As England was having difficulty maintaining order in the colonies, Parliament turned to economic measures such as the Stamp Act of 1765. The law placed taxes on most forms of paper in the colonies, including newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and wills. While Parliament intended to defray costs incurred from stationing British troops in the colonies at critical sites such as Boston, the imposition of the tax drove many colonies to the brink of rebellion.
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A collective shudder raced through the colonies at the news of the approval of the Stamp Act. On October 19 1765, angry mobs collected in the streets and alleys of Wilmington to burn the likeness of “a certain honorable gentleman,” most likely the state tax collector, William Houston. Although the crowd dispersed without incident after the protest, twelve days later, on October 31, 1765, an angry mob assembled once again, this time placing an effigy of liberty in a casket and carrying the casket to the churchyard in a mock funeral procession, where they planned to bury it. Just before committing the casket to the earth, a member decided to check liberty’s vital signs, and with an affirmative, the colonist rose up and proclaimed “LIBERTY had still an Existence in the Colony!”
On November 16, William Houston had traveled to Wilmington presumably on business. Hearing of his presence, a mob marched to the house where Houston was known to stay (as Houston lived in Duplin County), and demanded he renounce his duties as tax collector. He readily agreed, and with that, the crowd escorted Houston to the courthouse, where he officially resigned his position.
A series of events unraveled in North Carolina that illustrated the colony’s stern resistance to the tax. In February of 1766, Speaker John Ashe, D-65], Cornelius Harnett, James Moore, and Col. Hugh Waddell, led several hundred citizens through Brunswick, arresting key royal officials and forcing the comptroller to resign. Other similar acts of defiance in North Carolina and elsewhere took their toll on British resolve. Within a few months, the colonies learned that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act.
William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, VII
Library of Congress, “John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations,” online at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/brit-2.html
Donna J. Spindel, "Law and Disorder: The North Carolina Stamp Act Crisis," North Carolina Historical Review (January 1980): 186-202
Samuel A. Ashe, History of North Carolina, I (1908)
Lawrence Lee, The Lower Cape Fear in Colonial Days (1965)
Lawrence Lee, "Days of Defiance: Resistance to the Stamp Act in the Lower Cape Fear," North Carolina Historical Review (Spring 1966): 1-16
The 1765 Stamp Act (image from the Library of Congress)