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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story

Walter B. Norris

published by
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p136  Chapter IX

Stamp Act Riots
and the Peggy Stewart Tea Party

In all the colonies before the Revolution disputes between the Governor and the popular assemblies were common, and their existence in Maryland occasions no special comment. But here the Governor was appointed by the Proprietary and was obliged to pursue toward the representatives of the people the selfish and narrow-minded policies which he prescribed so frequently. The habit of opposition was therefore deeply ingrained; a typical case was the difficulties Governor Sharpe encountered in securing grants of money from the Colonial treasury to protect the western frontier from the very real danger of Indian and French attack. The Assembly voted the money but imposed the condition that the lands of the Proprietary should be taxed like other property. But this Lord Baltimore maintained was illegal, since the Assembly years before had, in return for certain concessions, exempted  p137 these lands from such taxes. He therefore stubbornly refused to allow the Governor to sign the bill, and little money was secured for defense.

So stupid was this attitude that even Governor Sharpe in his private correspondence deprecated the very action he was obliged to take, and the natural result was to increase the strength of the popular, or country, party. To the "Court Party" adhered the office holders, the clergy, and many of the larger merchants, while the popular party was distinguished by the number of lawyers who directed its activities and by the support of the smaller land holders. To it also belonged the chief Catholic land-owners, since now that the Baltimore family had become Protestant — a change that occurred in 1715 — they found themselves discriminated against by the aristocratic party and subjected to double taxation when money was urgently needed. Their chief hopes for redress seemed to them to lie in the more democratic group, at least in the party not then in power.

Although the British Government tried to punish the colonials for their niggardly support  p138 of the French wars by quartering at one time five companies of troops in Annapolis, the first real note of Revolutionary feeling was struck when the Stamp Act was passed in 1765. Probably at no time later were the Americans so united in opposition to Parliament and the Ministry. Governor Sharpe wrote home:

"What lengths the people, now they have once begun, may go, is not easy to say, but as the inhabitants of all the colonies with regard to Stamp Act Law seem to act as it were in concert, it will not I think be possible without a considerable military force in each colony to let it have its effect."

In Annapolis the action in concert was a vote by both houses of the Legislature to appropriate money to send delegates to New York to a congress which should frame a common protest from all the colonies. But popular feeling did not stop at this measure. On August 27th when Annapolitans heard of the appointment of Zachariah Hood, a merchant of the town, as distributor of stamped paper, a mob paraded through the streets with an effigy of Hood riding in a cart like a felon to the gallows and holding  p139 several sheets of the obnoxious stamped paper before its face. With bells tolling, the crowd proceeded to the town whipping-post and pillory and gave the dummy figure a lashing. They then hung it on the gallows and burned it over a lighted tar barrel.

When Hood, who was on his way from London, arrived, an angry mob tried to prevent his landing, and one member of the crowd, Thomas McNeir, had his thigh broken in the scuffle — the first American, it is said, injured in the patriot cause. A little later a crowd of three or four hundred assembled and pulled down a building where Hood intended to store the goods he brought back and perhaps the stamped paper. All this frightened Hood so much that he tried to resign his commission and when Governor Sharpe would not accept it fled to New York.

But the Sons of Liberty, an organization of the patriots, even here pursued him. Finding him in a village on Long Island, they gathered about the house and demanded that he sign an abject resignation and apology and confirm it by oath before a magistrate. After several hours of delay, Hood gave in to the New Yorkers, and  p140 escorted by nearly a hundred patriots proceeded to Flushing, where before a magistrate he attested the genuineness of his resignation. His signed declaration stated that he resigned "with the utmost cheerfulness and willingness." Later he returned to Annapolis and was not molested in re‑establishing his business. Compensation was even voted to the owner of the house destroyed and to the mechanic whose tools there had disappeared.

