Today, the Georgia State Quarter Coin remembers when the Liberty Boys planned to destroy the stamp paper on January 2, 1766.
Georgia’s governor talked the representatives into not attending the northern colonies’ meeting to discuss the odious Stamp Act, however that did not stop Georgians from vehemently protesting against England’s plan of taxation.
From A Treatise on the Constitution of Georgia, by Walter McElreath, published in 1912:
The first principle of American liberty to be developed and insisted upon was that which denied the right of taxation without representation.
In 1718, the Virginia House of Burgesses declared that the act of parliament extending the post office system to the colonies was an usurpation of a function, which belonged only to the colonial legislature, because the levying of postal rates was a species of taxation, and when that state capitulated to the commonwealth of Cromwell in 1652, it was expressly stipulated that no taxes or customs should be laid, except by her own representatives.
From time to time, the colonial legislatures passed declaratory acts asserting the principle that there could be no taxation without representation, and the assembly of New York asserted this right, which had been foreshadowed in Magna Charta, and had been expressly recognized by the Petition of Right, by the passage of an act in 1691, “that no tax whatever should be levied on his Majesty’s subjects in that province or on their estates, on any pretence whatever, but by the act and consent of the representatives of the people in the General Assembly convened.”
When the news of the passage of the Stamp Act, arrived in America, the Virginia Assembly was in session, and immediately passed resolutions denying the right of parliament to tax the colonies.
On the 25th of June, 1765, the General Assembly of Massachusetts sent a circular letter to all of the colonies, asking them to send representatives to a General Congress to meet in New York on the first Tuesday in October, 1765, for the purpose of “United Resistance.”
When this letter was received by the Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly of Georgia the assembly was not in session but the speaker immediately issued a call for a meeting of the members of the assembly, and sixteen of them met in Savannah on the 2nd day of September, 1765.
A reply was sent to the Massachusetts resolutions expressing their willingness “to co-operate in every measure for the support of their common rights,” but, through the influence of Governor Wright, they did not send delegates to the Congress, although Georgia sent a messenger, who was to get a copy of the proceedings.
James Habersham, president of the Council of Georgia, said with reference to this tax, “the annual tax raised here for the support of our internal policy, is full as much as the inhabitants can bear, and suppose the stamps produce only one eighth of what they would in South Carolina, it would amount to as much in one year as our tax laws will raise in three; and perhaps we have not five thousand pounds in gold and silver, come into the province in five years, though the Act requires it in one. If this is really the case, as I believe it is, how must every inhabitant shudder at the thought of the Act taking place, which according to my present apprehension must inevitable ruin them.”
Before the arrival of the stamps an association was formed known as the “Liberty Boys” to prevent the distribution of the papers on their arrival, and to compel the distributors to resign.
On the 5th of December the ship Speedwell, bearing the stamps, arrived in the river. The stamps were secretly transferred to Fort Halifax.
On the 2nd of January, 1766, the governor was informed that two hundred “Liberty Boys” had assembled to break open the fort and destroy the stamps.
The governor ordered out two military companies and removed the stamps to the guard house.
Towards the close of January, a body of six hundred men assembled a few miles from the town and sent word to the governor that, unless the papers were removed, they would march to Savannah and storm the governor’s house and the fort and destroy them.
The governor sent the stamps to Fort George, on Cockspur Island, where they remained for a few days, when, for better security, they were returned to the man-of-war, Speedwell, on which they had been brought to the colony.
An excerpt of the letter written by Governor Wright describing the events of the Liberty Boys found in The History of Georgia by Charles Colcock Jones, published in 1883:
“On the 26th of October, the day of his Majesty’s accession, I had ordered a general Muster: and in the evening, a little after night, there was a very great tumult in the streets, and some effigies burnt, and a day or two after several incendiary threatening letters were wrote on which I issued a proclamation as your Excellency will see by the enclosed newspaper.
“I also issued another proclamation against riots and tumultuous and unlawful assemblies, and from that time the spirit of faction and sedition took place and increased, and those persons who falsely call themselves the Sons of Liberty began to have private cabals and meetings, and I was informed that many had signed an Association to oppose and prevent the distribution of Stamped papers, and the act from taking effect.
