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 25, 2015

Mapping Out a Map-Filled Visit to Boston

This weekend is your last chance to see the “We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence” exhibit at the Boston Public Library. And I heartily recommend doing so. Here’s my review of the show.

The exhibit’s last day is Sunday, 29 November. After that, our only solace will be the Leventhal Map Center’s database of Revolutionary-era maps. (The map center at the library also has a smaller exhibit on women cartographers, which I haven’t seen.)

Just a short walk outbound along Boylston Street and you can also visit the Massachusetts Historical Society. Its current exhibit, running through early January, is titled “Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the M.H.S. Map Collection”:
As the M.H.S. approaches its 225th year, Terra Firma celebrates the beginnings of one of its most diverse and interesting collections. Among the maps on display are landmarks of map publishing that include the first published map of New England, the first map of Massachusetts published in America, and a unique copy of the earliest separate map of Vermont, as well as maps of important battles and maps and atlases from the United States and beyond.
There’s a webpage of audio profiles of four of the men who made those maps, including Gov. Thomas Pownall, Col. Richard Gridley, and Henry Pelham [who also serves as the @Boston1775 Twitter avatar]. Admission to the M.H.S. galleries is free, and they will be open this Friday and Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

And if that’s not enough maps, the Boston Athenaeum has an exhibit up through the end of February called “Collecting for the Boston Athenæum in the 21st Century: Maps, Charts, & Plans,” on recent additions to its collection of maps and charts.
Some of the highlights will include a very scarce chart of Casco Bay by J.F.W. DesBarres, a rare French edition of a classic map of the Americas by Petrus Bertius, published in the mid-seventeenth century, and a beautiful example of one of the earliest charts to focus on the New England coastline by J. van Keulen.
There are a number of eighteenth-century maps on the exhibit list, including a 1793 print of Sir Thomas Hyde Page’s Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill on the 17th of June 1775 (thumbnail above). Admission is $5, free for members. Check the calendar for days when the Athenaeum is open.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Sort of Gift Do You Get for a 250th Anniversary?

I’ve been promoting awareness of the Sestercentennial of the American Revolution, in part by describing what happened in the American colonies 250 years ago and in part by using the word “sestercentennial” a lot.

On Monday, 30 November, the Old North Church in Boston will host “The 250th is Coming, the 250th is Coming!”, a panel discussion on what more Massachusetts can and should do to celebrate the Sestercentennial. The event description says:
We know from the celebration of the Bicentennial forty years ago that major milestones can bring major benefits to our region: strengthening our brand as a historic tourist destination, creating new education programs, preserving our national heritage sites and renewing our civic commitment to core values of freedom and liberty. We also know that years of advance planning are required to gather the civic and financial resources required to celebrate a major milestone.
The panelists will be:
  • William Fowler, Northeastern University
  • Martha McNamara, Wellesley College
  • Robert Allison, Suffolk University
  • Greg Galer, Boston Preservation Alliance
  • Rep. Byron Rushing
The event is free, but the church asks people to reserve seats through this site.

By most historians’ lights, the Sestercentennial has already started. Back in August, the Revolution 250 consortium observed the anniversary of the first Stamp Act protest at Liberty Tree. What other Revolutionary events should Massachusetts celebrate in the next ten, eleven, or twenty-five years, and how? We’re inviting people to share ideas at the forum, on blogs like this, or through Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #250isComing.

Here are some potential visions for the future:
  • In June 2018, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum turns one of its vessels into John Hancock’s ship Liberty for a day and recreates how Customs officials seized it for smuggling, and the subsequent waterfront riot.
  • In October 2018, dozens of reenacted British army units disembark from ferries onto Long Wharf, form ranks, and march through downtown Boston to the Common for a weekend encampment recreating the occupation of Boston in October 1768.
  • In February 2020, a recreation of the massive funeral procession of young Christopher Seider winds through the streets to the Granary Burying-Ground, honoring the first Bostonian to die in the political struggle.
  • In August and September 2024, large outdoor public events commemorate the Powder Alarm in Cambridge and the closing of the courts in Hampshire and Worcester Counties, events that helped end royal rule in Massachusetts outside of Boston.
  • By April 2025, the location of Dr. Joseph Warren’s house is marked on City Hall Plaza and added to the Freedom Trail.
What would you like to see happen? What local event deserves a 250th-anniversary commemoration?

