Massachusetts and the American Revolution

Massachusetts and the American Revolution

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Massachusetts became the focal point of opposition to British imperial policies for two reasons. First, the greater Boston area was a major commercial center and was naturally sensitive to all efforts to regulate trade. Second, the colony was home to a large number of radicals who ranged from the obstreperous Samuel Adams to the intellectual John Adams.The first great outburst of colonial indignation came during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765, during which the cry of “no taxation without representation” was heard. The ensuing quiet was broken by resistance to the Townshend Duties in 1767. Radical colonists fanned public furor following the Boston Massacre in 1770 and plotted the destruction of private property in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. British officials responded by closing the port of Boston in 1774.Armed hostilities broke out in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord, and continued at Bunker Hill. Much of the early military action took place in Massachusetts until the focus of the war later shifted to New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

See timeline of the American Revolution.

Who Won the American Revolution?

Guy Chet is Professor of American History at the University of North Texas, and author of The Colonists&rsquo American Revolution: Preserving English Liberty, 1607-1783 (Wiley, 2019). Portions of this essay are drawn from the book, with Wiley&rsquos permission.

"The Battle of Lexington," Amos Doolittle, 1775, based on Doolittle's interviews with town residents and militiamen.

The American War of Independence broke out on this day (April 19) in 1775, when 70 Massachusetts militiamen confronted 700 British troops on the Lexington green. Six years later, the last engagement of the war ended with the surrender of a British army to George Washington&rsquos Continental soldiers in Yorktown, Virginia. The contrast between the two types of American troops &ndash the citizen-soldiers of the militias and the professional and uniformed soldiers of the Continental Army &ndash was a meaningful one to Americans during the war years, and has remained important ever since.

Local governments prioritized their own armed forces (the state militias) over the Continental Congress&rsquos army with regard to provisioning. Civilians likewise were more supportive of militia (with provisions and hospitality) because militiamen were locals, whereas Continentals were strangers from distant states. Moreover, militia provided various services for local communities &ndash from regional and town defense to suppressing Loyalist opposition &ndash which Continentals did not. These factors explain why civilians were much more likely to perform their military service in the militia &ndashwhich they did in vast numbers &ndash than in the Continental Army. As a result, the Continental Army struggled to maintain its numbers and became increasingly populated by socially marginal Americans &ndash men at the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder and at the outskirts of society &ndash whereas militias featured a more representative cross-section of the male citizenry.

After the war, Americans overwhelmingly credited the militia for the victory in the war. Not only did militiamen serve as combatants alongside Continentals, they also did combat in their localities against Loyalist militias, Britain&rsquos Indian allies, and British foraging and raiding parties. The militia was also the key to Patriot civic control in countless American towns, which enabled Patriots to sustain the Continental Army with provisions and recruits, while denying these invaluable resources to the British Army. In the twentieth century, however, Americans transferred the laurels of victory from the militia to the Continental Army. Thus, when historians and laypeople now consider the Revolutionary War, they focus primarily on the national army&rsquos operations and are generally dismissive of the militias. This is reflected in both academic and popular histories, as well as in museum exhibits, documentaries, literature, and film.

This modern view is supported by the testimony of George Washington himself, who deemed militiamen as unreliable soldiers &ndash &ldquomen just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestick life,&rdquo unaccustomed to military life and to combat, and naturally &ldquotimid, and ready to fly from their own Shadows.&rdquo Washington also thought that the sudden change in militiamen&rsquos lodging bred physical illnesses among them, and &ldquoan unconquerable desire of returning to their respective homes,&rdquo resulting in high rates of desertion. &ldquoMen accustomed to unbounded freedom, and no controul, cannot brooke the Restraint which is indispensably necessary to the good Order and Government of an Army.&rdquo

This question &ndash whether it was the militia or the army that won the war &ndash has never been purely academic. Rather, this historical question was intimately related to the way Americans organized their political lives in any given era since the Revolution. The militia and the army are emblems of adversarial administrative systems &ndash the state governments and the national government &ndash that have competed with one another over jurisdiction and authority since the birth of the republic. In the centuries that followed the Revolution, Americans engaged in fierce contests over the proper roles, jurisdictions, and powers of the Federal and state governments. The competing narratives about the Continental Army and Revolutionary militias illustrated the political and administrative principles that Americans championed in their various contemporary debates over Federal power and states&rsquo rights.

