[1764 LS from Joseph Sherwood to Governor of Rhode Island Plantation Colony Stephen Hopkins].
A letter on “Stamp Dutys” or taxes written a year before the controversial Stamp Act of 1765
The slow march to the Stamp Act of 1765.
Two-part letter from Rhode Island colonial agent Joseph Sherwood (c1708–1773) in London to Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins concerning British Parliamentary resolutions, one specifically relating to proposed “Stamp Dutys” or taxes on various trade goods including “Molasses and Sugar Imported into the British Colonies.” Whaling content is also seen within.
Written in two secretarial hands and signed and datelined twice by Sherwood, the letter also transmits a copy of a resolution in the House of Commons concerning “Bills of Credit” for “the several British Colonies & Plantations in America.”
London attorney and Quaker Joseph Sherwood served as an agent for the colony of Rhode Island from 1759 to 1773. Almost half that time, from 1759 to 1766, he was also an agent representing the colonial interests of New Jersey.
He reports that duties were being proposed on “Forreign Coffee,” indigo, various textiles, pimento, molasses and sugar. The latter two items being important commodities in Rhode Island’s economy:
I have taken great Pains to get the Proposed Duty on Molasses reduced to 2d [2 shillings] p[er] Gallon, and for that purpose drew up a Brief State of the Affair with reasons for that reduction, which I have delivered to several Members of the House, and the Substance of which has also been delivered to the first Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon whom I waited Yesterday in Company with several of the other Agents Solliciting the Duty might be lowered; He seems well Disposed towards the Colonys, but the Interest of the West Indians is so great in the House of Commons that we have reason to fear it will be fixed at 3d [3 shillings]. ... The Resolution relating to the Charging of Stamp Dutys on the Colony is agreed to be suspended till the next Sessions, in order to give the Colonies an Opportunity of showing Cause against it if they can. (p)
Sherwood reports that the British Lords of Trade recommended to Parliament that “a Bounty on Hemp and Flax raised in the Colonys and Imported into Great Britain” be granted and continued for 21 years. He reports that other economic incentives were being proffered as well by the Lords of Trade “...to give Encouragement to Beaver, Furr, Skins, Iron, and other Commoditys, Imported from the Colonies,” adding that “...of these last Articles the mode of Encouragement is not yet Ascertained.” (p)
Interestingly, Sherwood writes about another important New England industry Parliament was trying to encourage—whaling:
On the 13th Instant the House of Commons also Resolved “That any person or persons be permitted to Import in Ships belonging to his Majestys Subjects Whale Finns taken from Wales caught by any of his Majestys Subjects in the Gulph or River of St. Lawrence or in any Seas on the Coasts of any of his Majesty[s] Colonies in America without paying any Custom Subsidy or Duty for the same…for the Term of seven years from the 25th day of December 1763.” (p[2)]
Appended to this first part of the letter is a second part added three weeks later. Therein, Sherwood acknowledges instructions sent by Governor Hopkins and Rhode Island colonial officials. Although he does not state explicitly what this “Representation to the [British] Board of Trade” concerns, it almost certainly was about issues of taxation on molasses etc., a subject already being attended to (as mentioned above) by him.¹
To this concluding part of his letter Sherwood adds the text of a House of Commons resolution pertaining to “Bills of Credit which have been created & issued in the several British Colonies & Plantations in America as well as those under Proprietors & Charters…” These efforts were likely intended to increase liquidity in the American colonial economy after the French and Indian War. Sherwood refers to “...sinking & Discharging such Bills, and the Fund appropriated for that purpose.” (p)
The likely possibility of the the Stamp Act of 1765—which helped to incite revolutionary fervor in America—is clearly seen in Sherwood’s letter. In a known letter to Governor Hopkins, sent the previous year, Sherwood had already surmised that these duties and taxes were underpinnings of a standing army in America.² In his present letter, the prospect of the Stamp Tax seems inevitable: “The Resolution relating to the Charging of Stamp Dutys on the Colony is agreed to be suspended till the next Sessions, in order to give the Colonies an Opportunity of showing Cause against it if they can.” (p, emphasis added)
Description: [1764 LS from Joseph Sherwood to Governor of Rhode Island Plantation Colony Stephen Hopkins].
Warnford Court, Throgmorton Street [London], March 21, 1764 and April 12, 1764. pp. Letter Signed. Bifolium with integral address leaf. Sm. Folio; remnant of wax seal. Leaves separated; some losses at edges and at wax seal, some separations at fold lines, not affecting sense, but affecting both autographs; very good. BCJ 264484.
Note. 1. See Bartlett, ed., Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, Volume VI (Providence, 1861), pp378ff. 2. Ibid., p368. Also see Morgan and Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis (Chapel Hill, 1962), p34.