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, 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.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

Here’s a discussion of Capt. Kennedy’s landmark mansion at 1 Broadway.