Thus, the idea of an effective militia that was the backbone of the war effort served Americans in the early-republic as a testament to the efficacy of democratic civic institutions. It taught that the states had led the war effort and won the war, and should therefore take the lead in administering public life in the young republic. By contrast, the twentieth-century narrative of a feckless militia and strong army was a testament to the need for professional expertise to run important executive bodies. It taught that the national government had won the war, and that it should therefore direct public policy.

Federal power and states&rsquo rights were intensely contested issues in the early republic, with the advocates of states&rsquo rights largely winning the ideological, political, and public-relations battle. It should come as no surprise, then, that Americans in Revolutionary America and the early republic &ndash living as they did in a states&rsquo rights republic &ndash largely judged the militias favorably, as the bulwark of American independence. By contrast, during the Progressive Era (1890-1930) and increasingly ever since, the United States has transformed into a modern nation-state, in which states&rsquo rights have receded in the face of Federal power. It makes sense, therefore, that during this time, Americans have shifted their historical understanding of the Revolutionary War, determining that the Continental Army had won the war, rather than the militias.

Massachusetts Antislavery Petition

The ideas of the American Revolution could not be contained—a fact made clear by this 1777 petition signed by Prince Hall (ca. 1735–1807), a free black man, and seven other African Americans in behalf of people in Massachusetts who remained enslaved. Hall’s appeal made clear his awareness of the central tenets of the Declaration of Independence: it was sent to the state’s legislature less than six months after the Declaration insisted that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted by men.”

Although the Massachusetts legislature ignored the petition, the inconsistency between slavery and America’s founding principles did not go unnoticed. Vermont abolished slavery in its 1777 constitution, while New Hampshire’s 1783 frame of government—which declared that “all men are born equal and independent” with natural rights to the enjoyment and defense of “life and liberty”—preceded a decline in slavery so steep that in 1800 only eight slaves were counted in the census. Meanwhile, a 1783 court case ended slavery in Massachusetts. Pennsylvania adopted a gradual emancipation law in 1780, as did Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784, New York in 1799, and New Jersey in 1804.

On the national level, Thomas Jefferson proposed for the Ordinance of 1784 a clause banning slavery in all land west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi River. The provision failed by a single vote in the Confederation Congress, setting the stage for the eventual expansion of slavery into the future states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi—and presumably Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. “Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man,” Jefferson observed, “and heaven was silent in that awful moment.”

Source: “To the Honorable Counsel & House of [Representa]tives of the State of Massachusetts Bay in General Court assembled,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5 th ser., 3 (1877): 436–37.

The petition of a great number of blacks detained in a state of slavery in the bowels of a free and Christian country humbly shows that your petitioners apprehend that they have in common with all other men a natural and unalienable right to that freedom which the Great Parent of the Universe has bestowed equally on all mankind and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—but they were unjustly dragged by the hand of cruel power from their dearest friends and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender parents—from a populous, pleasant, and plentiful country, and in violation of laws of nature and of nations and in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity brought here to be sold like beasts of burden and like them condemned to slavery for life—among a people professing the mild religion of Jesus, a people not insensible of the secrets of rational being nor without spirit to resent the unjust endeavors of others to reduce them to a state of bondage and subjection. Your honors need not be informed that a life of slavery like that of your petitioners, deprived of every social privilege, of everything requisite to render life tolerable, is far worse than nonexistence.

In imitation of the laudable example of the good people of these states your petitioners have long and patiently waited the event of petition after petition by them presented to the legislative body of this state and cannot but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar. They cannot but express their astonishment that it has never been considered that every principle from which America has acted in the course of their unhappy difficulties with Great Britain pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your petitioners. They therefore humbly beseech your honors to give this petition its due weight and consideration and cause an act of the legislature to be passed whereby they may be restored to the enjoyments of that which is the natural right of all men—and their children who were born in this land of liberty may not be held as slaves after they arrive at the age of twenty-one years. So may the inhabitants of this state [be] no longer chargeable with the inconsistency of acting themselves the part which they condemn and oppose in others. Be prospered in the present glorious struggle for liberty….

