The Leedstown Resolves of 1766

February 27, 1766

The Leedstown Resolves were signed by residents of Westmoreland Country on February 27, 1766. The resolves established the Westmoreland Association, which obstructed the enforcement of the Stamp Act.

Richard Henry Lee, Illustration

Richard Henry Lee is considered the author of the Leedstown Resolutions. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Leedstown Resolves Summary

The Leedstown Resolves — or Leedstown Resolutions — is a document that organized the Westmoreland Association, for the purpose of resisting the Stamp Act and ensuring Virginians in Westmoreland County did not comply with the law. The document was written by Richard Henry Lee and signed at Leedstown, Virginia on February 27, 1766. The Westmoreland Association is considered to be one of the first groups that were formally organized to resist British policies. Other groups, like the Sons of Liberty and Daughters of Liberty, were loose organizations that were not formally documented. The Leedstown Resolves and the Westmoreland Association were similar in nature to the Continental Association which was established by the First Continental Congress with the signing of the Articles of Association. The Westmoreland Association was successful in obstructing the enforcement of the Stamp Act and the use of stamped paper.

Leedstown Resolves Quick Facts

  • Date: The Leedstown Resolves were written at Leedstown, Virginia on Thursday, February 27, 1766.
  • Purpose: The Resolves set up the Westmoreland Association, for the purpose of stopping government officials from enforcing the Stamp Act.
  • Also Known As: The Leedstown Resolves is also known as the Leedstown Resolutions, Westmoreland Resolves, and Westmoreland Resolutions.
  • Written By: Richard Henry Lee is generally considered to be the author of the Leedstown Resolves.

History of the Leedstown Resolves

After the French and Indian War, the British territory in North America significantly expanded. In order to protect the new western frontier, the British Ministry decided to keep a standing army of 10,000 troops in North America. 

The Proclamation of 1763 Restricts the Westward Expansion of Virginia

Soon after, an uprising of Native American Indians took place — Pontiac’s Rebellion — which seemed to justify the Ministry’s position. King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763 in order to restore peace with the Indians, however, in doing so, he restricted the westward expansion of the American Colonies, including Virginia. These were early events that created animosity between the colonies and Great Britain.

The Sugar Act Imposes Taxes on the American Colonies

Following the restriction of westward expansion, Parliament passed the Sugar Act, which taxed shipments of goods strictly for the purpose of raising revenue for the British Treasury and to help pay for the standing army in North America. Americans protested the Sugar Act, insisting Parliament had no right to tax them, and refuted the need for a standing army. 

Parliament Prepares the Stamp Act

Instead of relenting, Parliament passed another tax on Americans, in the form of the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act tax affected nearly all Americans because it required nearly everything that was printed to be done so on special paper that had an embossed stamp on it. The stamped paper was to be distributed through a network of Stamp Distributors. Prime Minister George Grenville thought the tax would be more acceptable to Americans if the Stamp Distributors were Americans instead of British officials in London.

Stamp Act Proof, Photograph
Photograph of a 1p proof of an embossed Stamp. Image Source: Smithsonian Institution.

Richard Henry Lee was interested in being named the Stamp Distributor for Virginia because it would be a lucrative position. The Stamp Distributor would earn money on every sale of stamped paper. However, Virginian George Mercer was appointed Stamp Distributor for Virginia. From that point on, Lee became a vocal opponent of the Stamp Act.

In November 1764, news of the impending passage of the Stamp Act reached Virginia, and resistance to the Stamp Act started. The House of Burgesses met on November 13 and Richard Henry Lee made a motion for the House to send a letter of protest to the House of Commons because that is where revenue bills were introduced. The next day, the Burgesses agreed to send letters to the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. On December 13, drafts of the letters were presented to the House. The letter to the House of Commons made Virginia’s stance on taxation clear, saying it was “inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Constitution.”

Patrick Henry and the Virginia Stamp Act Resolves

On March 22, 1765, the Stamp Act received Royal Assent from King George III. News of the bill’s passage reached the colonies in April. At the next session of the House of Burgesses, a new member, Patrick Henry, delivered a fiery speech on May 29, 1765. In it, he presented a series of resolutions against the Stamp Act. The next day, the House of Burgesses adopted some of Henry’s resolutions and issued the Virginia Stamp Act Resolves. At least 10 colonies followed in Virginia’s footsteps and issued Stamp Act Resolutions, including:

Patrick Henry, Founding Father, Illustration
Patrick Henry. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Governor Fauquier Blocks Virginia Participation in the Stamp Act Congress

On June 8, 1765, the Massachusetts General Assembly sent a circular letter to the legislatures of the other colonies. In the letter, Massachusetts proposed a meeting to discuss a unified colonial response to the Stamp Act. Massachusetts asked each legislature to select representatives for the meeting, which was scheduled to begin on the first Tuesday in October in New York City. Most of the Royal Governors in the colonies allowed the legislatures to elect delegates to send to the Stamp Act Congress. Unfortunately, Governor Francis Fauquier of Virginia, who was outraged over the Virginia Stamp Act Resolves, dissolved the House of Burgesses, which kept it from electing delegates.

