If you’re like me, you vaguely remember something about the Stamp Act from high school. The British were trying to tax the colonies’ tea—or was that some other unwanted fee?
In brief, Britain’s King George III (loved him in Hamilton) ordered his pesky colonists to pay a tax on paper products including legal documents, playing cards, newspapers, magazines, and other bits. No word if toilet paper required a stamp. Specially embossed paper and individual stamps were sold to authorize printing.
The fee, paid in British currency, not questionable colonial paper money, supported the British military troops stationed throughout the colonies. Awesome! The soon-to-be-Americans found The Stamp Act revolting. So, they revolted. Protests from New Hampshire to South Carolina sprang up under the motto: No Taxation Without Representation!
It only took a single year of disrupted trade between Britain and the colonies for London businessmen to demand the Act be repealed. The victorious colonists celebrated by erecting a Pillar of Liberty in Dedham, Massachusetts and by sipping a cup of tea brewed in commemorative pots whose pattern cleverly mimics the offending stamps.
Well, that was a diverting peek into 10th grade American History, but what’s it doing in a blog ostensibly about nineteenth-century Marin?
In 1862, the United States government found itself in need of cash to finance the Civil War. President Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, ignoring or inspired by the British Stamp Act, found a way to refill the government’s quickly emptying coffers.
Just shy the hundredth anniversary of the Stamp Act’s repeal, the federal government issued revenue stamps taxing legal documents, playing cards, wills, and physical good such as cotton, tobacco, and alcohol. Printed in denominations from a penny to $500, George Washington’s portrait graced the stamps until 1871 when he was joined by Alexander Hamilton and later by Lady Liberty in 1875.
In June 1866, over thirteen years since Don Timoteo Murphy had died, his two surviving executors received final reimbursements for their services. Not that the estate was fully settled at that time, not on your life. James Miller, tired and aging, and James Black, usually inebriated and only a year away from his own death, passed the estate’s resolution over to Murphy’s nephew. John Lucas, the last man standing with sufficient gumption and motivation, pushed his uncle’s final affairs to their complicated end.
While reviewing over a thousand pages of probate receipts and inventories, I found, in the upper left-hand corner of the 1866 final executors’ settlement, a “US Inter. Rev.” stamp. Its two cents destined to travel nearly 3,000 miles from San Rafael, California to Washington D.C. to offset the government’s Civil War expenses.
Confirming, once again, death and taxes are unavoidable.