Study Questions

A. What was the central argument of this petition? What were its main supporting points? Who was its intended audience? How well did its authors craft this document to appeal to its audience?

B. How is this petition’s argument similar to and different from Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence?

Declaring Independence (1775-76)

When the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, delegates–including new additions Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson–voted to form a Continental Army, with Washington as its commander in chief. On June 17, in the Revolution’s first major battle, colonial forces inflicted heavy casualties on the British regiment of General William Howe at Breed’s Hill in Boston. The engagement, known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, ended in British victory, but lent encouragement to the revolutionary cause. 

Throughout that fall and winter, Washington’s forces struggled to keep the British contained in Boston, but artillery captured at Fort Ticonderoga in New York helped shift the balance of that struggle in late winter. The British evacuated the city in March 1776, with Howe and his men retreating to Canada to prepare a major invasion of New York.

By June 1776, with the Revolutionary War in full swing, a growing majority of the colonists had come to favor independence from Britain. On July 4, the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence, drafted by a five-man committee including Franklin and John Adams but written mainly by Jefferson. That same month, determined to crush the rebellion, the British government sent a large fleet, along with more than 34,000 troops to New York. In August, Howe’s Redcoats routed the Continental Army on Long Island Washington was forced to evacuate his troops from New York City by September. Pushed across the Delaware River, Washington fought back with a surprise attack in Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas night and won another victory at Princeton to revive the rebels’ flagging hopes before making winter quarters at Morristown.

Why the American Revolution Matters

The American Revolution was shaped by high principles and low ones, by imperial politics, dynastic rivalries, ambition, greed, personal loyalties, patriotism, demographic growth, social and economic changes, cultural developments, British intransigence and American anxieties. It was shaped by conflicting interests between Britain and America, between regions within America, between families and between individuals. It was shaped by religion, ethnicity and race, as well as by tensions between rich and poor. It was shaped, perhaps above all else, by the aspirations of ordinary people to make fulfilling lives for themselves and their families, to be secure in their possessions, safe in their homes, free to worship as they wished and to improve their lives by availing themselves of opportunities that seemed to lie within their grasp.

No one of these factors, nor any specific combination of them, can properly be said to have caused the American Revolution. An event as vast as the American Revolution is simply too complex to assign it neatly to particular causes. Although we can never know the causes of the American Revolution with precision, we can see very clearly the most important consequences of the Revolution. They are simply too large and important to miss, and so clearly related to the Revolution that they cannot be traced to any other sequence of events. Every educated American should understand and appreciate them.

First, the American Revolution secured the independence of the United States from the dominion of Great Britain and separated it from the British Empire. While it is altogether possible that the thirteen colonies would have become independent during the nineteenth or twentieth century, as other British colonies did, the resulting nation would certainly have been very different than the one that emerged, independent, from the Revolutionary War. The United States was the first nation in modern times to achieve its independence in a national war of liberation and the first to explain its reasons and its aims in a declaration of independence, a model adopted by national liberation movements in dozens of countries over the last 250 years.

Second, the American Revolution established a republic, with a government dedicated to the interests of ordinary people rather than the interests of kings and aristocrats. The United States was the first large republic since ancient times and the first one to emerge from the revolutions that rocked the Atlantic world, from South America to Eastern Europe, through the middle of the nineteenth century. The American Revolution influenced, to varying degrees, all of the subsequent Atlantic revolutions, most of which led to the establishment of republican governments, though some of those republics did not endure. The American republic has endured, due in part to the resilience of the Federal Constitution, which was the product of more than a decade of debate about the fundamental principles of republican government. Today most of the world’s nations are at least nominal republics, due in no small way to the success of the American republic.

