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, May 13, 2016

The “young Newenglander” and the Stamp Act

On 21 Nov 1765, the Halifax Gazette ran an item suggesting that the people of Nova Scotia opposed the Stamp Act, which had taken effect that month.

According to Isaiah Thomas’s History of Printing in America (1810):
This paragraph gave great offence to the officers of government, who called [printer Anthony] Henry to account for publishing what they termed sedition. Henry had not so much as seen the Gazette in which the offensive article had appeared; consequently he pleaded ignorance, and in answer to their interrogation informed them that the paper was, in his absence, conducted by his journeyman. He was reprimanded and admonished that he would be deprived of the work of government, should he in future suffer anything of the kind to appear in the Gazette.
Most of Henry’s business consisted of jobs for the provincial government, so losing that contract was a serious threat. But he didn’t bring his journeyman under control.
It was not long before Henry was again sent for on account of another offence of a similar nature; however he escaped the consequences he might have apprehended, by assuring the officers of government that he had been confined by sickness; and he apologized in a satisfactory manner for the appearance of the obnoxious publication. But his journeyman was summoned to appear before the Secretary of the Province; to whose office he accordingly went.
Now here we run into a problem knowing exactly what happened because the only account comes from Isaiah Thomas’s book, and the young journeyman causing trouble was Isaiah Thomas himself. Writing in Worcester more than forty years later, with those Halifax men distant and dead, he could tilt the story as he remembered it or wanted it remembered without fear of contradiction.

In this case, Thomas left out a pertinent fact about the royal secretary of Nova Scotia, Richard Bulkeley. That army veteran was also the major backer of the Halifax Gazette and for many years had overseen its news coverage. Bulkeley didn’t print the paper, but he had a legitimate interest in what appeared in it. (If a government official overseeing a newspaper seems like a conflict of interest, it was, but that was how most of Boston’s newspapers got launched in the early 1700s, too.)

Thus, when Bulkeley summoned Thomas to his office, he was both a government official and the young printer’s boss. But in his history of printing Thomas chose to present himself as up against royal authority alone:
Thomas was probably not known to Mr. Secretary, who sternly demanded of him what he wanted.

A.—Nothing, sir.

Q.—Why came you here?

A.—Because I was sent for.

Q.—What is your name?

A.—Isaiah Thomas.

Q.—Are you the young Newenglander who prints for Henry?

A.—Yes, sir.

Q.—How dare you publish in the Gazette that the people in Nova Scotia are displeased with the Stamp Act?

A.—I thought it was true.

Sec.—You have no right to think so. If you publish anything more of such stuff you will be punished. You may go, but remember you are not in New England.

A.—I will, sir.
Thomas still opposed to the Stamp Act. He just had to find other ways of expressing that opposition.

COMING UP: The death of liberty in America.

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