Monday, November 23, 2015

“We have now the Stamped Papers in our own Hands”

As related yesterday, on the evening of 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden handed New York’s supply of Stamp Act paper over to the city government.

Colden reported:
They were carried to the City Hall, and remained safe with a very triffling Guard indeed upon them. The Mob dispersed immeadiately and remain quiet. Can anything give a stronger suspicion who they were that composed the Mob, and under whose direction they acted?
That was the same building (shown here) where the Stamp Act Congress had met the previous month.

Colden’s remark about the crowd was a typical assumption of friends of the royal government, seeing “the Mob” as raised and directed by local politicians rather than the people having wills of their own.

In fact, the city’s political activists were hustling to make sure the populace accepted the compromise they had made with Colden and kept the peace. The next morning, this note was posted at the city’s main coffee house:
To the Freeholders & Inhabitants of the City of New York


We have now the Stamped Papers in our own Hands, so that there is a Prospect of our enjoying Peace once more; all then that we have to do is to promote this Peace; to do which we are under many Obligations; of which what follows will be a Proof;

1st We have entirely accomplish’d all we wanted in rescuing the Stamps from the Hands of our inveterate Enemy; to proceed any farther then would only hurt the good Cause in which we are engaged.

2dly As we have promised, both for ourselves & by our Representatives whom we ourselves have chosen, that if the Stamps were lodged in the Hands of these our Representatives (as they now are) we would be quiet & no Harm should be done, the Honour & Credit of the City lie at Stake, & shall we ruin our own Credit? I am persuaded no one would be so infatuated as to attempt it.

Let us then as we have joined Hand in Hand in effecting the Peace that now subsists also join in preserving it. This will shew that we have Conduct as well as Courage, prove that we have acted, not as a Mob, but as Friends to Liberties & be as strong an Argument as we can use to obtain a Repeal of the Stamp Act.
At the end of the day, that paper was taken down and delivered to Colden, who then sent it with his report to London. But it had done its work.

One week later, on 13 November, Sir Henry Moore, the long-expected new royal governor, arrived in New York from Britain. Colden “had the pleasure of delivering up the Administration,” and the attending headaches, to Moore “in as much quietness as could be expected in the present situation of the public affairs.”

There were, however, two new complications. Moore’s ship had also brought:
  • nine more big boxes of stamped paper for New York and Connecticut.
  • Colden’s grandson Peter De Lancey, Jr., with the proud news that the royal government had appointed him stamp inspector for Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Hampshire.
So I expect we’ll be coming back to New York for more sestercentennial updates.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How the New Yorkers Came to a Deal

On 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York sent a report to London about how an angry crowd was besieging him inside Fort George with the province’s stamped paper.

In his letter to the Marquess of Granby, Colden wrote, “I expect the Fort will be stormed this night—everything is done in my power to give them a warm reception.”

Capt. John Montresor of the Royal Artillery, who had been busy strengthening the fort, wrote in his journal that 5th of November:
Advertisements and many papers placarded throughout this city declaring the storming of the Fort this Night under cover of burning the Pope and pretender unless the Stamps were delivered.
But in fact there was a compromise in the works. The next day Colden updated his messenger on the developments:
In the forenoon yesterday the Common Council of the City presented an Address to me Requesting that in order to restore Peace to the City & to prevent the effusion of Blood, I would deliver the Stamp’d Paper into the care of the Corporation, who in that case undertook to protect them. I was surprised at the Proposition, but upon their adding a Clause whereby the Mayor & Corporation became engaged for the full amount of the Paper &c and Duty, in case they were lost, destroyed or carried out of the Province, I consented to take the advice of his Majesty’s council upon it.
Colden was worried about the slippery slope: “The delivering the stamp’d Papers on the threats of a Mob, who may still make further demands greatly affects the dignity of his Majesty’s Government; & may have a tendency to encourage perpetual mobish proceedings hereafter.”

