Primary Resource

"Account of Col. George Mercer's Arrival in Virginia, and his Resignation of the Office of Stamp Distributor" (October 31, 1765)

In this letter to the people of Williamsburg, dated October 31, 1765, George Mercer—the appointed stamp distributer for Virginia—describes a protest against the Stamp Act.

Transcription from Original

Williamsburg (in Virginia), Oct. 31.

This week arrived in York river, the ship Leeds, Capt. Anderson, in 9 weeks from London, on board of which came passenger George Mercer, Esq., Chief Distributor of Stamps for this colony. Yesterday in the evening he arrived in this city, and upon his walking up streets as far as the Capitol, in his way to the Governor's, was accosted by a concourse of gentlemen assembled from all parts of the colony, the General court sitting at this time. They insisted he should immediately satisfy the company (which constantly increased) whether he intended to act as a commissioner under the Stamp Act; Mr. Mercer told them that any answer to so important a question that he should make, under such circumstances, would be attributed to fear; though he believed none of his countrymen, as he had never injured them, could have any design against his person; insisted that he ought to be allowed to wait on the Governor and Council, and to receive a true information of the sentiments of the colony (whose benefit and prosperity he had as much at heart as any man in it) and that he would, for the satisfaction of the company then assembled, give them his answer on Friday at ten o'clock. This seemed to satisfy them, and they attended him up as far as the Coffee-House, where the Governor, most of the Council, and a great number of gentlemen were assembled; but soon after many more people got together, and insisted on a more speedy and satisfactory answer, declaring they would not depart without one. In some time, upon Mr. Mercer's promising them an answer by five o'clock this evening, they departed well pleased; and he met with no further molestation.

And accordingly he was met this evening at the capitol, and addressed himself to the company as follows:

I now have met you agreeable to yesterday's promise, to give my country some assurances which I would have been glad I could with any tolerable propriety have done sooner.

I flatter myself no judicious man can blame me for accepting an office under an authority that was never disputed by any from whom I could be advised of the propriety or weight of the objections. I do acknowledge that some little time before I left England I heard of, and saw, some resolves which were said to be made by the House of Burgesses of Virginia; but as the authenticity of them was disputed, they never appearing but in private hands, and so often and differently represented and explained to me, I determined to know the real sentiments of my countrymen from themselves: And I am concerned to say that those sentiments were so suddenly and unexpectedly communicated to me, that I was altogether unprepared to give an immediate answer upon so important a point; for in however unpopular a light I may lately have been viewed, and notwithstanding the many insults I have from this day's conversation been informed were offered me in effigy in many parts of the colony; yet I still flatter myself that time will justify me; and that my conduct may not be condemned after being cooly inquired into.

The commission so very disagreeable to my countrymen was solely obtained by the genteel recommendation of their representatives in General Assembly, unasked for; and though this is contradictory to public report, which I am told charges me with assisting the passage of the Stamp Act, upon the promise of the commission in this colony, yet I hope it will meet with credit, when I assure you I was so far from assisting it, or having any previous promise from the Ministry, that I did not know of my appointment until some time after my return from Ireland, where I was at the commencement of the session of Parliament, and for a long time after the act had passed.

Thus, gentlemen, I am circumstanced. I should be glad to act now in such a manner as would justify me to my friends and countrymen here, and the authority which appointed me; but the time you have allotted me for my answer is so very short that I have not yet been able to discover that happy medium, therefore must intreat you to be referred to my future conduct, with this assurance in the mean time that I will not, directly or indirectly, by myself or deputies, proceed in the execution of the act until I receive further orders from England, and not then without the assent of the General Assembly of this colony; and that no man can more ardently and sincerely wish the prosperity thereof, or is more desirous of securing all its just rights and privileges, than

Gentlemen, Yours &c.,

George Mercer.