History Colloquium with Prof. Vaughn Scribner
As part of the ongoing History Colloquium Series, the Kinder Forum invited University of Central Arkansas Visiting Professor Vaughn Scribner to campus on December 5, 2014, to deliver a talk on the role that taverns played in colonists’ protests to the Stamp Act during the years 1765-1766. As spaces in which ideas were exchanged and, yes, in which oppositional attitudes were stoked by liquor, taverns became, he argued, de facto headquarters for resistance and, in this, spaces in which local, national, and global political change often originated.
In examining the many protests that began (or ended) in locations ranging from William Bradford’s London Coffee House in Philadelphia to Dillon’s Tavern in Charleston, SC, Prof. Scribner focused on how resistance took various forms during the Stamp Act Crisis and, moreover, how the form it took could very easily and quickly change over the course of an evening of debating and imbibing. On the one hand, elite members of society, working under the assumption that they might be able to exert some influence over the spirits of the “rabble,” often attempted to organize orderly resistance to the Stamp Act, seeing these episodes as an “unfortunate but necessary” way of checking the colonial governing powers. The November 5, 1765, grand feast at Boston’s Royal Exchange Tavern was, Prof. Scribner claimed, an ideal example of such an attempt at more or less peaceful resistance, with members of all classes coming together to speak out against the Stamp Act before adjourning early and without tempers reaching a breaking point. Still, he noted, the history of protest in Massachusetts and elsewhere wasn’t always this uneventful. After a relatively tame August 1765 anti-Stamp Act gathering, for example, mobs of citizens reconvened in the lower taverns of Boston before taking to the streets in destructive protest. They first stormed the home of Stamp Collector Andrew Oliver, forcing him to resign his post under threats of violence, before proceeding to Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s house, which they promptly razed to the ground after finding that Hutchinson had fled.
In concluding his case study, Prof. Scribner pointed out how what was perhaps most notable about these instances of collective action was how often they were successful. The riots that happened up and down the eastern seaboard not only frequently resulted in the resignation of Stamp Act officials and the retreat of Royal Governors, but also sparked conversation across the Atlantic regarding the growing political agency of the thirteen colonies.
Vaughn Scribner received his B.A. in American History from Kansas State University and his PhD in American History from University of Kansas, where he was awarded the History Department’s Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for his Imperial Pubs: British American Taverns as Spaces of Empire, 1700-1783. His article “Cosmopolitan Colonists: Gentlemen’s Pursuit of Cosmopolitan Hierarchy in Colonial American Taverns” was recently published in Atlantic Studies, and his chapter “‘A Genteel and Sensible Servant’: The Commodification of African Slaves in Tidewater, Virginia, 1700-1774” will appear in the forthcoming Lexington Publishers title Order and Civility in the Early Modern Chesapeake. He currently serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at University of Central Arkansas, where he is completing work on his manuscript Beyond Bacchus: British American Taverns and the Imperial Rupture.