In April, 1764, Parliament enacted the Plantation Act, better known as the Sugar Act, to end smuggling of sugar. The Act’s purpose was to enforce the 1733 Molasses Act, strengthening customs enforcement of duties on sugar and molasses imported from non-British French and West Indies colonies. The 6 pence per gallon Mollases Act had created a monopoly for British sources with a 6 penny per gallon tax, but was largely unenforceable. Although the 1764 act reduced the tax by half, American colonists nonetheless complained that the tax was excessive. The government of British Prime Minister Grenville was set on maintaining the tax, maintaining that its purpose was to reimburse the British for protecting the colonies in the French and Indian War.
American colonists argued that the British constitution guaranteed that British subjects could not be taxed without their consent. Legislatures in Massachusetts and Rhode Island responded by appointing Committees of Correspondence to coordinate information and organize responses. Although the monopolies that resulted from the Sugar Acts may have benefited rum distillers like John Heard, their ship cargoes were subject to confiscation by British customs commissioners. In 1779, Heard outfitted at least one of his ships for privateering.
The determination of the mother country to impose restrictive regulations upon the commerce of the Colonies and to enforce them by Writs of Assistance caused universal resentment. The culminating affront, however, was the passage of the “Stamp Act” in March, 1765, which required that legal documents and official papers should be written on stamped paper and that stamps should be affixed to printed books and newspapers. The cost of the stamps was insignificant, but the principle involved was subversive of the liberty of the Colonists. The tax had been imposed by Parliament. As the Colonists had no representatives in that body, this was taxation without representation, and such taxation was tyranny. Intense popular excitement followed.
Riots occurred as soon as the names of the stamp distributors were known. In Boston, the house of Lieut. Gov. Hutchinson was wrecked and custom officials were mobbed. A Town meeting assembled in Ipswich on October 2lst to consider the situation. An elaborate document was read and adopted by the assembly of citizens in the form of Instructions to Dr. John Calef, the Town’s Representative in General Court:
“That as our subordination to our Mother Country has its foundation entirely In our Charter, you are strenuously and Decently to maintain that any Measure not Consistent with those Charters, & that Deprives of any Right in them is Neither Consistent with such Subordination Nor Implied in it. When our Fathers Left their Native Country, they came of their Own accord and at their own Expense and took possession of a country they were obliged to Buy or Fight for and to which the Nation had no more Right than the Moon.” “The Distressing and Ruining Measures” lately adopted, it further declared, were destructive of their right of self-government, which the Charter secured and which the mother land had tacitly acknowledged for many years.
When the first of November 1765 arrived, the date set for the operation of the Stamp Act, not a stamp could be bought, and the Act could not be enforced. This odious measure was repealed in 1766, but in 1767, the Townshend Acts, so called, were passed, one of which provided for a tax on wine, glass, tea, gloves, etc, imported into the Province.
Dr. Calef, the Town’s Representative, was a practicing physician and a prominent citizen. During his first year of service in the General Court, the British government demanded damage for the destruction of property by the riot roused by the Stamp Act. The Town instructed him at a Town meeting on August 18, 1766, to use his influence to prevent any money being paid out of the Province Treasury for this purpose, but directed him to “move it to the Court to ask his Excellency our Governor to Recommend it to his People in this Government to Relieve ye Sufferers either by Subscription or Contribution as in Cases of Calamities by Fire.”
In a diary entry, January 1, 1766, John Adams, a frequent visitor to Ipswich, drew parallels to the Ipswich revolt of 1687 and “the Ipswich Instructions” as a basis for resisting the Stamp Act: “The first Settlers of America, were driven by Oppression from the Realm…till at last they offered to make a Contract with the Nation, or the Crown, and to become subject to the Crown upon certain Conditions…which give them a Right to tax themselves…“This is a Principle which has been advanced long ago…Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine right.”
During the winter of 1767-1768, the General Court issued a Circular Letter, which was sent to the other Assemblies, notifying them of the measure adopted by Massachusetts with regard to resistance to the Townshend Acts and suggesting concerted action. Gov. Bernard was instructed by the Colonial Secretary to demand the Massachusetts Assembly to rescind this Letter, and to command the Governors of the other colonies to dissolve their Assemblies if they voted to act with Massachusetts. He acted at once upon these instructions but on June 30th, 1768, the Legislature refused to rescind its vote, seventeen voting in the affirmative, ninety-two in the negative.
An Ipswich Town-meeting on August 11, 1768 met “Pursuant to a request of a Great Number of the Free holders, to try their minds by a Vote, whether they Approve of the Proceedings of the late House of Representatives in not Rescinding etc.”:
- “Voted, that the Town of Ipswich Highly Approve of the Conduct of those Gentlemen of the late House of Representatives, who were for maintaining the Rights and Libertys of their Constituents and were against the Rescinding the resolves of a former House.”