As the printers and stationers expected their business to be ruined by the refusal of the people to buy stamped paper, they were loudest in their opposition. The Maryland Gazette appeared in deep mourning and announced that it would cease publication before it would submit. This was the general resolution, and even the judges of the courts and the officials of the Land Office, upon the demand of the Sons of Liberty, decided to carry on their work without obeying the law. When, on April 5th of the next year, the news came of the repeal of the Act, there was a general celebration.

Probably the most powerful and influential agitation against the Stamp Act came from  p141 Daniel Dulany, the younger, an eminent lawyer closely associated with the Court Party and at this very time Secretary of the Province and a member of the Governor's Council. His pamphlet, "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies for the Purpose of Raising a Revenue by Act of Parliament," was a thoroughly scholarly and legal argument against the very foundations of the Stamp Act and the later right of taxation which Parliament asserted.

The basic contention of the pamphlet — the most noteworthy product of the Annapolis press — was that while Parliament and the Crown might impose restrictions on the trade of the colonies with the mother country, other colonies, or foreign nations, and might even tax such transactions, any internal taxation except that imposed by the colonial Assemblies was contrary to British Constitutional law and the special charters granted the various colonies. The pamphlet was also published and read in England. Pitt exhibited the pamphlet in the House of Commons in his denunciation of the Act and incorporated many of its arguments in  p142 his speeches. So grateful were the Marylanders for Pitt's assistance that when the news of repeal came the Assembly voted to erect a marble statue of their English champion and to place a portrait of Lord Camden, who had been their defender in the House of Lords, in the provincial court room. It is sad to relate that these resolutions were, however, never executed.

When in 1767 the Townshend Acts were passed, the flame of opposition rose anew. Dickinson's "Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer" were reprinted in the Gazette, and the public, more sensitive than ever to any direct taxation, again resolved to nullify the hated measure. In 1768 representatives of the Colonies met in Boston and organized a non‑importation movement. By 1769 Maryland had joined the association and even the merchants in Annapolis who would be most affected were foremost in consolidating sentiment against bringing in goods with the tax. Committees for the various counties were appointed to see that no ship came in with goods that were to be boycotted. In the case of the "Good Intent" in 1770, the Committee for Anne Arundel decided that the cargo must go back or  p143 at least not be landed. Governor Eden protested, and asserted that to send the brig back would make it "liable to be seized in the first British port she enters for carrying back Indian goods and other things contrary to the conditions of the bonds given on shipping them; liable also to action on every bill of lading given by the captain, who could not act otherwise than he has done any more than the merchants themselves."

As these events furnished the bulk of the argument by which the patriots of 1775 were to support their cause, so a minor dispute between the Assembly and the Governor over the right to fix the fees of the various colonial officials, especially in the courts and the Land Office, brought forth the men who were to be the chief patriot leaders. This time Daniel Dulany, the author of the "Considerations," took the side of the Governor while Charles Carroll of Carrollton for the first time appeared as a champion of the people. In the Gazette there appeared a dialogue between "First Citizen" and "Second Citizen" in which the arguments and sincerity of the popular party were impugned. Carroll immediately wrote a reply and assumed  p144 the designation, "First Citizen," which had been given his side. Thereupon, Dulany, who seems well known as the author of the original dialogue, came to the defense of his party under the name of "Antilon," probably a Spanish word for an astringent plaster which draws the poison from a wound.

The debate shows the high level of legal and literary discussion then in vogue among the educated men of the time. To the modern mind it is too subtle, too personal, and too long drawn out to be effective or interesting. Latin and legal quotations abound; Dulany taunts his opponent with being a citizen without a vote — a reference to Carroll's disfranchisement as a Catholic — and Carroll retorts by denouncing Dulany's lucrative connections and offices. The local political result was the election in May, 1773, of two patriot representatives from Annapolis, William Paca and Matthias Hammond, and the defeat of the candidate of the Court Party, Anthony Stewart, the later victim of popular wrath in the controversy over tea. And in a controversy over the payment of taxes for the benefit of the Established Church, which was  p145 another feature of this controversy, Samuel Chase also showed himself as a prominent agitator. Thus the chief leaders of two years later were foreshadowed.

