2014-08-14 / Front Page

Stamp Act Rebellion to Hit Streets – 249 Years Later

By Pat Blakeley


Newport was not uniformly opposed to the Stamp Act tax and many people had to be convinced to participate in the political drama of the day. The Stamp Act Rebellion will be re-created in Washington Square on Saturday, Aug. 23, by the Newport Historical Society. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress) Newport was not uniformly opposed to the Stamp Act tax and many people had to be convinced to participate in the political drama of the day. The Stamp Act Rebellion will be re-created in Washington Square on Saturday, Aug. 23, by the Newport Historical Society. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress) Newport, long the pariah of colonial New England, will once again serve as a hotbed of unruly activity on Saturday, Aug. 23, when dozens of historical interpreters take to the streets to bring the Stamp Act Rebellion of 1765 to life.

The re-enactment, presented by the Newport Historical Society, will offer a glimpse into the sentiments of the day, sentiments that erupted in widespread riots against the Stamp Act, the first in a series of events that ultimately led to the Revolutionary War.

The Rebellion is a pilot project for what Executive Director Ruth Taylor hopes will develop into an ongoing “program of historical street theater, with re-enactors not just in a static setting, but recreating actual moments in Newport’s history.”

While the first Stamp Act Riot occurred in Boston mid-August 1765, Newport’s street violence broke out shortly thereafter on Aug. 27 and lasted for several days. The first day was long, and organizers reportedly were filled with trepidation. Not all the townspeople were against the tax, and loyalties clashed. Neighbors were pitted against neighbors. As the day dragged on, tempers flared, fueled by alcohol and an escalating mob fervor.

The interactive improvisation will primarily be held in Washington Square, on what was once referred to as The Parade, near the Colony House. Living history interpreters will portray people from all levels of society – from sailors to tailors, members of the Society of Friends, ladies, and, of course, figures central to the protest – as they debate the ramifications of the Stamp Act and worry about consequences of mounting an insurrection. Sons of Liberty William Ellery and Samuel Vernon, merchants who initiated the protest, will be featured – as will the most despised loyalist of the day, Martin Howard, a tax collector, outspoken advocate of the Stamp Act, and unapologetic enthusiast of the crown.

From 1-3 p.m., various stations will be set up around the Square, offering insight into the minds of the citizenry, their stands often reflecting their position in life, as well as their political views. A gathering of rabble rousers will work to generate support for the cause as they build signs, create an effigy, and plan the day. Upper class ladies and gentlemen will discuss over tea the impact the new policy will have on their lives. Farmers just in from the countryside will find themselves caught up in the events, most of which they knew nothing about until that day.

Tensions will build between 3 and 5 p.m. as “activists” confront Martin Howard and enlist the aid of the crowd to storm his home, the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House. Taylor invites the public to join in as members of the teeming throng, although she is quick to add, “We are not encouraging anyone to actual violence.”

The proceedings will culminate when the Stamp Official announces his decision to resign from his position in light of the protest. After the presentation is complete, the Historical Society will host a party in the Colony House, featuring the beer and “strong cheese” so essential to any occasion of the day.

Taylor says, “We hope to provide an opportunity to witness and participate in an event that was a defining moment in our history - a milestone on the road to revolution.”

The re-enactment is free to the public but the Colony House party is ticketed ($25, NHS members $20). For more information and tickets, visit newporthistory.org.

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