The Stamp Act Riot by Francis Bernard

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Francis Bernard
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The Stamp Act Riot

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This letter, written by the British governor of Massachusetts, Francis Bernard, describes the August 1765 Stamp Act Riot in Boston. This riot was one of the first major outbreaks of violent opposition to imperial taxes in the British North American colonies. Boston and other major American seaports, such as New York and Philadelphia, were the centers of colonists' opposition to British policies. Boston, of course, was the site of the famous Boston Tea Party in the 1770s, which is seen as a precursor to the American Revolution or the American War of Independence.

The Stamp Act of 1765 was passed by the British Parliament in an attempt to pay for debts accumulated during the Seven Years War. England and France had fought a long series of wars for control of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Finally, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), Britain had captured the key French North American stronghold of Quebec. This effectively left Britain in possession of the North American continent. But Britain was left with heavy debts, and wanted to tax the Anglo-American colonists to recoup the costs of the war.

In 1765 the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. The new law implemented a tax on a wide range of items, including legal documents, diplomas, and newspapers. An official stamp would be glued to taxed items to indicate that the tax had been paid.

Colonists, however, were strongly opposed to the new taxes. "No taxation without representation" was their rallying call. At first most opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act was peaceful. But in Boston a small group of artisans and small traders called the Loyal Nine decided to organize a more forceful public demonstration against the Stamp tax.

On August 14, 1765 the Loyal Nine hung effigies of men who were involved in the implementation of the Stamp Act from a tree in Boston. The men hung in effigy were George Grenville, Lord Bute, and Andrew Oliver. Oliver was a Boston merchant who had agreed to accept the role of distributor of stamps in Boston.

The Loyal Nine operated a mock stamp office, handing out stamps to passing traders and farmers coming into town. Later in the day an associate of the Loyal Nine led a march through the town carrying the effigies. At the end of the parade, the crowd burned the effigies. Then some in the crowd attacked and destroyed a building they thought would be used as the stamp office. The mob also attacked the home of Andrew Oliver, smashing windows.

The next day Oliver resigned from his role as stamp distributor. Because of strong opposition in Massachusetts and elsewhere, imperial officials were unable to enforce the Stamp Act in most of the North American colonies. The Stamp Act was ultimately repealed. But in subsequent years, British authorities took a harder line against uncooperative colonists, leading to the Boston Massacre and open warfare between imperial authorities and rebel colonists. Eventually, of course, this led to the end of British colonial rule and the creation of the independent United States of America.

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