Chapter 5

    Modes of resistance to the operation of the Revenue Laws in America, 1767–1768

    Soon after the opening the Commissioners of the Customs at Boston in November 1767 a series of letters began to be published at Philadelphia called the Farmers letters.

    The first letter was on the conduct of Parliament in suspending the Legislation of New York ‘till that Colony should comply with the billeting Act. In the next he endeavours to shew that the new Duties on Paper, Glass &c. are Unconstitutional. In the third he says the meaning of these letters is to convince the People of [69] the Colonies that they are in the most imminent dangers, and to persuade them immediately, vigorously, and unanimously to exert themselves in the most firm, but most peaceable manner for obtaining relief; and pursues this Subject through a series of twelve letters.

    These letters were written with more temper than any publications that appeared at this time against the measures of Parliament, and had great influence in riveting the new Doctrines in the minds of the people. [70]

    The Principles denying the right of Parliament to tax the Colonies, and asserting their independency were propagated with great success;38 and openly avowed in writings and Speeches: and any one who dared to oppose the popular opinions, was exposed to insult and resentment. And the frenzy of the People was raised to such a height, that a forcible opposition to the execution of the new Laws of Revenue was threatened. [71]

    At this time the ordinary Newspapers teemed with the most seditious and inflammatory pieces and the most licentious publications against particular Characters.

    The heart burnings that were raised against Government, vented themselves on the Servants who were to support the Authority, or execute the Laws.

    Governor Bernard became involved in disputes, and contest, with his Assembly; and he, and the Commissioners of the Customs were constant objects of abuse in the Newspapers. [72]

    Instead of opposing the New Laws by violence as was threatened, a plan of Oeconomy and industry was set on foot. The apparent design of which was to allarm the trading and manufacturing people in Great Britain rather than to answer the ends and purposes pretended.

    The Articles now charged with Duties were to be entirely disused and encouragement was given to manufacture the same among themselves. The Consumption of British [73] Manufactures in general was discountenanced, and a preference given to those of America.39

    The Town of Boston instructed their Representatives to promote a remonstrance from the General Court against the late Laws, and the Merchants entered into an Association not to import any goods from Great Britain for a limited time[,] and a Committee was appointed to correspond with the Merchants in other Provinces, to excite them to adopt similar measures, and they [74] who refused to subscribe were to be discouraged in the most effectual manner.

    Early in 1768, the House of Representatives passed resolves to discourage the Use of foreign Superfluities, and Addressed His Majesty, and wrote to His Secretary of State on the Subject of their present grievances, and transmit[t]ed an Account of their proceedings to the Speaker of every Assembly on the Continent to influence them to Similar measures.

    On the 29th February a [75] most audacious Libel was published in Edes and Gill’s Newpaper on Governor Bernard, which he laid before both Houses of Assembly, and at the General Sessions. The Chief Justice gave a very strong and pointed charge to the Grand Jury in respect to Libels; however, they did not present the publisher of the Libel on the Governor.40

    The letter from the House of Representatives to the Speaker of the Several Houses of Assembly on the Continent, was to [76] communicate their minds and receive the Sentiments of the other houses of Assembly representing the operation of the Revenue Laws, as infringements of their natural and Constitutional Rights, as they were not represented in Parliament; and from their Local circumstances, they never could be equally represented there and consequently not at all. At the same time they submit[t]ed to consideration as further grievances the granting of Salaries to the Judges of the Land, and others, by [77] the Crown, independent of the People. The Act for providing Enumerated Articles for the King’s Troops on their march, and the appointment of a Board of Commissioners of the Customs in America; and the sentiments and complaints in this letter were thrown into their petition to the King.

    In June 1768 the Governor, by directions from the Secretary of State, called upon the House to rescind a resolution of a former House, but they passed a Vote that they would not rescind. Upon which according to the [78] directions he had received, he dissolved the Assembly.41

    As soon as they were apprized of the Orders he had received, they formed a Committee, to prepare a petition to the King to remove the Governor, but for want of proof of the facts alledged in support of divers Articles, it passed off ‘till the next year.42

    In June 1769 the House passed several Articles of Complaint against Governor Bernard, and petitioned His Majesty for his removal from the Government.43

    The Governor went [79] home in August 1769, but could not obtain a Copy of this Complaint ‘till a few days before he sailed from Boston; and when the matter came to an hearing before the King in Council, the Governor fully refuted the Charges as unjust and untrue; and they were in no wise able to support by facts, what they had boldly alledged against him to his Majesty, and the complaint was dismissed to his honor, and their disgrace.44 [80]

    The year 1768 opened with opposition to the Revenue Laws, and combinations not to import Goods from Great Britain.

