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Chapter 16:

How the Stamp officers were Handled in America— administration of Rockingham.

August—September, 1765.

Six weeks and more before the news of the change of
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ministry was received in Boston, and while the passions of the public mind throughout the continent were still rising, Jared Ingersoll, of Connecticut, late agent for that province, now its stamp-master, arrived from England at Boston; and the names of the stamp distributors were published on the eighth of August. But Grenville's craftily devised policy of employing Americans failed from the beginning. ‘It will be as in the West Indies,’ clamored the people; ‘there the negro overseers are the most cruel.’

‘Had you not rather,’ said a friend of Ingersoll, ‘these duties should be collected by your brethren than by foreigners?’ ‘No, vile miscreant! indeed we had not,’ answered Dagget,1 of New Haven. ‘If your father must die, is there no defect in filial duty in becoming his executioner, that the hangman's part of the estate may be retained in the family? If the ruin of your country is decreed, are you free from [309] blame for taking part in the plunder?’ ‘North

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American liberty is dead,’ wrote another, who had a clear view of the issue. ‘She is dead, but happily she has left one son, the child of her bosom, prophetically named Independence,2 now the hope of all when he shall come of age.’ ‘But why wait?’ asked the impatient. ‘Why should any stamp officers be allowed in America at all’ ‘I am clear in this point,’ declared Mayhew,3 ‘that no people are under a religious obligation to be slaves, if they are able to set themselves at liberty.’

‘The Stamp Act,’ it was said universally in Boston, ‘is arbitrary, unconstitutional, and a breach of charter. Let it be of short duration. There are two hundred thousand inhabitants in this province, and by computation about two millions in America. It is too late for us to be dragooned out of our rights. We may refuse submission, or at least the stamp officers will be afraid to stab their country.’4 If every one of them could be forced to resign, the statute which was to execute itself, would perish from the beginning. Spontaneously, the decree seemed to go forth, that Boston should lead the way in the work of compulsion.5

It was already known there, that the king, desirous of changing his ministry, had sent for William Pitt; and the crowd that kindled the bonfire in King-street on the birthday of the Prince of Wales, rent the air with ‘God bless our true British king! Heaven preserve the Prince of Wales! Pitt and liberty for ever!’ And high and low, rich and poor, joined in the chorus, ‘Pitt and liberty!’ [310]

The daybreak of Wednesday, the fourteenth of

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August, saw the effigy of Oliver tricked out with emblems of Bute and Grenville, swinging on the bough of a stately elm, the pride of the neighborhood, known as the Great Tree, standing near what was then the entrance to the town. The pageant had been secretly prepared by Boston mechanics,6 true born Sons of liberty, Benjamin Edes, the printer, Thomas Crafts, the painter; John Smith and Stephen Cleverly, the braziers; and the younger Avery; Thomas Chase, a fiery hater of kings;7 Henry Bass, and Henry Welles. The passers-by stopped to gaze on the grotesque spectacle, and their report collected thousands. Hutchinson, as chief justice, ordered the sheriff to remove the image. ‘We will take them down ourselves at evening,’ said the people.

Bernard summoned his council. ‘The country, whatever may be the consequence,’ said some of them, ‘will never submit to the execution of the Stamp Act.’ The majority spoke against interfering with the people. The day passed, and evening came, and Bernard and Hutchinson were still engaged in impotent altercations with their advisers, when, just after dark, an ‘amazing?’ multitude, moving in the greatest order and following the images borne on a bier, after passing down the main street, marched directly through the old State House and under the council-chamber itself, shouting at the top of their voices: ‘Liberty, Property, and no Stamps.’ Giving three huzzas of defiance, they next, in Kilby-street, demolished a frame which they thought Oliver was building for a Stamp-Office, and with the wooden trophies made a funeral pyre for his effigy in front of his house on Fort Hill. [311]

‘The Stamp Act shall not be executed here,’ ex-

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claimed one who spoke the general sentiment. ‘Death to the man who offers a piece of stamped paper to sell!’ cried others. ‘All the power of Great Britain,’ said a third, “shall not oblige us to submit to the Stamp Act.” ‘We will die,’ declared even the sober-minded, ‘we will die upon the place first.’8 ‘We have sixty thousand fighting-men in this colony alone,’ wrote Mayhew.9 ‘And we will spend our last blood in the cause,’ repeated his townsmen.

