Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Vol. II
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.


The general pacification of the Indian tribes would have been made the subject of special rejoicing by the colonists, had they not been, at this time, engaged with the mother country in a contest which seemed to portend more danger to their liberties, than the most horrible massacre ever perpetrated by the savage foe.

It was in the fall of 1763, that George Grenville and Lord North first devised the plan of raising a revenue by the sale of stamps to the colonists. Grenville, however, hesitated long before pressing this measure, and it was not until the twenty-second of March of this year that the stamp act passed, and received the signature of the king. The act declared that, thenceforth, no legal instrument should possess any validity in the colonies unless it was stamped by the government.1 Long before the passage of the act, the rumor that such a project was even meditated by the ministry produced a universal outburst of indignation. If parliament wished to raise any sum, said the colonists, let them employ the usual method of writing circular letters to the provinces, requesting supplies according to the ability of each. When thus applied to heretofore, the king had never found them remiss, but on the contrary-as their loyal obedience to these requisitions during the last war, had fully shown-they had always responded with alacrity. Taxation, however, without representation in parliament, was tyranny, to which they

1 "By this act, a ream of bail bonds stamped -was £100; a ream of common printed ones, before, was £15 ; a ream of stamped policies of insurance was £190; of common ones, without, stamps, £20." Bradford, Mass., i, 12.

would not submit. These views were advocated with great power by James Otis in a series of pamphlets; and the public prints teemed with similar discussions, all of which were read with care and reflection. The assemblies of Virginia and New York, especially, by their protests, took firm ground against the passage of the act, but the petition of the former body was not received in England until it was too late, while that of the latter was so intemperate in its expressions against the newly assumed pretensions of the parliament, that the agent, Mr. Charles, was unable to find any member of that body bold enough to present it.

It may therefore readily be seen, that if the mere intimation that such an odious measure was in contemplation, produced so much solicitude, the passage of the act itself was not calculated to allay the growing apprehensions of the people. But it was no sudden ebullition of indignation that first manifested itself. Indeed, so amazed were the colonists at the presumption of parliament, that when the news was first received, their feelings were too deep for utterance. Hutchinson, the chief justice of Massachusetts, mistaking this for submission, hastened to write to the ministry, that "his countrymen were waiting not to consider if they must submit to a stamp duty, but to know when its operation was to commence." He knew not that this calm was but the stillness which preceded the tornado, that was soon to sweep with such desolating fury throughout the land! He was shortly undeceived. Mutterings began to be heard in every province,1 which, in New England and New York, soon grew into acts of violence. On the fourteenth of August, Andrew Oliver, the brother-in-law of the chief justice, who had received the appointment of stamp distributor for Massachusetts, was, together with Lord Bute, suspended in effigy from a tree in one of the streets of Boston. In reply to the command of the chief

1 In this discussion, Canada and Halifax are not included; both of these provinces made no resistance.

justice to take down those figures, the sheriff gave a flat refusal; and the council of the province, likewise, declined to interfere. That same night, the mob, taking the images down, carried them to the newly erected stamp office, which they immediately razed, Oliver's dwelling was next assailed, the windows and furniture demolished, and the effigies burned on Fort Hill. The next day, Oliver resigned but he was obliged, the same evening to make a public recantation at a bonfire which the populace had kindled. But having once given vent to their long pent up exasperation, they did not stop here. Urged on by a popular preacher, Jonathan Mayhew by name, who had taken for his text the previous day, "I would they were even cut off which trouble you," they destroyed, on the twenty-sixth, the records and files of the court of admiralty, and breaking into the house of Hallowel, the comptroller of customs, broke the furniture, and freely drank of the choice wines in the cellar. To their just anger were now added the fumes of liquor, and; proceeding forthwith to the residence of Hutchinson, they tore the paintings from the walls, destroyed the plate, and scattered his large and valuable library of books and manuscripts to the winds; nor did they depart until the interior of the building, even to the partition walls, was completely demolished. Happily, Hutchinson and his innocent family, having received timely notice of their danger, had escaped before the arrival of the rioters-otherwise the crime of murder might have been added to these violent and disgraceful proceedings.

In Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, the popular indignation showed itself in similar demonstrations, though not of so violent a character. The effect, however, in those provinces was the same, each of the stamp distributors being forced to resign to save himself from odium, if not from death.

Meantime, the assembly of Massachusetts resolved, on the sixth of June, that "it was highly expedient, there should be a meeting, as soon as might be, of committees from the houses of representatives or burgesses in the several colonies, to consult, on the present circumstances of the colonies, and the difficulties to which they were and must be reduced, and to consider of a general congress- to he held at New York the first Tuesday of October." To this invitation the colonies heartily responded, and in the convention, held at the time and place designated, they were all represented, except New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The three latter, however, although prevented by their governors, by continued adjournments, from sending delegates, signified by letters their willingness to acquiesce in whatever measures the convention might adopt. So also wrote New Hampshire.1 Lieutenant Governor Colden, who had from the beginning, pronounced the convention unconstitutional and unlawful, likewise endeavored, by successive adjournments, to prevent the assembly of New York from electing delegates. But an assembly that had driven Clinton from his chair, and had successfully fought through so many years against a permanent support, was not to be thus easily foiled; and a committee appointed by them in October, 1764, to correspond with their sister colonies upon recent acts of parliament in relation to trade, now took their seats in the congress as the representatives of the people of New York.

Timothy Ruggles, who had been sent by Bernard, the governor of Massachusetts, to thwart the patriotic efforts of his colleagues, was chosen president of the congress, and John Cotton clerk. No time was lost. Committees were immediately appointed to draft petitions to parliament, having for their burden the stamp act; and after a harmonious session of fourteen days, the convention dissolved, having adopted a declaration of rights, a petition to the king, and a memorial to both houses of parliament -- the latter being drawn by James Otis.

1 Why New Hampshire neglected to send delegates does not appear.

2 This committee were Robert R. Livingston (Justice Livingston), John Cruger, Philip Livingston; William Bayard, and Leonard Lispenard.

As before remarked, the people of New York were among the most bitter opponents of the stamp act. While the riots were going on in Boston, the act itself was reprinted and hawked about the streets of New York city, as "The folly of England, and ruin of America." Secret organizations styling themselves the Sons of Liberty, met to discuss plans of resistance. Warned by the example of his brother appointees, in the neighboring colonies, Mc Evers, the stamp distributor, resigned. General Gage, at the solicitation of Colden, ordered down, in July, from Crown Point, a company of the sixtieth regiment, for the defence of Fort George, the guns of which were remounted, new ordnance ordered, and the magazine replenished with a bountiful supply of ammunition. On the arrival of the first cargo of stamps in the harbor toward the end of October, placards were posted up in the streets and at the Merchant's Coffee House, of which the following is a copy:


"The first man that either distributes or makes use of stampt paper, let him take care of his house, person and effects.



Terrified at signs he could not misunderstand, the lieutenant governor had the stamps conveyed for greater security to the fort; and in great trepidation summoned the members of his privy council for their advice. But notwithstanding he sent repeated messages, and notwithstanding, also, that seven members were in the city, only three, Horsmanden, Smith, and Ried, responded to his call, and they declined giving any advice unless there was a fuller board. In this state of affairs, nothing was left to Colden but to shut himself up in the fort, and await the result. He was not long in suspense.

On the first of November, the day appointed for the stamp act to go into operation, the popular indignation, which had been so long smoldering, burst forth. Early in the evening, the Sons of Liberty, numbering several thousand, appeared before the fort and demanded the stamps. On being refused, they proceeded to the open fields-a portion of which is now the park-and having erected a gibbet, they hung the lieutenant governor in effigy, and suspended by his side a figure, holding in his hand a boot, representing Lord Bute.1 The images after hanging some little time, were taken down and carried, together with the scaffold, in a torch-light procession to the gates of the fort. Having in vain knocked on the gates for admission, the mob broke into Colden's carriage-house, brought forth the family coach, placed inside of it the two effigies, and having again paraded them around the city, returned to within one hundred yards of the fort gate, and hung the figures upon a second gallows erected for that purpose. A bonfire was then made of part of the wooden fence, which, at that time, surrounded the Bowling Green, and the effigies, together with the lieutenant governor's coach, a single horse chair, two sleighs, and several light vehicles were cast into the flames and entirely consumed. While the flames were lighting up the black muzzles of the guns of the fort, another party, having spiked the cannon on the Battery, proceeded to the house of Major James, an artillery officer, who had made himself specially obnoxious by his having aided in putting the fort in a suitable posture for defence, and having burned everything of value,

