It was the British government’s first direct tax on the American colonies, and it was wildly unpopular.
From late summer 1765 to early 1766, the Stamp Act provoked large riots against Loyalists in Boston, Providence, New Haven, Portsmouth, New London, Conn., Charleston, Savannah, Annapolis, New York, Albany and Philadelphia.
Newport followed the pattern to a T, with Day Two particularly painful for Martin Howard.
Typically on Day One, the patriots would hang effigies of Loyalists and stamp masters in the middle of town and burn them. On Day Two they’d sack the houses of hated Loyalists and force the stamp master to resign. On Day Three they’d gather to watch the stamp master resign and wait for the Loyalists to sail to England.
Taxation Without Representation
Colonists hated the stamp tax because revenue from it went directly to England. It was supposed to recoup the cost of the Seven Years’ War and to pay for the troops still in the colonies. The Act required all printed material to use stamped paper with a revenue stamp.
It was, they said, ‘taxation without representation.’
In Newport, Martin Howard made the mistake of publishing a pamphlet defending the Stamp Act.
On Aug. 26, 1765, as colonists in Boston were busy sacking Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house, Newport patriots erected a gallows. They carted through the streets effigies of Martin Howard, along with another Loyalist, Dr. Thomas Moffatt, and the stamp master, Augustus Johnson.
The Newport Mercury reported, “Various Labels were affixed to their Breasts, Arms, &c, denoting the Cause of these indignant Representations, and the Persons who were the Subjects of Derision.”
The effigies were then hanged on the gallows, cut down and burned.
Quiet prevailed the next day until evening, when someone accosted the Customs collector, who was walking down Queen Street with three other men, including Martin Howard. They ‘manifested some Resentment on his behalf,’ according to the Sept. 5, 1765 Supplement to the Boston News-Letter.
A Mob Collected
The News-Letter reported what happened next:
An account of this Affair immediately spread among the People, a Mob collected, and marched directly to Mr. Howard’s, and not finding the Gentlemen there, they shattered some of the Windows and went off. But not satisfied with the Mischief they had done, they soon returned to the Charge with redoubled Fury, broke the Windows and Doors all to pieces, damaged the Partitions of the House, and ruined such Furniture as was left in it, the best part being happily removed out between the attacks. —
This being done, the Mob drew off, and proceeded to the hired House that Doctor Moffat lived in, where they committed Outrages equally terrible, in tearing the House to pieces, and demolishing the Furniture. The Cellars of both Houses were ravaged, and the Provisions, Wines, &c., destroyed and lost — From the Doctor’s they went in quest of the Gentleman first aimed at, who had luckily, by that Time, got on board the Cygnet Man of War, which lay at the back of the Fort. After this they surrounded the House of the Stamp Master; but upon promise of his resigning that Office, they offered no Violence to his Habitation.
Martin Howard fled to England. His house was put up for sale on Sept. 9.
Ultimately, all the stamp masters were forced to resign and the tax never took effect. It was repealed in 1766.
Martin Howard got the last laugh – sort of. He was appointed chief justice of North Carolina in 1767. When the Revolution broke out, though, he returned to England.
Photos: ‘Judge Martin Howard, by John Singleton Copley,’ from the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza; ‘Proof sheet of one penny stamps Stamp Act 1765,’ by Board of Stamps; Attack on the Governor’s House, engraver unkown. With thanks to Revolutionary Newport and Journal of the American Revolution.