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Stamp Act Agent Burned in Effigy

Stamp Act Stamp / SeacoastNH.com

HISTORY MATTERS 

Americans are ticked off about the money crisis. NH folks too. But Portsmouth citizens were far more reactive in 1765 when George Meserve, a wealthy local, tried to levy a new British tax. The locals burned hum in effigy in Haymarket Square. Stamp agent George Meserve was a nervous wreck in fear of the colonial mob.

 

NH Mob Protests Wealthy George Meserve

Unquestionably, we are in a nasty money crisis. But I’d rather be Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in 2009 than George Meserve in 1765. Meserve, a Portsmouth native, was appointed Distributor for New Hampshire by King George. Meserve happened to be visiting England when the Stamp Act was passed. The Meserves were a prosperous family, loyal to the Crown, and George seemed the ideal guy to distribute the stamps and collect the new tax in the boondocks of colonial New England.

Stamp Act / SeacoastNH.comSome government appointments are just not worth the hassle. Ask Sen. Judd Greegg who recently nixed joining President Obama’s team of rivals. George Meserve had not gotten off the boat from England early in September 1765 when the bad news arrived. The citizens of Portsmouth sent a message to him aboard ship in Boston. If Meserve didn't resign his new government job, then he could forget about coming home. People in Portsmouth, like people across the colonies, were enraged by the Stamp Act – even more enraged than Americans last week over the bail-out bonuses at AIG.

A taxing decision

In fact, Meserve was unable to get off his ship for two days because a Boston mob thought it contained a cargo of English stamped paper. When Meserve, who was still aboard ship, announced his resignation as stamp agent, the crowd cheered and carried him off to a local tavern.

Why young George wanted to collect the hated tax is unclear. Perhaps while visiting his wealthy friends in England, he didn’t get the memo. New Englanders had been livid over the Sugar Act the year before. The Currency Act, also passed in 1764, forbade colonists from printing paper money. The Quartering Act of 1765 required colonists to lodge British soldiers.

But the Stamp Act -- requiring a tax on newspapers, stationery, and legal documents -- really rubbed Portsmouth the wrong way. Even Benning Wentworth, NH’s fading old governor, thought it was a bad tax. His nephew John Wentworth, who kept up on Portsmouth news even when he was in England, called the Stamp Act "totally obnoxious". Just 28-years old, John advised Lord Rockingham to vote against the heinous tax, fearing it might lead to rebellion here. He was right.

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