Patrick Henry voices American opposition to British policy


Year
1775
Month Day
March 23

During a speech before the second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry responds to the increasingly oppressive British rule over the American colonies by declaring, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Following the signing of the American Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Patrick Henry was appointed governor of Virginia by the Continental Congress.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment on November 1, 1765, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists quietly accepted British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, which granted the East India Company a monopoly on the American tea trade. Viewed as another example of taxation without representation, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 10,000 pounds dumped into Boston harbor. Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in the following year. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first volleys of the American Revolutionary War were fired.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Enraged Colonists and Led to the American Revolution

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The Boston Massacre


Year
1770
Month Day
March 05

On the cold, snowy night of March 5, 1770, a mob of American colonists gathers at the Customs House in Boston and begins taunting the British soldiers guarding the building. The protesters, who called themselves Patriots, were protesting the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament that lacked American representation.

READ MORE: Did a Snowball Fight Start the American Revolution?

British Captain Thomas Preston, the commanding officer at the Customs House, ordered his men to fix their bayonets and join the guard outside the building. The colonists responded by throwing snowballs and other objects at the British regulars, and Private Hugh Montgomery was hit, leading him to discharge his rifle at the crowd. The other soldiers began firing a moment later, and when the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead or dying—Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell—and three more were injured. Although it is unclear whether Crispus Attucks, an African American, was the first to fall as is commonly believed, the deaths of the five men are regarded by some historians as the first fatalities in the American Revolutionary War.

READ MORE: 8 Things We Know About Crispus Attucks

The British soldiers were put on trial, and patriots John Adams and Josiah Quincy agreed to defend the soldiers in a show of support of the colonial justice system. When the trial ended in December 1770, two British soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter and had their thumbs branded with an “M” for murder as punishment.

The Sons of Liberty, a Patriot group formed in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Act, advertised the “Boston Massacre” as a battle for American liberty and just cause for the removal of British troops from Boston. Patriot Paul Revere made a provocative engraving of the incident, depicting the British soldiers lining up like an organized army to suppress an idealized representation of the colonist uprising. Copies of the engraving were distributed throughout the colonies and helped reinforce negative American sentiments about British rule.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

In April 1775, the American Revolution began when British troops from Boston skirmished with American militiamen at the battles of Lexington and Concord. The British troops were under orders to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington and to confiscate the Patriot arsenal at Concord. Neither missions were accomplished because of Paul Revere and William Dawes, who rode ahead of the British, warning Adams and Hancock and rousing the Patriot minutemen. 

Eleven months later, in March 1776, British forces had to evacuate Boston following American General George Washington’s successful placement of fortifications and cannons on Dorchester Heights. This bloodless liberation of Boston brought an end to the hated eight-year British occupation of the city. For the victory, General Washington, commander of the Continental Army, was presented with the first medal ever awarded by the Continental Congress. It would be more than five years before the Revolutionary War came to an end with British General Charles Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.

READ MORE: Revolutionary War – Timeline, Facts & Battles

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British parliament passes unpopular Tea Act

Year
1773
Month Day
April 27

On April 27, 1773, the British Parliament passes the Tea Act, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company from bankruptcy by greatly lowering the tea tax it paid to the British government and, thus, granting it a de facto monopoly on the American tea trade. Because all legal tea entered the colonies through England, allowing the East India Company to pay lower taxes in Britain also allowed it to sell tea more cheaply in the colonies. Even untaxed Dutch tea, which entered the colonies illegally through smuggling, was more expensive the East India tea, after the act took effect.

British Prime Minister, Frederick, Lord North, who initiated the legislation, thought it impossible that the colonists would protest cheap tea; he was wrong. Many colonists viewed the act as yet another example of taxation tyranny, precisely because it left an earlier duty on tea entering the colonies in place, while removing the duty on tea entering England.

When three tea ships carrying East India Company tea, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to send back the cargo, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the so-called Boston Tea Party with about 60 members of the radically anti-British Sons of Liberty. On December 16, 1773, the Patriots boarded the British ships disguised as Mohawk Indians and dumped the tea chests, valued then at £18,000 (nearly $1 million in today’s money), into the water.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, known to colonists as the Intolerable Acts, the following year. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to what they saw as British oppression.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

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The Boston Tea Party


Updated:
Original:
Year
1773
Month Day
December 16

In Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

The midnight raid, popularly known as the “Boston Tea Party,” was in protest of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.

When three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the “tea party” with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty, his underground resistance group. The British tea dumped in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was valued at some $18,000.

Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

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Stamp Act imposed on American colonies


Year
1765
Month Day
March 22

In an effort to raise funds to pay off debts and defend the vast new American territories won from the French in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the British government passes the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. The legislation levied a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use in the colonies, from newspapers and pamphlets to playing cards and dice.