Before the end of 1773, however, the attention of the people was turned from local to more general matters. On account of the non‑importation agreements, imperfectly observed as they were, there had been a heavy reduction in imports, and a surplus stock of tea accumulating in England was embarrassing to the East India Company. The effort to dispose of this tea in 1773 and 1774 in America at prices lower than were asked in England but with the obnoxious tax included started a train of events which led straight to the Revolution.

In Boston, on the 28th of November, 1773, the Boston Tea Party occurred. When the next March Parliament met it passed the Boston Port Bill in retaliation and closed the port to commerce, all soon followed by other punitive measures. This quickly aroused the other colonies to resolutions of sympathy and to organizations for the relief of Boston. Writing from Annapolitan in May, 1774, Eddis, loyalist though  p146 he is, says: "All America is in a flame: I hear strange language every day. The colonists are ripe for any measure that will tend to the preservation of what they call their natural liberty," and later, "The spirit of opposition to ministerial measures appears to blaze steadily and equally in every part of British America and unless some speedy alteration takes place in the political system, the consequences must inevitably be dreadful."

On the 25th of May an Annapolis meeting adopted resolutions of sympathy with Boston and appointed a committee of correspondence to act with other parts of the colony and with other colonies. On the 4th of June the inhabitants of Anne Arundel met at Annapolis and adopted a non‑importation agreement. They even urged lawyers not to conduct suits against colonists for debts unpaid because of this, but there was considerable opposition to this particular provision.

During this summer, while Governor Eden, who had succeeded Sharpe in 1769, was absent in England, the real independence of Maryland may be said to have begun. The committees  p147 which saw to it that the non‑importation agreement was observed gradually took over the supervision of other matters in the colony. They even later directed the forming of a colonial militia and the care of the munitions of war then on hand and passed resolutions in regard to the work of courts and record offices which were obeyed as if laws. Governor Eden returned in November and remained in Annapolis till 1776, but, though he occupied the Governor's Mansion, he had hardly any influence over events. As Eddis wrote his friend in England, "Government is now almost totally annihilated, and power transferred to the multitude."

While the Governor was still absent, in October, 1774, occurred the Peggy Stewart Tea Party, as the affair is now named by patriotic Marylanders, who often feel some resentment at the average American's familiarity with the Boston Tea Party and his total ignorance of what to them seems a finer exhibition of American spirit in Annapolis less than a year later. In Boston there was secrecy and disguise and a mere dumping of the tea overboard; in Annapolis the disposition of the tea was discussed and decided  p148 openly in popular assembly, and the owners of the tea and of the vessel in which it had arrived were persuaded to apologize for their unpatriotic acts and destroy in one spectacular conflagration both vessel and detested cargo.

On the 14th of May, 1774, Messrs. Williams & Company, merchants of Annapolis, had ordered from London 2320 lbs. of tea. This was before the non‑importation agreements had been put into force. On July 23d the tea left London in the brig Peggy Stewart, owned by Anthony Stewart and named for his daughter. In the summer the agitation against importation became stronger and this produced a situation that presaged trouble. This was realized as soon as the brig arrived in the harbor of Annapolis on the 14th of October. Handbills were immediately circulated calling for a meeting of the citizens of the city and county on the following Wednesday to determine what should be done about the tea. The prime mover in this seems to have been Matthias Hammond, who was a member of the committee of correspondence. In the meantime the committee itself had met because of information which reached it that at ten o'clock that  p149 morning the ship and cargo had been entered at the custom house and the duty on the tea paid by Anthony Stewart. The committee therefore called a meeting of the people at five o'clock that afternoon and ordered the captain of the brig, the owner of the vessel, the owners of the tea, and the deputy-collector of the port to attend.

