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, September 08, 2021

“Stamp Act Memes” Online Talk on 9 Sept.

On Thursday, 9 September, I’ll deliver the latest version of my online talk “How Americans Fought the Stamp Act with Memes” via the American Revolution Round Table of New Jersey.

For details about that event and how to cadge an invitation, see this description.

This event feels bittersweet because I had the pleasure of speaking to this group in Morristown once and had planned to be there again. I was even building a longer trip around the event with archive and family visits. But “community spread” of the Covid-19 virus has risen again, and we decided that it’s safer to avoid large gatherings.

Speaking of large gatherings, my talk will explore how crowds, with the help of newspaper printers, defined the details of an anti-Stamp Act protest in August 1765, and then repeated that action with variations for months until they made the law a dead letter.

We can see that effect in this 6 September letter from the Philadelphia printer David Hall to his mentor and business partner in London, Benjamin Franklin:
We are all in a Ferment here, as well, as in the other Governments, about the Stamp Law taking, or not taking place.

You, very probably before this can reach, may have heard of Mr. [Andrew] Oliver, the Stamp officier being hanged in Effigy in Boston; a House pulled down, which was supposed to have been erected for the Business of the Stamp Office, and other Damage done him; upon which he resigned and, it is said, wrote home to the Commissioners of the Stamp-Office, letting them know that he could not put the Law in Execution; and that he believed it impracticable for any One else to do it.

Soon after this Mr. [Augustus] Johnston, appointed for Rhode Island; Mr. [James] McEvers for New York, and Mr. [William] Coxe for New Jersey, all gave up their Commissions.

At New-London the Stamp Officer has likewise been hanged in Effigy. And at New-Haven the House of the Officer there, has been beset by a Number of People, who desired to know whether he intended to act in that office, or resign? His Answer, it is said, was, that having accepted the Office in Person he did not think he had Power to resign. They then demanded whether he would deliver the Stamp Materials, as soon as they arrived, to them, in Order to make a Bonfire, or to have his House pulled down? Upon which he promised, that when they Arrived, he would either reship them to be sent back, or that when they were in his House, his Doors should be open, and they might then act as they thought proper, on which they despersed.

Mr. [Jared] Ingersoll has likewise been hanged in Effigy [actually, all those preceding Connecticut events were aimed at Ingersoll], as has Mr. [Zachariah] Hood, the officer for Maryland.

Mr. [George] Mercer, the Officer for Virginia, is not yet Arrived, but the People of that Colony, are much enraged.

Mr. [John] Hughes [of Pennsylvania] has not yet resigned; whether he will, or not, I cannot say, but I understand his Friends are all endeavouring to get him to resign.

In short, there seems to be a general Discontent all over the Continent, with that Law, and many thinking their Liberties and Privileges, as English Men lost, or at least in great Danger, seem Desperate. What the Consequences may be, God only knows; but, from the Temper of the People, at Present, there is the greatest Reason to fear, that the Passing of that Law will be the Occasion of a great Deal of Mischief.
The most awkward part of the news for Franklin was that he had used his influence as a lobbyist to get Coxe, Hughes, and Hood appointed as stamp agents in their respective colonies. The patronage job was supposed to be a pleasant surprise. Instead, those men came under threat, and Hood actually had to decamp for New York.


kip said...

What happened in Charleston? I never see any mention of the Carolinas tax collectors.

J. L. Bell said...

My narrative about the three men appointed to collect the stamp tax in the two Carolinas is here.