American Slavery and American Freedom at Princeton University

Tree at princeton

Samuel Finley planted this sycamore after the 1766 repeal of the Stamp Act

As some of you know, I was at Princeton University last week for the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History summer seminar on colonial America.

Each year the teachers take a tour of colonial-era Princeton.  One of our stops is the Maclean House (aka The President’s House), the home of the earliest presidents of the College of New Jersey at Princeton.  Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and several others lived here.

McLean House

The President’s House at Princeton University: a view from Nassau Street

According to Princeton lore, Samuel Finley, the president of the college, planted two sycamore trees in the front yard of the house to commemorate the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766.  They still stand today. (See pics above).

Did Finley’s slaves plant these trees?

Here is a 1764 sketch of the campus with Nassau Hall on the left and the president’s house on the right:

Nassau 18th

In May 2019, the Princeton & Slavery Project complicated the story of this house and its relationship to American liberty. Visitors will now get a better glimpse of the close relationship between slavery and freedom at Princeton by viewing this plaque:

Plaque at Princeton

Plaque placed at the President’s House by the Princeton & Slavery Project in May 2019

plaque-2

President’s House with the plaque

 

The Most Influential Act of Protest in History?

Rosa
The Atlantic
asks a “big question“: “What was the most influential act of protest in history?”  The magazine have asked historians and others to answer this question.  Here are some of the answers:

The Stamp Act (This was Gordon Wood)

Pakistan’s 1930 “Army of Peace”

Randy Kehler’s protest against the Vietnam War

Rosa Parks refusal to move to the back of the bus

The Newburgh Conspiracy

The 1980s U.K. miner’s strike

How would you answer this question?  You can send your answer to The Atlantic here

 

On the Importance of the Stamp Act Crisis

Stampe Act RepealThe new issue of Common-Place is here and it is featuring a very informative forum on the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act.  The forum features Danielle Skeehan, Benjamin Carp, Molly Perry, William Huntting Howell, and Eliga Gould.

Here is the introduction to the forum:

Ask the Author typically features an interview with the author of a newly published work. However, because this fall marks the 250th anniversary of the protests against the Stamp Act in Britain’s North American colonies, we would like to do something a little different. Rather than profile a new book, we offer instead a reexamination of a classic work: The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, by Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan, first published in 1953. Ask the Author invited a group of distinguished scholars of Revolutionary America to participate in a forum on the continuing importance of The Stamp Act Crisis and where study of the Stamp Act crisis may move in the future.

The Stamp Act and Marriage

Check out J.L. Bell’s fascinating post at Boston 1775 about how colonists in Massachusetts married earlier than originally intended in order to avoid paying for a ten shilling stamp on their marriage certificates.  Another consequence of the Stamp Act.


Here is a taste:

…That meant that, once the law went into effect on 1 Nov 1765, every couple in Massachusetts who wanted to be legally married was supposed to pay an extra ten shillings.

By autumn, however, people were opposed to paying the Stamp Tax not just to save money but also to avoid cooperating with what they saw as an unconstitutional imposition on the province’s self-government.

The Boston Gazette of 14 Oct 1765 reported that one result was couples hurrying to marry before the law took effect the next month:


We hear that Numbers of young Persons in the Country are joining in Wedlock, earlier than they intended, supposing that after the 1st of next Month, it would be difficult to have the Ceremony performed without paying dearly for stamping:—

No less than 22 Couple were published on Sunday last Week atMarblehead, intending Marriage on the same Account.

The Stamp Act Went Into Effect 250 Years Ago Yesterday.

We have been trying to keep the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home up to speed with some of the best stuff out there on the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act.  See our recent posts here and here.  I have actually been working on some stuff related to the Stamp Act in New Jersey.  Stay tuned.

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 is providing the best coverage on the Internet related to this anniversary. He offers a day-by-day and blow-by-blow account of the events taking place in Boston during this period. For example, see yesterday’s post on Bostonians hanging George Grenville and John Huske in effigy.

As Joseph Adleman reminds us at The Junto, the Stamp Act went into effect in British North America on November 2, 1765.  Here is a taste of his piece on the sense of uncertainty that the colonists faced during the crisis.

With the anniversary of the effective date (November 1) now upon us, however, I think it’s important to reflect on one element of the Stamp Act crisis that we can often too easily overlook: uncertainty. That is, on November 1, uncertainty hung like a cloud over the colonies where protesters had attempted to (usually successfully) nullify the Act. Printers did not know whether they could continue to publish their newspapers, and if they did, whether they would come under sanction by the British government. They undertook a range of solutions to that problem, from shutting their presses down entirely to printing anonymously (in Boston, they thumbed their noses at Parliament and continued to put their names on the mastheads and colophons). Courts did not know whether they could legally operate with unstamped documents—even in Massachusetts, where opposition was strongest. Many shut down for the winter of 1765 and spring of 1766.