- ” Voted, that the thanks of this Town be given to the Worthy & Much Esteemed Ninety-two Gentlemen of the late Hon. House of Representatives for their firmness & Steadiness in Standing up for and adhering to the Just Rights and Libertys of the Subject when it was Required of them at the Peril of their Political Existence to Rescind the resolves of the then former House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, as later events proved, Dr. Calef voted with the minority, and in the political ferment of the time thus failed to satisfy his constituents. Nine years later a mob would surround his house, and he was forced to flee to British-held territory. On Sept. 19, Calef was replaced by Capt. Michael Farley as Representative. A tanner by trade, and an officer in the militia, this was his first high political office.
Any loyalist informers who reported smuggling to the Custom House officials received summary treatment. As printed in the Essex Gazette, August 9-16. 1768: “A Custom House waiter, guilty of this offence, was taken to Salem Common in Sept. 1768 where his Head, Body and Limbs were covered with warm Tar and then a large quantity of Feathers were applied to all Parts, which by closely adhering to the Tar, Exhibited an odd figure, the Drollery of which can easily be imagined.” He was set in a cart, with a placard, “Informer,” on his breast and back, led into Main Street and escorted out of town by a cheering crowd, who warned him of worse treatment if he returned.
Joshua Vickery, a ship carpenter of Newburyport, declared that on Saturday, Sept. 10, he was seized and carried to the stocks, where he sat from 3 to 5 P. M. “most of the time on the sharpest stone that could be found which put him to extreme pain so that he once fainted.” He was then put in a cart and carried through the town with a rope round his neck, his hands tied behind him, severely pelted with eggs, gravel and stones. He was taken into a dark warehouse, where he was kept over Sunday, hand cuffed and without bedding. Having made the edge of a tar pot serve as a pillow, his hair was torn out of his head when he arose. On Monday morning he was compelled to lead a horse cart about the town, though his persecutors, he affirmed, were well satisfied of his innocence, and with another individual who was stripped naked, tarred and feathered, was committed to jail for breach of the peace.
To deprive the Townshend Acts of all value as a measure for revenue, the merchants of Boston and other large towns bound themselves by agreements not to purchase any of the articles taxed. Ipswich took spirited action. At a Town meeting, held on March 19, 1770, a Committee, previously appointed, reported in the Essex Gazette, Sept. 6-13, 1768. “Taking under consideration the Distrest State of Trade of this Government, and the Whole Continent by Reason of a Late Act of Parliament Imposing Duties on Tea, Glass, etc. …. Voted, that we are Determined to Retrench all Extravagances and that we will to the utmost of our Power & Ability Encourage our own Manufactures and that we will not by ourselves or any for or under us Directly or Indirectly Purchase any Goods of the Persons who have Imported or Continue to Import or any Person or Trader who shall Purchase any Goods of said Importer Contrary to the agreement of the Merchants in Boston and the other Trading Towns in this Government & the neighboring Colonies, Until they make a Publick Retraction or a General Importation Takes Place. And Further taking under Consideration the Excessive Use of Tea, which has been such a bane to this Country. Voted that we will abstain therefrom ourselves & Recommend the Disuse of it in our Families Until all the Revenue Acts are Repealed.”
The march of critical events now became rapid. On March 5, 1770, the clash between the soldiers and citizens, known as the “Boston Massacre” caused the death of several Boston men. In 1772, the “Gaspee,” a British armed vessel, stationed in Narragansett Bay to prevent smuggling, ran aground and was captured and burned by an attacking party from Providence.
In the Essex Gazette, Jan 7-14, 1772, proposals appeared for reprinting by subscription in a handsome volume, the famous “Vindication of the Government of New England Churches” by John Wise, the minister of the Chebacco Parish, first published in 1717. That bold and brilliant book had produced a profound impression by its impassioned advocacy of democracy in the government of the churches. “The end of all good government,” he affirmed, “is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all, and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor and so forth, without injury or abuse to any.”
It’s no wonder that the writer of that sentence was called up from his grave by the men who were getting ready for the Declaration of Independence.
Ipswich Town Meeting resolves, December 28, 1772
At a Town meeting on Dec. 28, 1772, Ipswich made its response to the Boston Protest in a lengthy and elaborate series of Resolutions, which included:
- The right of the Colonists to enjoy and dispose of their property in common with all other British subjects
- The unwarranted assumption of power by Parliament to raise a revenue contrary to the minds of the aggrieved and injured people,
- The expenditure of this revenue in providing salaries, which rendered the Governor and Judges independent of the people
- The neglect of their petitions for redress,
- Establishment of a Committee to correspond with the Committees of other towns.