1 Golden, it is true, in a letter under date of November fifth to Secretary Conway, says that the image suspended by the side of his effigy was intended to represent the devil. In a manuscript letter, however, now before me, written by Alexander Colden, his son, to Sir William Johnson, a month after, and when the facts therefore could be better ascertained, the excitement having partially subsided, the writer says that the second image was designed for Lord Bute. The boot has now significance as a rebus on Lord Bute which before it had not. "His Lordship's [John Stewart, Earl of Bute] established type with the mob was a jackboot, a wretched pun on his Christian name and title."-Maccauley's Essay on The Earl of Chatham.

returned in triumph, bringing with them the colors of the royal artillery regiment.

When McEvers resigned, Colden had sneered; but even he, was now compelled to give way. The day after the riot, he caused a large placard to be posted up, signed by Goldsbrow Banyar, the deputy secretary of the council, stating that he should have nothing more to do with the stamps, but would leave them to Sir Henry Moore Bart, who was then on his way from England to assume the government. This declaration, however, did not satisfy the Sons of Liberty. Through their leader, Isaac Sears, they insisted that the stamped paper should be immediately delivered into their hands, threatening, in case of refusal, to storm the fort where it was deposited. The common council, alarmed at the uncontrollable fury of the mob, and fearing an effusion of blood, added, likewise their solicitations that the stamps might be deposited in the City Hall. In answer to this latter request, the cause of the dispute was delivered up, after considerable negotiation, to the corporation-the board giving a pledge to make good all the stamps that might be lost.

But if the spirit of the mob could not be subdued, it might at least be guided. On the sixth of November, a meeting of the more conservative citizens was called; and Sears, with four others,1 was authorized to correspond with the several colonies upon the new and alarming feature of the prerogative of parliament. The committee thus appointed entered into their work with zeal, the fruits of which soon became apparent. A resolution, emanating from New York and adopted by the other colonies, directed the English merchants to ship no more goods to America, and declared that no more goods coming from England should be sold on commission in the colonies after the first day of January, 1766. Nor did the patriotism of the people end here. The wearing of cloth of British

1 These were John Lamb, Gushom Mott, William Wiley, and Thomas Robinson.

manufacture was dispensed with, coarse homespun garments taking its place. Marriages were no longer performed by licenses, upon which the stamp act had now laid duty, but were solemnized by being proclaimed in church. Everywhere resistance to kingly oppression was the watchword.1

The new governor, Sir Henry Moore Bart., who had been appointed, in June, to succeed General Monckton, arrived in New York the beginning of November, after a tedious passage of ten weeks. When he first landed, he was disposed to assume a haughty tone in relation to the stamp act. The corporation offered him the freedom of the city in a gold box, but he refused to accept it, unless upon stamped paper. The custom house cleared vessels, but the men-of-war ran out their guns and refused to allow them to leave the harbor, unless they produced a certificate from the governor that no stamps were to be had. This the latter declined to give, and the vessels remained at the wharfs. The spectacle, however, of Colden quaking with fear in the fort, and the judicious advice of his council, soon convinced him of the folly of any attempt to carry the act into execution ; and before his first meeting with the assembly, he openly announced that he had suspended his power to execute the stamp act. To still farther appease the people he dismantled the fort, very much to the disgust of the lieutenant governor, who, not having been consulted, retired in chagrin to his country seat at Flushing.2

Owing to the successive adjournments by Colden, the general assembly met, for the first time this year, on the thirteenth of November. Only fourteen members, however,

1 Colden to the lords of trade, Nov. 6, 1765. Colden to Secretary Conway, Oct. 26, 1765. Grahame, manuscript letters; Alexander Colden to Sir William Johnson, Dec. 1766.

2 Manuscript letter; Alexander Colden to Sir William Johnson, 2 Dec. 1765. Sir Henry Moore to Conway 21 Nov. 1765. Colden to Conway, 21 Feb. 1766.

answering to their names, the speaker announced the appointment of Sir Henry Moore to the government, and adjourned the assembly to the nineteenth.

