DON’T TAX ME BRO!  32.078098° -81.082878° E-8

Hey, everyone.

We’ve got a great story for this episode.

Today we’re going to talk about two historical events that were separated by 100 yards but were a decade apart in history.

They also tie in geographically with two other historical events that took place on the same GPS location that we are looking at today.

Those are in different episodes.

Well, back in 1765, things were getting hot here in Savannah, Georgia. And we’re not talking weather kind of hot. We’re talkin’… if things had gotten out of hand, the American Revolution could have started a decade earlier… kind of hot.

So… why all the fuss?

Stick around, I’ll give you my take on it…

I’m JD Byous, and this is History by GPS, where you travel through history and culture GPS location by GPS location.

You can find transcripts of the show at or on the show notes for Apple, Spotify, Amazon, and other podcast platforms for the coordinates of where these events happened.

As for the main location…

Here are the coordinates… 32.078098° -81.082878°

Okay, back to a hot time in Savannah.

The first incident in 1766 was over a little paper stamp.

People got really riled up over this little stamp.

So why get aflutter about a small piece of paper… it only cost a few pennies?

Here’s why… It incident took place on the northeastern corner of Savannah’s Historic District in what locals call the Old Fort District.

Today the Charles H. Morris Center at Trustees’ Garden is on top of the bluff where Colonial Era Fort Halifax once stood.

Now, this spot is just a few feet away from Savannah’s world-famous Pirates’ House Restaurant, which is in a building that sits on the location of the old fort headquarters… and may, in fact… after pouring through old records and studying the construction of the facility… I suspect a section of the structure is the same building used by the British before and during the Revolution.

See, right outside of that building is where things got heated… nine years before the start of the American Revolution. Georgia and the other colonies were political tender spots that were growing into tinderboxes and were ready to blow.

The Pirates’ House in 1939.

The area outside… it was open land stretching to the gates of the town one-quarter mile to the west. The Sons of Liberty – Liberty Boys – had gathered around the fort’s walls, screaming and demanding they be let in.

Captain John Milledge and his British Royal Rangers were on the parapets and were determined keeping them out.

The uproar was over the British Parliament’s passing of The Stamp Tax of 1765, which put a levy on several paper items. In addition to that law, the American Revenue Tax of 1764, a Sugar Tax, had already inflamed the residents the year before. Like other imposed taxes, the paper tax mandated payment in British Pounds, not in colonial currency.

See, each colony had its own monetary system with different values based on the English pounds, shillings, and pence. However, ALL colonial currencies were worth LESS than the British equivalents.

On top of that, Much of the commercial currency was in barter. Barter being the practice of trading product for product. People paid with rum, or tobacco, or some other commodity.

Which is one reason the tax man wanted to be paid in British pound sterling. Barter is difficult to access and tax for many reasons. And it’s difficult for those paying taxes because they have to exchange their goods for currency… first to Colonial script… which was hindered by a chronic shortage of paper or coin specie… then it was exchanged for British currency.

And the total per stamp cost was around 2 shillings, 6 pence, which equalled 54 pence… pennies.

During the days leading up to the American Revolution, the “obnoxious” stamps represented taxation by the Crown. The levy covered things like playing cards, magazines, newspapers, and legal documents.

Now, the stamps that were to be distributed in Georgia were stored at Fort Halifax. That’s where the hubbub came up.

 Royal Governor James Wright placed them there for protection against the local Sons of Liberty, who vowed to burn them.

After the Liberty Boys marched on the fort. Governor Wright wrote in a report, “And on the 1st appearance of Faction & Sedition I ordered in Some of the Rangers from each Post & made up the Number here at Savannah 56 Privates & 8 officers and with which & the assistance of Such Gents as were of a Right Way of thinking I have been able in a great Measure to Support His Majesties Authority.”

This guy writes crazily. This guy didn’t know what a period or a comma was.

…So in other words he brought in 64 soldiers who thought the way he did and had them armed and ready to defend the stamps and the king’s authority to issue them.

James Wright held the Sons of Liberty in absolute disdain. In another report, he complained that “the Liberty Boys, as they call themselves, had assembled together to the Number of about 200 & were gathering fast and Some of them had declared they were determined to go to the Fort & break open the Store & take out & destroy the Stamp’t Papers…”

The fort was the stronghold of the city and the safest location for the stamps.

The “obnoxious” stamp.

