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The Stamp Act

The Day Frederick County Rebelled

by Max Fullerton

Baltimore Sunday Sun Magazine, November 21, 1965

  (Researched at the Frederick Historical Society by Roger and Vicki Lynn-Turney)

 

DOWN with the Sassenach!

     That was the cry of old-time Scotsmen and Irishmen to express their opinion of England and the English.  American colonists 200 years ago had another cry.  It was "Down with the Stamp Tax!"

     Maryland was the first colony to declare that tax null and void.  It did so almost ten years before war started between the British and the Americans at Lexington.  On November 23, 1765, the twelve justices of Frederick county met secretly in a Record street home near the courthouse in Frederick to repudiate the despised tax that had been imposed on the thirteen colonies.   The Stamp Act, passed by the Parliament of George III, decreed that stamps were to be affixed to newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, bills, bonds, insurance policies and such.  What had let to this?

     With the end of the French and Indian Wars, Britain was master of America from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, and most of Canada as well.

     The wars had been costly in men, both British regulars and militia.  The Government felt that the colonists should pay some small part of the cost.  Generals of the overseas army had little use for militia.  They said Americans were too lacking in discipline and spirit to protect all the lands claimed by the Crown.  The tax on Colonials, in effect merely a token, was expected to bring in L50,000 a year.  The cost of maintaining 10,000 British troops was figured at L300,000 a year.

     In a resolution, the twelve Frederick county judges issued their declaration of defiance to Parliament.  They said: "It is the unanimous resolution and opinion of this court that all business thereof shall and ought to be transacted in the usual and accustomed manner."   "And, that all proceedings shall be valid and effective without the use of stamps."   At that time, Frederick county encompassed all of Western Maryland.  The Sons of Liberty, from Cumberland to Annapolis, were filled with joy and hope.  Tories were glum.

     November 23 came to be known a Repudiation Day.  That phrase "Repudiation Day" in this year of 1965 is known to few Marylanders.

     The significance was that these were the first jurists in America to take a stand against an act of Parliament.  Their steadfastness was received with acclaim in all the colonies.  Event piled upon event until in 1775 "the shot heard 'round the world" was fired.

     Repudiation Day is a legal bank half-holiday in Frederick county by act of the Maryland General Assembly of 189+4, though no places close and even the banks remain open.  The day is observed by the Frederick chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution who sponsor ceremonies at the Court House.

     The house on Record Street was razed in 1900.  But, 61 years ago the D.A.R. placed a plaque in the courthouse naming the judges.  They were:  Joseph Smith, David Lynn, Charles Jones, Samuel Beall, Joseph Beall, Peter Bainbridge, Thomas Price, Andrew Hough, William Blair, William Luckett, James Dickson, and Thomas Beatty.

     On Tuesday, Frederick plans to hold special ceremonies marking the bicentennial of Repudiation Day.

     A resolution is before the United States Senate, after its unanimous adoption by the House of Representatives.  The author is Charles Mathias, Sixth district Republican.  It asks President Johnson to issue a proclamation expounding Repudiation Day to the whole nation.  Mr. Mathias says: "This truly was one of the preambles of the American Revolution.  It is an act we should remember in 1965.  Far more important than that it set the state for the Revolution was the fact that these judges illustrated the power and the importance of the independent judiciary."

     One Zachariah Hood, of Annapolis, was the first and only Stamp Tax collector for Maryland.  He was in London at the time Parliament passed the Stamp Act and as a result he was appointed stamp distributor for the colony.  His homecoming was news before he landed.  Annapolitans tried to prevent his landing.  Hood disembarked secretly.  Friends ignored him, strangers insulted him.  He was slain in effigy in Frederick, Baltimore and Annapolis.  His home was burned.  So he hurried to the British in New York for protection.

     The exuberant Sons of Liberty arranged a "funeral for the Stamp Act."  Hood, in effigy, was the only "mourner."

     The Maryland Gazette carried this description:  "The Stamp Act, having received a mortal stab at the hands of Justices on Saturday last, gave up the ghost to the great joy of the inhabitants of Frederick county.  The lifeless body lay exposed to public ignominy till yesterday when it was thought proper, to prevent infection from its stench, to bury it."  "Zachariah Hood" rode in a special chariot.  The "cortege" led by the Sons of Liberty passed through Frederick to the courthouse square, where there was a gallows.  Directly underneath was a grave.

     Throughout the march, big and little drums rolled, bells rang, mobs (mostly with bottles in their hands) cheered often and long.  The drums became louder at the courthouse while the effigy of Hood and the coffin of the Stamp Tax were interred.

     Then the crowd marched off to the home of one of the leaders for supper.  Then there was a ball (dance)  "Many loyal and patriotic toasts were drunk," one account reported, "and the whole concluded with the utmost decorum."

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Historic Old House Where Stamp Act Repudiation Was Recorded

 "The little one story and attic house shown above, which stood on Record Street, was once the home of William Ritchie, clerk of the Frederick County Court from 1779 until 1815.  With its plastered walls and yellow-washed exterior, it was not a very imposing dwelling.  However, according to one version, accepted by some of the best local authorities, the "twelve immortal" judges met and repudiated the Stamp Act on November 18, 1765, in this building, rather than in the Courthouse.  It is impossible to prove beyond a doubt that the judges met and signed the document here, but it cannot be disputed that the recording of the act took place in this old structure."  (From a newspaper clipping found at the Frederick Historic Society)
 
 

How the site of the Stamp Act Repudiation looked in 1965

     "On the site of that little house now stands the home of James H. Gambrill, III, 103 Record Street.  The old house was razed about 30 or 35 years ago.  It was used for many years as law offices."  "Soon after the historic old structure of Repudiation fame was removed, the Urner office building was razed also, to improve the appearance of the street."  (From a newspaper clipping found at the Frederick Historic Society}