*Briefly discuss yesterday’s lesson and the taxes and acts discussed.  Remind the class of Britain’s tendency to pass an unpopular law, then remove it under pressure, thus reinforcing the colonial tendency to vigourously protest Parliament’s policies.

*By 1773, the colonies were only paying taxes on tea (a leftover from the Townshend Duties) and on sugar (from the Sugar Act, still in force).

*The colonies were prosperous now, and they decided to live with the tea tax and the old tax on molasses from the sugar act.  However, in 1772 and 1773 several things go wrong.

*The Gaspee affair.  HMS Gaspee is a ship in the Royal Navy assigned to intercept smugglers operating in the Narragansett Bay area (off the coast of Rhode Island).  Her captain and crew have an evil reputation among the locals.  It is said that not only do they stop smugglers, they harass legitimate merchants, confiscate their goods, and then sell them and captured contraband at a lower price than local shopkeepers.  It is even claimed that the captain would come ashore to steal chickens.

*In June, 1772, the Gaspee, while chasing smugglers, runs aground.  The locals board the ship, destroy the interior, burn the hull, and shoot the captain in the groin.

*Britain is not amused.  The colonists are accused of high treason and a committee is sent to investigate.  However, no-one claims to know anything.  Investigators are understandably dubious, especially when a man found wearing the captain’s hat is interviewed and claims ignorance, but nothing can be proved.  This is fortunate, because the British want to take the offenders back to England for a trial before an Admiralty court.

*Thomas Hutchinson, acting governor of Massachusetts, announces that he will now receive his salary from the King through the proceeds of the customs houses.  The same policy will apply to all other governors and superior court judges.

*The colonists see these British actions as an assault on their liberties, and in June, 1772, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson start a Committee on Correspondence, and many other folks go along, thanks to the urging of Samuel Adams, patriot, brewer, and influential member of the Sons of Liberty.

* The Tea Act of 1773.  This gave a monopoly on tea importing to the East India Tea Company (in which many MPs and royal officials owned stock), and let them bypass wholesalers.  It also eliminated all duties and taxes on tea except the Townshend Duty.  Therefore, the East India Tea Company could sell tea (even with the duty) cheaper than even the smugglers could.  The merchants, especially the middlemen, called it CORRUPTION and MONOPOLY and the start of an insidious conspiracy!  They said the local merchants would be ruined, THEN the tea company would jack the prices up.  It supported unneeded bureaucrats and corrupt officials.  However, no-one cared.  Tea was too popular—close to half the population drank it daily.

*However, a few agitators again stirred up trouble.  The Sons of Liberty threatened merchants and tax officials, so that many resign.

*Finally, in Boston, there was a big shipment of tea in the harbour.  Acting Governor Hutchinson says that since it's in the city, the taxes must be paid.  However, a mob at the docks won't let the ships unload or sell the tea, while the governor won't let them leave.  Finally, the captain of one ship goes ashore and asks for help.  This is creatively misinterpreted by the Sons of Liberty, and sixty, dressed as Indians, sneak aboard and dump £10,000 worth of tea into Boston Harbour while 2,000 locals stand around and cheer for the Boston Tea Party.

*There are other tea parties like this up and down the coast, and Parliament is not pleased.  In response, passes the Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts (1774).
Intolerable Acts
 Coercive Acts (1774)
  Boston Port Act (1)
  Massachusetts Governor Act (2)
  Imperial Administration of Justice Act (3)
  Quartering Act (4)
 Quebec Act (1774)

*These (1) shut down Boston Harbour until all the taxes were paid and the tea itself was paid for, (2) removed Hutchinson from office and replaced him with General Thomas Gage who had the power to appoint a council and forbade town meetings, (3) ensured that royal officials charged with any crime would be tried in England (not the colonies), and (4) introduced more troops to enforce the laws, who had to be supported any way the military say fit (even in private homes).  Parliament also passed the Quebec Act, which preserved Catholicism, the French language, and other traditions in Quebec while extending its borders down to the Ohio River.

*The Virginia House of Burgesses in Williamsburg called for a day of prayer for Massachusetts and was disbanded by the governor.  Reconvening in the nearby Raleigh Tavern, they call for a meeting of all the colonies to decide what to do next.