Hutchinson directed the colonel of the militia to beat an alarm. ‘My drummers,’ said he, ‘are in the mob.’ With the sheriff, Hutchinson went up to disperse the crowd. ‘Stand by, my boys,’ cried a ringleader; ‘let no man give way;’ and Hutchinson, as he fled, was obliged to run the gauntlet, yet escaping with one or two blows. At eleven, the multitude repaired to the Province House, where Bernard lived, and after three cheers, they dispersed quietly.

‘We have a dismal prospect before us,’ said Hutchinson, the next morning, anticipating tragical events in some of the colonies. ‘The people of Connecticut,’ reported one whose name is not given, ‘have threatened to hang their distributor on the first tree after he enters the colony.’ ‘If Oliver,’ said Bernard, with rueful gravity, ‘had been found last night, he would certainly have been murthered.’ ‘If he does not resign,’ thought many, ‘there will be another riot to-night, and his house will be pulled down about his ears.’ So the considerate self-seeker, [312] with the bitterness of enduring anger and disappointed

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avarice in his heart, seasonably in the day-time, ‘gave it under his own hand,’ that he would not serve as Stamp Officer, while Bernard, deserting his post as guardian of the public peace, hurried trembling to the castle, and could not recover from his fears, though immured within the walls of a fortress. At night,, bonfire on Fort Hill celebrated the people's victory Several hundred men were likewise gathered round the house of Hutchinson. ‘Let us but hear from his own mouth,’ said their leader, ‘that he is not in favor of the Stamp Act, and we will be easy.’ But Hutchinson evaded a reply.

The governor, just before his retreat, ordered a proclamation for the discovery and arrest of the rioters. ‘If discovery were made,’ said Hutchinson, ‘it would not be possible to commit them.’ ‘The prisons,’ said Mayhew, ‘would not hold them many hours. In this town, and within twenty miles of it, ten thousand men would soon be collected together on such an occasion.’ And on the next Lord's Day but one, before a crowded audience, choosing as his text,—‘I would they were even cut off which trouble you; for, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty,’—he preached fervidly in behalf of civil and religious freedom. ‘I hope,’ said he, ‘no persons among ourselves have encouraged the bringing such a burden as the Stamp Act on the country.’

The distrust of the people fell more and more upon Hutchinson.—‘He is a prerogative man,’ they cried. ‘He grasps at all the important offices in the state.’—‘He himself holds four, and his relations six or seven more.’—‘He wiped out of the petition of Massachusetts every spirited expression.’ [313] —‘He prevailed to get a friend of Grenville made

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agent for the colony.’—‘He had a principal hand in projecting the Stamp Act.’—‘He advised Oliver against resigning.’—‘To enforce the acts of trade, he granted writs of assistance, which are no better than general warrants.’—‘He took depositions against the merchants as smugglers.’

Thus the rougher spirits wrought one another into a frenzy. On the twenty-sixth of August, a bonfire in front of the Old State House collected at nightfall a mixed crowd. They first burned all the records of the hated Vice-Admiralty Court; they next ravaged the house of the Comptroller of the Customs; and then, giving Hutchinson and his family barely time to escape, split open his doors with broadaxes, broke his furniture, scattered his plate and ready money, his books and manuscripts, and at daybreak left his house a ruin.

The coming morning, the citizens of Boston, in town-meeting, expressed their ‘detestation of these violent proceedings,’ and pledged themselves to one another to ‘suppress the like disorders for the future.’ ‘I had rather lose my hand,’ said Mayhew, ‘than encourage such outrages;’ and Samuel Adams agreed with him; but they, and nearly all the townsmen, and the whole continent, applauded the proceedings of the fourteenth of August; and the elm, beneath which the people had on that day assembled, was solemnly named ‘the Tree of Liberty.’

