What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Sons of Liberty in general, might there commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”
As the fourth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act approached, the Sons of Liberty in New York prepared to commemorate the occasion. They encountered some obstacles, however, in planning their celebration. Newspaper advertisements first announced one plan, then later clarified a different one.
The first public notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on Monday, February 5. Advertisements in both newspapers extended a brief invitation: “THE sons of LIBERTY, are desired to meet at the house of Mr. De La Montanye’s, on Monday the 19th day of March next, to celebrate the repeal of the detestable and inglorious STAMP-ACT.” A slightly longer version appeared in the New-York Journal three days later. It advised that the “friends to Liberty and Trade, who formerly associated together at Barden’s, Jones’s and Smith’s to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Are requested to meet for that purpose on Monday the 19th of March next, at the house of Mr. Abraham De La Montagnie.”
Plans for a celebration were off to a good start, except that apparently no one had consulted with de la Montaigne about gathering at his house. He inserted his own advertisement in the February 8 edition of the New-York Journal in response to “AN Advertisement having appeared in last Monday’s papers, inviting the Sons of Liberty to dine at my house … to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.” De la Montaigne did indeed plan to host a celebration, but not for those who had placed an advertisement without his knowledge. He asserted that his establishment had already been booked “by a great number of other gentlemen” and, as a result, he “shall not be able to entertain any other company than those gentlemen and their connections who engaged my house for that day.” The compositor thoughtfully positioned the two advertisements, with their conflicting information about an upcoming gather of the Sons of Liberty, one after the other.
A week later the organizers announced a new plan to “commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” When they discovered that de la Montaigne’s house was not available, a “Number of the Sons of Liberty in this City” set about “purchasing a proper House for the Accommodation of all Lovers of freedom on that Day, and for their Use on future Occasions, in the Promotion of the Common Cause.” They acquired a “Corner House in the Broad-Way,” appropriately located “near “Liberty-Pole.” In contrast to the event slated for de la Montaigne’s house, the celebration at this corner house was open “without Discrimination” to “all the Sons of Liberty … who choose to commemorate that Glorious Day.” In addition, the advertisement extended an invitation to “Sons of Liberty” to meet at the house on Tuesday evening as well, presumably to continue organizing against abuses inflicted on the colonies by Parliament.
This series of advertisements in New York’s newspapers demonstrates some disorder when it came to marking the anniversary of such an important event at a time when colonists in that city and elsewhere worked for the repeal of the Townshend Acts that infringed on their liberty much like the Stamp Act had done. One cohort of celebrants confined their event to a small number of gentlemen, while organizers of another event emphasized that all were welcome to participate in the “Promotion of the Common Cause.” Who participated in these two commemorative events? Was the one at de la Montaigne’s house limited only to the better sorts who claimed leadership of the Sons of Liberty? Did patriots from humble backgrounds plan and participate in the commemoration at the corner house “near Liberty-Pole”? Did participants in the two events share a vision of what they hoped to accomplish in their struggle against Parliament? These advertisements suggest that New Yorkers may have attached different meanings to the repeal of the Stamp Act and what they hoped to accomplish as they pursued further resistance efforts in the early 1770s.