Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a man of many talents. He was a historian, lawyer, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor of Massachusetts. He was also an ardent loyalist to the British government.
In March 1765 Hutchinson was Lieutenant Governor. That month, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This act was a tax levied on colonists in North America. But calling this specific tax a stamp tax was a misnomer, as it applied to much more than stamps. It was a tax on over 50 different paper products: newspapers, playing cards, contracts, wills, stationary, and more. So, anytime you wanted to write a letter or read the newspaper, you had to pay a tax on each piece of paper.
Why was this tax imposed? From 1756-63 there was a conflict in North America between France and England called the French and Indian War. The French lost but there were still many British troops stationed in the colonies. The threat from the French no longer existed. Yet these soldiers and their officers (who were sometimes well-connected to Parliament) were not paid if they went back to Britain. So the government kept them overseas and thus they could receive an income. And the way to pay these extra soldiers in the North American colonies was through the tax on paper products.
Yet the colonists objected to the stationing of these troops. They believed their colonial militias were capable of handling any problems that may arise.
In addition to this, the government required payment of this tax in British pounds. This may not seem like an issue except that many colonists used their own form of colonial paper money. The British currency was difficult to come by. Also, the tax was steep.
Today, an unfair tax levied might cause one to appeal to their elected representative for relief. Yet, if one remembers the rallying cry of the American Revolution (“No taxation without representation”) it’s clear the colonists had no recourse.
So what is one to do at that time? Well, if you’re in Boston in colonial times, there is one solution that often solves this problem: rioting. Boston, in fact, had more riots than any other city in the North American colonies: 28. And the reasons for rioting were many: anti-Pope sentiment, food shortages, impressment into the British Navy, etc.
On the night of August 26, 1765, colonists decided to show their displeasure for the Stamp Act. They headed to the house of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, located in the North End. The reason for the mob’s fury toward Hutchinson was due to rumors spread around Boston that he was in support of the Act. In reality, he worked to tone down the severity of the language of the bill before it passed as law.
A messenger found Hutchinson at dinner with his family and warned him a mob was coming. Hutchinson and his family made their way to a neighbor’s house as the mob took axes to the front door, and proceeded to ransack the house for hours. They ate the Hutchinson’s dinner, drank their wine, tore apart their fruit trees, stole their silver, and broke down the walls. The only reason the mob stopped was due to the sun coming up the next morning.
And while a few arrests occurred, no one received a trial or conviction for taking part in the destruction of Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion. Why? First, in a town of Boston’s size in 1765 (approximately 16,000), most people knew one another. Few wanted to turn in their neighbor, friend, or family member for taking part in this activity. Second, residents of the town saw the work of these rabble-rousers and didn’t wish to cross them. Third, many despised the Stamp Act, too, so it’s not as though they couldn’t relate to the frustration of the rioters. Finally, Hutchinson was quite wealthy. He had another estate in nearby Milton where he could live while his house was rebuilt; it’s not as though he’s going homeless by this riot.
Ultimately, due to the mass protests throughout the Colonies such as the riot at Hutchinson's mansion, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766.
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