The officers of the crown were terror-stricken.10 The Attorney-General did not dare to sleep in his own house, nor two nights together in the same place; [314] and for ten days could not be got sight of. Several

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persons who thought themselves obnoxious, left their houses and removed their goods. Hutchinson fled to the castle, wretched from anxiety and constant agitation of mind. His despair dates from that moment. He saw that England had placed itself towards the colonies in the dilemma, that, ‘if parliament should make concessions, their authority would be lost; if they used external force, affection was alienated for ever.’

‘We are not bound to yield obedience,’ voted the freemen of Providence, echoing the resolves of Virginia. The patriots of Rhode Island, remembering the renowned founders of the colonies, thanked God, that their pleasant homes in the western world abounded in the means of ‘defence.’11 ‘That little turbulent colony,’ reported Gage,12 ‘raised their mob likewise.’ And on the twenty-eighth day of August, after destroying the house and furniture of one Howard, who had written, and of one Moffat, who had spoken in favor of the power of parliament to tax America, they gathered round the house of their stamp officer, and, after a parley, compelled him to resign.

At New-York, the Lieutenant-Governor expressed a wish to the General for aid from the army. ‘You shall have as many troops as you shall demand, and can find quarters for,’ replied Gage; and at the same time, he urged Colden to the severe exertion of the civil power. ‘The public papers,’ he continued, ‘are crammed with treason, and the people excited to revolt.’13 But mean time, McEvers, the stamp officer of New-York resigned; ‘for,’ said he, ‘if I attempt [315] to receive the stamps, my house will be pillaged.’14

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‘McEvers is terrified,’ said Colden to a friend;15 ‘but I shall not be intimidated; and the stamps shall be delivered in proper time;’ intending himself to appoint a stamp distributor.

Yet dismay was spreading on every side among

the crown officers. On the third of September, Coxe, the stamp officer for New Jersey, renounced his place.

On the previous night,16 a party of four or five hundred, at Annapolis, pulled down a house, which Zachariah Hood, the stamp master for Maryland, was repairing, to be occupied, it was believed, for the sale of the stamps; and, shaking with terror, yet not willing to part with the unpopular office, which had promised to be worth many hundreds17 a year, he fled from the colony to lodgings in the fort of New-York, as the only safe asylum.18 The Maryland lawyers were of opinion, that the Stamp Tax must be declared invalid by the courts of Maryland, as a breach of chartered rights. One man published his card, refusing to pay taxes to which he had not consented. All resolved to burn the stamp paper, on its arrival in Annapolis; and the Governor had no power to prevent it, or to suppress any insurrection that might happen.19

On the fifth, Bernard, at Boston, gave way, without dignity or courage. After the resignation of Oliver, it became his duty to take possession of the stamped paper that might arrive. He had adopted measures [316] to increase the garrison at the castle, from fear of the

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people of Boston. He countermanded the levy; and, in an official declaration, he voluntarily set forth to a very full council, ‘the absurdity of such a supposition, as that he should cause the stamped papers to be lodged in the Castle, there to be unpacked and distributed; he had no warrant whatsoever to unpack a bale of them, or to order any one else to do so; and it could not be conceived, that he should be so imprudent as to undertake the business.’

On the ninth of September, a ship entered Boston, bringing news of the change of ministry, which created great joy, and the sanguine expectation of the speedy repeal of the Stamp Act. ‘If Astraea were not fled,’ said Mayhew, ‘there might be grounds for the hope;’ and the colonies, mingling doubt with confidence, persevered in the purpose of making parliament plainly see that the act would prove pernicious to Great Britain itself. George Meserve,20 the stamp distributor for New Hampshire, arriving in the same vessel, resigned his office before stepping on land; and afterwards, on his return to Portsmouth, repeated his resignation on the parade, in the presence of a great multitude.

