, Newburyport, MA


February 19, 2013

The Wolfe and the Stamp Act riot


The atmosphere was the same in every town; riots sprang up all over. According to the Rev. Appleton, the “uneasiness” was universal. “All as one man rising up in opposition to it, such a union, as was never before witnessed in all the colonies,” so that, in the language of Dr. Holmes, on Nov. 1, when the act was to take effect, not a sheet of stamped paper was to be had throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania and the two Carolinas (Coffin). But Newburyport would overshadow even Beantown’s August revolt!

On Sept. 25, men were summoned to a meeting at the Wolfe to commiserate a stirring. A tavern had the proper ingredients to ease the “Greate Uneasyness and Tumult on Occasion of the Stamp Act.” Spirits fired to scorch a tax collector as well as the pockets of Dr. Joseph Stanwood. Stanwood, targeted as the main instigator, delegated a posse to storm the streets and stalk locals with the issue at hand: Stamp or no Stamp.

Recalling the infamous evening, Joshua Coffin wrote, “[the] question was put to another stranger, who replied, with a sagacity worthy of a vicar of Bray, or a Talleyrand, ‘I am as you are.’ He was immediately cheered and applauded, as a true son of liberty, and permitted to depart in peace, wondering, no doubt, at his own sudden popularity (”A Sketch of History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury”). However, poor John Boardman, selected for the post of stamp distributor, fell victim to the protest. He was hung in effigy from a tree dubbed “The Liberty Elm” located in Jonathan Greenleaf’s yard. Ten tar barrels surrounded him as his image was snipped and dropped into the flames to burn.

The next morning, when Davenport tallied up the bar tab, he must have held his breath as he handed over a bill for 59 pounds, 17 shillings and three pence to S D Co. This list included morning brew and vittles consumed after the all-night bender. A very amusing article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1876 estimated a gallon of punch for each partaker who kept his spirits up by pouring spirits down. The “uneasiness” now haunted Davenport as he attempted to collect — 85 percent was put on credit — 11 pounds from Captain Robud, Richard Farrow and one Celeby.

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