made as a set, either by a single tin worker or by multiple craftsmen working together. Clearly, the lanterns were not a spontaneous outpouring contributed by Boston residents; instead, they were part of a carefully planned commemoration of the repeal and of the Liberty Tree’s role in the defeat of the Stamp Act.
Of course, we should always ask questions about Revolutionary artifacts that surface during the Colonial Revival with no earlier documentation. One detail of the label that makes me dubious is the phrase “the LIBERTY TREE.” In all the contemporaneous references I’ve seen, Bostonians called that elm “Liberty Tree” with no definite article. (They did write “the Tree of Liberty.”)

On the other hand, would someone writing on this lantern decades later really care about which British politician had been prime minister when the Stamp Act passed? Would a person faking this lantern based on newspaper reports have omitted the detail of 108 lanterns, which would have given verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative? Instead, the lantern says it was one of “several hundred,” the sort of exaggeration someone might write in the heat of the moment.

We might ask, would Johnson really label a common lantern on 21 May 1766 with so much historic detail that we’d be studying it 250 years later? That actually seems plausible. As the newspaper descriptions of the repeal celebrations show, Bostonians really did feel they were living through an important moment when they had helped to return justice and harmony to the British Empire.

TOMORROW: Celebration and tragedy in Hartford.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Lanterns on Liberty Tree

On the night of Monday, 19 May 1766, with fireworks going off all over Boston Common to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act, Whigs hung forty-five lanterns on Liberty Tree in the South End.

That number had plenty of political symbolism. The royal government had tried to suppress the 45th issue of John Wilkes’s magazine The North Briton in April 1763 for coming too close to criticizing King George III. That blew up into a controversy over freedom of the press, general warrants, and parliamentary privilege.

“No. 45” had thus become Whig shorthand for resisting oppressive measures by the royal government, even for people who were also proclaiming their loyalty to the king.

However, in the midst of all the other illumination in Boston that night, a mere forty-five lanterns evidently got lost in the branches of the big elm. Plus, once their obelisk burned up, the Loyall Nine needed another way to keep the party going at Liberty Tree.

It’s conceivable that other Boston politicians thought a Wilkesite number was too radical, but I’m not convinced. The town’s genteel Whigs tried to forge a long-distance alliance with Wilkes in the following years, and they continued to use “No. 45” symbolism; one famous example is the silver bowl that Paul Revere made and engraved in 1767.

I’m therefore inclined to take this Boston Gazette report at face value:
On Tuesday Evening some of the Sons of Liberty apprehending the Lanthorns hung on the Tree of Liberty, which the Night before amounted only to the ever memorable No 45, would have made a more loyal and striking Appearance if increased to the glorious Majority of 108, met and procuring that Number, disposed them on the Tree in a very agreeable picturesque Manner.
The “glorious Majority of 108” was the difference between the number of Members of Parliament who had voted to repeal the Stamp Act and the number who had wanted to retain it. As far as I can tell, American Whigs never celebrated a vote margin like that any other time. They probably chose that number because it was closest to how many lanterns they figured they could collect.

And that wasn’t all the decorating they did down in “Hanover Square”:
The Houses next adjoining and opposite were decorated with Figures characteristic of Those to whom we bear the deepest Loyalty and Gratitude: Here, an imperfect Portrait of their Majesties, our most gracious King and Queen—there, the Royal Arms;—here, the illustrious Campden, Pitt, Conway, Barre, and others of late so conspicuous in the Cause of Liberty and their Country:
Another report printed in the same newspaper said that on Tuesday Liberty Tree had been hung with lanterns “till the Boughs could hold no more,” and that the windows of nearby houses “were covered with illustrated Figures as large as the Life, the Colours all in a glow with the Lights behind them.”

In particular, the front windows of Thomas Dawes and Thomas Symmes displayed “An elegant Portrait of Mr. [William] PITT” with the inscription:
Hail, PITT! Hail, Patrons! Pride of GEORGE’s Days.
How round the Globe expand your Patriot Rays!
And the NEW WORLD is brighten’d with the Blaze.
Pitt was immensely popular in America, and he had strongly advocated repealing the Stamp Act. However, he wasn’t otherwise offering much help to the the Marquess of Rockingham’s Whig ministry. He refused to accept a cabinet post, but he would jump at the job of prime minister in July.

TOMORROW: Looking at a lantern.

[The photo above shows the Disney version of hanging lanterns on Liberty Tree from Johnny Tremain.]

Friday, May 20, 2016

Launching The Road to Concord, 2 June

I received two excellent packages from Westholme Publishing in the past week, and this photo shows me preparing a fine cup of Yorkshire Gold Tea to celebrate.