New York’s provincial Council advised that “the City appeared to be in perfect annarchy, and the power of Government either Military or Civil insufficient—that the defense of the Fort would involve the destruction of the City.” Those gentlemen recommended taking the deal. Colden then asked Gen. Thomas Gage for his advice as commander of the king’s army in North America, and he concurred. Colden had thus covered himself bureaucratically as much as he could.

Therefore, on the evening of 5 November the lieutenant governor turned the stamped paper in Fort George over to a committee led by Mayor John Cruger (shown above), who had participated in the Stamp Act Congress the previous month.

Cruger signed this receipt:
Received of the Honble. Cadwallader Colden, Esq. his Majesty’s Lt. Govr. and Commander in Chief of the Province of New York, Seven Packages containing Stamp’d Paper & Parchment all marked No. 1, J. McE., New York which I promise in behalf of the Corporation of the City of New York to take charge & care of, and to be accountable in case they shall be destroyed, or carried out of the Province as particularly set forth and declared in the Minutes of the Common Council of the said Corporation of this Day. Witness my hand in the City of New York this fifth day of November 1765.
TOMORROW: Was that enough to calm the populace?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lt. Gov. Colden’s Unsafe Situation

As November 1765 began, New York acting governor Cadwallader Colden was holed up in Manhattan’s Fort George (on the far left of the map above) with a contingent of the king’s military forces and the stamped paper for three colonies. Outside was a crowd of thousands of men convinced that the Stamp Act was tyrannical and determined to keep it from taking effect.

Maj. Thomas James commanded some men from the Royal Artillery inside the fort. That, and his contemptuous remarks, had caused the crowd to tear apart the mansion he was renting in town on the night of 1 November. 

Capt. Archibald Kennedy had sent “Lieutenant Owen & twenty four Marines” to the fort to support Colden. However, he added, “by doing this I leave the Ships without Marines, & as most of our men are imprest there is a great risque of their deserting.” But he declined to take charge of the stamps, lest the crown attack his home and property.

Colden asked the military engineers how they would strengthen Fort George. On 2 November, Capts. Harry Gordon (d. 1787), Thomas Sowers, and John Montresor delivered their report:
The most necessary & Expeditious way of putting this Fort in an immediate posture of defence.

A Number of Barrells Boxes or such Instruments as will contain a sufficient quantity of earth to make them Musquet proof to be put on the Salient Angles of the Bastions to form a Lodgement for 12 Men each, filld with earth 4 ft. 6 in. high. The Earth for filling them to be taken from the inside of the parapet leaving only a Banquet inside of the Barrells Boxes &c. A piece of artillery behind those lodgements towards the shoulders of the Bastions.

Two Pieces of light artillery covered with their mantelets &c. to be mounted on each Flank & the shoulders rais’d to cover them.

A Howitzer to be mounted on each Curtin towards the Town

The Crows feet to be scetterd to the Gate, Sorties and other practicable Avenues to the Fort.

All the Remainder of the Chevaux des frises to be fix’d and ready to plant along the places where the parapet remains en harbet and to be steadied by some Earth thrown against them

A Lodgment of Mattresses or Bedding or any thing proper to make a Covering a top of the large House for a Serjeant & 12 good men who have been practised to firing.

One hundred hand Grenades to be lodg’d at each Curtin & forty near each small lodgment on the Points of the Bastions to be loaded & ready to be lighted & thrown.

The Gate to be Barricaded within at Night as fast as possible & two pieces of large artillery to be planted against it, & two light pieces at some distance behind the Chevaux des frises.

The several Fronts of the Fort to be disencumbered from the Buildings &c

’Twould be necessary for the defence of the Fort if Capt. Kennedy’s House was taken possession of as it commands two Fronts the most accessible of the Fort.

Proper Instruments & Workmen for the defence should be immediately provided and a sufficient number of Men at least three hundred.

Notwithstanding the above Improvements for the defence of the place, its still under great inconveniences arising principally from the want of proper cover within, & being commanded by the Circumjacent Buildings.
In other words, even with at least 300 men, plenty of weapons, Kennedy’s full cooperation, and a lot of hard work, Fort George would still be vulnerable. It had been built to protect the city from attack by sea, not to withstand a siege by land. And was there time to do all those things anyway?

