1766 — Thomas Fitch

c.1700–1774, colonial governor of Connecticut, born in Norwalk, Conn. A lawyer, Fitch was an assistant in the colony (1734–35, 1740–50). The assembly elected him deputy governor in 1750, and for the next three years he was returned to that office by the qualified voters. Elected governor in 1754, he remained chief executive until 1766, when he was turned out by the Whigs. Although he had been the chief author of the colony's protest against the Stamp Act, he felt duty-bound to take the oath of office required of governors by the act and was, as a result, consistently defeated for reelection thereafter, first in 1766 by William Pitkin.

Word of the Stamp Act reached [Connecticut and] the colonies in May 1765, six months before the law would take effect. Many colonists were incensed. Why should they continue to pay Britain's war debt when they had already contributed aid and military support?

In Virginia, Patrick Henry, a lawyer and powerful orator, proposed several resolutions condemning the Stamp Act. The document was circulated throughout the colonies. In Boston, Adams and his followers proposed a boycott. Among the group was Paul Revere, a veteran of the French and Indian War and a prominent silversmith and engraver.

Merchants were told to stop buying and selling British goods. Smuggling, already a thriving practice, increased. British manufacturers and workers began feeling the colonists' wrath as stock piled up in British warehouses.

A stamp in the image of a skull and crossbones appeared in colonial newspapers as a symbol of American indignation. Agents who had been appointed to collect the tax were threatened and sometimes beaten.

Adams and his followers were behind nearly every protest. They took rival street gangs from North and South Boston and channeled their anger into the Patriot cause. The Sons of Liberty, as this secret organization was known, soon had chapters throughout the colonies. Its members ordered the stamp collectors to resign or face the consequences, which included tarring and feathering.

The practice was horrible. Boiling tar was poured all over the victim. The gooey, burning mess could cause permanent scars and possibly blindness. Then a pillow was ripped open and the contents scattered over the victim. Finally, he was made to straddle a fence rail, and was carried out of town and dumped into a ditch. Just the threat of tar and feathers was usually enough to get an agent to cooperate.

In August 1765, the office and gracious Boston home of tax agent Andrew Oliver was ransacked. Oliver was hanged in effigy from a towering elm tree in Hanover Square. "What greater joy did New England see/ Than a stampman hanging in a tree," read the note pinned to Oliver's likeness. Named the Liberty Tree, the elm would become the site of many anti-British protests. Later that month the home of Thomas Hutchinson, then the colony's lieutenant governor, was nearly destroyed and most of his belongings stolen, an act of vandalism that left many Bostonians ashamed and that even Adams regretted.

The Daughters of Liberty were organized during this time. Their protests, however, were nonviolent. These colonial women worked to support the boycotts, shunning imported fabrics, for example, and producing their own homespun cloth.

In October delegates from nine of the thirteen colonies met in New York to discuss the Stamp Act. It was the first gathering of colonial representatives to be held without the permission of the British government. The Stamp Act Congress lasted two weeks and produced a declaration of colonial rights and a petition to Parliament demanding repeal of the law.

With the help of Benjamin Franklin, a colonial agent posted in England to keep the colonists informed of parliamentary activity, the Stamp Act was repealed in March 1766. In America there was dancing in the streets and a public observance of King George's twenty-eighth birthday in May.

But Adams saw no reason to celebrate. While repealing the Stamp Act, Parliament had passed the Declaratory Act. Stating that the British government could continue to make laws affecting America, it reasserted England's power over the colonies. The Stamp Act protests united the colonies against British injustice. This would prove valuable, for it would not be long before England again would bring its heavy hand down on America.

— Laurie O'Niel

1766 Bibliography