Stamp Tax Protests (Wilmington)

Written By North Carolina History Project

After the English Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, many North Carolinians refused to comply with the bill—even after Governor William Tryon promised special privileges to fifty leading North Carolinian merchants and planters.  

North Carolinians ignored paying the tax, so royal officials closed the colony’s ports.  They finally eliminated the restriction in February 1766.  Officials sought to punish Wilmington, however, for the radicals there had been particularly troublesome to the Crown and his officials.  Therefore, custom officials refused to open the Cape Fear River port.  

In particular, British Navy Captain Jacob Lobb and William Dry, a tax collector, worked to subdue the Wilmingtonian radicalism, but the two men’s actions produced the opposite effect.  Under Lobb’s orders, the English seized several vessels in the Cape Fear River because the captains possessed unstamped clearance papers.   When they learned that Dry planned to present the captured vessels to the admiralty court, approximately 1,000 Brunswick, New Hanover, and Bladen countians formed a 1,000-man association that traveled in February 1766 to Wilmington.  There, the tax protestors forced Dry and Lobb to release the vessels and open the port.  Three days later, every court and custom official swore to ignore the Stamp Act.   With mission accomplished, association members left Wilmington, for they had opened the Cape Fear River to navigation and trade.  After February 1766, British officials there had (no doubt) a vivid recollection of the association’s action and therefore were hesitant to disregard their agreement.