Lieutenant-governor Bull shut the port on 1 November because of the refusal to comply with the Stamp Act. Fourteen hundred sailors were stranded ashore. For both slave and free alike walking down the street in safety became ever more precarious. 'It was feared there would be trouble with the slaves.' Unsurprisingly, with the white lower orders and many of the middling sort behaving badly, it did not take long for some slaves to band together and march through the city 'crying out Liberty.' A merchant's wife told the lieutenant-governor she had heard two of her slaves discussing a planned massacre of Charles Town's white population on Christmas Eve. Lieutenant-Governor William Bull knew slave holiday celebrations culminated on that night with 'the Firing of Guns by way of rejoicing,' making it impossible for the local militia to distinguish the normal alarm signal signifying a slave uprising. Told about the dangers the Council immediately assented to the calling out of the militia and the conscripting of the footloose ships' crews to maintain order. '[A]ll were Soldiers in arms' 'for 10 or 14 days' 'in the most bitterly cold weather in19 years' 'day and night' under the 'severest orders' to suppress the slightest hint of black rebellion. Daniel Gordon and his friends would have the bleakest Christmas and New Year imaginable. Catawba Indians, who terrified the black man, were on conspicuous stand-by to track any escaped rebels trying to flee white justice. Street gossip spread how one master and his two slaves for twelve days fixed bayonets to six hundred guns and put flints in nearly a thousand muskets. Large numbers of runaways were sheltering in the swamps and riverine forests but they were no threats to whites any where. One slave was punished because he was 'a sad Dog' and to 'save appearances of white watchfulness, but in the end 'there was little or no cause for all [the] bustle.'2
By the end of February even Bull was apprehensive about the 'near 1400 sailors' still in town 'beginning to grow licentious.' That worry and the fact that 'commotions increas[ed] every hour' convinced him to finally re-open the port. He began issuing clearances and certificates to ships' masters stating that no stamps were available. Daniel's colleagues in the Charles Town Fire Company, radicals all, heard of a schooner laden with rice bound for Georgia, the only mainland colony which had introduced the Stamp Act. Its captain tried to sail at night but was stopped by the Fire Company's artisans and forced to unload his cargo or have his vessel burnt at the wharf. The Company's black labourers would not have been allowed to take part in this intimidation, though they may have been present to help put out the expected fire if it got out of control. Certainly by morning Daniel and everybody else in Charles Town would have heard of the rash enterprise.3
Protests heard in London ultimately forced the repeal of the Stamp Act in the British Parliament. News of the repeal arrived in Charles Town on May 6, 1766, 'and the Courts in South Carolina resumed their duties...' The Sons of Liberty met under a huge oak in a pasture on the edge of town, thereafter known as the Liberty Tree, and demanded everyone illuminate their houses in celebration. Bells rang, the town was 'illuminated, guns were fired, and bonfires and other demonstrations of joy shown …' Everyone got drunk on rum. The general goodwill, however, did not extend to blacks, local or otherwise. The Grand Jury, rather, complained that 'slaves were out at all times of the night' 'profanely cursing, swearing and talking obscenely in the most public manner, to the great annoyance of every [white] person, who has a sense of decency and justice.' It took particular umbrage at the blacks partying 'on the Sabbath Day … where it is not in the power of watchmen to suppress them.'4 Clearly, for Daniel Gordon and his friends, life was back to normal in Charles Town.
1Richard Walsh, Charleston's Sons of Liberty. A Study of the Artisans, 1763-1789,Columbia, 1959, pp.37-38, 30; Wood, ' “Liberty is Sweet” … :, p.157; John Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution: from its Commencement to the Year 1776, … Vol.I, Charleston, 1821, pp.44-48.
2McDonough, Christopher Gadsden and Henry Laurens, p.73; Godbold and Woody, Christopher Gadsden and the American Revolution, p.65; Harris, The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah, pp.61-62; Wood, ' “Liberty is Sweet” …', pp.158-159; Gary B. Nash, The Unknown American Revolution. The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, London, 2007, p.61; Sellers, Charleston Business on the Eve of the American Revolution, p.129; Morgan, 'Black Life in Eighteenth Century Charleston', p.220;Hatley, The Dividing Paths,p.74; and f/n 35 p.159; Morgan, Slave Counterpoint, p.389.
3Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation. A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776, Indianapolis, 2004, p.138; Marc Egnal, A Mighty Empire. The Origins of the American Revolution, Ithaca, 1988, p.230; Arthur Meier Schlesinger, The Colonial Merchants of the American Revolution, 1763-1776, New York, 1957, p.82; Walsh, Charleston's Sons of Liberty, pp.38-39.
4John Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution from its Commencement to the Year 1776 …Vol. II, Charleston, 1821, p.59; Harris, The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah, p.56; Jensen, The Founding of a Nation, p.188; The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, (e. Werner Sollers), New York, 2001, p.95; Morgan, 'Black Life in Eighteenth Century Charleston', p.207.