Third, the American Revolution created American national identity, a sense of community based on shared history and culture, mutual experience and belief in a common destiny. The Revolution drew together the thirteen colonies, each with its own history and individual identity, first in resistance to new imperial regulations and taxes, then in rebellion, and finally in a shared struggle for independence. Americans inevitably reduced the complex, chaotic and violent experiences of the Revolution into a narrative of national origins, a story with heroes and villains, of epic struggles and personal sacrifices. This narrative is not properly described as a national myth, because the characters and events in it, unlike the mythic figures and imaginary events celebrated by older cultures, were mostly real. Some of the deeds attributed to those characters were exaggerated and others were fabricated, usually to illustrate some very real quality for which the subject was admired and held up for emulation. The revolutionaries themselves, mindful of their role as founders of the nation, helped create this common narrative as well as symbols to represent national ideals and aspirations.

American national identity has been expanded and enriched by the shared experiences of two centuries of national life, but those experiences were shaped by the legacy of the Revolution and are mostly incomprehensible without reference to the Revolution. The unprecedented movement of people, money and information in the modern world has created a global marketplace of goods, services and ideas that has diluted the hold of national identity on many people, but no global identity has yet emerged to replace it, nor does this seem likely to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

Fourth, the American Revolution committed the new nation to ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship and made them the basis of a new political order. None of these ideals was new or originated with Americans. They were all rooted in the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome, and had been discussed, debated and enlarged by creative political thinkers beginning with the Renaissance. The political writers and philosophers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment disagreed about many things, but all of them imagined that a just political order would be based on these ideals. What those writers and philosophers imagined, the American Revolution created—a nation in which ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship are the basis of law and the foundation of a free society.

The revolutionary generation did not complete the work of creating a truly free society, which requires overcoming layers of social injustice, exploitation and other forms of institutionalized oppression that have accumulated over many centuries, as well as eliminating the ignorance, bigotry and greed that support them. One of the fundamental challenges of a political order based on principles of universal right is that it empowers ignorant, bigoted, callous, selfish and greedy people in the same way it empowers the wise and virtuous. For this reason, political progress in free societies can be painfully, frustratingly slow, with periods of energetic change interspersed with periods of inaction or even retreat. The wisest of our revolutionaries understood this, and anticipated that creating a truly free society would take many generations. The flaw lies not in our revolutionary beginnings or our revolutionary ideals, but in human nature. Perseverance alone is the answer.

Our independence, our republic, our national identity and our commitment to the high ideals that form the basis of our political order are not simply the consequences of the Revolution, to be embalmed in our history books. They are living legacies of the Revolution, more important now, as we face the challenges of a world demanding change, than ever before. Without understanding them, we find our history incomprehensible, our present confused and our future dark. Understanding them, we recognize our common origins, appreciate our present challenges and can advocate successfully for the revolutionary ideals that are the only foundation for the future happiness of the world.

Above: Detail of Liberty by an unidentified American artist, ca. 1800-1820, National Gallery of Art.

Boston Things to Do: Museums and Revolutionary History

With so much history, it is no wonder that museums make up a lot of the best things to do in Boston. Whether you want to explore the city's revolutionary history, enjoy an afternoon of fine art or learn about science, there is something for everyone in Boston's extensive museum culture. Here are some of the most notable museums in the city near your Boston bed and breakfast.

Paul Revere House
19 North Square
Boston, MA 02113
(617) 523-2338

The only 17th century house in the neighborhood, you can visit this historic site to witness the location from which Paul Revere famously began his midnight journey. Together with the Pierce/Hichborn House, which is adjacently located, the visitor receives a fascinating look into the everyday life of regular Bostonians circa the American Revolution, and it's located just a short trip from your Boston inn.

Historic New England
141 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 227-3956

35 house museums all preserved and restored makes up this impressive and authentic site that gives the visitor a firsthand look into some of the families and past that made New England and Boston what they are today.

This building was home to the debates of Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams as they sought to define the future of the British colonies. It was from this building's balconies that the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in 1776. After a short-lived chapter as a state house for the new Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as well as a post office, shopping arcade and city hall, the building has been a museum since 1881. Two floors of exhibits that include tea from the Boston Tea Party and John Hancock's coat work to tell the history of this building that played a vital role in the American Revolution.