The next morning, a paper was found inside an oyster shell at the gate of Fort George, addressed to Colden himself:

As one who is an enemy to Mischief of all kinds, & a Well wisher to you & your Family, I give you this Notice that Evil is determined against you & your Adherents & will in all human Probability take Effect, unless Speedily prevented by your public Declaration upon Oath, That you will never, in any Manner, countenance, or assist, in the Execution of the Stamp Act, or anything belonging to it; and also, that you will, to the utmost of your Power, endeavour to get it repealed in England, and meanwhile prevent its taking Effect here. Your Life may depend upon the Notice you take of this Advice.


P.S. I well know the Guides of the People would only shew you that they may dare also; but don't incense them, for God’s Sake, by an unpolitical Contempt! You are not safe at Flushing.
Flushing was where Colden had his country estate. He was probably wishing he were there.

TOMORROW: Reaching a compromise. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Capt. Kennedy and the Stamped Paper

On the night of 1 Nov 1765, after the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect, a New York mob signaled its disapproval of that development by burning the coach and other vehicles of Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden. Then some of that crowd destroyed the estate being rented by Maj. Thomas James, the commander of the fort protecting Colden and the stamped paper.

The acting governor responded with a public announcement early on the morning of 2 November that he was suspending enforcement of the new law until the new royal governor arrived. That calmed the immediate situation.

Colden also sent a letter to Capt. Archibald Kennedy (c. 1723-1794, shown here), the highest-ranking officer in the Royal Navy at New York, aboard his ship Coventry. The acting governor asked the captain if he was willing to take over the protection of the stamps:
The Gentlemen of the Council are desirous that the Stamp’d papers now in the Fort, should be put on board one of the Men of War—and I desire to know as soon as possible from you whether or not you will order them to be received on board—
Capt. Kennedy quickly wrote back to Colden:
I have this Instant received yours of this date informing me it is the desire of the Council that the Stamp’d paper should be sent on board one of the Kings Ships,

as they are already lodged in Fort George which is a place of security sufficient to protect them from any attempt the Mob can possibly make to destroy them. cannot see any plausable reason for moving them, and indeed the very attempting to move them must be attended with much greater risque than they can possibly be exposed to while there,

I shall ever be ready when necessity requires to give you all the assistance in my power
Though it seems clear Kennedy wasn’t assisting at all at that moment.

Aboard his warship, Kennedy was safe from any angry crowds, but his property wasn’t. The captain’s father had been a major businessman in New York, he had earned a lot of money from naval prizes in the wars against France, and he had married a Schuyler sister. Through inheritance, investments, and marriage, Kennedy owned a whole lot of New York real estate, including his own mansion at 1 Broadway.

The lieutenant governor explained that to British officials the next month:
Kennedy absolutely refused to receive them [the stamps], & with good reason, for he was aware of their design to force Him to deliver them by Threatning to destroy the Houses he was possesst of in the City, of which he had in his own & his wife’s Right more than perhaps any one Man in it.
I sense that Colden might have been more exasperated at his Council for suggesting this unrealistic solution than at Kennedy for resisting it. But Parliament didn’t like Kennedy’s action, or inaction, and recalled him to Britain over it. Of course, Kennedy didn’t need the navy’s salary, so he retired.

TOMORROW: Lt. Gov. Colden assesses his defenses.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The New Yorkers’ “private Unnatural and Brutal Revenge”

When New Yorkers were demonstrating against the Stamp Act on the night of 1 Nov 1765, they knew that the colony’s supply of stamped paper was inside Fort George. And they knew that the man in charge of Fort George’s defenses was Maj. Thomas James of the Royal Artillery.

In the words of the New-York Gazette, Maj. James “had unfortunately incurred the resentment of the public, by expressions imputed to him” during the dispute over the stamps.

Specifically, James later stated he’d been accused of the following:
  • “I threatened to cram the Stamps down their Throats with the End of my Sword”
  • “If they attempted to rise I [said I] would drive them all out of the Town for a pack of Rascals, with four and twenty men”
  • “I had in Contempt to the Gentlemen thrown an Almanack into the Fire that had not been stampt”
  • “I had turnd some Ladies and Gentlemen off the Ramparts of Fort George, because they should not see the Works I was carrying on”
  • “I had been over Officious in my Duty”
When Parliament asked him about those accusations the next year, he “answer’d in the Affirmative.” The legislators wouldn’t let him go on to say that, even so, “it was no Sanction for their [the protesters’] private Unnatural and Brutal Revenge or an Indemnification for their Insults upon Government.”