Yes, The Road to Concord is a real book now. I understand Amazon is shipping early orders, and the University of Chicago Press is supplying retailers. I’ve even started an Amazon author page.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has graciously offered to host the book launch. That’s a fitting place to share The Road to Concord since of the crucial documents behind it are in M.H.S. collections, and I first shared its thesis of the book at the M.H.S.’s early American seminar series.

That launch will take place on Thursday, 2 June, starting with a reception at 5:30 P.M. followed by a talk and ceremony scheduled for 6:00 to 7:00. Here’s the event description, just added to the M.H.S. calendar:
In September 1774 Boston became the center of an “arms race” between Massachusetts’s royal government and emboldened Patriots, each side trying to secure as much artillery as they could for the coming conflict. Townsmen even stole four small cannon out of militia armories under redcoat guard. As Patriots smuggled their new ordnance into the countryside, Gen. Thomas Gage used scouts and informants to track down those weapons, finally locating them on James Barrett’s farm in Concord in April 1775. This book reveals a new dimension to the start of America’s War for Independence. MHS Fellow J. L. Bell, proprietor of Boston1775.net, will share highlights from The Road to Concord and describe how the society’s collections provided vital clues to this untold history.

As a special treat, the U.S. Postal Service will join us for the Massachusetts unveiling of a new stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the end of the Stamp Act crisis, the first act of the American Revolution.
I’ve even managed to come up with a way to tie the Stamp Act crisis of 1765-66 to the “arms race” and four stolen cannon of 1774-75. It helps that pre-Revolutionary Boston was really a small town where nearly everyone was connected in some way to everyone else.

The event will be free; the M.H.S. asks people to register in advance. Copies of The Road to Concord will be on sale, and I’ll of course be happy to sign them and thank you for your interest and support.

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.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

John Hancock and “the Brilliancy of the Night”

The 19 May 1765 Boston Gazette offered a brief description of the very start of that day’s town-wide observance of the end of the Stamp Act. But the issue one week later devoted almost a full page to celebrating the celebration:
The Morning was ushered in with Musick, Ringing of Bells, and the Discharge of Cannon, the Ships in the Harbour and many of the Houses in Town being adorned with Colours

Joy smil’d in every Countenance, Benevolence, Gratitude and Content seemed the Companions of all. By the Generosity of some Gentlemen remarkable for their Humanity and Patriotism, our Goal was freed of Debtors.—
A later item in the paper credited the idea of paying off what the jailed debtors owed to “a fair Boston Nymph.” The action no doubt resonated strongly in a society that knew the Old Testament concept of a jubilee, not to mention a recent bankruptcy crisis.
At One o’clock the Castle and Batteries, and Train of Artillery fired a Royal Salute; and the Afternoon was spent in Mirth and Jollity.—In the Evening the whole Town was beautifully Illuminated:—

On the Common the Sons of Liberty erected a magnificent Pyramid, illuminated with 280 Lamps: The four upper Stories of which were ornamented with the Figures of their Majesties, and fourteen of the worthy Patriots who have distinguished themselves by their Love of Liberty.
The newspaper offered a detailed description of the obelisk shown yesterday and all the text painted on it. As I noted, its wooden frame was covered with paper rubbed with oil to become translucent so the structure could glow from within.
On the Top of the Pyramid was fix’d a round Box of Fireworks horizontally. About one hundred Yards from the Pyramid the Sons of Liberty erected a Stage for the Exhibition of their Fireworks, near the Work-House, in the lower Room of which they entertained the Gentlemen of the Town.

John Hancock, Esq; who gave a grand and elegant Entertainment to the genteel Part of the Town, and treated the Populace with a Pipe of Madeira Wine, erected at the Front of his House, which was magnificently illuminated, a Stage for the Exhibition of his Fireworks, which was to answer those of the Sons of Liberty:
The spring of 1766 marked the start of Hancock’s political career. In March the town meeting made him a selectman for the first time. In May a more exclusive town meeting elected him to the Massachusetts General Court. From then on, Hancock never lost a popular vote he really wanted to win.
at Dusk the scene opened by the Discharge of twelve Rockets from each Stage; after which the Figures on the Pyramid were uncovered, making a beautiful Appearance.—To give a Description of the great Variety of Fireworks exhibited from this Time till Eleven o’clock would be endless—the Air was filled with Rockets—the Ground with Bee-hives and Serpents—and the two Stages with Wheels of Fireworks of various sorts.

Mr. [James] Otis and some other Gentlemen who lived near the Common kept open House, the whole Evening, which was very pleasant; the Multitudes of Gentlemen and Ladies, who were continually passing from one Place to another, added much to the Brilliancy of the Night:

At Eleven o’clock the Signal being given by a Discharge of 21 Rockets, the horizontal Wheel on the Top of the Pyramid or Obelisk was play’d off, ending in the Discharge of sixteen Dozen of Serpents in the Air, which concluded the Shew.

