Joseph Allicocke: African-American Leader of the Sons of Liberty

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Joseph Allicocke: African-American Leader of the Sons of Liberty

At the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, a new British colonial policy was instituted that fomented unrest and ultimately revolution. However, this policy also caused self-examination on the part of many colonists as to the status of Afro-Americans as well. While the American colonists saw that the new colonial policies of the British threatened their economic and political freedoms, many American also recognized the inconsistency of contending that they were oppressed colonists and, at the same time, slave holders. John Hope Franklin in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans points out that John Woolman, a New Jersey Quaker and Anthony Benezet, a Philadelphia Huguenot, were already antislavery advocates by the mid-eighteenth century and that Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush had supported the movement to emancipate the slaves as well. With the renewed implementation of the dreaded Navigation Acts and the new regulations under the Sugar Act of 1764, the quiet efforts of the antislavery forces gained more credence as Americans began to defend their positions against an oppressive British colonial system. Some colonial leaders like James Otis began to denounce not only English imperialism but also slavery and the slave trade.(1) It was in this environment that Joseph Allicocke, a young clerk and "...son of a mulattoe woman," became a leader of the New York Sons of Liberty.(2)

By the early 1760s, the records show that Joseph Allicocke could read and write. He was a clerk employed by the British Crown in the Contractors of Provisions office. As early as 1762, Joseph Allicocke was mentioned in the correspondence of New York City merchants on matters relating to the supplying and provisioning of troops and transports in New York City.(3) By 1764, Allicocke appears in the record as a competent clerk that was paid well. At the expiration of a British military contract, he was awarded 200 pounds sterling for a job well done. The merchant, John Watts, pointed out that Allicocke might have deserved "...half or less..." but he "...has a good deal of extra-official trouble..." since New York was "...the reservoir of all Streams of Business, & the Spring too that feeds many of them."(4) Hence, Joseph Allicocke handled very complex accounting procedures as a young man and was rewarded for his efforts.

In the Fall of 1764, Allicocke played an active role in the provisioning of British troops in North America. He procured and shipped wine for Sir Jeffery Amherst, British Commander in North America. Allicocke's accounts were judged to be "all right" upon examination at this time. By all accounts, he was a trusted clerk in the service of the British Crown. In fact, a merchant that handled a great deal of the provisioning, John Watts, stated "Allicocke I take to be an honest body."(5) It was also noted that he was quite effective and punctual in his dealings.(6) By October of 1764, the record showed that Joseph Allicocke's title was "Clark of the Victualling Office..." of the Crown's Contractors of Provisions office. Allicocke was experienced in mediating payment disputes. In his capacity as "Clark of the Victualling Office," he wrote letters to various British Generals and Officers to examine and then settle fiscal disputes regarding the authorization and payment of bills for supplying the British Army. After Allicocke gathered the evidence in such disputes he would then decide the amount to be paid to him by "Draught" or check. Allicocke's ability to settle such disputes and gather data concerning them was widely respected.(7)

However, Joseph Allicocke began to have trouble with the merchants in 1765. Although it is difficult to ascertain, it appears that Allicocke became involved in the critique of British colonial policy sometime in the spring of 1765. The Stamp Act was passed in Parliament on March 22, 1754. It placed duties on colonial legal documents, papers, almanacs, newspapers and newspaper advertisements to aid in the financing of British military expenses in North America. …