I learned a new word recently – one which you will soon be hearing often.

The word is “sestercentennial” and it means a 250th anniversary. In 1976, our country was full of enthusiastic celebrations of the two-century birthday of the United States. On Independence Day of 2026 we will surely be equally overcome with patriotism, or at least fireworks.

This assumes that we will not be exhausted by 10 years or so of preparations, beginning now. Yes, I am officially declaring the start of anniversary fever. Get used to it. The war lasted until 1783, so I expect to be hearing about 250th anniversary events at least until 2033, when I turn 78 years old.

If you know me, you realize that I love my country. I love its ideals. I love the more praiseworthy of its accomplishments. I especially love its terribly messy democratic process. Most of all, I love how we turn the differences among us into slow but inescapable progress, miraculously, agonizingly, no matter the challenge.

Our country has endured occasional years of depression, famine, civil disunion and disruption, plus literal pestilence. We have also survived a pile of innumerable wars, as well as a couple that we actually numbered.

And, of course, throughout every election season, we bicker among ourselves, but each time we live to see the future.

I realize, of course, that life does not improve every year for everyone. Our government continues to make many mistakes. Indeed, it has taken far too long for equal treatment to arrive for many: the Indians, Catholics, slaves, women or immigrants.

Regardless, I believe that as a society, and as a nation, more of us live in liberty, health and comfort than our ancestors.

So, back to the anniversary. We recently celebrated the sestercentennial of the Stamp Act of 1765. OK, so this is clearly in the quiz show category of “Things You Should Have Learned in School (Had You Been Paying Attention)”. But really, it is important. If it were not for the Stamp Act, we might still be British subjects.

England had just won the Seven Years War but was now deep in debt. They also needed to pay for the 10,000 active British troops stationed in America.

Parliament decided to tax their American colonies, who they thought should, after all, be paying for those troops milling around the land. Up until then, London had only required tradesmen to pay import/export fees. The Stamp Act, which required a stamp to be purchased for virtually every piece of paper in the colonies, from attorney files to playing cards, was the first direct tax on the American subjects, who you may recall were not represented in Parliament. The tax had to be paid in British coin, not colonial paper.

James Otis that year famously wrote, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” The objection was not so much the idea of taxes, which had for some time been imposed by locally elected legislatures, but the fact that the new tax was levied by Parliament way over in London.

The tax on paper documents especially angered two groups of people that you do not want working against you: lawyers and newspapermen. Among other things, the press began encouraging a group of local troublemakers who had started calling themselves the Sons of Liberty. Further, America’s first national assembly, the so-called “Stamp Act Congress,” gathered in New York and adopted a grievance petition to the king.

Historian Gary B. Nash wrote that these events “set in motion currents of reformist sentiment with the force of a mountain wind.” The Sons of Liberty ransacked the homes and warehouses of the rich, and tarred and feathered the stamp agents.

Meanwhile, Americans stopped buying some imported (English) goods, especially textiles such as silk and satin, thus beginning the Homespun Movement. Local spinning and quilting bees gained in popularity. I suspect that a lot more sheep appeared in America, as simple wool garments became widespread.

As a result, even London merchants started to oppose the Stamp Act.

In February of 1766, the Act was repealed by Parliament. However, in the following years, they would pigheadedly take even stronger measures, making the Americans even madder. You will probably be hearing those stories as each of their 250th anniversaries is also recognized.

In any case, 10 years before the “shot heard ‘round the world”, the American Revolution had already been born. As John Adams would later say, “the Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”

At least one pair of organizations is going to remind us of those events of 250 years ago. The SAR and DAR (Sons/Daughters of the American Revolution) are descendants of those who served during the Revolutionary War. They will be doing their darnedest to remind us of our history.

Thanks to the diligent research of my genealogy-inclined brother, I have been granted membership in the SAR. It turns out that an ancestor of mine was killed by the British in 1779. Fortunately for me, he had 10 children first.

Therein lies an interesting story that I will tell in my next column.

Mark D. Grover is a resident of Gray. Comments may be sent either to this newspaper or to [email protected]


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