Glorious News. Boston, Friday, 11 o'clock, 16th May 1766 ...
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A broadside, dated 16 May 1766, announcing that news of the repeal of the Stamp Act had arrived in Boston.
The Impolitic, Unrighteous, and Unconstitutional Stamp Act
In March 1765 Parliament imposed a new tax on the American colonies requiring legal forms and documents as well as newspapers and pamphlets to be printed on stamped paper. The Stamp Act was not to go into effect until 1 November 1765, but news of the Act was met with massive opposition throughout the colonies. In Boston, a ritualistic riot led by the Sons of Liberty took place on 14 August and a more violent mob destroyed the home of Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson on 26 August. In October, nine colonies sent representatives to New York to fashion a petition for redress to the King—the Stamp Act Congress.
A change of Parliamentary leadership soon after passage of the Stamp Act and the growing concern of British merchants about the disruption of colonial trade caused by the Act led to renewed debates in Parliament. During the winter of 1765-1766 the colonists waited to hear whether, in the face of nearly universal colonial resistance, Parliament would move to enforce or repeal the Act. The Sons of Liberty circulated what news they could gather from colony to colony, but merchant ships bound for America remained in English ports awaiting the outcome of the debate (and whether cargoes would be subject to the tax).
There were premature reports of the repeal of the Stamp Act early in the spring of 1766, but Parliament did not pass legislation until 4 March 1766 (approved by the King two weeks later), and even a very rapid Atlantic crossing (six weeks and two days) did not bring the news to Boston until 16 May. By then the town was on tenterhooks having received contradictory accounts that the "Impolitic, Unrighteous, and Unconstitutional Stamp Act" either would be repealed or enforced—reports that sometimes were published in the same issues of weekly Boston newspapers. When the accurate report of repeal finally did arrive, not just the date but the very hour ("11:00 o’Clock") was recorded in the first public announcement. Boston erupted in spontaneous celebration:
It is impossible to express the Joy the Town is now in, on receiving the above, great, glorious, and important NEWS -- The Bells in all the Churches were immediately set a Ringing, and we hear the Day for a general Rejoicing will be the beginning of the next Week.
"Joy smil'd in every Countenance, Benevolence, Gratitude and Content seemed the Companions of all"
Public demonstrations of joy and relief spread through the colonies, but in few places were celebrations as elaborate as in Boston. Royal Governor Francis Bernard, in a vain attempt to regain the popularity he had lost during the crisis, immediately ordered guns to be fired and bells to be rung (although they apparently already were ringing). The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal for 19 May repeated the news received from England and announced that the Boston Selectmen had declared that 19 May would be given over to public rejoicing. Harbottle Dorr, Jr., a Boston shopkeeper who was an early and enthusiastic member of the Sons of Liberty and systematically indexed references to political affairs in the newspapers he collected, noted 42 references to the Stamp Act in his copy of the 19 May issue of the Boston-Gazette. The following issue of the Gazette (26 May) reported that "Joy smil’d in every Countenance, Benevolence, Gratitude and Content seemed the Companions of all," and detailed the celebrations that had taken place in Boston and surrounding towns on 19 May and almost everywhere as the news spread throughout the countryside.
Incendiary Festivities in Boston and Elsewhere
On the evening of 19 May the public buildings of Boston were illuminated. Governor Bernard hosted guests at the Province House, his official residence, while the patriot leader, John Hancock, entertained "genteel" visitors at his elegant mansion, and also provided a fireworks display and a pipe (a 126-gallon cask) of Madeira for the common folk. The celebration was marked by the "utmost Decency and good order" and there was an amnesty for imprisoned debtors paid for by Boston merchants.
One monument to the repeal of the Stamp Act proved more temporary than intended. In an "Extraordinary" issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, and Boston News-Letter for 22 May 1766, there is a description of an obelisk (also described as a pyramid) designed by Paul Revere that was displayed on Boston Common and illuminated by lamps. The four-sided structure was decorated with emblematic figures, patriotic poetry, and quotations, and armed with fireworks that were discharged at dusk. Intended to be displayed afterwards beneath the nearby Liberty Tree—the gathering place for demonstrations against the "unpolitic" Stamp Act—the obelisk/pyramid was left illuminated but unattended and "took Fire" during the night. Boston might have lost its monument, but celebrants in Hartford, Connecticut, lost their lives. A barrel of carelessly-handled gun powder there exploded, killing or gravely wounding militia men.
Over the next few weeks, each new issue of a Boston newspaper contained additional information about celebrations of repeal from more distant places, or renewed celebrations closer at hand. The King’s birthday, 4 June, was an especially festive anniversary and a Day of Public Thanksgiving was proclaimed for 24 July. These events culminated on the first anniversary of the Stamp Act riot (the well-organized and "orderly" 14 August 1765 riot, rather than the more violent 26 August riot) when the Sons of Liberty drank 14 toasts beneath "the Tree of Liberty," a commemoration that would be repeated in future years. The period of calm that followed was brief: when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, it simultaneously passed a Declaratory Bill that stated that its taxing power in America remained unchecked. New customs duties and taxes (the Townshend Acts) would go into effect in 1767.
Broadsides are single sheets printed on one side that served as public announcements or advertisements from the beginning of printing in America through the early 20th century. Generally posted or read aloud, broadsides were the popular "broadcasts" of their day, bringing news of current events to the public quickly and often disappearing just as quickly. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds more than 10,000 broadsides, an unusually large and valuable collection since the temporary use of broadsides made their survival particularly rare.
Glorious News is an unusual broadside in that it was printed cooperatively for the benefit of the public by Richard and Samuel Draper, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, John Green and Joseph Russell, and Thomas and John Fleet—all enterprising and competitive Boston printers, some of whom were not at all in sympathy with the patriot movement. They advertised that the broadside was available from the offices of all the town newspapers without charge.
J. L. Bell's blog about the start of the American Revolution in Boston presents interesting historical analysis and "unabashed gossip" about the Stamp Act Crisis in Boston.
Brigham, Clarence S. Paul Revere's Engravings. Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1954.
A detailed description and illustration of Paul Revere's engraving of his obelisk is on p. 21-25. This entry with different pagination is available.
The very rare Revere engraving of the obelisk is reproduced at the American Antiquarian Society's The AAS Collection of Paul Revere website.
Dorr, Harbottle. The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.
Resistance to the Stamp Act and the celebration of its repeal can be followed week-by-week through 1765 and 1766 in the online collection of 805 newspaper issues published between 1765 and 1776, collected, indexed, and annotated by Harbottle Dorr, Jr., a Boston merchant and member of the Sons of Liberty.
Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1974.
Morgan, Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.
Prologue to Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764-1766. Ed. by Edmund S. Morgan. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.