RESISTANCE TO THE STAMP ACT
(Introductory note and edited document contributed by Dr. Mary Gallagher)
Henry Laurens was a wealthy merchant and planter of
great political stature in his community.
Although he had strong ties to Britain, he became an important
leader in South Carolina’s movement toward independence and held many
important positions in South Carolina government after 1775.
In 1777, he was elected one of the state’s delegates to
Congress, and soon afterwards Congress elected him as its president.
Common folk who would ordinarily have deferred to a
man of his rank did not, however, hesitate to investigate a charge that
he had agreed to distribute stamped paper.
Their behavior, while still respectful of Laurens, indicates an
enhanced awareness of their own dignity and political power, and a
disciplined determination to achieve their objective.
Members of the political elite commonly assumed, as Laurens does
here, that lower class men would not dare to challenge their political
hegemony unless they had enhanced their courage with liquor.
Laurens to Joseph Brown
Inclosed with this you will receive what I wrote to you the 22d Inst. since
which I find that Capt. Blythe is gone out of Town therefore I request you to
pay him his demand for bringing my Schooner round & add my thanks to the
had intended to have set out upon my journey on Friday last but an unlucky
circumstance that occur'd on Wednesday night the 23d has so affected Mrs.
Laurens's bodily health as well as her Spirits that my presence & attention
at home are become absolutely necessary.
you will no doubt hear of the affair that I allude to in a very imperfect manner
& will at the same time be glad to know the truth, give me leave to relate
it to you in substance, & to defer minute circumstances until we meet, if
ever we are to meet again.
Midnight of the said Wednesday I heard a most violent thumping &
confus'd Noise at my Western door & Chamber Window, & soon
distinguished the sounds of Liberty, Liberty & Stamp'd Paper,
Open your doors &
let us Search your House &
Cellars. I open'd the Window, saw a croud of Men chiefly in disguise &
heard the Voices & thumpings of many more on the other side, assured them
that I had no Stamp'd Paper nor any connexion with stamps.
When I found that no fair words would pacify them I accused them with
cruelty to a poor Sick Woman far done with Child & produced Mrs. Laurens
shrieking & wringing her hands adding that if there was any one Man amongst
them who owed me a spite & would turn out I had a brace of Pistols at his
service & would settle the dispute immediately but that it was base in such
a multitude to attack a single Man. To
this they replyed in general that they Loved & respected me, would not hurt
me nor my property but that they were sent even by some of my seemingly best
friends to search for Stamp'd Paper which they were certain was in my Custody
advised me to open the door to prevent worse consequences.
of my innocence, I was pausing whether to refuse every one of their demands or
barely to open the door, at which they still continued knocking as if they would
have beat down the House, & to let them proceed as their rage & madness
should impel them, but Mrs. Laurens's condition & her cries prompted me to
open the door which in two minutes more they would have beat thro.
A brace of Cutlasses across my breast was the salutation & Lights,
Lights, & Search was the Cry. I
presently knew several of them under their thickest disguise of Soot, Sailors
habits, slouch hats, &Ca. &
to their great surprize called no less than nine of them by name & fixed my
eye so attentively upon other faces as to discover at least the same number
since. They made a very superficial
search indeed or rather no search at all in my House, Counting House, Cellar,
& Stable. After that farce was over they insisted upon my taking what
they called "A Bible Oath" that I knew not where the Stamp'd Paper was
which I absolutely refused not failing to confirm my denials with Damns of equal
weight with their own, a language which I only had learned from them, they
threatned then to carry me away to some unknown place & punish me.
I replyed they might if they would, they had strength enough but I would
be glad to have it attempted by any Man alone, either among them or of those who
they said had sent them. When they
found this attempt fruitless a softer Oath, as they thought, was propounded.
I must say "May God disinherit me from the Kingdom of Heaven"
If I knew where the Stamped Papers were. This
I likewise premptorily refused & added that I would not have one word
extorted from my Mouth. That I had
voluntarily given my word & honour but would not suffer even that to pass my
Lips by compulsion, further that If I had once accepted of a trust they might
Stamp me to Powder but should not make me betray it, that my sentiments of the
Stamp Act was well known. I had
openly declared myself an Enemy to it & would give & do a great deal to
procure its annihilation but that I could not think they pursued a right method
to obtain a repeal, &Ca., &Ca. Some
times they applauded, some times cursed me at length one of them holding my
Shoulders said they loved me & every Body would Love me if I did not hold
way with one Governor Grant. This
provoked me not a little as it exhibited to me the Cloven foot of a certain
malicious Villain acting behind the Curtain who could be reached only by
suspicion. I answer'd that if he
meant that I corresponded with Governor Grant & esteem'd him as a Gentleman
I acknowledged with pleasure that I did "hold
way" as he called it with him, that I knew nothing in Governor Grants
conduct or principles as a Gentleman that could shame my acquaintance with
him, that if Governor Grant had any criminal schemes or projects he was too
prudent to trust me with his secrets, but in one word for all Gentlemen I am in
your power. You are very strong
& may if you please Barbicue me. I
can but die, but you shall not by any force or means whatsoever compel me to
renounce my friendships or to speak ill of Men that I think well of or to say or
do a mean thing. This was their
last effort, they praised me highly & insisted upon giving me three Cheers
& then retired with God bless your honour, Good night, Colonel, We hope the
poor Lady will do well, &Ca., &Ca.
A Thousand other things you may believe were said & done in an hour
& a quarter (the time of their visit) but the above is a fair abstract of
all that is important.
it not amazing that such a number of Men many of them heated with Liquor &
all armed with Cutlasses & Clubbs did not do one penny damage to my Garden
not even to walk over a Bed & not 15/ damage to my Fence, Gate, or House?
M. Hamer, David R. Chesnutt, James C. Taylor,
et al., eds. The Papers of
Henry Laurens. 14 vols. to date, (Columbia, S. C.: University of
South Carolina Press, 1968-), 5: