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, 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.

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