When the citizens assembled they were informed by Williams that it left the matter in the hands of the Committee to decide the disposal of the tea. Either storing it in Annapolis or reshipping it to London, the West Indies, or elsewhere would be agreeable to them. They further defended themselves by asserting that they had not intended to land the tea until its disposition had been decided by the Committee. The master of the brig, Captain Jackson, stated that the tea had been placed in the vessel in London without his knowledge. And Anthony Stewart explained that his action was due entirely to motives of humanity in as much as the ship had on board a crew of six men and also fifty-three indentured servants. They must be landed at once after their long sea voyage and also because of the leaky condition of the ship.  p150 No passenger or part of the cargo could be brought ashore till the vessel had been entered at the custom house and all the cargo declared and the duties paid or surety given for their payment.

Only one fact, however, was brought out that was at all favorable to the offenders. That was that the tea was still on the vessel. When therefore the committee and the meeting voted whether the tea should be landed there was a unanimous "no." And a committee was appointed to supervise the unloading of the rest of the cargo and see that the tea should remain on board. A guard was even placed on the brig to make sure of this.

Whereas it is probable that Stewart as the owner of the brig but not of the tea would have escaped serious punishment for his part, the fact that he had arranged to pay the tax inflamed popular sentiment against him, and he and the Williams brothers who composed the firm of Williams & Company were required to read and sign the following abject letter of apology:

"We, James Williams, Joseph Williams, and Anthony Stewart," it read, "do severally acknowledge  p151 that we have committed a most daring insult and act of the most pernicious tendency to the liberties of America; we, the said Williams, in importing the tea, and said Stewart in paying the duty thereon; and thereby deservedly incurred the displeasure of the people now convened, and all others interested in the preservation of the constitutional rights and liberties of North America; do ask pardon for the same; and we solemnly declare for the future, that we will never infringe any resolution framed by the people for the salvation of their rights, nor will we do any act that may be injurious to the liberties of the people; and to show our desire of living in amity with the friends to America, we do request this meeting or as many as may choose to attend, to be present at any place where the people shall appoint, and we will there commit to the flames or otherwise destroy as the people may choose, the detestable article which has been the cause of this, our misconduct.

(Signed) Anthony Stewart,
Joseph Williams,
James Williams

 p152  Eddis, who was an eye‑witness of the scene, says, "Though he (Anthony Stewart) publicly read his recantation, expressed in the most submissive and penitential terms, there were frantic zealots among the multitude who warmly proposed the American discipline of tarring and feathering."1

In spite of this suggestion of personal violence, and of others such as that Stewart should be required to burn the ship and build another, to be named "Wilkes and Liberty," — alluding to the help John Wilkes had given the American cause, — the meeting definitely voted not to have the vessel destroyed. But the feeling was so strong against Stewart that finally he decided, on the urging apparently of some of the patriot leaders, of whom Charles Carroll of Carrollton is said to have been the most influential, to burn the ship himself. So, on this very day, the 19th, accompanied by a number of the patriots, he sailed the brig across the harbor till she grounded on Windmill Point, now a part of the level space between Bancroft Hall and the harbor line, left the sails set, and with his own hand set  p153 fire to the vessel and its cargo of tea. It is said that his wife and daughter were able to witness the burning from the windows of their home, which has since become, curiously enough, a shrine for patriotic Marylanders.

Stewart remained in Annapolis after this, but eventually found himself persona non grata to the growing patriotic feeling, was hanged or burned in effigy in various places, and obliged to leave his wife and family and go to England. There he entered claim for compensation for the loss of his vessel. Thomas C. Williams, of the Williams firm, who had supervised the shipping of the tea from London, arrived in New York the very day the people there heard of the entry of the tea. As a result he had to flee for his life and conceal himself in the woods, as he states in his affidavit. Then a price was set on his head and he was later obliged to escape from Philadelphia by night and abandon all his property and business prospects. He seems, though, to have finally reached Annapolis, for a statement in the Maryland Gazette of January 12, 1775, makes humble apologies for his part in the matter and begs leave to live in the town.

The Author's Note:

1 Eddis, "Letters from America," p182.

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