    The Commissioners of the Customs were receiving frequent Accounts, from different Ports, of resistance to their Officers and abuses of them in the execution of their duty. Of Custom House Boats being burnt, and of goods seized being rescued out of the hands of the Officers; yet no satisfaction for these assaults, or effectual [81] support to the Officers, could be obtained.

    Many of the abuses of the Officers were attended with very cruel Circumstances, such as Strip[p]ing them naked, tarring and feathering them, beating them with Clubs, decrying them through the streets in ignominy, loaded with blows & reproaches, and exposed to cold, and nakedness.45

    In the month of March 1768 Mr. Hancock[,] an eminent Merchant at Boston, most audaciously ran in a Cargoe of Wines into Boston; many people were employed in landing them from the Vessel, and carrying them to [82] the Merchant’s Cellar, but no one dared to appear and give information of their proceedings and the Master, the next day entered his Vessel in ballast.

    Prosecutions were set on foot by the Commissioners against Mr. Hancock, and several others concerned in the fact, which were defeated for want of evidence, though a number of people who were said to have been present at the time, and were sumonsed to give evidence, denied any knowledge of the fact, which they were called upon to support. [83]

    From this time there were frequent disturbances, mobs, and allarms to distress the Commissioners.

    For several Evenings in the month of March a number of people armed with Clubs assembled about the houses of some of the Commissioners, blowing horns, beating drums and making hideous noises, so that the families quit[t]ed their houses, expecting the mob would proceed to violence and on the 18[th] March, the day of the repeal of the Stamp Act, they paraded through the Streets in the evening, making violent crys and noises at the houses of the Governor and some of the Commissioners. [84]

    From the first outrages in the Year 1765 the Governor and Magistrates had been losing their authority over the people.

    As the new doctrines gained ground, many of the Council adopted the popular opinions and stood forth as assertions of the rights of America. And such of that Board as had shewed a disposition to support the authority of Parliament had been left out in the next Annual Election of Councillors, and others returned in their room, [85] whom the Governor had negatived.

    Most of the people of property were averse to the New Laws of Parliament, and no Magistrate would stand forth to support the Officer whose duty it was to carry them into execution. The Mob were ready to be assembled on any occasion, and every Officer who was obnoxious to them was exposed to their resentment without the least probability of receiving any protection. [86]

    There being frequent disturbances in Boston, and the Commissioners of the Customs under continual apprehensions for their safety, as the Governor had often told them he could give them no protection, they wrote to Commodore Hood, Commanding his Majesty’s Ships at Halifax, for assistance and he immediately sent a Schooner, and afterwards the Romney Man of War, of fifty guns, to Boston. [87]

    In May 1768 the Officers of the Customs were resisted in remaining on board a Vessel from London, and at a Town Meeting it was resolved not to let the Governor have the use of Faneuil Hall to entertain his Company on the day of the General Election, if he invited the Commissioners of the Customs to Dinner for that day. And Mr. Hancock, the Major of Cadets, tore off the Seal from his Commission, because the Governor would not promise not to invite the Commissioners to dinner on that day.46 [88]

    On the ninth of June the Sloop Liberty, out of which Mr. Hancock had run the Cargoe of Wines before mentioned, was seized by the Officers of the Customs, on which a great riot ensued. The Officers were grosly abused, and the mob burnt a barge belonging to the Collector, and the Commissioners fled from their dwellings that night, apprehensive for their personal safety.

    The next day, finding the people still outragious, and that they could not execute the Laws but at the peril of their own, and their Officers’ lives, [89] the Commissioners took Shelter on board the Romney Man of War, with their families. and three days afterwards returned from thence into Castle William, in Boston Harbour.

    The Commissioners fitted out the Sloop that had been seized, and condemned, as a Custom House Cruizer, and called her by her original name the Liberty. She continued to cruize awhile, and made some Seizures, but whilst the Master was on Shore at Rhode Island, the people of the town seized him, went on board his Vessel, scut[t]led and burnt her, the Account of which outrage was sent home, but no further enquiry was made into the matter, nor any satisfaction made to Government for the insult.47 [90]