Old South Meeting House
310 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 482-6439

Credited as the site where the Boston Tea Party started, this building was originally built to be a Puritan meeting house in 1729. It served as a meeting place for many historical debates, including the tea tax debates that set the stage for the American Revolution.

The Commonwealth Museum
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 727-9268

BBonline recommends a stop at this state museum, showcasing the history and people of Massachusetts. This is a great primer to get a nice overview of the city, state and region's varied and colorful history.

Museum of Fine Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 267-9300

Boasting an impressive collection of both rare and important art pieces, this is one museum not to be missed for any lover of art. Complete with 450,000 pieces, the museum's Asian scrolls and Egyptian mummies are particularly notable, as well as the sizable collection of paintings from masters the world over.

John F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
(866) JFK.1960

In this official memorial for President John F Kennedy, period settings and 3 theaters help set the stage for the historical events of his presidency and life. A phenomenal architectural masterpiece, the 10 acre oceanfront park that the museum sits on offers a great location to enjoy a panoramic shot of both the Boston skyline and the Boston Harbor.

Boston Children's Museum
308 Congress Street
Boston MA 02210
(617) 426-6500

BBonline suggests that families with young children escape into this learning fun-place for the afternoon. With a mix of activities and exhibits from art to science, there is something here for every child. This is a great place to take kids for a first museum experience, and there are many special programs throughout the year highlighting science, arts, culture and the environment.

Militia Trainbands [ edit | edit source ]

The term militia applied to the entire male population, ages 16-60, of the Province of Massachusetts. Each man was required by law to carry his own firearm with appropriate ammunition and accessories. He was to be enrolled in the company of his town. This militiaman was to report four times a year to his company for training. This generated the term Trainband found frequently in the genealogical records. The militia was only for defense, and hence at the outbreak of war with the French in 1754, arrangements had to be made to organize volunteer regiments to fight outside the province, (such as to invade Canada). Many of the militia gained combat experience in that war.

First Shots of War, 1775

For some months, people in the colonies had been gathering arms and powder and had been training to fight the British, if necessary, at a moment's notice. The Continental Congress had approved of preparations for defensive fighting, in case the British made an aggressive move. But General Thomas Gage, commander of British troops in Boston, had been cautious. He thought his army too small to act without reinforcements. On the other hand, his officers disdained the colonists as fighters, thinking they would flee with any show of British force.

Gage received orders to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, rumored to be near Lexington. When Gage heard that the colonists had stockpiled guns and powder in Concord, he decided to act. On the night of April 18, 1775, he dispatched nearly 1,000 troops from Boston. He hoped to catch the colonists by surprise and thus to avoid bloodshed. But all British activities were carefully watched by the patriots, and William Dawes and Paul Revere rode out to warn people in the countryside that the British were coming.

When British regulars (known as redcoats because of their uniform jackets) arrived at Lexington the next morning, they found several dozen minutemen waiting for them on the town's common. Someone fired--no one knows who fired first--and eight minutemen were killed and another dozen or so were wounded. Then the British marched on Concord and destroyed what was left of the store of guns and powder, most of which had been hastily removed by the patriots. During the redcoats' entire march back to Boston, minutemen harrassed them, firing from behind fences, houses, trees, and rocks. By the end of the day, the redcoats suffered three times more casualties than had the colonists.

Whatever the truth of who fired the first shot, the patriots were first to get their version of the events out to the American public. The effect was to rally hundreds, if not thousands, of colonists to the rebellion. When the Second Continental Congress met three weeks later--the meeting had been scheduled since October--it agreed to support Massachusetts in the conflict. Even so, many representatives disagreed among themselves about the purpose of the fighting.

At one end of the continuum of opinion were such men as Sam and John Adams of Massachusetts and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia who already favored independence. At the other end of that continuum were such men as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania who hoped for a quick settlement and reconciliation with Great Britain. Most delegates, like most colonists, were moderates with opinions somewhere in the middle of that continuum. Over the next year of conflict, bungling British policy-makers tried to recruit Indians, slaves, and foreign mercenaries, they blockaded colonial ports, and they rejected allefforts at conciliation. These actions pushed more and more colonists to favor independence.