Connecticut, which from its compact population and wealth, was, in military resources, second only to Massachusetts, loved its charter, of which it dreaded to risk the forfeiture by involving its legislature. The people, therefore, systematically assumed the direction of opinion. Assured of the protection of Fitch, the governor, who at heart was a lukewarm royalist, Ingersoll sought to reason the people into forbearance. [317] ‘The act is so contrived,’ said he, ‘as to

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make it your interest to buy the stamps. When I undertook the office I meant a service to you.’21 ‘Stop advertising your wares,’ he was answered, ‘till they arrive safe at market.’ ‘The two first letters of his name,’ said another, ‘are those of that traitor of old. It was decreed our Saviour should suffer; but was it better for Judas Iscariot to betray him, so that the price of his blood might be saved by his friends?’ The multitude, surrounding his house, demanded if he would resign. ‘I know not,’ he replied, ‘if I have power to resign.’ But he promised, if stamps came to him, to re-ship them, or leave his doors open to the people to do with them as they would.

New Haven, his own town, spoke out with authority in town-meeting. On Tuesday, the seventeenth of September, they elected as one of their representatives Roger Sherman, one of the great men of his time, a farmer's son, who had been educated at the common school, after the custom of New England, and having begun life as a shoemaker by trade, developed high capacity as a jurist and a statesman. They next, by public vote, ‘earnestly desired Ingersoll to resign his stamp office immediately.’ ‘The vote is needless,’ interposed a friend. ‘I shall await,’ said Ingersoll, ‘to see how the General Assembly is inclined.’ But the cautious people were anxious to save their representatives from a direct conflict with the British parliament; and already several hundreds of them, particularly three divisions from Norwich, from New London, and from Windham, and adjacent towns, had [318] come out on horseback, with eight days provisions,

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resolved to scour the colony through, till their stamp officer should be unearthed and reckoned with.

To save his house from the peril of an attack, Ingersoll rode out from New Haven, in company with the governor, intending to place himself under the protection of the legislature, which was to convene on Thursday. Meeting two men on horseback, with newly barked cudgels in their hands, Fitch charged them to go and tell their companions to return back.

‘We look upon this,’ they answered, ‘as the cause of the people; we will not take directions about it from any one;’ and Ingersoll sent word by them that he would meet the concourse at Hartford.

On Thursday morning Ingersoll set forward alone. Two or three miles below Wethersfield, he met an advanced party of four or five; half a mile further, another of thirty; and soon the main body of about five hundred men, farmers and freeholders, all bearing long and large staves, white from being freshly rinded, all on horseback, two abreast, preceded by three trumpeters, and led by two militia officers in full uniform. They opened and received Ingersoll, and then, to the sound of trumpets, rode forward through the alluvial farms that grace the banks of the ‘lovely’ Connecticut, till they came into Wethersfield. There in the broad main street, twenty rods wide, in the midst of neat dwelling-houses, and of a people that owned the soil and themselves held the plough, in the very heart of New England culture, where the old Puritan spirit, as it had existed among ‘the Best’ in the days of Milton, had been preserved with the least admixture, the cavalcade halted, saying, ‘We cannot all hear and see so well in a house; we [319] had as good have the business done here;’ and they

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bade Ingersoll resign. ‘Is it fair,’ said he, ‘that the counties of New London and Windham should dictate to all the rest of the colony?’ ‘It don't signify to parley,’ they answered; ‘here are a great many people waiting, and you must resign.’ ‘I wait,’ said he, ‘to know the sense of the government. Besides, were I to resign, the governor has power to put in another.’ ‘Here,’ said they, ‘is the sense of the government; and no man shall exercise your office.’ ‘What will follow if I won't resign?’ ‘Your fate.’ ‘I can die,’ said Ingersoll, ‘and, perhaps, as well now as at any time; I can die but once.’ ‘Don't irritate the people,’ said the leader, who knew that the selfish man ever clings to life, seeking only to multiply its comforts. Ingersoll asked leave to go to Hartford. ‘You shall not,’ it was answered, ‘go two rods till you have resigned.’ Entering a house with a committee, he sent word to the governor and assembly of his situation; and for three hours kept the people at bay by evasive proposals. ‘Get the matter over before the assembly has time to do any thing about it,’ said several of the members. ‘This delay,’ said others, enraged at his trifling, ‘is his artifice to wheedle the matter along till the assembly shall get ensnared in it.’ ‘I can keep the people off no longer,’ said the leader, coming up from below, with a crowd following in the passage. ‘It is time to submit,’ thought Ingersoll; and saying, ‘the cause is not worth dying for,’ he publicly resigned, making a written declaration, that it was his own free act, without any equivocation or mental reservation. ‘Swear to it,’ said the crowd. But from that he excused himself. ‘Then,’ said they, ‘shout Liberty [320] and Property three times;’ and throwing his hat into
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the air, he shouted, ‘Liberty and Property, Liberty and Property, Liberty and Property;’ on which the multitude gave three loud huzzas.

