Thursday, July 11th, 2013...12:31 pm
A Revolutionary discovery in the stacks
Update: These documents have now been fully digitized, and are available here.
Although the overwhelming majority of Houghton’s collections are well-cataloged, a few things that slipped through the cracks in the conversion from the card catalog to an online catalog still lurk on our shelves. Karen Nipps, Head of the Rare Book Cataloging Team, recently discovered such an item, one of tremendous importance that offers crucial new evidence about the stirrings of revolution in Colonial Boston.
In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, named for Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Acts were a series of taxes intended to raise revenues from the colonies to pay for the British troops stationed there, and to pay the salaries of colonial governors and judges. Lacking any representation in Parliament, the colonists protested the taxes the only way they could–by refusing to purchase the goods imported from Britain on which the taxes had been levied.
Bostonians gathered at Faneuil Hall on October 28, 1767, to discuss the new taxes and plan their course of action. A list of imported goods to boycott was drawn up, and instructions were given that
said Committee be desired to use their best Endeavours to get the Subscription Papers filled up as soon as may be. Also, Voted unanimously, That the foregoing vote and form of a Subscription relative to the enumerated articles, be immediately Published; and that the Selectmen be directed to distribute a proper Number of them among the Freeholders of this Town.
Today we’re pleased to announce the discovery of eight subscription sheets, containing more than 650 signatures of Bostonians pledging to participate in the boycott of British imports. The list includes some of the most prominent names from Boston’s Revolution-era history, including Paul Revere:
and John Wheatley, owner of the enslaved African-American poet Phillis Wheatley, then 14 years old. (As can be seen from a few of the neighboring signatures, some signers put a time limit on their commitment.)
Perhaps even more significantly, the documents contain a number of women’s signatures as well, including the X of some who could not sign their own names:
News of the non-importation pledge quickly reached Britain, appearing in the December 12, 1767 issue of the London Chronicle (click to enlarge; the piece begins at top left).
Although the non-importation agreements, lacking an enforcement measure other than moral suasion, failed to cripple British imports, they persisted as a colonial protest against taxation, culminating in the Boston Tea Party. As this is one of the earliest such agreements, we’re very glad to make this important discovery available to scholarly study.
[This post was contributed by John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Samuel Johnson and Early Modern Books and Manuscripts.]