Though the Stamp Act employed a strategy that was a common fundraising vehicle in England, it stirred a storm of protest in the colonies. The colonists had recently been hit with three major taxes: the Sugar Act (1764), which levied new duties on imports of textiles, wines, coffee and sugar; the Currency Act (1764), which caused a major decline in the value of the paper money used by colonists; and the Quartering Act (1765), which required colonists to provide food and lodging to British troops.

With the passing of the Stamp Act, the colonists’ grumbling finally became an articulated response to what they saw as the mother country’s attempt to undermine their economic strength and independence. They raised the issue of taxation without representation, and formed societies throughout the colonies to rally against the British government and nobles who sought to exploit the colonies as a source of revenue and raw materials. By October of that year, nine of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress, at which the colonists drafted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” a document that railed against the autocratic policies of the mercantilist British empire.

Realizing that it actually cost more to enforce the Stamp Act in the protesting colonies than it did to abolish it, the British government repealed the tax the following year. The fracas over the Stamp Act, though, helped plant seeds for a far larger movement against the British government and the eventual battle for independence. Most important of these was the formation of the Sons of Liberty—a group of tradesmen who led anti-British protests in Boston and other seaboard cities—and other groups of wealthy landowners who came together from the across the colonies. Well after the Stamp Act was repealed, these societies continued to meet in opposition to what they saw as the abusive policies of the British empire. Out of their meetings, a growing nationalism emerged that would culminate in the fighting of the American Revolution only a decade later.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

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Thomas Paine publishes “The American Crisis”


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Year
1776
Month Day
December 19

“These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

When these phrases appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal for the first time, General George Washington’s troops were encamped at McKonkey’s Ferry on the Delaware River opposite Trenton, New Jersey. In August, they had suffered humiliating defeats and lost New York City to British troops. Between September and December, 11,000 American volunteers gave up the fight and returned to their families. General Washington could foresee the destiny of a rebellion without an army if the rest of his men returned home when their service contracts expired on December 31. He knew that without an upswing in morale and a significant victory, the American Revolution would come to a swift and humiliating end.

Thomas Paine was similarly astute. His Common Sense was the clarion call that began the revolution. As Washington’s troops retreated from New York through New Jersey, Paine again rose to the challenge of literary warfare. With American Crisis, he delivered the words that would salvage the revolution.

Washington commanded that the freshly printed pamphlet be read aloud to his dispirited men; the rousing prose had its intended effect. Reciting Paine’s impassioned words, the beleaguered troops mustered their remaining hopes for victory and crossed the icy Delaware River to defeat hung-over Hessians on Christmas night and on January 2, the British army’s best general, Earl Cornwallis, at the Battle of Princeton. With victory in New Jersey, Washington won not only two battles, but also the love and thanks of man and woman.

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Thomas Paine publishes “Common Sense”


Year
1776
Month Day
January 09

On January 9, 1776, writer Thomas Paine publishes his pamphlet “Common Sense,” setting forth his arguments in favor of American independence.  Although little used today, pamphlets were an important medium for the spread of ideas in the 16th through 19th centuries.

Originally published anonymously, “Common Sense” advocated independence for the American colonies from Britain and is considered one of the most influential pamphlets in American history.  Credited with uniting average citizens and political leaders behind the idea of independence, “Common Sense” played a remarkable role in transforming a colonial squabble into the American Revolution.

At the time Paine wrote “Common Sense,” most colonists considered themselves to be aggrieved Britons.  Paine fundamentally changed the tenor of colonists’ argument with the crown when he wrote the following:  “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.  This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.  Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”

Paine was born in England in 1737 and worked as a corset maker in his teens and, later, as a sailor and schoolteacher before becoming a prominent pamphleteer. In 1774, Paine arrived in Philadelphia and soon came to support American independence.  Two years later, his 47-page pamphlet sold some 500,000 copies, powerfully influencing American opinion. Paine went on to serve in the U.S. Army and to work for the Committee of Foreign Affairs before returning to Europe in 1787.  Back in England, he continued writing pamphlets in support of revolution. He released “The Rights of Man,” supporting the French Revolution in 1791-92, in answer to Edmund Burke’s famous “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790). His sentiments were highly unpopular with the still-monarchal British government, so he fled to France, where he was later arrested for his political opinions.  He returned to the United States in 1802 and died in New York in 1809.

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The Siege of Boston


Year
1776
Month Day
March 02

In advance of the Continental Army’s occupation of Dorchester Heights, Massachusetts, General George Washington orders American artillery forces to begin bombarding Boston from their positions at Lechmere Point, northwest of the city center, on this day in 1776.