To the Honor of the Sons of Liberty we can with Pleasure inform the World, that every Thing was conducted with the utmost Decency and good Order, not a Reflection cast on any Character, nor the least Disorder during the whole Scene.—

The Pyramid, which was designed to be placed under the Tree of Liberty, as a standing Monument of this glorious Æra, by accident took Fire about One o’clock, and was consumed:—The Lamps by which it was illuminated not being extinguished at the Close of the Scene it is supposed to have taken Fire by some of them.
That left the Sons of Liberty, or Loyall Nine, with no monument to install at Liberty Tree.

TOMORROW: While those men worked on that problem, there were celebrations in nearby towns.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“A View of the Obelisk”

On Monday, 19 May 1766, all of Boston was gearing up to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act at last.

The issue of the Boston Gazette published that day appears in the Harbottle Dorr collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It included a statement from the “Sons of Liberty” who had met on the evening of 16 May at “Hanover Square,” or the corner where Liberty Tree stood. They laid out their plan for a celebration with fireworks from “a Stage to be erected near the Work-House Gates.”

That item ended with a new announcement from the group:
I do therefore notify the Friends of Liberty, that an authentic Account of the Repeal of the Stamp Act is arrived, and the Gentlemen Select Men of Boston, have fix’d upon This Evening for the public Rejoicing, at whose Desire will be exhibited on the Common, an OBELISK—a Description of which is engraved by Mr. Paul Revere; and is now selling by Edes and Gill.——The signal of its Ending will be by firing a Horizontal Wheel on the Top of the Obelisk, when its desired the Assembly will retire.

By Order of the Committe,
May 19, 1766. (Signed) M. Y. Secretary.
The meeting-place and the links to Edes and Gill, printers of the Gazette, indicate that this notice came from the same group previously known as the Loyall Nine. No member of that group had the initials “M. Y.”—that was a pseudonym. Despite taking control of the town celebration, they were still keeping their names out of the papers.

Both the obelisk and the engraving are very detailed. At the top were sixteen portraits of British politicians and royals whom Americans praised as guardians of their traditional liberties, starting with George III and Queen Charlotte. Then there were many lines of poetry. At the bottom were four allegorical scenes of the king saving America from the Stamp Act monster (in our recent history comics workshops I pointed out that these pictures constitute “sequential art”).

To create the obelisk, those drawings and words were inked onto large sheets of (unstamped) paper which were affixed to a wooden frame and then soaked with oil to become translucent, so they could be illuminated from inside. I haven’t found a description of how tall the structure was, but it was meant to be impressive. The engraving also had explanatory captions at the top and bottom, every letter carved backwards into a sheet of copper.

All that work means that both the obelisk and the engraving must have been in preparation well before Boston received word of the Stamp Act repeal. Otherwise, there was only one work day between the Sons of Liberty meeting and the publication of that Gazette. That’s more evidence of how the town and its activists had been getting ready for this triumphant day since early April.

TOMORROW: The celebration at last.

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.

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.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

“When we shall receive certain advice of the Repeal of the Stamp Act”

Like the Stamp Act itself, Parliament’s repeal of the Stamp Act was no surprise. The measure was debated in London for months, and colonists in North America eagerly awaited the results.

On 1 Apr 1766, Boston’s official records say, “A considerable Number of the Inhabitants of this Town Assembled at Faneuil Hall.” That was not to formula that town clerk William Cooper used to designate formal town meetings, which the selectmen usually called days in advance with a public warrant listing an agenda.

Nonetheless, those people proceeded as if they did constitute an official town meeting, electing James Otis, Jr., to preside as moderator. He announced:
that the probability of very soon receiving authentic Accounts of the absolute Repeal of the Stamp Act had occasioned the present Meeting; and as this would be an Event in which the Inhabitants of this Metropolis, as well as all North America, would have the greatest Occasion of Joy, it was thought expedient by many, that this Meeting should come into Measures for fixing the Time when those Rejoicings should be made, and the manner in which they should be conducted—whereupon it was——

Voted, That the Selectmen be desired when they shall hear the certain News of the Repeal of the Stamp Act to fix upon a Time for general Rejoicings; and that they give the Inhabitants seasonable Notice in such Manner as they shall think best——
On 21 April Bostonians “legally qualified and warned in Publick Town Meeting Assembled at Faneuil Hall” again to make that vote official. Otis moderated once more.
After the Warrant for calling the Meeting had been read—Some Resolves of the House of Commons relative to American Affairs, as also sundry Extracts from late Letters received from England were also read

After which the Town took into consideration the Article in the Warrant for calling the Meeting. (Vizt.) To agree on such Measures of Conduct as may be proper when we shall receive certain advice of the Repeal of the Stamp Act—whereup

Voted, That the Selectmen be desired when they shall have a certain account of the Repeal of the Stamp Act to Notify the Inhabitants of the Time they shall fix upon for the general Rejoicings & to publish the following Vote—Vizt.

