No Taxation Without Representation: The Case of John Merrick

(pictured above: John Merrick’s written protest of his tax fine)

By Sarah Marcinik

I first became acquainted with John Merrick last summer. My research on slavery in Bucks County, Pennsylvania had led me to skim a decade’s worth of tax records from the 1780s, looking for entries on slaves. In the process, I stumbled upon a taxation issue of a different sort. In the records for 1785, a solid block of text, in sharp contrast to the prosaic rows and columns surrounding it, started out at me. “John Merrick,” it read, “says he is not Represented & therefore will not give in any Return untill [sic] such times as he is Admitted to vote for Representatives of Assembly and bids me aquaint [sic] the Commissioners of the same.”[1] I was elated to have apparently discovered a very personal case of that well-known motto, “No taxation without representation!” But as I investigated John Merrick’s case by looking into the Pennsylvania voting laws, I could find nothing that would easily explain his disenfranchised position. It is only in my recent researches, turning to other sources, that I believe I have finally solved the mystery—and the result is not what I expected.

My research on John Merrick has not been comprehensive, but there seems to be only enough records of him to make a slight biography. Merrick appears regularly on the Bucks County tax assessments between 1778 (the earliest record I have found for the county) and 1793. These records show that he was a tanner and a longtime resident of Falls Township in Bucks County. He was usually assessed for a small parcel land—between four and six-and-a-half acres—with a house, a few livestock, and his own tanning yard. In a few years there are some additions, such as two indentured servants in 1782, and a “riding chair” in 1786 and the years following.[2] While Merrick was obviously not rich, he appears to have been able to keep up a modest livelihood.

I initially thought that Merrick’s economic circumstances were the obstacle to his ability to vote, but this assumption was complicated by my investigation into Pennsylvania’s voting laws. In fact, when Merrick made his protest, Pennsylvania was about the last place in the fledgling United States where a man of even his modest status would have been barred from voting. The state was the earliest and most aggressive in allowing more men to vote than had enjoyed the privilege under the colonial administrations.[3] Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution had declared that “Every freemen of the full age of twenty-one Years, having resided in this state for the space of one whole Year…and paid public taxes during that time, shall enjoy the right of an elector.”[4] No property qualifications were stipulated.[5] Applying these qualifications to John Merrick’s case offers little hope for explaining his situation. His appearance on the tax records indicates that he was free, had come of age, and had been a resident for well over a year.

The requirement of paying taxes seemed the only reasonable obstacle to Merrick’s ability to vote. However, while my research shows that his tax records were somewhat complicated, there was no conclusive evidence that taxes were the problem. The tax records I have examined for Bucks County are rather jumbled, making it difficult to positively identify whether or not an individual paid taxes every year. From what I can tell, Merrick may have been absent from the tax assessments for a few of the years between 1778 and 1793. However, the fact that he has essentially all the same assets after one of these gaps as before suggests that the issue is missing data or another error, not that he lost all his taxable property and therefore did not pay taxes. If some fluke such as the latter did occur, it would be difficult to confirm, and overall seems improbable. However, there are two verifiable irregularities in Merrick’s tax records. In his record identified for 1779, there is an added line that appears to read something like “Fined for refusing to collect,” and in the following year his evaluation is marked “No return.”[6] It may be that Merrick also refused to pay taxes in these years, though without making as formal of a protest. Despite missing entries and tax problems, the overall impression Merrick’s tax records give is that it was probably not economic considerations or tax issues that kept him from being able to vote.


