Ebenezer MacIntosh and The Stamp Act Protests 1765
by Ray McHatton
One of the first direct taxes levied upon the American colonies by the British crown was the Stamp Act. It was passed through Parliament on March 22nd, 1765 to take effect on November1st of that year. This act placed a fee on just about every paper transaction in every day use, such as contracts, newspapers, playing cards, bills of sale, and the list goes on.
Here are a few excerpts from the text of the Stamp Act:
For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be engrossed, written, or printed, any donation, presentation, collation or institution, of or to any benefice, or any writ or instrument for the like purpose, or any register, entry, testimonial, or certificate of any degree taken in any university, academy, college, or seminary of learning within the said colonies and plantations, a stamp duty of two pounds.
And for and every paper called a pamphlet, and upon every newspaper, containing public news or occurrences, which shall be printed, dispersed, and made public, within any of the said colonies and plantations, and for and upon such advertisements as are hereinafter mentioned, the respective duties following (that is to say) : For every such pamphlet and paper contained in a half sheet, or any lesser piece of paper, which shall be so printed, a stamp duty of one half penny for every printed copy thereof.
This tax by the British government was for the purpose of raising funds to defray the cost of the recent French and Indian War, as well as to provide for the protection of colonists from the American Indian tribes beyond what was known as the western frontier. (In the Proclamation of 1763, King George reserved all of the territory west of the Appalachians for the Native Americans.)
The streets of Boston became the scene of some of the earliest reaction to the Stamp Act, and it was not positive. For many years there had existed a large gap betwixt the plain Bostonian blue collar man who may have been employed at the dockyard, as a street vendor, or carpenter and the upper class citizenry. These hardworking folk had tired of hearing themselves referred to as “rabble” by those whose lives seemed to continue unfettered regardless of the economic climate. Stamp Act opponents were well aware that their “betters” depended on them to perpetuate the lives to which they had become so accustomed.
On August 14th, 1765 the likeness of the appointed stamp agent for Massachusetts, Andrew Oliver was hung in effigy in the city’s South End. The large elm used for this “hanging” later took on the moniker of the Liberty Tree. A local Sheriff was ordered to remove the effigy by Lt. Gov. Hutchinson, but was unsuccessful due to opposition by the large crowds of Bostonians on hand. After the fall of darkness 28 year old French and Indian War veteran and now local cobbler Ebenezer MacIntosh led a large crowd incensed by the British crown’s attempt to institute this tax upon them. The mock effigy of Oliver was cut down and brought to the Town House, where legislative meetings were held. Next stop for the mob was Oliver’s office which was summarily destroyed, and the timbers symbolically stamped. The stamp agent’s carriage house and livery was then burned along with the effigy, which was first be-headed. His main house was looted, and any symbol of affluence such as fine china, glassware, and furniture smashed. The wine cellar inventory was “relocated”.
The following day, Andrew Oliver requested and subsequently received permission from his superiors to resign his public office. This gesture proved not enough for MacIntosh, however, who forced Oliver to be paraded through the streets and publicly declare his resignation to the throngs assembled beneath the Liberty Tree.
Governor Bernard demanded that the militia be summoned to quell this growing disturbance. His plan fell through when the Governor was informed that much of the mob was comprised by members of the militia! Eventually, Ebenezer MacIntosh was arrested along with six other protest participants. Although suspected as the mob’s ring leader, MacIntosh and the rest were soon released after threats of more violence were issued. A three hundred pound bounty was offered for the identification of the mob’s leader, but as much as many people could certainly have put such a great sum to good use, it was never claimed. The Stamp Act was repealed in March of 1766. The Sons of Liberty were formed as a result of this Act, having formerly called themselves the Loyal Nine.
Ebenezer MacIntosh was truly a man willing to vocalize his views and act upon them for the good of his peers. This citizen’s response to British rule and the crown’s attempt to keep the colonists “in line” was the type of seed that would soon germinate and ultimately blossom into revolution.