Unfortunately for the major, though he was safe inside Fort George, his property was not. That’s because, with the British military making New York its base for North American operations, he had rented a mansion called Vaux Hall, beside the Hudson River near King’s College.

The New-York Gazette continued:
It is said he had taken a Lease of the house for three years, and had obliged himself to return it in the like good order as he received it; it had been lately fitted up in an elegant manner, and had adjoining a large handsome garden stored both with necessaries and curiosities,—and had in it several summer houses; the house was genteely furnished with good furniture; contained a valuable library of choice books, papers, accounts, mathematical instruments, draughts, rich clothes, linen, &c. and a considerable quantity of wine and other liquors.—

The multitude bursting open the doors, proceeded to destroy every individual article the house contain’d,—the beds they cut open and threw the feathers abroad, broke all the glasses, china, tables, chairs, desks, trunks, chests, and making a large fire at a little distance, threw in every thing that would burn—drank or destroy’d all the liquor—and left not the least article in the house which they did not destroy—after which they also beat to pieces all the doors, sashes, window frames and partitions in the house, leaving it a meer shell; also destroyed the summer houses, and tore up and spoiled the garden.

All this destruction was compleated by about 2 o’clock [A.M.]. The imagined cause of resentment operated so powerfully, that every act of devastation on the goods of this unhappy gentleman was consider’d as a sacrifice to liberty.—Many military trophies, even the colours of the royal regiment, were taken and carried off triumphantly.
New York’s anti-Stamp demonstration thus ended as Boston’s and Newport’s had done, with the destruction of a house. And not necessarily the house of the man designated to collect the new tax, but the house of a royal official who spoke up for enforcing the law.

TOMORROW: Naval support?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“The effigy of a man who had been honoured by his country”

On 1 Nov 1765, New York had its first classic Stamp Act protest. This was the day the law was supposed to take place, and many other North American colonies had already seen such political disturbances.

James McEvers’s preemptive resignation as a stamp master meant that New Yorkers hadn’t had a good target for their demonstrations. Until, that is, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden made it clear that as the highest royal authority in the colony he would try to enforce the new law.

As reported in the Boston Post-Boy, reprinting news from New York, the anti-Stamp demonstration on 1 November followed the usual lines:
About 7 o’clock in the evening two companies appeared, one of them in the fields, where a moveable gallows was erected, on which was (suspended the effigy of a man who had been honoured by his country with an elevated station, but whose public conduct supposed to aim at the introduction of arbitrary power, and especially in his officiously endeavouring to enforce the Stamp Act, universally held by his Majesty’s faithful and loyal subjects in America, to be unconstitutional and oppressive) has unhappily drawn upon himself the general resentment of his country.

The figure was made much to resemble the person it was intended to represent. In his hand was a stamped paper, which he seem’d to court the people to receive;—at his back hung a drum, on his breast a label, supposed to allude to some former circumstances of his life. By his side hung, with a boot in his hand, the grand deceiver of mankind, seeming to urge him to perseverance in the cause of slavery.
According to other sources, the label identified the effigy as “The Rebell Drummer of 1715,” suggesting that Lt. Gov. Colden had supported the Stuart Pretender’s uprising that year. Colden had in fact been back in Britain as a young physician in 1715; he had even gotten married there. According to him, however, he had “carried above 70 Volunteers into Kelso” to support the Hanoverian forces under Lord Jedburgh. It appears men of Scottish descent like Colden remained vulnerable to accusations of Jacobite disloyalty, even fifty years later.

Back to the New York protest:
While the multitude gathered round these figures, the other party with another figure representing the same person, seated in a chair, and carried by men, preceeded and attended by a great number of lights, paraded through most of the public streets in the city, increasing as they went, but without doing the least Injury to any house or person. They proceeded in this order to the coach-house at the fort, from whence they took the Lieut. Governor’s coach, and fixing the effigy upon the top of it, they proceeded with great rapidity towards the fields.