*Twelve colonies (all but Georgia) will send a total of 55 delegates to Philadelphia, where they constitute the First Continental Congress (5 September, 1774-26 October, 1774).  Some of the delegates have to be sent from ‘reconstituted assemblies’ created illegally after 6 colonies had their assemblies dissolved by their royal governors.

*Some delegates, such as John and Samuel Adams, George Washington, and Patrick Henry are very radical and even now are starting to consider breaking from England.

*Other delegates are more conservative, notably John Dickinson and Mr Galloway, both of Pennsylvania.

*Together, the delegates supported the Suffolk Resolves (originally issued from Suffolk County, Massachusetts) that called for no obedience to the coercive acts because Parliament had no right to enact them.  Furthermore, Congress resolved that Parliament did not and could not represent the colonies.  Despite this, the colonies do not yet (with the exception of a few radicals) want independence.  They simply want a new relationship with Great Britain—perhaps united under one king, but with separate parliaments (sort of like the Dominion system that would later work in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.  This was even suggested in the Galloway Plan of Union, in which all the colonies would be united into one colony with an elected president-general and a Grand Council that would be subservient to Parliament.  This plan failed by only one vote.

*Congress supports non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption agreements (except for rice, in order to get SC’s co-operation.

*Creates Committees on Public Safety, one per colony, to enforce boycotts, pass out fliers, protect people, and beat up folks they didn’t like.

*Relatively satisfied with their accomplishments, Congress adjourn, but decide to do it again next year, in May, 1775.

*Many colonists think Congress and the Committees on Safety and the reconstituted assemblies are going a bit too far, but they are willing to go along because the new system looks much like the old one with most of the same, old, respected men in charge.  People also know that there are real problems, and see that this is at least a relatively calm, rational way of approaching them.  Finally, people see what’s happening in Massachusetts, and fear it could happen to them next.  Consequently, boycotts are followed and militia units begin to train seriously.

*Something does happen.  Worried about colonial resistance, General Gage, military governor of Massachusetts, hears of colonial powder stores in Lexington and Concord, and decides he needs to seize them, and also hopes to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

*Certain colonists hear of this, and three of them go to warn the towns along the projected route of the army, and especially to warn Adams and Hancock.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

*Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Dr. Samuel Prescott together manage to warn the militia or minutemen, and Adams and Hancock escape.

*Warned, the militia gather on Lexington green on 19 April, 1775, where they are ordered to disperse, but are fired upon as they go (because the do not also drop their weapons).  8 are killed, 10 wounded.  1 British solider is wounded as well.  The regulars proceed to Concord, where they face more determined opposition.  There ‘the embattled farmers stood/and fired the shot heard round the world.’  Despite this resistance, the British destroy some gun carriages, entrenching tools, flour, and a liberty pole.

*The British head back toward Boston, but are fired upon the whole way back by militiamen hiding behind trees, fences, et cetera.  174 regulars are wounded, 73 killed, and 26 go missing.  The siege of Boston begins.

*May, 1775, the Second Continental Congress convenes, but we’ll talk about them a little later.

*Gage is replaced by General Howe during the siege of Boston.

*June, 1775:  Colonial forces occupy Breed’s Hill outside Boston.  They had been told to fortify Bunker Hill, however, and so the battle often is named after that hill instead.  In an effort to break the siege, on 17 June, 1775, the British under General Howe attacked them in three successive waves, suffering massive casualties.  The British eventually defeated the colonists after they used up all their ammunition.  However, in this battle 1,600 colonial troops occupying Breed’s Hill killed or wounded between 1,100 and 2,400 troops.  The Americans suffered 100 dead, 267 wounded, and 26 prisoners.  Although technically an American loss, the British suffered such casualties that one Englishman remarked that they could not stand to win many more such battles.

*January, 1776:  Henry Knox moves artillery (mostly captured from the British) into position around Boston and begins to harass the British further.

*26 March, 1776, Howe leaves Boston, and this date is still celebrated there (or so I’m told) as Evacuation Day.  When the British leave in March, they take with them about 1,000 Loyalists.  In total about 80,000 would flee the country and most of their property would be seized to help pay for the war.


This page last updated 30 August, 2003.