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An Intrastate Merchant Dispute on the Eve of the American Revolutionary War
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Shame, Shame, to take the Advantage of your country in such an oppressive degree…we are sensible of the Mortal Wounds we Received and do receive from you.

UNKNOWN. Handwritten Letter, to Hugh Gaine. November 1, 1774. New York State. 1 p., 8¼ x 8⅜ in.

Inventory #24246       Price: $2,400

At meetings held from September 6 to 9, 1774 in Dedham and Milton in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, colonists passed a series of resolutions composed by physician-patriot Joseph Warren. Declaring the Intolerable Acts (or Coercive Acts) of March-June 1774 illegal, the “Suffolk Resolves” urged Massachusetts citizens to withhold taxes and disregard orders of royal officials, called for weekly musters of minutemen, and recommended cessation of trade with Britain until the acts were revoked. Paul Revere brought the resolves via horseback to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where on September 17, Virginia’s Peyton Randolph read them aloud on the convention floor.

The resolves, endorsed by Congress on the same day that Randolph read them, represented a major step on the road to the American Revolutionary War. On October 14 Congress adopted a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” which claimed that colonial rights were founded on the law of nature, the British constitution, and the colonial charters. Six days later, Congress established the Continental Association, a system of watchdog committees tasked with publicizing any violations of the boycott of British goods and trade. The Association became active on December 1.

Meanwhile, patriots in New York City had responded to the Intolerable Acts by forming the Committee of Fifty-One, which expressed solidarity with their Bostonian brethren who were “suffering in defence of the rights of America.” On November 22, 1774, the committee established a successor group, the Committee of Sixty, and charged it with enforcing the boycott endorsed by the First Continental Congress. From Boston to Philadelphia to New York City, the colonists seemed united in their opposition to the Intolerable Acts.

Yet this surface unity was belied by the fact that certain American merchants either violated the boycott or compensated for their losses under it by overcharging their fellow Yankee tradesmen. Thus, in November 1774, an anonymous New York State businessman asked Hugh Gaine, the publisher of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, to publish the letter transcribed below.The businessman laments that while the colonists should be united against the threat to liberty represented by the Intolerable Acts, merchants in New York City are gouging their upstate customers.

Complete Transcript

From a Merchant of the Province of New York to the Merchants of the City of New York, humbly offered to their consideration. Mr. Gain Sr. be pleased to insert the following in your Weekly Gazette


            You are not unacquainted with the Cloud that now hangs over our heads which threatens us all with Slavery and Bondage by reason of inhuman, and unreasonable Acts of Parliament Enacted against us with arbitary power and Extortion. Therefore Gentlemen it is impossible for the Merchants of the different Counties of this Province to Carry on Trade or Commerce any longer as you take the advantage of us in this difficult time of distress by Extorting your Goods to us at Such an Extravagant Price. We lose above twenty p Cent Therefore if we may not have them as usual we shall Certainly be obliged to enter into a Combination amongst ourselves and throw up Trade entirely for we can in no manner of way Subsist in this ungeneros and unfair way of dealing. You seem’d to be all very forward to favour the poor Bostainians with your hospitality whereas you are now bring us on the same level with them and indeed our Case seems to be rather worse than theirs. You make a Great Cry and noise against oppresson and oppressors but you are the men. is there a Soul of A man amongst you? Shame, Shame, to take the Advantage of your country in such an oppressive degree more might be inserted but this may be Sufficient to let you understand that we are sensible of the Mortal Wounds we Received and do receive from you.

Novr. 1st. 1774                                                  H G

Hugh Gaine (1726-1807), a native of Ireland, was a printer, bookseller, and newspaper publisher. In 1752 he founded the New-York Mercury (later known as the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury). An initial supporter of the patriot cause, he eventually continued publication of his newspaper under the supervision of the occupying British, earning himself the moniker “the turncoat printer of the American Revolution.” Following the war, he continued his printing business and helped found the American Booksellers Association.

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