Document Box Commemorates Stamp Act Repeal
A leather-covered document box, embossed with the gilded text “Stamp Act Rep’d / March 18, 1766” will be exhibited at the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. The box, probably made in England, was discovered by Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation curators who were searching for an artifact that would be emblematic of the British Parliament’s repeal in 1766 of the Stamp Act, a tax imposed on newspapers, pamphlets and cards imported into the American colonies and which also placed a tax on legal documents.
In England, the repeal of the tax had advocates among British merchants whose livelihoods suffered when the American colonies boycotted the importation of English goods. In London, coaches carried merchants to Parliament to demonstrate their support of the repeal, and copies of the repeal were sent to waiting merchant ships bound for colonial American ports. In the 13 American colonies during the months following the repeal, there were public celebrations, bells were rung, broadsides were posted, and statues of William Pitt, a powerful Parliament member who persuasively advocated for the repeal of the Stamp Act, and King George III were erected to commemorate the event. The letters “WP” on the document box lid may allude to Pitt.
While researching the “Stamp Act Repealed” document box, curatorial staff discovered a similar document box in the collection of Princeton University that shares a New Jersey provenance and the same embossed text – “Stamp Act Rep’d / March 18, 1766.” Based on comparisons of images, it is apparent that the same tools were used to create the embossed text on both boxes. The Princeton example retains its maker’s label, which identifies it as having been made for export in London by James Season. The Princeton’s document box was owned by John Witherspoon (1723-1794), the sixth president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
While the original owner of the document box that is destined for exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is unknown, it seems safe to conclude that the Stamp Act repeal had enough significance for this individual to merit owning a souvenir commemorating the event.