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, August 14, 2015

“A Stampman hanging on a Tree”

This is the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first public demonstration against the Stamp Act, which set off a wave of similar protests in the other ports of British North America.

One of the best sources on that event is a letter from Boston merchant John Avery (1739-1806) to his brother-in-law John Collins (1717-1795) of Newport, Rhode Island. A copy of that letter survived and was published in the papers of the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles of Newport, suggesting that Rhode Islanders passed it around as news.
Boston Aug. 19, 1765.


The last Week A[ndrew]. O[liver]. Stamp man was seasonably taken out of this troublesome World by an ignominious Death, he was found early in the Morning of the 14th. Instant hanging on the Trees South End with this Inscription on his Breast in Capital letters, Viz.
Fair Freedoms glorious Cause I meanly Quitted,
Betrayed my Country for the Sake of Pelf,
But ah! at length the Devil hath me outwitted,
Instead of stamping others have hanged my Self.
Upon his right Arm A O at large; on his left these lines, viz.
What greater Joy did ever New England see
Than a Stampman hanging on a Tree
Behind him was a Boot [a reference to Earl Bute] with a Devil peeping his Head out; and there they Hung to the View of the Joyous Multitude, the whole Day or to the Ridicule of all Collours proclaiming Liberty Property & No Stamp, down with all Placemen &c. you would have laughed to have seen two or three hundred little Boys with a Flagg marching in Procession on which was King, Pitt & Liberty for ever, it ought to have been Pitt, Wilks & Liberty. The Governor [Francis Bernard] & Council sent several Times in order to have it cut down by the Common Hangman, alias the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf]. But he could get no Body that dar’d to attempt it.
Avery did not state that he was a leading member of the Loyall Nine, the small group of young businessmen who organized that demonstration.

The 19 August Boston Gazette added this detail:
The Diversion it occasioned among a Multitude of Spectators, who continually assembled the whole Day, is surprising; not a Peasant was suffered to pass down to the Market, let him have what he would for Sale, ’till he had stop’d and got his Articles stamp’d by the Effigy.
That action drove home the message that the Stamp Act affected every transaction (even though it didn’t) and every American. Benjamin Edes, co-publisher of the Boston Gazette, was another member of the Loyall Nine.

TOMORROW: The action after nightfall.

[The picture above, engraved by Paul Revere at the end of 1765, actually shows a later effigy-hanging at Liberty Tree. But it’s the only visual depiction of this spectacle by someone who probably saw it himself.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oy. Tough times.