Westmoreland County Stamp Act Protest, September 23, 1765

On September 23, 1765, a demonstration was held, similar to other Stamp Act Riots and Demonstrations that were taking place throughout the colonies. Effigies of George Mercer and Prime Minister George Grenville were hung in effigy. The effigy of Mercer had a sign on it that read “Money is my God.” Richard Henry Lee was involved in the demonstration and may have played a role in planning the event.

Westmoreland County Justices Refuse to Enforce the Stamp Act

The Stamp Act was set to go into effect on November 1, 1765. The justices in Westmoreland County decided it was better to close the courts, rather than enforce the Stamp Act, as they were required to by law. They protested the Stamp Act and said they would not “become Instrumental in the Destruction of Our Country’s most essential Rights and Liberties.”

George Mercer Resigns

On October 30, George Mercer arrived in Williamsburg. He was cornered by a crowd that demanded to know what his intentions were in regard to the stamped paper and enforcement of the Stamp Act. Mercer resigned the next day.

The Ritchie Affair

After the Stamp Act went into effect, most merchants and courts in Virginia refused to use stamped paper, as required by the law. However, Arthur Ritchie, a well-known merchant at Tappahannock, Virginia, insisted he was going to use stamped paper to clear one of his cargo ships that was going to sail to the West Indies.

On February 21, 1766, around 70 residents of Essex County went to confront Ritchie. Two of the leaders were Colonel Francis Waring and William Roane. Both had served as Essex County representatives to the House of Burgesses, and Roane was also Ritchie’s brother-in-law. They were also staunch opponents of the Stamp Act.

The crown went to Ritchie’s house and confronted him. The crown dispersed, but the reason why is not entirely clear. It may have been broken up by British troops, but Ritchie may have told them he did not use the stamped paper to clear his ship for passage from the port. Regardless, Ritchie pledged that he would not use the stamped paper. While this satisfied his neighbors, it did not satisfy the prominent planters that lived outside the region, including Richard Henry Lee and his brothers.

Meeting at Leedstown, Virginia

One of Richard Henry’s brothers, Thomas Ludwell Lee called for a meeting for the purpose of discussing opposition to enforcement and compliance with the Stamp Act, and how to deal with Ritchie. Lee wanted to follow that meeting up with another one at Tappahannock. After the second meeting, the plan was to confront Ritchie.

The Leedstown Meeting took place on February 27, 1766. More than 100 men from the neighboring counties met, calling themselves “Sons of Liberty.” Leedstown is a small town located on the north bank of the Rappahannock River in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The town was officially established in 1742 and was a popular port in Colonial Virginia, frequently visited by prominent planters and merchants from the area.

The participants drafted a series of resolutions, which are formally known as “The Resolutions of the Westmoreland Association in Defiance of the Stamp Act, 27 February 1766.” The document itself was written by Richard Henry Lee. At the end of the meeting, 115 men signed it, declaring their opposition to the Stamp Act. Prominent signers included Founding Fathers Richard Henry Lee and his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee.

Francis Lightfoot Lee, Founding Father
Francis Lightfoot Lee. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The signers agreed to prevent enforcement of the Stamp Act  “at every hazard, and, paying no regard to danger or to death.” Further, they agreed that anyone who tried to enforce the act, or use stamped paper, would be subject to “immediate danger and disgrace.”

Text of the Leedstown Resolves and Westmoreland Resolutions

Roused by danger and alarmed at attempts, foreign and domestic, to reduce the people of this country to a state of abject and detestable slavery by destroying that free and happy condition of government under which they have hitherto lived, We, who subscribe this paper, have associated and do bind ourselves to each other, to God, and to our country, by the firmest ties that religion and virtue can frame, most sacredly and punctually to stand by and with our lives and fortunes, to support, maintain, and defend each other in the observance and execution of these following articles –

FIRST: We declare all due allegiance and obedience to our lawful Sovereign, George the Third, King of Great Britain. And we determine to the utmost of our power to preserve the laws, the peace and good order of this Colony, as far as is consistent with the preservation of our Constitutional rights and liberty.

SECONDLY: As we know it to be the Birthright privilege of every British subject (and of the people of Virginia as being such) founded on Reason, Law, and Compact; that he cannot be legally tried, but by his peers; that he cannot be taxed, but by consent of a Parliament, in which he is represented by persons chosen by the people, and who themselves pay a part of the tax they impose on others. If, therefore, any person or persons shall attempt, by any action, or proceeding, to deprive this Colony of these fundamental rights, we will immediately regard him or them, as the most dangerous enemy of the community; and we will go to any extremity, not only to prevent the success of such attempts, but to stigmatize and punish the offender.