About the same time the other party was preparing to move to the fort, with the gallows as it stood erect on its frame, and lanthorns fix’d on various parts of it. When the two parties met, and every thing was in order, a general silence ensued, and proclamation was made that no stones should be thrown, no windows broken, and no injury offered to any one,—and all this was punctually observed.

The whole multitude then returned to the fort, and though they knew the guns were charged, and saw the ramparts lined with soldiers, they intripidly marched with the gallows, coach, &c. up to the very gate, where they knocked, and demanded admittance, & if they had not been restrained by some humane persons, who had influence over them, would doubtless have taken the fort, as I hear there were 4 or 500 seamen, and many others equally intrepid, and acquainted with military affairs.

But as it seems no such extremities were intended, after they had shewn many insults to the effigy, they retired from the fort gate to the bowling green, the pallisades of which they instantly tore away, marched with the gallows, &c. into the middle of the green, (still under the muzzles of the fort guns) where with the pallisades and planks of the fort fence, and a chaise and 2 sleys, taken from the governor’s coach house, they soon reared a large pile of wood round the whole, to which setting fire, it soon kindled to a great flame, and reduced the coach, gallows, man, devil, and all to ashes.
All classic anti-Stamp demonstrations involved burning an effigy like that. By adding four of Colden’s vehicles to the fire, the crowd got more fuel. But they hadn’t destroyed anyone’s house.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Protesting the Stamped Papers inside Fort George

As I noted back here, the designated Stamp Tax collector for New York, James McEvers, resigned that post on 26 Aug 1765, after hearing about how Bostonians had smashed up Andrew Oliver’s house.

Acting governor Cadwallader Colden insisted on enforcing the law nonetheless. Because the British military had made New York its base at the end of the Seven Years’ War, there was a sizable contingent of soldiers in the city, as well as Royal Navy ships and marines. Colden thus didn’t have the problem that stymied Gov. Francis Bernard in Massachusetts—that he could not rely on the militia to stop a mob when the mob was made up of the militiamen.

Colden asked the navy, under the command of Capt. Archibald Kennedy, to intercept the ships carrying stamped paper and carry that precious cargo to Fort George, there to be protected by the Royal Artillery under Maj. Thomas James.

That didn’t sit well with the city’s inhabitants, as reported in the New-York Gazette of 7 Nov 1765 and reprinted eleven days later in the Boston Post-Boy:
On the 23d of October, by Capt. Davis, arrived a parcel of the stamps, which immediately raised a spirit of general uneasiness in the town;—they were put under convoy of a man of war, landed and deposited in the fort. The Governor had very injudiciously, some time before the arrival of the stamps, made a great shew of fortifying the fort, providing it with mortars, guns, ammunition, and all the necessaries for the regular attack of an enemy—and it was given out that he threatened to fire on the town if the stamps were molested (which greatly exasperated the people). Representations against these measures were made to him; and they were, I believe, discontinued, but resumed again upon the arrival of the stamps.

From this time several papers appear’d stuck up in public places about the town, threatening every person that should deliver or receive a stamp. The preparations at the fort were continued with greater vigour, and the people grew more uneasy and enflamed. On the 31st of October, the merchants had a meeting, where they enter’d into an obligation that none of them should order any goods from England till the stamp act was repeal’d, that the orders already sent (and not executed) should be countermanded, (except grindstones, &c. for such ships as were there belonging to this place) and that they should accept no goods on commissions, or assist in the sale of any sent here. This was subscribed by upwards of two hundred merchants.

The shopkeepers also obliged themselves to purchase no goods sent here contrary to the above articles, till the stamp act was repealed. That evening a large company suddenly assembled and marched to the walls of Fort George, and from thence thro’ several streets in the city. The magistrates appeared, and endeavoured to disperse them, but in vain. After a short time they suddenly dispersed of themselves without doing any mischief. It was rumour’d about town a much larger concourse would assemble the next night, and their visit was by some expected, while others thought they would meet no more.
The map above shows Fort George, courtesy of the Library of Congress. The big round spot at the bottom is the Bowling Green with a statue of King George III in the center. (ADDENDUM: The statue was installed in 1770.) It’s currently the site of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.