After two straight days of bombardment, American Brigadier General John Thomas slipped 2,000 troops, cannons and artillery into position just south of Boston at Dorchester Heights. The 56 cannon involved in the move were those taken at Ticonderoga, New York, by Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen with his Green Mountain Boys, which had then been transported to Boston by Colonel of Artillery Henry Knox the previous winter.

By March 5, 1776, the Continental Army had artillery troops in position around Boston, including the elevated position at Dorchester Heights, overlooking the city. British General William Howe realized Boston was indefensible to the American positions and decided, on March 7, 1776, to leave the city. Ten days later, on March 17, 1776, the eight-year British occupation of Boston ended when British troops evacuated the city and sailed to the safety of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The victory at Boston resulted in John Thomas’ promotion to major general; soon after, he was assigned to replace General Richard Montgomery, who was killed in action as he and Benedict Arnold attempted to take Quebec. Thomas arrived at Quebec on May 1 and soon lost his own life. Although a physician by profession, he died of smallpox on June 2, as the Patriots retreated up the Richelieu River from their failed siege of the city.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

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Revere and Dawes warn of British attack

Year
1775
Month Day
April 18

On April 18, 1775, British troops march out of Boston on a mission to confiscate the American arsenal at Concord and to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. As the British departed, Boston Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback from the city to warn Adams and Hancock and rouse the Minutemen.

By 1775, tensions between the American colonies and the British government had approached the breaking point, especially in Massachusetts, where Patriot leaders formed a shadow revolutionary government and trained militias to prepare for armed conflict with the British troops occupying Boston. In the spring of 1775, General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, received instructions from Great Britain to seize all stores of weapons and gunpowder accessible to the American insurgents. On April 18, he ordered British troops to march against Concord and Lexington.

The Boston Patriots had been preparing for such a British military action for some time, and, upon learning of the British plan, Revere and Dawes set off across the Massachusetts countryside. They took separate routes in case one of them was captured: Dawes left the city via the Boston Neck peninsula and Revere crossed the Charles River to Charlestown by boat. As the two couriers made their way, Patriots in Charlestown waited for a signal from Boston informing them of the British troop movement. As previously agreed, one lantern would be hung in the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church, the highest point in the city, if the British were marching out of the city by Boston Neck, and two lanterns would be hung if they were crossing the Charles River to Cambridge. Two lanterns were hung, and the armed Patriots set out for Lexington and Concord accordingly. Along the way, Revere and Dawes roused hundreds of Minutemen, who armed themselves and set out to oppose the British.

Revere arrived in Lexington shortly before Dawes, but together they warned Adams and Hancock and then set out for Concord. Along the way, they were joined by Samuel Prescott, a young Patriot who had been riding home after visiting a lady friend. Early on the morning of April 19, a British patrol captured Revere, and Dawes lost his horse, forcing him to walk back to Lexington on foot. However, Prescott escaped and rode on to Concord to warn the Patriots there. After being roughly questioned for an hour or two, Revere was released when the patrol heard Minutemen alarm guns being fired on their approach to Lexington.

About 5 a.m. on April 19, 700 British troops under Major John Pitcairn arrived at the town to find a 77-man-strong colonial militia under Captain John Parker waiting for them on Lexington’s common green. Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, a handful of Americans lay dead and several others wounded. The American Revolution had begun.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

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Parliament passes the Boston Port Act


Year
1774
Month Day
March 25

On March 25, 1774, British Parliament passes the Boston Port Act, closing the port of Boston and demanding that the city’s residents pay for the nearly $1 million worth (in today’s money) of tea dumped into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773.

The Boston Port Act was the first and easiest to enforce of four acts that together were known as the Coercive Acts. The other three were a new Quartering Act, the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act.

As part of the Crown’s attempt to intimidate Boston’s increasingly unruly residents, King George III appointed General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British army in North America, as the new governor of Massachusetts. Gage became governor in May 1774, before the Massachusetts Government Act revoked the colony’s 1691 charter and curtailed the powers of the traditional town meeting and colonial council. These moves made it clear to Bostonians that the crown intended to impose martial law.

In June, Gage easily sealed the ports of Boston and Charlestown using the formidable British navy, leaving merchants terrified of impending economic disaster. Many merchants wanted to simply pay for the tea and disband the Boston Committee of Correspondence, which had served to organize anti-British protests. The merchants’ attempt at convincing their neighbors to assuage the British failed. A town meeting called to discuss the matter voted them down by a substantial margin.

Parliament hoped that the Coercive Acts would isolate Boston from Massachusetts, Massachusetts from New England and New England from the rest of North America, preventing unified colonial resistance to the British. Their effort backfired. Rather than abandon Boston, the colonial population shipped much-needed supplies to Boston and formed extra-legal Provincial Congresses to mobilize resistance to the crown. By the time Gage attempted to enforce the Massachusetts Government Act, his authority had eroded beyond repair.

READ MORE: American Revolution: Causes and Timeline

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