(Merrick’s fine)

In fact, it is the records I paid the least attention to that have come to be the most important in understanding the mystery of John Merrick. In my research, I came across his name in Bucks County Quaker records.[7] Though there appear to have been multiple John Merricks in Bucks County, some of these records are from Falls Township, suggesting that they refer to the John Merrick in question. Secondary sources helped me to see that Merrick’s being a Quaker was, in fact, vital to the mystery. Voting in Revolutionary America explains a voting law I had little considered—the test laws: “At the beginning of the war, most of the states adopted statutes requiring individuals to sever all connections with England and declare their loyalty to the American cause. Those who refused to take this oath of allegiance were often denied the vote.”[8] Pennsylvania was one of these states, with test laws in effect between 1777 and 1786.[9] It was these laws, I believe, that prevent John Merrick from voting—but not because he was a loyalist. My suspicions were aroused, and I was finally able to confirm them with another source: “Quakers are forbidden to take oaths, and although other states were flexible with their Quaker citizens in terms of their Test Acts, Pennsylvania was not.”[10] If John Merrick was a Quaker, then, whatever his political beliefs, he could not take the oath, and therefore would have been barred from voting. This, I believe, is the answer to the mystery of John Merrick and the vote.

In the end, John Merrick’s “no taxation without representation” is very different from the one we are familiar with, but no less valid. While situations like his are undoubtedly known to some scholar, it was new to me. Though I did not find what I expected to on this research journey, I am still intrigued by the man who dared to return a protest rather than a tax payment because the law inhibited him, as a Quaker, from voting. It is some consolation to know that the year after Merrick made his protest, the test laws were removed, therefore hopefully allowing him to vote. The case of John Merrick may not be the familiar story, but it is nonetheless a real and perhaps vital part of the story of the Early Republic.


Sources and Further Reading:

1790 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. No URL.

Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Tax Records, 1782-1860 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. No URL.

“Constitution of Pennsylvania—September 28, 1776.” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School. C. 2008. Accessed April 28, 2019.

Pennsylvania, Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1801 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. No URL.

Pennsylvania, U.S. Direct Tax Lists, 1798 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. No URL.

Proprietary and Other Tax Lists of the County of Bucks (Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, Volume Thirteen). Ed. William Henry Egle. Harrisburg: William Stanley Ray (State Printer of Pennsylvania), 1897.

State of the Accounts of the County Lieutenants During the War of the Revolution. Ed. William H. Egle. Harrisburg: Clarence M. Busch (State Printer of Pennsylvania), 1896. https://catalog.hat

The Statutes at Large Of Pennsylvania From 1682 to 1801, Vols. 8-12. Harrisburg: William Stanely Ray/Harrisburg Publishing Co, 1902-1906. 030316.

U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. No URL.

Doyle, Robert. “Habeas Corpus: War against Loyalists and Quakers.” In The Enemy in Our Hands: America’s Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010.

Dinkin, Robert J. Voting in Revolutionary America: A Study of Elections in the Original Thirteen States, 1776-1789. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.

[1] Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Tax Records, 1782-1860 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. The spelling and punctuation is original as far as I can make out.

[2] For Merrick’s tax records, see Buck County Tax Records.

[3] Robert J. Dinkin, Voting in Revolutionary America: A Study of Elections in the Original Thirteen States, 1776-1789 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), 32, 36.

[4] “Constitution of Pennsylvania—September 28, 1776.” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School. C. 2008. Accessed April 28, 2019.

[5] Dinkin, 32.

[6] Pennsylvania, Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1801 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. I did not find these years marked on the digitized records, but the database identifies them as 1779 and 1780.

[7] See U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

[8] Dinkin, 43.

[9] Dinkin, 43.

[10] Robert Doyle, “Habeas Corpus: War Against Loyalists and Quakers.” In The Enemy in Our Hands: America’s Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 44.

Reviewed: The Museum of the American Revolution

by Sarah Marcinik

(Title photo from; all others by author)

          The Museum of the American Revolution opened just over a year ago in Philadelphia and has since clocked over 300,000 visitors.[1] The most substantial feature of this museum is an exhibit gallery that takes visitors from the years proceeding the Revolution up to the writing of the Constitution and the early days of the nation. Through a combination of conventional object interpretation, interpretative technology, and intriguing replicas, the main exhibit at the Museum of the American Revolution tells a familiar, though detailed and multifaceted story of the American Revolution.