THIRDLY: As the Stamp Act does absolutely direct the property of the people to be taken from them without their consent expressed by their representatives and as in many cases it deprives the British American Subject of his right to trial by jury; we do determine, at every hazard, and paying no regard to danger or to death, we will exert every faculty, to prevent the execution of the said Stamp Act in any instance whatsoever within this Colony. And every abandoned wretch, who shall be so lost to virtue and public good, as wickedly to contribute to the introduction or fixture of the Stamp Act in this Colony, by using stampt paper, or by any other means, we will, with the utmost expedition, convince all such profligates that immediate danger and disgrace shall attend their prostitute purposes. 

FOURTHLY: That the last article may most surely and effectually be executed, we engage to each other, that whenever it shall be known to any of this association, that any person is so conducting himself as to favor the introduction of the Stamp Act, that immediate notice shall be given to as many of the association as possible; and that every individual so informed, shall, with expedition, repair to a place of meeting to be appointed as near the scene of action as may be. 

FIFTHLY: Each associator shall do his true endeavor to obtain as many signers to this association, as he possibly can. 

SIXTHLY: If any attempt shall be made on the liberty or property of any associator for any action or thing to be done in consequence of this agreement, we do most solemnly bind ourselves by the sacred engagements above entered into, at the risk of our lives and fortunes, to restore such associate to his liberty and to protect him in the enjoyment of his property. 

In testimony of the good faith with which we resolve to execute this association we have this 27th day of February 1766 in Virginia, put our hands and seals hereto.

The Outcome and Aftermath of the Leedstown Resolves

The Westmoreland Association Confronts Ritchie

The next morning, a group of men from the newly formed Westmoreland Association went to Tappahannock to confront Ritchie. By the time the men arrived at Ritchie’s house, a mob of around 400 people had formed. 

A committee, chosen by the mob, met with Ritchie and demanded that he sign an apology and publicly promise he would not comply with the Stamp Act. The committee also threatened to publicly humiliate him if he did not sign the apology, which read:

“Sensible now of the high insult I offered this country by declaring at Richmond Court lately, my determination to make use of Stampt Paper for clearing out my Vessels; and being Convinced such Proceeding would establish a Precedent by which the hateful Stampt Act might be introduced into this Colony, to the Utter Destruction of Pubic Liberty; I do most submissively, in Presence of the Public, Sign this Paper meaning to show my deep Remorse, for having formed so execrable a Design: and I do hereby solenmly Promise and Swear on the Holy Evangels, that no Vessel of mine shall sail cleared on Stampt Paper, and that I never will on any Pretense make Use of, or Cause to be made Use of Stampt Paper, unless the Use of such Paper, shall be authorized by the General Assembly of this Colony.”

Not surprisingly, Ritchie signed the apology. The incident at Tappahannock is believed to be the largest public protest against the Stamp Act in Virginia.

Archibald McCall Attacked

About two months after Ritchie signed his apology, another Tappahannock merchant, Archibald McCall, was accused of complying with the enforcement of the Stamp Act. McCall was more than just a merchant. He also happened to be a government official — he was a King’s Attorney or court prosecutor. On May 6, 1766, a mob attacked McCall’s home and vandalized it. According to some sources, the mob may have tarred and feathered McCall.

Stamp Act, Tarring and Feathering a Stamp Agent
This illustration depicts the Tarring and Feathering of a Stamp Agent during the Stamp Act Crisis. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Repeal of the Stamp Act

Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766, due in large part to complaints from British merchants. However, Parliament also passed the Declaratory Act the same day, which confirmed it did have the right to pass whatever legislation was necessary to govern the colonies.

Mercer’s Accusations Against Richard Henry Lee

On October 3, 1766, a letter was printed in the Virginia Gazette that accused Richard Henry Lee of hypocrisy and exposed that he had wanted the job of Stamp Distributor. The letter was written by George Mercer’s brother, James Mercer.

Mercer accused Lee of supporting the Stamp Act, and only turning against it when he was not appointed as the Stamp Distributor for Virginia.

Lee responded by writing a letter that admitted he did, in fact, apply for the position. However, he insisted that his actions were hasty, and ill-advised because he was not aware of the full nature of the Stamp Act. He asked people to judge him based on the actions he had taken in opposition to the Stamp Act, and “it was the business of an honest Man to recede from error as soon as he discovered it.”

The accusations against Lee died away, as he continued to be a leader of the Patriot Cause in Virginia. Lee went on to formally introduce a resolution to the Second Continental Congress — known as the Lee Resolution — that proposed the United Colonies declare independence from Great Britain. The Lee Resolution was approved by Congress on July 2, 1776.

Significance of the Leedstown Resolves

The Leedstown Resolves and the events surrounding them are important to the history of the United States because they revealed the people of Virginia were willing and able to coordinate opposition to British taxation policy.

Learn More About the Stamp Act Crisis on American History Central

Citation Information

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  • Article Title The Leedstown Resolves of 1766
  • Date February 27, 1766
  • Author
  • Keywords Leedstown Resolves, Westmoreland Association, Stamp Act, Sons of Liberty, Richard Henry Lee, George Mercer, Arthur Ritchie, Thomas Ludwell Lee, Archibald McCall
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 28, 2023