Wright’s report somewhat reduced the actual number of protestors that day. Some accounts claim six hundred Liberty Boys, many of whom had gathered in front of Wright’s home on St. James Square (or Telfair Square) decreased in number after Wright implored them to have cooler heads. It is said that half left, but three hundred remained. I’ve read that over 800 were waiting in a city common… so we’re talking a lot of men in a town of about thirty-five hundred people. That’s about 22 percent of the population and a much larger percentage of the men in town even allowing for guys from out of town.[i]

So Wright had the stamps loaded onto a boat and carried to Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River.

By the way… Remember that the show notes and GPS locations for all of the spots mentioned in this episode can be found in the show notes or at History By GPS dot com. While you’re there check out our books and merchandise. I think you’ll like our line of products from Savannah and its history… including some that highlight this episode.

And leave a comment. I’d love to hear your opinion or information that other listeners would like to hear.

Now… in 1776 the cry, “No taxation without representation,” spread through the colonies like a chill up King George’s spine. See, Americans were already paying other taxes, but they paid in currency from their own colony. So, having to convert the script into British pounds, was an excessive burden.

The whole uproar was initiated and fueled by the actions of British elites who wouldn’t give Parliamentary representation to the Colonies and did not care if the Americans were upset. After all.. they were the British and they were in charge. The Americans, they thought, were merely peasants working for the homeland.

See, the whole taxation hubbub back then was over the financing of the French and Indian War in America a few years earlier. It was an extension of Britain’s Seven Years War with France.

England said that it was by their grace that they saved the Colonies during the conflict. But Americans believed and knew they could take care of themselves. They had done so for generations and believed that there had been no need for British troops.

For the time, foreign enemies were elsewhere, and Americans had always protected themselves from local threats.

An irony was that American colonists considered themselves British citizens, but Parliament would not give them representation. America’s natural resources made the colonies a far more prosperous land than all of the British Isles, and everyone on both sides of the Atlantic knew it.

So, Savannah… Trustees’ Garden… and Fort Halifax were swept up in the conflict.

Now, where this uproar happened, the fort is gone today, but others replaced it… Fort Savannah, Fort Prevost, and Fort Wayne, Wayne being the last one.

Drawing of Fort Wayne looking southwest. The bombproof well, lower left, is still part of the gas works terrace that is not part of the Morris Center.

And here’s a little side note for your trivia collection… Savannahians usually call the current brick wall the Fort Wayne Wall. Is it Fort Wayne?

 In actuality… it is… and it isn’t. And the confusion is justified. The building of the current brick wall in 1853 destroyed the older earthen fort named for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. After the bricks were laid, the dirt ramparts of the real Fort Wayne were shoveled into the wall’s interior to create a terrace for gasholders.

The gas works wall in 1939. Cannon muzzles can be seen along the right fence line.

During that work, laborers unearthed three old cannons. Gas workers later placed the big guns along the wall, making it look like an old fort. Everyone in town knew the fort was located on that spot, so generations later concluded that the brick wall must be the fort. After all, the cannons were there to prove it. The legend continues.[ii]

But… the wall’s purpose was to create a terrace to support gas holders and other manufactured coal-gas equipment at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and was built by the Savannah Gaslight Company.

Now, to confuse the issue, even more, the area just inside the wall arch really was part of old Fort Wayne. … If you want to see other photos go to the History By GPS website and it out.

The Fort Wayne footprint with the bombproof location.

 That part is the sunken well-section that served as a bombproof… a reinforced area where soldiers would go to escape enemy artillery. So that’s why this area is Fort Wayne and not Fort Wayne.

When they filled in the interior of the terrace, they covered up remnants of the old powder magazine that is the location of our GPS coordinates for this episode.

The powder stronghold at Fort Hallifax was the site where in May of 1775, American patriots formed a night raid to capture Governor Wright’s munitions after a clandestine meeting at Dr. Noble W. Jones’s home. Word of the hostilities at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, had reached Savannah.

Fort Halifax footprint c. 1766.

Wright had confidence in the brick structure’s security and thought it was safe from vandalism. After all… it was situated twelve feet under the ground, closed with iron doors and locks. He incorrectly deduced that it was impregnable. Georgia historian Hugh McCall wrote that the magazine held a considerable supply of ammunition.

But so substantial was the structure of the magazine, Governor Wright decided it useless and unnecessary to post a guard for its protection.