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(Replica Liberty Tree)

The exhibit begins with a darkened atrium, on where wall projections move through a series of question and a short film reenacting the removal of a statue of King George III. The next two sections set up the state of pre-Revolution America, including relations with the Native Americans following the Seven Years War. In the section beyond, the exhibit moves into the familiar origins of the Revolution (such as the Stamp Act and Boston Massacre), accented by a replica of an entire “liberty tree”—a gathering point for patriots. The next section, a rather small one, treats Lexington and Concord, featuring an animated image of the battle. Following this, the exhibit examines the people who made up the new army—introducing the first of several mannequin displays—and the process of declaring independence. From here on, the exhibit essentially traces the course of the war, interspersed with the challenges met with along the way. There are some technological delights on this journey, including the Brandywine Battle Theater and the Oneida Nation Theater—the first immersing visitors in a battle using scenery, film, and sound, and the other using lights, mannequins, and sound to reenact a debate among the Oneida people on whether or not to join the Americans. Also worth highlighting are the numerous mannequin scenes and the replica fore section of a ship in the “War at Sea” section. As a finale, the exhibit considers the development of the Constitution and the continuance of the American nation, ending with a series of mirrors, with the invitation to “meet the future of the American Revolution.”

The exhibit utilizes four main questions in its interpretation, the same ones that are displayed on the wall at the beginning of the gallery: “How did people become Revolutionaries? How did the Revolution survive its darkest hour? How Revolutionary was the war?” and “What kind of nation did the Revolution create?”[2] All but the first of these questions is explicitly addressed later in the exhibit, the question written on the wall with an accompanying block of text.

“How people became Revolutionaries” is apparently entirely implicit, dependent upon the first several rooms to show the colonists’ growing dissatisfaction over the control of the British government and their gradual entanglement in war and independence, even as some had scruples. The mixture of Thomas Paine’s inspiring words (played aloud) and a few fortunate victories must answer “how the Revolution survived.” Panels throughout the exhibit that bring forward the perspectives of women, African Americans, and Native Americans suggest a qualification of “how Revolutionary the war was.” These same considerations play into an understanding of the United States as not fully revolutionary in terms of “what kind of nation the Revolution created.” The Revolution displayed in this exhibit is a gradual and complete process that did not accomplish everything it might have.

            The Museum of the American Revolution’s exhibit incorporates traditional and new or unusual design elements within a rambling space. Among the usual glass cases of objects and text panels, there are several interpretive videos within the exhibit, along with touch screens that allow visitors to learn more about documents or ideas. In a few places, sound is employed to either create an atmosphere or give voices to lifeless mannequin figures. As already mentioned, the Battle of the Brandywine Theater and Oneida Nation Theater are impressive technological features. Equally impressive in their own way are the mannequins and replicas interspersed throughout the exhibit. Representing both real and representative individuals, the mannequins stand huddle in shadow, limp across the floor of Independence Hall, or charge on horseback across a grassy field. These displays help the visitor to visualize the concepts put forward on the two-dimensional panels. They draw the visitor into the event, as in when a patriot about to pull down the statue of King George—stationed high on an exhibit case—leans down, apparently offering the rope—and participation in the Revolution—to the visitor standing below. Overall, the exhibit is vivid, diverse, and attractive.

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(The exhibit inviting visitors to join the Revolution)

            The Museum of the American Revolution is well placed to take advantage of the crowds of people of diverse backgrounds that flood “old city” Philadelphia, and seems to have broad appeal. The exhibit’s diverse elements makes it applicable to multiple age groups, though it seems to have little interpretive material in the exhibit adapted to children. Attention is required to get everything out of each section, as multiple panels, cases, and images can be found all around the visitor, in nooks, high up on the wall, in the middle of the room, or even on the floor. The special attention given to women, African Americans, and Native Americans also contributes to the exhibit’s broad appeal. The visitor who has not studied the Revolution since school will probably get the most out of this museum.

