Five years of British oppression had been endured by the citizens of Boston and surrounding towns. Five years previous, Parliament had passed the infamous Stamp Act, which required printed materials such as newspapers and legal documents to be published on paper produced in London and have a revenue stamp affixed.
The phrase “No Taxation Without Representation,” which had been part of the conversation for some time, now became a clarion call.
Reaction to the Stamp Act was quick and fierce.
Andrew Oliver could have been excused if he didn’t feel very welcome in his hometown of Boston. After awaking on August 14, 1765, the wealthy 59-year-old merchant and provincial official learned that his effigy was hanging from a century-old elm tree in front of Deacon Elliot’s house. After dusk, angry Bostonians paraded Oliver’s likeness through the streets and destroyed the brick building he had recently built along the waterfront. In case Oliver still hadn’t received the hint, the mob beheaded his effigy in front of his finely appointed home before throwing stones through his windows, demolishing his carriage house and imbibing the contents of his wine cellar.
The violence was fanned by a secret organization known as the Loyall Nine. The clandestine group of artisans and shopkeepers printed pamphlets and signs protesting the tax and incited the mob that ransacked Oliver’s house. The Loyall Nine expanded and became known as the Sons of Liberty, which formed local committees of correspondence to keep abreast of protests throughout the colonies.
The Stamp Act commissioned colonial distributors to collect a tax in exchange for handing out the stamps to be affixed to documents, and Oliver, without his knowledge, had been appointed the distributor for Massachusetts. The day after his property had been destroyed, Oliver resigned a position he never asked for and one he never held, since the Stamp Act wasn’t due to take effect until November 1.
The resignation, however, didn’t douse the violent protests in Boston. On August 26, another mob attacked the home of Oliver’s brother-in-law—Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The rioters stripped the mansion, one of the finest in Boston, of its doors, furniture, paintings, silverware and even the slate from its roof.
The intimidation campaigns and boycotts worked. When November 1 arrived, the mass resignations of the stamp distributors impeded the administration of the tax. In many parts of the colonies, printers proceeded with business as usual. When it proved impossible to implement the Stamp Act, Parliament repealed it almost a year to the day after it had approved it. However, it also passed the Declaratory Act to reaffirm its authority to pass any legislation impacting the colonies.
(No lesson learned.)
Each year, on August 14, these Sons of Liberty returned to the Liberty Tree to commemorate their protest. This being the fifth, and given Britain’s continued oppression of the Colonies, this gathering carried greater importance than those that preceded.
None other than John Adams tells the story in The Adams Papers housed at the National Archives:
Dined with 350 Sons of Liberty at Robinsons, the Sign of Liberty Tree in Dorchester. We had two Tables laid in the open Field by the Barn, with between 300 and 400 Plates, and an Arning of Sail Cloth overhead, and should have spent a most agreable Day had not the Rain made some Abatement in our Pleasures. Mr. Dickinson the Farmers Brother, and Mr. Reed the Secretary of New Jersey were there, both cool, reserved and guarded all day. After Dinner was over and the Toasts drank we were diverted with Mr. Balch’s Mimickry. He gave Us, the Lawyers Head, and the Hunting of a Bitch fox. We had also the Liberty Song—that by the Farmer, and that by Dr. Ch[urc]h, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom. There was a large Collection of good Company. Otis and Adams are politick, in promoting these Festivals, for they tinge the Minds of the People, they impregnate them with the sentiments of Liberty. They render the People fond of their Leaders in the Cause, and averse and bitter against all opposers.
To the Honour of the Sons, I did not see one Person intoxicated, or near it.
Between 4 and 5 O clock, the Carriages were all got ready and the Company rode off in Procession, Mr. Hancock first in his Charriot and another Charriot bringing up the Rear. I took my Leave of the Gentlemen and turned off for Taunton, oated at Doty’s and arrived, long after Dark, at Noices. There I put up. I should have been at Taunton if I had not turned back in the Morning from Roxbury—but I felt as if I ought not to loose this feast, as if it was my Duty to be there. I am not able to conjecture, of what Consequence it was whether I was there or not.
Jealousies arise from little Causes, and many might suspect, that I was not hearty in the Cause, if I had been absent whereas none of them are more sincere, and stedfast than I am.
A delightful and complete account of the gathering was published in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal:
So, what’s the connection between The Liberty Tree and The Liberty Paper Mill? Fifty-one of these Sons of Liberty attending the event would become customers of The Liberty Paper Mill.
Samuel Avis, a mariner
Capt. Benjamin Barnard, a mariner
Nathaniel Barber, Commissary of Boston Military Stores
Joseph Barrell, merchant and privateer
Capt. John Brown, planner of the 1772 attack on The Gaspee
William Burbeck, commander of artillery
Richard Billings, brazier
Enoch Brown, “strong drink” license-holder
Thomas Cushing, Mr. Speaker
John Cushing, commissary
David Cobb, aide-de-camp for Gen. George Washington
William Downes Cheever, merchant
James Cunningham, glazier
Thomas Crafts, painter, Loyal Nine
Ezekiel Cheever, commissary of artillery stores
Thomas Chase, distiller, Loyal Nine
John Crane, commander, U,S. Corps of Artillery
Joseph Carnes, rope maker
Caleb Davis, merchant
Benjamin Edes, printer, Loyal Nine
Thomas Edes, printer
John Gill, printer
Benjamin Green Jr., merchant
Nathaniel Greene, from Private to Brigadier General
John Head, merchant
John Houghton, merchant
Robert Hewes, soap boiler
Duncan Ingraham, merchant
Bartholomew Kneeland, merchant, Boston Massacre witness
John Langdon, New Hampshire merchant
Thomas Leverett, bookseller
Col. Thomas Marshall, tailor
Ephraim May, Major, Boston Militia
John Perkins, militia captain
Robert Pierpont, merchant, Boston Massacre witness
William Phillips, merchant, founder of Phillips Andover Academy
Paul Revere, you know….
John Smith, brazier, Loyal Nine
David Spear, Captain, The Boston Regiment
William Smith, fought at the bridge April 19, 1775
Joseph Sprague, distiller
James Turrell, dismissed, for cause, from the Boston Massacre trial
John Tileston, writing teacher
James Thompson, privateer commander
Ezekiel Tileston, revolutionary soldier
Thomas Tileston, Boston Tea Party guard
Joseph Vose, farmer, then Brig. General
John Welsh Jr., ironmonger
Thomas Walley, merchant
William Whitwell, merchant
William White, Captain, light infantry
I hope you’re getting a feeling for why it was called The Liberty Paper Mill.