After dinner, a cavalcade, which by this time had increased to the number of near one thousand men, escorted him along the road, studded with farm houses, from Wethersfield into Hartford, and dismounted within twenty yards of the house where the Assembly was sitting. The main body, led by Durkee,22 with their white cudgels in their hands, marched in ranks, four abreast, to the sound of trumpets, round the court-house, and formed into a semicircle. Ingersoll was then directed to read the paper which he had signed, and he did so, within the hearing and presence of the Legislature.23 This was succeeded by the cry of Liberty and Property, and three cheers; soon after which the people, than whom better men never ‘walked in glory behind the plough,’ having done their work thoroughly, rode home to their several villages.

There the Calvinist ministers nursed the flame of piety and the love of civil freedom. Of that venerable band, none did better service than the American-born Stephen Johnson, the sincere and fervid pastor of the first church of Lyme. ‘Bute, Bedford, and Grenville,’ said he to the people, “will be had in remembrance by Americans as an abomination, execration, and curse.” As the result of all, these measures tend to a very fatal civil war; and France and [321] Spain would make advantage of the crisis. If they

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are pursued, the dear patrimony of our fathers must pass to taskmasters here, or the men of ease and wealth in Great Britain, who have schemed them away for nought. This people cannot bear it till they have lost the memory of their dear fathers, and their affection to their posterity. The Americans will call to mind revolution principles, such as, ‘where there is a right there is a remedy.’ Their uneasiness is not the sudden heat of passion, from the novelty of the tax, but is the more deep rooted, the more attentively it is considered.

‘The advocates for these measures seem to be counsellors of Rehoboam's stamp. Instead of hearing the cries, and redressing the grievances of a most loyal and injured people, they are for adding burden upon burden, till they make the little finger of his present majesty a thousand times heavier than the loins of his good grandfather; and would bind all fast with a military chain. Such counsels ended in Israel in such a revolt and wide breach as could never be healed. That this may end in a similar event is not impossible to the providence of God, nor more improbable to Britons than five years ago this Stamp Tax was to Americans.’24

1 Connecticut Gaz. 9 August.

2 Boston Evening Post, and other papers.

3 Mayhew to Hollis, 8 August.

4 Letter from Boston, 5 August.

5 Gage to Conway, Sept.

6 Gordon, i. 175. J. Adams, II. 178.

7 Affidavit of R. Silvester.

8 Hutchinson's Ms. Narrative. Bernard to Lords of Trade, 15 Aug. 1765.

9 Mayhew to Hollis, August.

10 Hutchinson to R. Jackson, 30 Aug. 1765.

11 Providence Gaz. Ex., 24 August, 1765. Lloyd's Conduct, 90, 91.

12 Gage to Lee, Sept. 1765.

13 Gage to Colden, 31 Aug. 1765.

14 McEvers to Colden, August.

15 Colden to Sir W. Johnson, 31 August.

16 Sharpe to Halifax, 15 Sept.

17 Sharpe to Calvert, 16 Aug., 1765.

18 Petition of Z. Hood to Colden, 16 Sept. 1765. Golden to Conway, 23 Sept.

19 Sharpe to Gage 5 Sept. 1765.

20 Meserve to Conway, 31 July, 1766.

21 J. I., in Conn. Gaz.

22 The name is Durgie in my copy of Hutchinson's Letter to Governor Pownall, October, 1765. Ingersoll, in his account, is careful to name no one. Connecticut Courant, 27 Sept, 1765.

23 Connecticut Courant, No. 483.

24 New London Gaz. No. 90.

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