The Committee, which reported these Resolves, appended their names : Francis Choate Mr. Daniel Rogers Capt. Michael Farley, Deacon Stephen Choate, John Calef Esq., Maj. John Baker, William Storey Esq., Mr. John Crocker, Mr. John Hubbard, Mr William Dodge, Mr. Daniel Noyes, Mr. John Treadwell, Joseph Appleton Esq. The Report was read and put to vote paragraph by paragraph, and unanimously adopted.
Capt Farley, Mr. Daniel Noyes and Major John Baker were chosen the Committee of Correspondence, “to Receive and Communicate all salutary measures that shall be proposed or offered by any other Town.”
Ipswich Town Meeting resolutions, December 23, 1773
On Dec. 16, 1773, the tea, which had been brought into Boston harbor was thrown into the sea. A week later, the Ipswich citizens met in most violent mood, and adopted a series of Resolutions:
- That the Inhabitants of this Town have received real pleasure and Satisfaction from the noble and spirited Exertions of their Brethren of the Town of Boston and other Towns to prevent the landing of the detested Tea lately arrived there from the East India Company subject to a duty for the sole Purpose of Raising a Revenue to Support in Idleness and Extravagance a Set of Miscreants, whose vile emissaries and Understrappers swarm in the Sea Port Towns and by their dissolute Lives and Evil Practices threaten this Land with a Curse more deplorable than Egyptian Darkness.
- That we hold in utter Contempt and Detestation the Persons appointed Consignees …. who have rendered themselves justly Odious to every Person possessed of the least Spark of Ingenuity or Virtue in America.
- That it is the Determination of this Town that no Tea shall be brought into it during the Term aforesaid and if any Person shall have so much Effrontery and Hardiness as to offer any Tea to sale in this Town in Opposition to the general Sentiments of the Inhabitants he shall be deemed an Enemy to the Town and treated as his superlative Meanness and Baseness deserve.
On October 20, 1774, the First Continental Congress adopted fourteen resolutions known as the Articles of Association in response to the “Intolerable Acts” the British government had imposed on the colonies. The articles envisioned a Continental Association with a boycott of any goods produced in Britain, accompanied by an almost Puritanical outlawing of cock fighting and other forms of “diversions and entertainments.” It outlawed the purchasing of expensive clothing, and encouraged reliance on local industry. Article 11 provided that “a committee be chosen in every county, city, and town, by those who are qualified to vote for representatives in the legislature, whose business it shall be attentively to observe the conduct of all persons touching this association.” Any infractions were to be “made publicly known and universally condemned as the enemies of American Liberty; and thenceforth we respectively will break off all dealings with him or her.“
Trade with Britain immediately plummeted, and Parliament responded by passing the New England Restraining Act which prohibited trading with any country other than Britain and their colonies in the West Indies. Colonial ships were banned from Atlantic fisheries.
In January, 1775, towns began to establish minutemen companies with instructions to march at a moment’s notice. In Ipswich, on a 25′ x 50′ plot of land at the easterly end of the Town House on Town Hill, a house was constructed for drilling during inclement weather. Recruits were paid a shilling for half a day of training. On May 29, towns were instructed to send half of their militias to strengthen the lines in Cambridge and Roxbury against British attack. By summer the Congress had voted to raise 10 companies of 50 men each in Essex County. Ipswich requested the Committee of Safety to station troops along the coast from Ipswich to Newburyport to stand guard, “Inasmuch as the Scituation of these Towns are such that the Stock will immediately be put to Pasture, where the said Stock will be exposed, and Great Numbers of Chattle & Seep may be taken by armed Cutters.”
Declaration of Independence
The Summer of 1776 was brightened by one luminous event, the Declaration of Independence, on July 4th, the thought of which had been indignantly disclaimed by the votes of Ipswich not many months before, and by Washington himself and all the patriot leaders, but which had been forced upon the Colonies by the trend of events.
On June 10th, 1776, the men of Ipswich, in Town-meeting assembled, instructed their Representatives, that if the Continental Congress should for the safety of the said Colonies Declare them Independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, they will solemnly engage with their lives and Fortunes to support them in the Measure.
*Sources and suggested reading:
- Thomas Franklin Waters: “The Breach with Great Britain”
- Ipswich town Records 1738 -1779 Box 9 (Town Clerk’s office & online–(takes a very long time to load)
- Ipswich town Records 1738 -1779 Box 9 (on this site, faster)
- The Literary Diary of Eliza Stiles Volume 1, 1769-1776
- Lexington, Worcester, and the American Revolution: Debunking the Myth of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” by Ray Raphael
- Ray Raphael, A People’s History of the American Revolution
- John W. Tyler, Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution