Feathers and a tax collector in 1775 – Maryland State Quarter

Today, the Maryland State Quarter remembers a printed article from 240 years ago that described what happened to a loyalist and tax collector in the Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania area.

First, one historical source gave details of the primary individuals:

“A young British tax collector of Georgetown, Maryland, named Robert Strafford Byrne, stopped two wagons driven by men named Shahahan and White of Duck Creek on the way to the head of Chester River loaded with coffee, rum, sugar and piece goods for Lorain, Bolton and Anderson of Chestertown.”

The New York Gazette of March 27, 1775 printed the following article describing the tax collector’s misfortunes that day.


A few days ago, a certain Byrns, a young man lately from England, who has acted in the capacity of a tax-gatherer, near Georgetown, Pennsylvania, but who lately sold his commission, and probably spent the money, stopped two wagons, on their way from Duck Creek, Cross Roads, to the head of Chester, and seized them as forfeited to the king, for reasons best known to himself, and made their drivers follow him with them to Downes tavern.

Stepping in there to get a drink, he presently came out, and missing the wagons, pushed after, soon overtook them, and was returning, when several young men met him, knocked up his heels, and then took his gun, laid it in the road, and made the wagons drive over it twice or thrice, till they had rendered it entirely useless.

They then tied a grape vine, provided for that purpose, about his neck, and dragged him to a mill, not far distant, where they primed him over a little, not having a sufficient quantity of varnish to give him a complete gloss, then gently sprinkling the feathers of an old pillow over that, they led him into Georgetown, where they drenched him with Newberry rum and water, taken from a duck-hole, until it began to work unpleasantly.

They then led him like a victim, unto a duck-hole, where they launched him in with such swiftness, that the other shore brought him up.

In this situation they had him some time; at last they made him fast with a grape vine, and brought him to a confession.

He damned Bute, North, and all their brethren and followers, and said that the Americans were a generous, spirited, and much injured people.

They then gave him a terrestrial absolution on condition that he would immediately transport himself to Europe, and there speak the sentiments now delivered; which being agreed to, he set out the same evening for Boston.


Another historical source stated, “In Delaware, loyalist Robert Strafford Byrne was submerged in water until he was prepared to condemn the British ‘ministerial sons of bitches’ and promised to leave the region.”

Based on today’s geography, the area where the altercation occurred was probably in Maryland not far from Delaware.

Regardless of the actual geography, both Tories and Americans in that time period “tarred and feathered” their enemies.

In Mr. Byrne’s case, the Americans “varnished and feathered.”

In researching this event, another source stated “Newberry rum and water” was actually muddy water that Mr. Byrnes was forced to drink, though that has not be verified.

The angry colonists certainly had a way of responding to excessive taxation.

The Maryland State Quarter shows against a background print, circa 1774, of men tarring and feathering a Tory tax collector.

Maryland State Quarter