“But it was impossible to come at such proof as would enable me to support any legal proceedings against them, and I found they had determined on attacking the distributor as soon as he arrived, and compelling him to resign or promise not to act, as had been done in the Northern Colonies.
“I had also been informed that they intended to seize upon and destroy the papers whenever they should come. In the mean time Sir, every argument I could suggest was used to convince them of the rashness of such attempts and the dangerous consequences that must attend them, and every method, both public and private, was pursued by me to bring them to a right way of thinking, and which I frequently thought I had effected, and am sure I should have done but for the inflammatory papers, letters, and messages continually sent to the people here from the Liberty Boys, as they call themselves, in Charlestown, South Carolina, and by whom I am very clear all our disturbances and difficulties have been occasioned.
“And thus matters rested Sir, till the 5th of December when his Majesty’s ship Speedwell arrived here with the stamped papers on board. I had used every precaution necessary to prevent either papers or officer from falling into the hands of those people, which they were not ignorant of.
“And when it was known that the Speedwell was in the river with the papers, several of the principal inhabitants came to me and gave me the strongest assurances possible that there was then no intention to seize upon or destroy the papers. And they were landed without any appearance of tumult and lodged in the King’s store or warehouse under the care of the Commissary.
“But notwithstanding these assurances with respect to the papers, I still found there was a design against the Officer.
“From the 5th of November everything remained pretty quiet, but I found cabals were frequently held and inflammatory letters sent from Charlestown, and on the 2nd of January, about 3 in the afternoon, I was informed that the Liberty Boys in town had assembled together to the number of about 200 and were gathering fast, and that some of them had declared they were determined to go to the Fort and break open the Store and take out the stamped papers and destroy them; on which I immediately ordered the officers to get their men together, but appearances and threats were such that in three days I had not less than 40 men on duty every night to protect the papers, or I am confident they would have been destroyed.
“On the 3rd of January Mr. Angus, the distributor for this Province, arrived, of which I had the earliest notice in consequence of measures concerted for that purpose, and immediately sent the scout boat with an officer and a party of men to protect him and suffer no body to speak to him, but conduct him safely to my house, which was done the next day at noon when he took the State oaths and oath of office, and I had the papers distributed and lodged in all the different offices relative to the shipping and opening our ports, which had been shut for some time.
“But here the people in general have agreed not to apply for any other papers till his Majesty’s pleasure be known on the petitions sent from the Colonies.
“I kept the Officer in my house for a fortnight, after which he went into the Country, to avoid the resentment of the people, for awhile. No pains have been spared in the Northern Colonies to spirit up and inflame the people, and a spirit of faction and sedition was stirred up throughout the Province, and parties of armed men actually assembled themselves together and were preparing to do so in different parts, but by sending expresses with letters to many of the most prudent I had the satisfaction to find that my weight and credit was sufficient to check all commotions and disturbances in the Country at that time,
“and everything was quiet again and remained so till a few days ago when some incendiaries from Charlestown came full fraught with sedition and rebellion, and have been about the Country and inflamed the people to such a degree that they were again assembling together in all parts of the Province and, to the number of about 600, were to have come here on yesterday, all armed, and these people as I have been informed, were to have surrounded my house and endeavored to extort a promise from me that no papers should be issued till his Majesty’s pleasure be known on the petitions sent home,
“and if I did not immediately comply, they were to seize upon and destroy the papers and commit many acts of violence against the persons and property of those gentlemen that have declared themselves friends of Government.
“On this last alarm I thought it advisable to remove the papers to a place of greater security, and accordingly ordered them to be carried to Fort George on Cockspur Island where they are protected by a Captain, two Subalterns, and fifty private men of the Rangers.
“But I have the satisfaction to inform your Excellency that I have, with the assistance of some well disposed Gentlemen, taken off and got a great many dispersed who were actually on their way down here, but many are still under arms and I can’t yet say how the affair will end. …”
The Georgia State Quarter Coin shows with an image, circa 1939, of a tabby fort built near Savannah in the 1740s.