By the middle of the 18th century, New York and the other American colonies were becoming rich. Trade with Europe and her Caribbean sugar colonies was extremely profitable and virtually tax-free. But it would not remain tax-free for long.
New York’s nouveau riche merchant class sought to import the same styles and grandeur found in the best London homes of the time.
Erected in 1752, the Walton House was the most opulent of all, described as ”a manifesto of Georgian refinement. The details of its facade – including a majestic front door framed with fluted classical columns and topped by a broken pediment with the Walton coat of arms – conveyed not only wealth, but good taste, social confidence and family dignity.
The same effect was inside by the oak-paneled halls, marble floors, gilt mirrors, silk damask curtains, and drawing rooms wainscoted in black walnut and hung with crystal chandeliers. An ornately carved mahogany staircase led to the second floor, one corner of which was devoted to a ballroom. Outside, to the rear of the house, lay carefully groomed grounds that sloped down past flower gardens and grape arbors to the grassy banks of the East River, where the family had a summer cottage and boathouse.”
In 1759, William Walton (known as “Boss Walton”) threw a garden party for British officers to celebrate their victory over the French in Quebec. These officers were so stunned by the colonials’ lifestyle that they immediately reported it to Parliament upon their return to England. British taxation of the colonies was on its way.
The French & Indian (or Seven Years) War had begun in 1756, instigated by British colonists pushing against French forts along the Ohio River Valley. Inevitably, Britain and France would square off in a truly global war, fighting in theatres from North America to India. England was already desperate for money when reports of this opulent garden party reached Parliament. And since this war had begun on behalf of the American colonists, Parliament saw no reason that they should not shoulder a greater part of the burden.
The result in 1765 was three new onerous taxes – the Stamp Act, the Tea Act and the Sugar Act. Bostonians responded with the infamous Boston Tea Party, protesting the Tea Act by throwing tea into the harbor. New Yorkers ripped down the statue of George III in Bowling Green Park and put the king’s head on a pike. Nationwide, “no taxation without representation” became the rallying cry, and the 13 Colonies assembled together for the first time. The rest is history.
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