Everywhere, therefore, colonists were uncertain, because even if they had thwarted the enforcement of the Act, it was still in effect, and legally each printer who published, each merchant and lawyer who did business, was subject to a penalty of fines or imprisonment for acting without stamps. Even the staunchest foe of the Stamp Act, in other words, had no idea whether the nullification would stick, or whether the British ministry, acting through its governors and officers in the colonies, would be able to enforce the law.

Capturing that uncertainty is a difficult challenge for historians: we know how the story ends. And to make matters worse, the very nature of the Stamp Act as a tax on printed matter means that our sources change on November 1. The decisions that printers made—to publish or not, to use their names or not—have enormous implications for how we study the Stamp Act.[1] Through the end of October, we have a plentiful collection of printed accounts detailing the protests in each port city, the declarations forced upon stamp officers, the legal arguments of political elites, and the actions of governors and others who thought the law must be enforced. After November 1, we lose contact with some ports entirely; printers in both Annapolis and Charleston completely shut their presses for six months, for example. In other places, we must rely on bibliographers and others would can trace the anonymously printed sheets titled “No Stamped Paper to be Had” to a specific printing office. The story moves into manuscripts, letters and other notes, and constricts to the cities that continued printing.

Read the entire post here.

Boston 1775 on the End of the Stamp Act Congress

This month marks the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act Congress, a New York meeting of representatives from the British-American colonies to discuss the best way to resist the Stamp Act of 1765.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell has been guiding us through the events of this nearly three-week Congress, which began on October 7, 1765.  

For those of you interested in New Jersey history, here is Bell on one thing that happened on October 24, 1765:

By 24 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress had revised and approved its three petitions to different parts of the British government, as described a couple of days back.

But delegate Robert Ogden(1716-1787) of New Jersey argued that the congress shouldn’t send those documents to London. Rather, he said, each delegation should bring them back to their colonial legislature for their colleagues to amend, approve, and then send across the Atlantic. Which wouldn’t really present a united front against the Stamp Act.

As speaker of the New Jersey house, Ogden had at first been reluctant to authorize any participation in the congress at all. Apparently under pressure from colleagues, he had presided over a special meeting to choose delegates without the authorization of Gov. William Franklin. When he put himself on the list, he probably hoped to steer the process.

Ogden’s late suggestion that the congress lacked legitimacy on its own made people accuse him of foot-dragging. By 2 November, Robert R. Livingston of New York wrote, the New Jersey speaker was “burnt in Effigy in almost all the Towns of East Jersey.” Ogden would resign his legislative seat by the end of that month.

The other delegates stuck with their original plan to send the petitions to London directly. They also voted to recommend “to the several colonies to appoint special agents for soliciting relief from their present grievances, and to unite their utmost interest and endeavors for that purpose”—in other words, a joint lobbying effort. Both those actions were tentative steps toward continental unity.

Today is the 250th Anniversary of the Convening of the Stamp Act Congress

Federal Hall, New York, circa 1790

On October 7, 1765 the Stamp Act Congress convened in the New York City building now known as Federal Hall.  You can read more about the Congress here or pick up a copy of Edmund and Helen Morgan’s The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell discusses the decision of Massachusetts to send delegates to the Congress.  Here is a taste of his post:


Royal governors had done their best to stymie legislatures’ plans to participate in the congress, mostly by declining to convene those legislatures in time to choose delegates.

As a result, in Delaware, New York, and New Jersey legislative leaders chose delegates through committees or in meetings held without the governors’ approval. Other colonies, including the oldest and most populous, Virginia, couldn’t finagle a way to send anyone. Out of fourteen colonial legislatures invited (including Nova Scotia), only nine had representatives at the congress.

Massachusetts was one of those nine, but royal governor Francis Bernardwas confident that he had things under control, as he reported to the Board of Trade in London on 8 July 1765:

It was impossible to oppose this Measure [for the congress] to any good purpose: and therefore the friends of Government took the lead in it, & have kept it in their hands; in pursuance of which, of the Committee appointed by this house to meet the other Committees at New York on the first of Octr. next, Two of the three are fast friends to Government & prudent & discreet men, such as I am assured will never consent to any undutiful or improper applications to the Government of great Britain. It is the general Opinion that nothing will be done in consequence of this intended Congress: but I hope I may promise myself that this province will act no indecent part therein.

The three Massachusetts delegates were all members of the committee that had recommended proposing the congress: