What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Celebrating the Repeal of the oppressive Stamp-Act.”
Just as Americans participated in the commodification of events associated with the American Revolution several years before the skirmishes at Concord and Lexington, they also staged commemorations of those events long before declaring independence. After the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766, for instance, colonists marked the anniversary the following year and continued to do so. They celebrated not only the repeal of that odious measure but also the successful organizing and resistance strategies that convinced Parliament to repeal it. Many among the gentry engaged in legislative resistance, including the House of Burgesses passing the Virginia Resolves and representatives from several colonies signing petitions at the Stamp Act Congress. Merchants pursued economic resistance, leveraging commercial pressure on their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic by refusing to import goods while the Stamp Act remained in effect. Popular protests erupted throughout the colonies, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Savannah, Georgia. In newspapers, circular letters, pamphlets, broadsides, and handbills, the colonial press covered all of these actions.
As the fifth anniversary of the repeal approached, an advertisement addressed to “all the Friends of LIBERTY” appeared in the February 24, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal. “THIS early Notice is given,” the advertisement proclaimed,” that for celebrating the Repeal of the oppressive Stamp-Act, ample Provision will be made on the 18th March next, at HAMPDEN-HALL, that the Anniversary may be kept, with proper Festivity and Decency.” Celebrating such anniversaries was important. Doing so helped to keep colonists vigilant when it came to other abuses. In the time since the repeal of the Stamp Act, the colonies experienced another round of objectionable taxation in the form of duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts. Widespread resistance, including another round of nonimportation agreements, eventually resulted in the repeal of most of those duties, but the tax on tea remained. In addition, British soldiers were quartered in Boston, a factor that contributed to the Boston Massacre in March 1770. Newspapers throughout the colonies covered that event and the subsequent trials, many of them also carrying advertisements for pamphlets and prints related to the murders in Boston. When colonists in New York gathered to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act, “so general and important a Cause,” they likely recollected other events that occurred since, each of them as “oppressive” as the Stamp Act. The anniversary of that first major victory against Parliament provided an opportunity for reflection on other challenges the colonies experienced and continued to face.