            There is little to detract from the overall effect of the exhibit. Moving through the exhibit space can be a little bewildering, as there are many different elements crowded into a single space, and the movement from room to room is nonlinear. There are a few design elements that seem to be misplaced or exaggerated: why is a display on “women’s property” placed in the section that otherwise discusses the “War at Sea?” Why is such a large panel devoted to the minor character of a German baroness? Another complaint may be that the exhibit relies too much on its panels, technology, and replicas for interpretation, rather than original objects. Indeed, George Washington’s headquarters’ tent is not on display, but used in a periodic program in one of the theaters. These are minor complaints for an exhibit that is visually attractive and effective at conveying the Revolution.

            As “Philadelphia’s newest museum,” the Museum of the American Revolution has a lot to offer, and engages in a complex narrative of the Revolution as well as some unique exhibit design choices.[3] As a museum that examines the entire Revolutionary period and contains an assortment of objects and replicas to tell the story, the Museum of the American Revolution will enrich any visitor’s understanding of an event already so prevalent in the historical community of Philadelphia.


The Museum of the American Revolution website:

[1] “Museum of the American Revolution Celebrates First Anniversary April 19-22,” Museum of the American Revolution,, March 19, 2018,

[2] “The Museum Experience,” Museum of the American Revolution,, accessed October 3, 2018,

[3] “About M*AR,” The Museum of the American Revolution,, accessed October 3, 2018,

Behind Closed Doors: Architecture and Servitude at The Woodlands and Monticello

At first glance, The Woodlands and Monticello—and their respective owners—may seem to have little in common, other than that they both date to the early republic. The Woodlands is a compact, rectangular mansion, resting just above the Schuylkill River, in what is now West Philadelphia. This mansion and the surrounding estate was owned by William Hamilton (1745-1813), a gentleman of leisure who studiously avoided politics.[1] About two hundred and fifty miles south, on a high hill outside Charlottesville, Virginia, rests Monticello. The sprawling, domed mansion was the property of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson (1743-1826)—a planter and longtime politician, including, of course, delegate to the Continental Congress, besides serving as secretary of state and president of the United States.


Underlying the contrast between these two men and their houses, however, are several connecting strands. Hamilton and Jefferson shared a common status as part of the American elite of the early republic. In addition, they shared a common interest in botany and architecture, and fostered an acquaintance around these hobbies.[2] Jefferson designed Monticello, and Hamilton likely had a hand in the design of the Woodlands as well.[3] Their architectural involvement gives significance to the fact that both these houses contain features that veiled the presence of  the respective service people in each house. These common elements cross the boundary of north and south, free and slave, to show that it was the mentality of the early American elite that provided the guiding principles behind these features.


Revolving door at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson Foundation,


The architectural features under discussion are connected to the dining room at both The Woodlands and Monticello. First, consider the features in Thomas Jefferson’s mansion:

“Jefferson installed two devices to traverse the space between…two realms…The first, a hoisting machine…carried spirits from the wine cellar up through shafts on either side of the dining room chimney….The second device, a door that appeared as others in the room yet was mounted on a central pivot that turned at a touch to reveal on its other face a set of semicircular shelves laden with dishes.”[4]

Two features are present, each of which allowed service in the dining room to be accomplished without the physical presence of a servant in the room. Food and wine could be delivered to the room without showing a servant’s face. As the designer of his own house, and an amateur inventor, Jefferson certainly installed these elements for a specific purpose.[5]

service door

Service stair and door to dining room at The Woodlands (Library of Congress,


But Jefferson was not the only man in early America who wished to keep his servants out of sight in the dining room. At William Hamilton’s Woodlands, there were features to a similar purpose:

“The passage extending between the vestibule and the dining room is flanked by the service stair on the south and, originally, a pantry on the north[.] [B]oth spaces are accessed by means of doors bearing [a] simple paneling arrangement. East of these door there are two similarly paneled doors which, when open, fold back flush into the wall. When closed, they form an uninterrupted, though temporary, staging area for servants—giving them easy access to the cellar, the pantry, and the dining room without being seen.”[6]

The features at The Woodlands are less substantial than at Monticello. A simple strategic design and placement of doors shut out the servants’ activities in the hall while a meal was in progress in the dining room. At this house, a servant still had to physically enter the room to serve. But a similar principle underlies this door system and the features at Monticello. Although it is unknown how much of a role Hamilton had in designing these doors, he evidently had them installed in the course of having his house built.


