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The Stamp Act in New York, 1765, Part II

Catherine Brass Yates (Mrs. Richard Yates)

Here’s Part II of the “Stamp Act in New York, 1765”, which is covered on the walking tour “Washington and Hamilton in New York City,” along with other stories of women in the American Revolution:

Just a few months later, on December 6, 1765, in resistance to the Stamp Act which included a tax on wedding certificates, the New-York Gazette published an announcement: “We hear that the young Ladies of this Place are determined to Join Hands with none but such as will to the utmost endeavor to abolish the Custom of marrying with License.”[i] Other ladies protested by rejecting the beloved cloth and fashionable “rich brocade” manufactured in England, dusting off their old spinning wheels, and committing to a tedium of spinning their own cloth. The attachment to fine English cloth was so dyed in the wool, so to speak, that some women lamented wearing unfashionable homespun; but newly patriotic women implored all women to show pride in “clothes of your own make and spinning”.[ii]  It was a tough sell to some New Yorkers.  In the New-York Gazette, in “A Letter from a young Lady in Town to her Friend in the Country,” the writer expressed the great indignity of wearing homespun: “Must we in nothing be distinguished from meer country dowdies?  Must the refinements of a thousand years give way to the ignorance that prevailed” at a time when “ladies were so grossly ignorant of the charms of dress, and so entirely void of taste?”[iii]  Over time, as patriotism surged, homespun became “a badge of honor and a visible political statement” for women who supported the great cause of liberty.[iv]  Parliament, confronted by the nonimportation pact that was bolstered by women, repealed the Stamp Act in 1766.  When news of this victory reached New York City, women and men celebrated here at the Commons as the Sons of Liberty raised the first Liberty Pole—a Roman symbol of public defiance to oppression.[v]  Nevertheless, it was a short-lived victory.  More taxes were imposed on the colonists from the Townshend Acts in 1767 to the Tea Act in 1773.  As Britain asserted its authority and demands for revenue, resistance increased, and women continued to exercise their agency as housewives, consumers, and shopkeepers by making purchasing decisions based on what was good for the colonies.


[i] Linda De Pauw, Four Traditions: Women of New York During the American Revolution, (Albany: New York State Bicentennial Commission, 1974), 14.

[ii] Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers, 16.

[iii] Belinda. “A Letter from a young Lady in Town to her Friend in the Country.” New York Gazette or the Weekly Post-Boy, October 30, 1765.

[iv] Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers, 17.

[v] Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 203.

The Stamp Act in New York, 1765, Part I

Stamp Act in New York City, 1765

The Stamp Act, instated by Parliament in 1765, was the first internal tax added to the cost of products, paper goods, including newspapers, almanacs, legal documents, diplomas, playing cards, dice, and marriage certificates.  The act was poorly timed, imposed during an economic depression of rampant unemployment, inflation, and poverty.  British mercantile houses withheld credit for businesses in New York and called in debts from tradesmen and shopkeepers, creating a ripple effect on artisans and farmers.  With an influx of cheap clothing and furniture from England’s overstocked warehouses, local artisans and businesses found it more and more difficult to compete.  As domestic purchasing declined, colonial currency lost its value.  Shops closed, merchants went bankrupt, and laborers lost their work and wages.  The recently built New Gaol [Jail] in today’s City Hall Park became a debtors’ prison occupied by many of those affected by the depression.  A New Yorker at the time remarked that “trade in this part of the world is come to so wretched a pass that you would imagine the plague had been here.”[i] The Stamp Act not only set a precedent for adding a tax on top of the cost of goods but most flagrantly violated the British constitutional precept of “no taxation without representation.”[ii]  In defiance, the newly formed Sons of Liberty advocated for a nonimportation pact among the colonists until the tax was repealed. Nine of the thirteen colonies met at the old City Hall on Wall Street in October 1765, in what was called the Stamp Act Congress, and agreed to halt the import of British goods until the act was repealed:

At a general Meeting of the Merchants of the City of New-York, trading to Great-Britain…they came to the following Resolutions…That in all Orders they send out to Great-Britain, for Goods or Merchandize, of any Nature, Kind of Quality whatsoever, usually imported from Great-Britain, they will direct their Correspondents not to ship them, unless the Stamp Act be repealed.[iii]


[i] Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 192.

[ii] Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 198.

[iii] “No stamped paper to be had,” Philadelphia: Printed by Hall & Franklin. Philadelphia, 1765, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/98160405 (accessed March 5, 2020).

The Commons and King’s College

King's College Best NYC Tour

The old Commons in Lower Manhattan is today’s City Hall Park. It was near King’s College where Alexander Hamilton took classes before his participation in the American Revolution.

John Adams’ 1774 description of this area of the city to takes us back in time: We…walked up the broad Way, a fine Street, very wide, and in a right Line from one End to the other of the City.  In this route we saw the old [Trinity] Church, and the new Church [St. Paul’s Chapel].  The new is a very magnificent Building—cost 20,000 Pounds New York Currency.  The prison [in today’s City Hall Park] is a large and handsome stone Building.  There are two setts of Barracks.  We saw the New York [King’s] College, which is also a Stone building. 

The Commons is where people assembled in celebration or in protest of government laws and actions.  It was the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s Times Square.  Many important events took place here, including the first New York City public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776.  It was also here–in a celebration of Parliament’s repeal of the Stamp Act–that the first of five Liberty Poles was erected. There is a replica Liberty Pole in City Hall Park today. We see this area on the Hamilton & Washington walking tour.