The severest test, perhaps, of public opinion, at this time, to be found in the governor's opening address, which was brief and general, and contained not the slightest allusion to the existing troubles. The answer of the house was equally guarded; each party seeming to be averse to broach a topic that was so unpleasant to the other. But if the assembly was unwilling to allude in their address to that which was now upon every mind, they showed no indispositions to handle it among themselves. Among their first resolutions, was one not only approving the action of the committee in meeting with the congress in October, but tendering them, also, their warmest thanks for the part which they had taken in the deliberations of that body. In connection with this resolution they farther resolved, nemine contradicente, "that for obtaining relief from the operation and execution of the act of parliament called the stamp act, humble petitions be presented to his majesty, the house of lords and the house of commons, as nearly similar to those drawn up by the late congress as the particular circumstances of the colony will admit of." A committee was therefore appointed to draw up the three petitions, which, signed by Wm. Nicoll, the speaker, were forwarded, in the name of the house, to Mr. Charles and John Sargeant, the colony's agents in London.

But the action of the assembly did not keep pace with the public requirements; at least so thought the Sons of Liberty. On the twenty-sixth, a sealed letter was handed by an unknown person to Mr. Lott, clerk of the house, directed "TO MR. LOT, MERCH'T. IN NEW YORK," and ran as follows:

"On receiving you are to read the in closed in the open assembly of this Province New York as you are clark and whare of fail not on your perrel.
(Signed) "FREEDOM."

The enclosed letter was directed " TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OP THE PROVINCE OF NEW YORK, and was in the following words: -

" Gentlemen of the house of "Representatives, you are to Consider what is to be Done first Drawing of as much money from the Lieut. Governor's Sallery as will Repare the fort, § on Spike the Guns on the Battery § the nex a Repeal of the Gunning Act § then there will be a good Militia but not before § also as you are asetting you may consider of the Building Act as it is to take place nex yeare. which it Cannot for there is no supply of Some Sort of materials Required this Law is not Ground on Reasons but thar is a great many Reasons to the Contrary so Gentlemen we desire you will Do what lays in your power for the Good of the public but if you take this ill be not so Conceited as to Say or think that other People know nothing about Government you have made their laws and say they are Right but they are Rong and take a way Leberiy. Oppressions of your make Gentlemen make us Sons of Liberty think you are not for the Public Liberty, this is the General Opinion of the People for this part of Your Conduct.
"1765 "by order "Sign'd, one § all.
" Nov'r. 26

Both of these letters,-which, by the way, bear on their face, unmistakable evidence of their being designedly written in this illiterate manner, probably for the greater disguise,l--were laid before the house by the clerk, who dared not refuse. But the assembly were not disposed to have any such gratuitous advice; nor was their patriotism yet attuned to the same accord with that of the writer. However much, moreover, they might be disposed, themselves, to criticize the unpopular Colden, they did not choose to be instructed by the ironical suggestion in relation to the lieutenant governor's salary and the spiked

1 The entire absence of punctuation, in the same letter with the correct abbreviation of Sign'd and Nov'r., and the correct spelling of the more difficult words, show clearly the marks of design.

guns. They therefore resolved, that the said letters were rebellious, scandalous, and seditious; that they were designed to inflame the minds of the good people of the colony against their representatives; and that an address should be presented to the governor, requesting him to offer a reward of fifty pounds for their author or authors, that they might be brought to "condign punishment;"- pledging themselves, at the same time, to provide the means for defraying the above reward.1

On the third of December, the governor, by Mr. Banyar, sent down a message to the house, in which the latter was informed that by the mutiny act, passed during the last session of parliament, the expense of furnishing the king's troops in America with quarters and other necessaries, wag to be defrayed by the several colonies. In consequence thereof, the Commander-in-chief had demanded that provision should be made for the troops, whether quartered within, or marching through the province; and it was now requested to make provision accordingly.

