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Essex County History
1766: Stamp Act Crisis



Some of America's earliest organized resistance to British authority by patriotic groups like the Sons of Liberty took place in Essex in 1766.

Victory in the French and Indian War (Essex County veterans) left England with vast new territory west of the Appalachian Mountains, but tremendous war debt and increased administration burdens. This led to a series imposed taxes on the American colonies by the British Parliament and the colonies rallying cry of "No Taxation without Representation". In 1765, Patrick Henry was leading Virginia's debate against England's Stamp Act. He stated in the House of Burgesses, "that the general assembly of this Colony have the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes and impositions on the inhabitants of this Colony". Most of Virginia united in a boycott of the hated act, with Essex and the Northern Neck vigorously upholding the boycott. Some saw the financial benefits of cooperating with the act, including Archibald Ritchie, a wealthy Scottish merchant in Tappahannock. He openly declared his intent to comply with the law at the Richmond County Court.

Local patriots knew this could weaken resistance to the act, so they decided to act. Men from both sides of the Rappahannock River gathered at Brays Church in Leedstown, Westmoreland on February 27th 1766 led by Thomas Ludwell Lee and Richard Henry Lee of Westmoreland and Col. Francis Waring and and Col. William Roane of Essex. The first result was the drafting of six resolutions stating allegiance to England but publicly stating their grievances with the Crown. This was one of the earliest such documents in America and is known as the Leedstown Resolutions. The second result was action. Four hundred of the men, calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, gathered in Tappahannock on February 28 and compelled Ritchie to sign a public apology for his stance on the Stamp Act. This action by a group calling themselves the Sons of Liberty was seven years before the Boston Tea Party for which popular literature associates with the patriotic group. Virginia's boycott held and England repelled the act. More importantly, Essex and Northern Neck leaders had gained experience in organization and action that would be well used in the coming years.

Archibald Ritchie would later become a staunch patriot and a member of the Association of Essex, a staunch boycott of all trade with England after 1774. His descendents would become local and state leaders in the coming decades and beyond. Ritchie's beautifully restored home (above) stands proudly today on Prince Street in Tappahannock.












Sources:

1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985. by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 8. Tappahannock and the Stamp Act (February, 1766), by Charles W. H. Warner. May 1975

3. Essex County Virginia: Historic Homes, 2002. by Anita and Gordon Harrower and Robert LaFollette (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)
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