Brooklyn Bridge Designer John Roebling’s Other Bridges

Best Brooklyn Bridge Tour

John Roebling the engineer and architect of the Brooklyn Bridge had already been a prominent designer of suspension bridges before his great bridge connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn. He was also a manufacturer of twisted wire rope used for suspension bridges. His factory was based in Trenton, New Jersey. He designed the Niagra River Gorge Bridge in 1885, the Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859, and the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge now known as the John A. Roebling Bridge Suspension Bridge in 1867, just two years before the Brooklyn Bridge started construction. That last bridge had been the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1057 feet for the main span before the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 with its main span at 1595.5 feet.

Hamilton and Burr Together One Week Before the Duel

Hamilton Walking Tour NYC

On July 4, 1804, one week before the infamous duel, the rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, were together at Fraunces Tavern at an event sponsored by the Society of the Cincinnati, whose members were American and French veterans of the Revolutionary War. Fraunces Tavern is one of the stops on the “Hamilton & Washington In New York” Walking Tour.

While the challenge had been established, the date for their encounter at dueling ground in Weehawken was still days away. The artist John Trumball was at Fraunces Tavern and noticed their unusual moods. He reflected on his observations years later in his published autobiography:

“On the 4th of July, I dined with the society of the Cincinnati, my old military comrades, and then met, among others, Gen. Hamilton and Col. Burr. The singularity of their manner was observed by all, but few had any suspicion of the cause. Burr, contrary to his wont, was silent, gloomy, sour; while Hamilton entered with glee into all the gaiety of a convivial party, and even sung an old military song. A few days only passed, when the wonder was solved by that unhappy event which deprived the United States of two of their most distinguished citizens. Hamilton was killed–and Burr was first expatriated, and then sunk into obscurity for life, in consequence of their compliance with a senseless custom, which ought not to have outlived the dark ages in which it had its origin.”

Brooklyn Bridge Fallout Shelter

Best Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour

In 2006, as the city was performing an inspection of the Brooklyn Bridge to uncover structural abnormalities, they made an unusual find. In a dark and dank arched structure on the shoreline of the East River, underneath the bridge and near the Manhattan anchorage they found “medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs,” a stockpile of cold-war-era 17.5-gallon water drums that could be reused “as a commode,” 352,000 Civil Defense All-Purpose Survival Crackers (calorie-packed crackers that were probably still edible), along with doses of Dextran, a drug used to treat or prevent shock. This was reported by the NY Times. The items were stored during the cold war, evident from the supply boxes stamped with dates from 1957 and 1962, dates that correspond to the Soviet launching of the satellite Sputnik and the Cuban Missile Crisis, respectively. The room was still intact and had been for years without the city’s knowledge.

photo CBS News

21 Elephants on the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn-Elephant-Jumbo

The Brooklyn Bridge, which we walk over on the “Best of Brooklyn-The Brooklyn Revolution” tour , was a massive achievement in the annals of engineering. It cost over 15 million dollars and took from 1869 to 1883 to build it, but much of the populace did not trust suspension bridges. It was publicly known that a large percentage of them collapsed. Just six days after the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, with thousands of people on the bridge, a woman tripped a staircase on the bridge, another woman let out a scream, and the crowd pushed forward and down the stairs, creating a panic and stampede. As it was reported in the newspaper: “Those following were in turn pushed over and in a moment the narrow stairway was choked with human beings, piled one on top of the other, who were being crushed to death. In a few minutes, 12 persons were killed, 7 injured so seriously that their lives are despaired of, and 28 others more or less severely wounded.”

When the police cleared the Brooklyn Bridge, the bridge was covered with articles of clothing and other belongings including 42 umbrellas and parasols, 6 canes, 34 bonnets, a skirt and 6 pairs of shoes.

Never one to turn down a public relations opportunity, the impresario P.T. Barnum, used this tragedy to show the bridge’s herculean strength on May 17, 1884 by having 21 elephants, plus 10 camels and 7 dromedaries march across the bridge, with his most famous elephant Jumbo, bringing up the rear.

Olmsted: Service & Art

Best Central Park Walking Tour

Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of Central Park believed that every element added to the landscape design must satisfy human needs and not be created strictly for decoration. ” On the Central Park tour, we see the most beautiful bridges and arches that serve and protect the guests of the park. Here’s what Olmsted wrote:

“Service must precede art, since all turf, trees, flowers, fences, walks, water, paint, plaster, posts, and pillars in or under which there is not a purpose of direct utility or service are inartistic if not barbarous. … So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be not true art.”

Roasting in Brooklyn

Best Brooklyn Tour DUMBO coffee

Not long after the Civil War, the brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, revolutionized and started a new industry in today’s DUMBO, Brooklyn, by offering roasted coffee to consumers in single pound packages. Before that, coffee beans were purchased green and roasted at home over a fire or in a wood stove; getting a consistent and palatable end product was challenging. The Arbuckle Brothers had such a popular product that they shipped their coffee throughout the country. Marketing their product under the Ariosa and Yuban brands, they were still going through the 20th Century…and the Yuban brand is still around even today. On the Brooklyn Revolution tour, we visit the amazingly renovated Empire Stores, the site and facility used by the Arbuckle Brothers to process their coffee until they sold it in the 1940s.

Burr & Hamilton – Dream Team

Hamilton Burr NYC Tour

While many people know about the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and Hamilton’s unfavorable opinion of Burr as a public and private man, it is less known that they were on the same legal team in the scandalous trial of Levi Weeks in 1800. Weeks was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Elma Sands, by throwing her down a well, in what is today SoHo, in December 1799. Weeks retained Burr, Hamilton and Henry Brockholst Livingston, all well-known lawyers to defend him. Weeks was acquitted after only a few minutes of jury deliberation. With strong public sentiment against the verdict, Weeks left New York for Mississippi where he became a builder and architect. His Auburn Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi is National Historic Landmark. Burr and Hamilton would engage in a duel in Weehawken a little over four years later in July 1804. The portrait is of Aaron Burr.

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