Under the deepest Sense of Duty and Loyalty to our most gracious Sovereign King George, and in respect and Gratitude to the present Patriotick Ministry, Mr. [William] Pitt, and the Glorious Majority of both Houses of Parliament, by whose Influence under Divine Providence against a most strenuous Opposition, a happy Repeal of the Stamp Act so unconstitutional as well as grievous to his Majestys good Subjects of America is attained, whereby our incontestable Right of Internal Taxation still remains to us inviolate—

Voted, that at the Time the Selectmen shall appoint, every Inhabitant be desired to Illuminate his Dwelling House, and that it is the Sense of the Town, that the Houses of of the Poor, as well as those where there are sick Persons and all such parts of Houses as are used for Stores together with the Houses of those (if there are any) who from certain Religeous Scruples cannot conform to this Vote, ought to be protected from all Injury; and that all Abuses and Disorders on the Evening for Rejoycings by breaking Windows, or otherwise, if any should happen, be prosecuted by the Town—

Upon a Motion made and seconded Voted unanimously, That the Majestrates of the Town; The Selectmen; Fire-Wards; Constables and Engine Men, be desired to use their utmost Endeavours to prevent any Bone-Fires being made in any part of this Town, also the throwing of Rockets, Squibs, and other Fire Works in any of the Streets of said Town except the Time that shall be appointed for general Rejoicings, and that the Inhabitants be desired for the present to restrain their Children and Servants from going abroad on Evenings

Upon a Motion made and seconded, Voted, That for the Security of the Powder House on the Night of general Rejoicings the Selectmen be desired to Order two of the Fire Engines into the Common to be placed near said Magazine: and that the Roof thereof be well wet; and that the Air Holes be stop’t with Mortar and Brick or otherwise as they may Judge proper
Some of those measures were intended to preserve the town’s safety. Others were designed to preserve the town’s image, damaged by the riots against Andrew Oliver, Thomas Hutchinson, and other royal appointees in August 1765.

The meeting also appointed a committee to think about other ways for Boston “to testify their Gratitude to those Patriots on the other side of the Water to whose Endeavors it is owing that the Liberties of America are secured.” That committee was headed by John Erving and included several of the town’s most prominent merchants and politicians: John Rowe, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, the senior Royall Tyler, Thomas Cushing, and Joshua Henshaw. Boston was all set to hear good news.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ten Years of Boston 1775

This is the tenth anniversary of the day I launched Boston 1775. I dated a couple of introductory postings earlier than 14 May 2006 so they’d be easy to find, but that first posting was about an article I’d recently published in New England Ancestors. The next highlighted an article from the New Yorker about a widely reproduced portrait of a black sea captain being revealed as a fraud.

And every day since then I’ve posted something—sometimes written the night before, sometimes written weeks in advance, sometimes kindly written by someone else.

According to Google, Boston 1775 has garnered over 3,300,000 page views. The most hit-upon postings, no doubt determined by keywords in their titles and school assignments, are:
This blog turned out to provide my bona fides in the field of Revolutionary history since I don’t have a graduate education or institutional affiliation to point to. I’ve just laid out things I find interesting, and it’s gratifying to hear how interesting they are for others.

Boston 1775 opened doors for me. I got invited to speak on a panel about blogging at the Organization of American Historians meeting. I landed a contract to write a historical resource study for the National Park Service. The research behind my new book, The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, started years before the blog, but Boston 1775 provides the platform for launching it.

I wasn’t expecting any of that. I just felt, back in 2004 or 2005, that I’d found some nifty stories that weren’t long or substantial enough to be print articles or papers. I thought it might be fun to share them on a website. My multitalented writing friend Greg Fishbone told me that I could achieve approximately what I wanted with PHP software configured to work like a blog.

That spurred me to look into blogging services to make the process easier. I realized that it would be easier to adapt to available templates than to ask Greg to engineer exactly what I pictured from scratch. I also realized that presenting material in blog form brought two advantages: I could add pages myself without having to work through a webmaster, and I wouldn’t have to launch a full site since no one expects a blog to be complete.

But still I didn’t do anything for months. Then in May 2006 I attended a conference where another writing friend, Mitali Perkins, told all of us in her workshop to just start blogging—find an area of your expertise and share it with the world. In Mitali’s case, she was writing about young immigrants and their books. She was already on her way to becoming a nationally known author and speaker.

After hearing Mitali, I came home and launched Boston 1775. And here we are, ten years later, looking ahead ten years to the sestercentennial of American independence. I can’t promise this blog will be around to see that anniversary, especially in daily form, but it feels like something to shoot for.