The similarity of purpose in the features of these two houses becomes more significant when one considers the type of service present in the respective houses. In regards to Monticello, “servant” is a euphemism; the people who served Monticello’s dining room were slaves. At The Woodlands, though some of Hamilton’s servants were black, no extent records suggest that any of them were slaves.[7] This means that the underlying purpose of these features had nothing to do with the servitude status of the people they sought to conceal.


What, then, was the purpose behind these features? The answer seems to lie in the mutual status and outlook of the two men responsible for having these features installed. Both Hamilton and Jefferson went to great lengths to turn their estates into masterpieces of architecture and landscape.[8] As part of an upper class that relied on projecting an image, they worked to make house and grounds appear pristine, and the servants—whether slave of otherwise—were not meant to be part of the scenery.[9] When Hamilton and Jefferson held a dinner, they were engaging in a similar process that called for keeping servants out of sight.[10] In addition, keeping servants out of the room allowed for enlightened conversation to go on, both without pause, and without worrying that the ideas might reach the ears of those for whom they were not meant.[11]


The wine pulley and revolving door, and the door system, are not the only common elements at The Woodlands and Monticello. For instance, both houses have underground passageways that were accessed by servants. A much fuller comparison of the two houses and their masters would prove a fascinating study. But the features examined here provide a glimpse of the connection that existed among the elite of the early republic. The architectural choices of the upper class had much more to do with the outlook they had, than with the any aspect of their service people. The servants at The Woodlands and Monticello were thus also connected, if not by common status, by the common experience of being mutually shut out from the dining room, and doing their work behind closed doors.




[1] Catherine E. Kelly, Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 120-122.

[2] Kelly, 140-141.

[3] James A. Jacobs, “Addendum to The Woodlands,” HABS No. PA-1125. (Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS]) (National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2002), 6-8.

[4] Alice Gray Read, “Monticello’s Dumbwaiters,” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 48, no. 3 (1995), 171-172.

[5] Read, 168.

[6] Jacobs, “Addendum,” 63.

[7] This according to research conducted by The Woodlands Historic Site.

[8] Richard J. Betts, “The Woodlands,” Winterthur Portfolio 14, no. 3 (1979)., 217-219; Read, 168-174.

[9] Kelly, 138; James A. Jacobs, “William Hamilton and the Woodlands: A Construction of Refinement in Philadelphia,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 130, no. 2 (2006), 35, 200-201.

[10] Read, 168-174; Jacobs, 197-200.

[11] Read, 168.


Sources and Further Reading

Betts, Richard J. “The Woodlands.” Winterthur Portfolio 14, no. 3 (1979): 213-34.

Jacobs, James A. “William Hamilton and the Woodlands: A Construction of Refinement in Philadelphia.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 130, no. 2 (2006). 181-209.

“          ” . “Addendum to The Woodlands.” HABS No. PA-1125. (Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS]). National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2002.

Kelly, Catherine E. Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Madsen, Karen. “To Make His Country Smile: William Hamilton’s Woodlands.” Arnoldia 49, no. 2 (1989): 14-24.

“Monticello Dining Room.” Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Accessed April 29, 2018.

“Monticello, State Route 53 Vicinity, Charlottesville, Charolottesville, VA.” Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) VA-241.

Read, Alice Gray. “Monticello’s Dumbwaiters.” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 48, no. 3 (1995): 168-75.

Stetson, Sarah P. “William Hamilton and His “Woodlands.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 73, no. 1 (1949).