The American Revolution Tarring and Feathering: An American Tradition



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The American Revolution

Tarring and Feathering: An American Tradition


As a ritual of political protest, tarring and feathering originated in the American colonies in the late 1760s. Initially, the punishment was meted out against customs officers and their informants, the men who helped collect taxes on imported goods. Later, after the colonies implemented a series of boycotts, known as nonimportation and nonconsumption campaigns, tar-and-feathers was used to intimidate persons who violated those boycotts. After the destruction of the tea in December 1773, Boston leaders called an end to tarring and feathering, so as not to bring the resistance movement into disrepute. But elsewhere in the colonies, tarring and feathering continued. In 1775-1776, tar-and-feathers was used to punish persons who opposed the Continental Congress or spoke ill toward the cause of Independence.


The tables below are adapted from Benjamin H. Irvin, "Tar, Feathers, and the Enemies of American Liberties, 1768–1776," New England Quarterly, 76 (June 2003), 197–238.


Questions for students:

How did the ritual of tarring and feathering change over time?

What persons were responsible for the tarring?

Whom, or what, were being tarred?

Why were they being tarred?

Where were they being tarred?

What does this changing ritual have to tell us about the American Revolution?

How did this ritual impact British perceptions of the Revolution, as manifest in political cartoons on the subject?



Table 1

Known Incidents of Tarring-and-Feathering in British North America, March 1766-November 1769


Date

Place

Person or Thing Tarred

Cause

Persons Responsible


March 1766

Norfolk,Va.

Captain William Smith

Customs enforcement

All the principal Gentlemen in Town”

June or July 1768

Salem, Mass.

Informant

Customs enforcement




September 1768

Salem, Mass.

John Row, tidesman

(Thomas Rowe?)

Customs enforcement




7 September 1768

Salem, Mass.

Robert Wood

Customs Enforcement




10 September 1768

Newburyport, Mass.

Joshua Vickery, Francis Magno

Customs enforcement

Patriots”

September 1769

New Haven, Conn.

Nathan Smith

Customs enforcement

Principal people”


30 September 1969

New York, N.Y.

Two Informers

Customs enforcement




October 1769

New York, N.Y.

Kelly, Mitchner, and others

Customs enforcement

Populace”

11 October 1769

Philadelphia, Pa.

Infamous informer”


Customs enforcement

Tars”

28 October 1769

Boston, Mass.

George Gailer

Customs enforcement

Mob”

November 1769

Boston, Mass.

Countryman”

Causing a woman to be harassed by soldiers

Mob”

Table 2

Known Incidents of Tarring-and-Feathering in British North America, February-June 1770





Date

Place

Person or Thing Tarred

Cause

Persons Responsible


21 February 1770

Boston, Mass.

The shop of Theophilus Lillie

Importing




23 March 1770


Gloucester, Mass.

Jesse Savil,

tidesman

Customs enforcement




18 May 1770

Boston, Mass.

Owen Richards, tidesman

Customs enforcement

Joseph Doble, mariner, and “nearly 2,000” people

14 May 1770

5 July 1770

9 July 1770




The house of Edward Stow


Importing




June or July 1770

(threatened)

Boston, Mass.

Patrick McMaster

Importing

Dr. Thomas Young and “Mob”


10 June 1770

(threatened on

5 July 1770)

Marlborough, Mass.

The horse of Henry Barnes, merchant

Importing






Table 3


Known Incidents of Tarring-and-Feathering in British North America, December 1773-May 1774



Date

Place

Person or Thing Tarred

Cause

Persons Responsible


December 1773

Boston, Mass.




Identifying Tea Party member





December 1773

(threatened)

Boston, Mass.

Colonel Watson

Protesting Tea Party




25 January 1774

Marblehead, Mass.

Clarke and others

Stealing clothes from a smallpox hospital


Mob”

25 January 1774

Boston, Mass.

John Malcolm

Assaulting George Robert Twelves Hewes

Mob”

26 January 1774

(threatened)

Boston, Mass.

Ebenezer Richardson

Shooting Christopher Seider


Mob”

May 1774

Boston, Mass.