McCall wrote, “The excited Revolutionists all over the land cried aloud for powder. Impressed with the necessity of securing the contents of this magazine for future operations, [they] quietly assembling and hastily arranged a plan for operations.”

Liberty Boys who were in on the raid included Dr. Noble Wimberly Jones, Joseph Habersham, Edward Telfair, William Gibbons, Joseph Clay, Peter Tondee, John Milledge, Jr, Andrew Elton Wells, along with “some other gentlemen, most of them members of the council of safety and all zealous in the cause of American Liberty.”[iii] 

Georgia Governor John Milledge, Jr.

According to Governor Wright, the total was about 300 pounds of powder, but others reported upwards of 600 pounds were stolen. A portion of the powder made its way to Beaufort, South Carolina. The remainder was reported as having been sent to Boston and used in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Now, did you notice the name of one of the Liberty Boys? It’s the same name as the Ranger Captain who guarded the stamps a decade earlier… John Milledge… Junior was the son of the Ranger Captain, John Milledge. He had been a boy when the stamp protest took place, but as the call for war increased, he sided with the American Rebels.

His family is like many in Georgia. We always hear stories about the American Civil War in the 1860s as being a fought brother against brother.

In Georgia, in the 1700s, the Revolution was fought… father against son.

John Milledge, Junior,  would go on to become the 26th Governor of the new State of Georgia, as well a US Congressman and a US Senator.

Now… another rabbit trail.

I find it interesting that Savannah and Boston have had some serious ties over the years. Savannahians sent food to Boston after a 1790s earthquake, and Boston sent food to Savannah at the end of the Civil War.

Woodcut of a Boston Earthquake.

Over the years, the people of the two cities often rendered aid to each other. The reason was because of trade and shipping routes, the cities had close commercial ties, and the well-being of one would impact the commerce of the other.

In fact the last Liberty Boy that I mentione in the list, Andrew Elton Wells, was brother-in-law to Patriot and Liberty Boy Samuel Adams of Boston-Tea-Party fame.

I talk about that in the History By GPS episode Tea Party, Shmee Party which is about the Savannah Sugar Party of 1775. That event happened a few weeks earlier than the powder magazine raid.

The Savannah Sons of Liberty and their adverse view of taxation by the Brits provided the spark and fire that propelled the American Revolution into existence.

Parliament and the Royal Governor’s enforcement of import duty on sugar, molasses, and other commodities enflamed the unrepresented citizens. Until then, taxes and duties were the exceptions rather than the rule.

Listen to this… here’s what Samuel Adams wrote, “For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands? Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of?” Also, he emphasized the colonists’ belief that they were British citizens when he wrote, “This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves – It strikes our British Privileges, which as we have never forfeited them. We hold in common with our fellow subjects who are natives of Britain… If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation … are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?” 

Things have changed.

But the tax itself wasn’t the main complaint. The main issue was the absence of representation in Parliament.

England would pass laws on the colonies without Colonial input and did not care about their reactions.

It was the proverbial slap in the face for the Americans who considered themselves Englishmen and freemen rather than people of another station. But sentiments were changing, and the American Revolution was on the horizon.

Now, as far as that tax of two shillings and six pence… 54 pence… 54 cents… that was equivalent to a week’s wages for the average worker.

And that’s a lot. It could make a person fight.

Unless you live in 21st-century America… Today we pay more than that in federal, state, and sales tax.

Makes you think… Doesn’t it.

So, if you didn’t already know this story… now… you know.

So… Don’t Tax Me Bro! We need a tee shirt that says that… Oh, yeah… we have one in our store at Go get yourself one and join the cause of liberty.

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See you next time.



GPS Coordinates

Powder Magazine 32.078567° -81.083578°

Liberty Boys protest spot 32.078406° -81.084128°

James Wright’s House 32.078810° -81.094893°

Photo credits

Library of Congress


JD Byous Collection


[i] Barratt Wilkins, A View of Savannah on the Eve of the Revolution, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol 54, No.4, p 587.

[ii] Edward A. Vincent, Vincent’s Subdivision map of the City of Savannah, Chatham County, State of Georgia: shewing all the public and private buildings, lots, wards, etc., together with all the latest improvements, from surveys and authentic records, 1853.

[iii] Hugh McCall, The History of Georgia containing Brief Sketches of the Most Remarkable Events Up and to the Present Day (1784), Caldwell Publishers, 1909, pp 286: Illustrated History of south Boston, by C. Bancroft Gillespie, 1901, pp132