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The Colonies in 1765

Created: July 2012

The Lanesborough Affair was an incident that occurred on 1765. This incident involved the entire town of Lanesborough. It occurred 10 years before the first shot of the American Revolution, however, it is a perfect example of the growing unhappiness of the colonists with the King. The incident was a result of the stamp act of 1765. Before we can tell the story the "Lanesborough Affair" we need to provide a brief overview of the stamp act as it pertains to our story.

The Stamp Act

The stamp act required a stamped paper produced in London be used for all paper products such as newspapers, magazines and all legal documents. Land, imported products would all have to possess a stamp before it could be purchased. There were several problems with this tax. The colonists considered this a violation of their rights as English subjects who in paying this tax had no representatives in Parliment, therefore had no voice in how this tax was spent. The famous quote "No taxation without representation" was born out of the stamp act. Another problem was the tax had to be paid in British currency and not currency of the colonies. Most colonists had no access to British currency. This created problems resulting in debts of the colonists. The fact that a stamp had to be affixed to all legal documents which included writs or warrents for arrest and court documents played a key role in the "Lanesborough Affair". In Berkshire County this stamped paper was simply not available. The people were unable mostly to purchase products that were imported because they were unable to pay the British tax (in British currency). This created debts which could not be paid. Protests took place throughout the colonies. The stamp act was short lived. Instituted on November 1, 1765 it was repealed the following March.

People Involved

The whole town was involved and stood together as one to prevent arrests. However, some people were more involved than others and as a result were arrested. The primary players in the situation were Peter Curtis who was on the list of Lanesborough's first settlers and John Franklin. These 2 men are who the sheriff came to arrest for having unpaid debts. The sheriff was Elijah Williams and his deputy sheriff was John Morse. Other members of the sheriff's party were Thomas Williams of Stockbridge, Eli Root, Elith Jones, Samuel Warner and a man referred to only as Captain Lord. Men arrested for their participation in the incident were Noah, Gideon and Abel Kent, James Loomis Jr., Seth Warren, Samuel Dorwin Jr., David Wheeler, Ichabod Hickok and of course Peter Curtis and John Franklin.

What Happened?

November 6, 1765

There were 2 townspeople who had debt that could not be paid. They were John Franklin and Peter Curtis. Because of the new Stamp Act they knew, if a stamp was not affixed to the writs for arrest, it would not be a lawful arrest. They probably also knew, no such stamps were available in Berkshire County. Everyone in Lanesborough knew the circumstances and knew it was possible the sheriff would be coming to Lanesborough to make arrests. They also knew that because of new policies, once arrested, the prisoners would have no rights and be unable to obtain any sort of bond. They could be imprisoned indefinitely with no legal recourse. On the morning of November 6, 1765 the townspeople had gathered together for a house raising. The subject was discussed and everyone agreed that if the sheriff came to town to make arrests, they would not permit it until the King's writ (with the stamp) could be secured. This would allow the prisoners their legal rights. That same evening Sheriff Morse entered the tavern in Lanesborough holding 2 writs for arrest of John Franklin and Peter Curtis. The writs did not contain a stamp, therefore were not legal under the new stamp act. What occurred next has been described in detail by Joseph Hawley an attorney (and true patriot) from Northampton and published in the Boston Eveneing Post in 1766. Anything written in quotes is his account as published.

Sheriff Morse entered Lanesborough accompanied by 5 other men Capt. Lord, Mess. Elith Jones, Samuel Warner, Thomas Williams and Eli Root with a writ to arrest Peter Curtis. The group entered the tavern in Lanesborough and Elisha Jones arrested Peter Curtis with these words: "Now Fatler Peter you old devil I have got you and you shall go to goal" Morse then saw John Franklin who he also had an arrest warrant for. Sheriff Morse commanded the townspeople in the tavern to grab him. It was at this point the sheriff realized the townspeople were not happy. In the meantime, Joseph Loomis had slipped out of the tavern and went next door to the house of Noah Kent. He told Noah what was happening and the 2 men returned to the tavern. As Noah entered the tavern, he saw his younger brother Abel Kent on the floor of the tavern with Mr. Jones on top of him. Abel had attempted to release Peter Curtis from the grip of Elisha Jones. What happened next I will quote Jospeh Hawley's words. "Upon Noah Kent's seeing his brother Abel down, and restrained by Jones in manner aforesaid, he rescued Abel and encountered Jones, Threw him on the floor, fell on him, held him down for a minute or two, then suffered him to get up." After this, words were exchanged, some profane and Morse's party got physical and attacked. The only man of Morse's group who did not participate in the brawl was Captain Lord. When things calmed down, the Lanesborough men according to Joseph Hawley's account remained calm and tried to explain their concerns. They tried to engage Morse in a conversation hoping he would listen to reason, however, Morse would not engage in such conversation and insisted on executing his writ. When the Lanesborough men realized he would not listen to their concerns that his writ was not legal, they let him know he would not be making any arrests that day. The men were forced out of the tavern and the crowd threw rocks at them until they left. It should be noted no one was actually hit by the rocks. Later, ten of the men involved in this incident were arrested for their participation. Among those arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and riot were Seth Warren, Noah Kent and Abel Kent. Seth Warren was the only man of the 10 to plea not guilty to the charges. He hired Northampton attorney Joseph Hawley to represent him. Joseph Hawley wrote an article that was published in the Boston Evening Post regarding this incident. His article may be read here.

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