The home of George Erving


Importing





Selected Incidents of Tarring-and-Feathering in British North America and the United

States, 1775-1783


Date

Place

Person or Thing Tarred


Cause

Persons Responsible


8 June 1775

Charleston, S.C.

Laughlin Martin,

James Dealy (John?)

Disrespect towards the general committee


Secret Committee

Mid-1775

York, Pa.




Insulting Congress and its measures”

York County committee of safety

24 July 1775

Savannah, Ga.

John Hopkins

Offensive Toasts”

Sons of Liberty

August 1775

(threatened)

Philadelphia, PA

Isaac Hunt,

Dr. John Kearsley

Suing a local committee

Freemen of the city”

August 1775

(attempted)

Bladensburg, MD

George Munro

Espousing strange sentiments”

A great number of men, loaded with arms”

11 August 1775

(threatened)

Virginia

John Schaw

Identifying a militia fifer to royal officials




12 August 1775

Charleston, S.C.

George Walker, gunner of Fort Johnson

Wantonly Cursing & abusing America”




September 1775

Kinderhook, N.Y.

A youth

Speaking against Congress

Women's quilting bee

28 November 1775

Duchess Co., N.Y.

Edward Short


Refusing to sign Association




16 March 1776

(threatened)

Stratford, Conn.

Mrs. Edwards, a new mother

Naming her

baby Thomas Gage

"Petticoat Army"

early days of the American Revolution”

Richmond, Va.

A shoemaker

King-worship”

Militia

c. June 1783

New London, Conn.

Prosper Brown

Returning loyalist





Printed in England in 1774, this image depicted violent protests in the American colonies. The image offers a medley of distinct historical events. In the background, the citizens of Boston dump tea in the harbor. From the Liberty Tree hang a noose and also a copy of the Stamp Act, upside down as a sign of derision. The Sons of Liberty force a tarred-and-feathered tax man to drink tea. On the ground in the fore is a liberty cap atop a liberty pole. What rank of men is committing the violent act? What does the cartoon suggest about the nature of American resistance?

Image available: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/i?pp/PPALL:@field(NUMBER+@band(cph+3a05133))




A New Method of Macarony Making as Practiced at Boston (London, 1774). A “macarony” is a fop or a dandy: an overly stylish man who pays too much attention to his clothing. What new fashion is depicted here? What rank of men is committing the violence? What other symbolism may be found in the image? Note: The “45” on the Patriot’s cap represents issue #45 of the newspaper, The North Briton, published by the outspoken radical John Wilkes. In issue #45, Wilkes criticized King George III and his ministry, and after the King ordered him imprisoned, Wilkes became a hero to opposition leaders in England and America. “Wilkes, Liberty and Number 45” became a popular rallying cry. Image available: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?ils:4:./temp/~pp_CDSY::@@@mdb=fsaall,app,brum,detr,swann,look,gottscho,pan,horyd,genthe,var,cai,cd,hh,yan,bbcards,lomax,ils,prok,brhc,nclc,matpc,iucpub,tgmi,lamb




This simple image, which dates to the 1770s, depicts a Patriot with his tarred-and-feathered victim tied by the legs. Who has given the Patriot the idea to commit such an act of violence? Image available: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?ils:13:./temp/~pp_CDSY::@@@mdb=fsaall,app,brum,detr,swann,look,gottscho,pan,horyd,genthe,var,cai,cd,hh,yan,bbcards,lomax,ils,prok,brhc,nclc,matpc,iucpub,tgmi,lamb

This broadside, or poster, appeared in Philadelphia in late 1773. The broadside was published by the mysterious “Committee for Tarring and Feathering” as a warning to Delaware pilots, who were responsible for guiding trade ships from the Atlantic Ocean up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. The committee admonished these pilots, on penalty of tar and feathers, not to steer ships loaded with British tea up to market.




Advertisements such as these occasionally appeared in the Boston newspapers in the early 1770s to remind townspeople not to cross the Sons of Liberty. Are these advertisements funny? Scary? Both? Would you have been intimidated by this sort of tactic?



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