This request was at this time exceedingly inopportune. It involved a question, which in Lord Loudoun's time--when the country was engaged in a disastrous war, and when therefore there was a seeming necessity for such provision-had been productive of ill feeling, and almost of riots. It may readily be seen, therefore, that when no such necessity existed, and when the public mind was in such an excited state, the assembly were in no mood to comply. The message was accordingly referred to a committee of the whole house, of which Robert R. Livingston was the chairman. On the nineteenth, they reported against it on the following grounds;-that when his majesty's forces were quartered in barracks belonging to the king, they were always furnished with necessaries without any expense to the counties in which they were quartered; and that if any expense was necessary for quartering

1 Journals of the assembly.

troops on their march, and supplying them with what was required, by the act, the house would consider thereof after the expense was incurred.1 Sir Henry Moore was too prudent a man to press the matter farther; and having satisfied his duty to the crown by the formal demand for quarters, he allowed the matter to drop for the present. Numerous acts were passed during this session; among which was one for vesting the stone wall, erected during the war on the north side of Albany for its defense, in the corporation of that city; and another for building a pier in the river to prevent damages by ice. After which the assembly, having drawn up a declaration of rights setting forth that his majesty's subjects were entitled to all the rights and privileges of Englishmen, not having forfeited them by their emigration to America, adjourned, on the twenty-third of December, to the following March.

What were the views of Sir William Johnson upon the question which was now agitating all classes of community ? This query is an interesting one, not only from the prominence of the man, but from the fact that it has always been taken for granted that his sympathies must have been, as a matter of course, upon the side of the crown. In elucidating this point, I think I am justified, after careful investigation, in stating, that when the troubles between the colonies and the mother country first began, so far from giving the ministry an unreserved support, he was decidedly noncommittal. In a letter to the commander-in-chief, under date of September twelfth, he expresses himself upon the topic then uppermost in every mind, to say the least, in a very equivocal manner. "The change of men at home," he writes, in September, to General Gage, "may have produced a change of measures, and the affairs of the colonies in general may have engaged their attention, and will doubtless do so much more, when they hear of the riotous conduct of some of the Americans,

1 Journals of the assembly.

which has proceeded such length as must give us reason to think that any ministry will take notice of it." Again in the same letter: "Although no great part of my landed estate was purchased from the Indians, neither is it equal in its whole extent to what former secretaries for Indian affairs acquired from them, yet it is, perhaps, more improvable than many others ; and, therefore, having a property to lose, I cannot be supposed to think differently from the real interests of America; yet as a lover of the British constitution, I shall retain sentiments agreeable to it, although I should be almost singular in my opinion, and I have great reason to think that the late transactions, and what is daily expected in other colonies, will be productive of dangerous consequences-as I do not enter into their debates, nor suffer myself to be led by the artful constructions of the law. I know you will excuse my freedom in offering my thoughts."' Again in another letter to a friend, he writes. "For my part, I neither wish us here more power than we can make a good use of, or less liberty than we have a right to expect."2 .

The cautious and noncommittal tone of these extracts is apparent. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how one, whose feelings were ever peculiarly sensitive to injustice, and whose life was spent in shielding a persecuted race from oppression, could have been an uninterested spectator of events then occurring. Very many of his warm personal friends in the Mohawk valley, had espoused the cause of the colonies; and the presumption is, that had not his independence been shackled by the honors of the peerage and his obligations to the crown, he would boldly have advocated the side of the people.

1 Manuscript letter; 12 Sept., 1765.

2 In his correspondence at this time occurs also passages, of which the following are fair specimens. "I wish we may always meet with the moderation from the British crown." "I heartily congratulate you on the repeal of the Stamp Act." " The crown must pay for it [i.e. the troubles] all at last." "Unless they alter the Stamp Act, we shall all be -Republicans." Exuno discs.

The Sons of Liberty were still in the ascendant. The last week in November, two hundred of them crossed over to Flushing, and compelled the Maryland stamp distributor, who had fled thither for safety, to sign a resignation of his office. In December, ten boxes of stamps were seized on their arrival in port and consumed in a bonfire. "We are in a shocking situation at present," wrote Alexander Colden to Sir William Johnson, with whom the former was on terms of intimacy, "and God knows how it will end. Its not safe for a person to speak, for there is no knowing friend from foe."

1 Manuscript letter; Alexander Colden to Sir William Johnson, 2d December, 1765.

Thanks to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on the internet.

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