TOMORROW: The day the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Two Gentlemen Who Couldn’t Possibly Take Charge of Connecticut’s Stamped Paper

When the British government instituted the Stamp Act for North America, one of the first steps was to buy a lot of paper. With the tax added, that paper was budgeted to bring in over £100,000 from the thirteen colonies that became the U.S. of A. alone. The untaxed cost of that paper was less, but it was still a substantial investment for the government.

The paper was also a substantial chunk of government property to take care of. Naturally, most colonial officials didn’t want to take any more responsibility for that than they had to.

On 9 Sept 1765, as the anti-Stamp protests heated up in Connecticut, designated stamp master Jared Ingersoll asked a favor of Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776, shown here), the acting governor of New York:
the Stampt papers intended for this Colony are Expected to arrive Soon at N. York & were to have been forwarded to me who am appointed the Distributer here, but the unaccountable rage & fury of the Mob is at present So high against Stamp Officers & papers that I do not think it Safe to have the later Sent here as yet

I have therefore to desire of you to protect the Same when they Shall arrive by placing them in the Fort, or otherwise as you shall be Able, until Some further Steps may be taken . . .

my Duty to the King obliges me to give You this trouble

I am Sr
Yr Most Obedt & Most Humbl. Servt.…
On 14 September, Colden responded:
I have yours of the 9th desiring me to take care of the stamp Paper for your Colony when they arrive. In my opinion they may be put more safely & with greater ease on board one of the Men of War at this Place, & more easily conveyed from thence to your Colony, than by placeing them in this Fort, where it is too probable there will be a necessity of placeing those designed for this Colony. This Fort at present is crowded with Men & military Stores. It may be proper for you or some Person for you to be in this place to take care of your Stamp’d Papers, as my hands are too full with the affairs peculiar to this Province. . . .

I am with great Regard, Sir,…
Ingersoll publicly resigned his post as stamp master on 19 September, as described starting here. He therefore told Colden that the papers were really no longer his charge:
by the time that your favour of the 14th reached my house, I had been Compelled in a most Extraordinary manner to declare I would not directly or indirectly intermeddle with the Stampt papers intended for this Colony—at present therefore when all the Springs of Government are broken I can do no more than recommend to you to take the best Care you Can of those Stampt papers for the Crown until you shall have further directions concerning them from the Commissioners of Stamps, or from me

I am
Yr. Most Obedt. Humb Servt.…
When the stamps for Connecticut actually arrived, Gov. Colden silently disregarded that request and had his son David (1733-1784) take up the correspondence on 28 October:
The Gover. Orders me to inform you that Captn. Davis has brought over three Packages of Stamp’d Papers Marked for Connecticut, which are now lodged in the Governor’s House in the Fort. The Gaspey Cutter is now here & is a very fitt vessell for carrying the Papers to you if you can prevail upon Captn. [Archibald] Kennedy to order her to do it. We hear more Stamped Paper is on board three Ships daily expected here.

I am with great Regard, Sir,…
Ingersoll replied directly to the acting governor on 31 October:
Yesterday I received your favour of the 28th advising me of the Safe arrival of part of the Stamp papers intended for this Colony. I immediately advised with the Governour [Thomas Fitch] on the Subject & for Answer have to Say, that as the people of this Colony have with impunity offered the most high handed violence to my person on account of my having undertaken to be Distributor of Stamps And still Continue their threats to me in case I shall intermeddle with the Stamp papers, as also the destruction of the papers themselves, and as the house of Representatives of this Colony have lately voted the Act of Parliament itself unprecedented & unconstitutional whereby the peoples Spirits are kept up, and as we have no Strong hold wherein to place the papers, I Cannot think it Safe for me or the papers or prudent to bring them into the Colony & have therefore only to thank you for your past goodness & to repeat to you my request that you will be So good as to keep & protect the papers that have or shall arrive at N.York until you Shall receive further directions about the Same.

I am Sr
Yr. Most Obedt. Humble Servt.…
I like how the complimentary closes to those letters give an “Alphonse and Gaston” tone to this exchange.

By the time Colden received Ingersoll’s last letter, the situation in New York had become dire. Connecticut’s paper was the least of his troubles.