Massachusetts and the American Revolution - History

Before the arrival of Europeans, the land that is today the state of Massachusetts was inhabited by a number of Native American tribes. These tribes spoke the Algonquian language and included the Massachusett, Wampanoag, Nauset, Nipmuc, and Mohican peoples. Some of the peoples lived in dome dwellings called wigwams, while others lived in large multiple-family homes called long houses.

Boston by Unknown

Early explorers visited the coast of Massachusetts including John Cabot in 1497. The Europeans brought disease with them. Diseases like smallpox killed around 90% of the Native Americans living in Massachusetts.

The English established the first permanent settlement in 1620 with the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The Pilgrims were Puritans hoping to find religious freedom in the New World. With the help of the local Indians including Squanto, the Pilgrims survived the initial harsh winter. Once Plymouth was established, more colonists arrived. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded at Boston in 1629.

As more people moved in, tensions between the Indian tribes and the colonials turned to violence. A number of battles occurred between 1675 and 1676 called King Philip's War. The majority of the Indians were defeated. In 1691, the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony combined to form the Province of Massachusetts.

Protesting British Taxes

As the colony of Massachusetts began to grow, the people became more independent minded. In 1764, Britain passed the Stamp Act to tax the colonies in order to help pay for the military. The center for the protests against the act took place in Boston, Massachusetts. During one protest in 1770, British soldiers fired on the colonists, killing five people. This day was called the Boston Massacre. A few years later, the Bostonians once again protested by dumping tea into the Boston Harbor in what would later be called the Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party by Nathaniel Currier

It was in Massachusetts where the American Revolution began. In 1775, the British army arrived in Boston. Paul Revere rode through the night to warn the colonists. On April 19, 1775 the Revolutionary War began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The state of Massachusetts would play an important role during the war with leaders and Founding Fathers such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, and John Hancock.

Battle of Lexington by Unknown

Massachusetts became the sixth state to join the United States on February 6, 1788. John Adams from Boston became the first Vice President and the second President of the United States.

Massachusetts and the American Revolution - History

Prelude to Revolution
1763 to 1775

1763 - The Proclamation of 1763 , signed by King George III of England, prohibits any English settlement west of the Appalachian mountains and requires those already settled in those regions to return east in an attempt to ease tensions with Native Americans.

1764 - The Sugar Act is passed by the English Parliament to offset the war debt brought on by the French and Indian War and to help pay for the expenses of running the colonies and newly acquired territories. This act increases the duties on imported sugar and other items such as textiles, coffee, wines and indigo (dye). It doubles the duties on foreign goods reshipped from England to the colonies and also forbids the import of foreign rum and French wines.

1764 - The English Parliament passes a measure to reorganize the American customs system to better enforce British trade laws, which have often been ignored in the past. A court is established in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that will have jurisdiction over all of the American colonies in trade matters.

1764 - The Currency Act prohibits the colonists from issuing any legal tender paper money. This act threatens to destabilize the entire colonial economy of both the industrial North and agricultural South, thus uniting the colonists against it.

1764 - In May, at a town meeting in Boston, James Otis raises the issue of taxation without representation and urges a united response to the recent acts imposed by England. In July, Otis publishes "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved." In August, Boston merchants begin a boycott of British luxury goods.

1765 - In March, the Stamp Act is passed by the English Parliament imposing the first direct tax on the American colonies, to offset the high costs of the British military organization in America. Thus for the first time in the 150 year old history of the British colonies in America, the Americans will pay tax not to their own local legislatures in America, but directly to England.

Under the Stamp Act, all printed materials are taxed, including newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and playing cards. The American colonists quickly unite in opposition, led by the most influential segments of colonial society - lawyers, publishers, land owners, ship builders and merchants - who are most affected by the Act, which is scheduled to go into effect on November 1.

1765 - Also in March, the Quartering Act requires colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

1765 - In May, in Virginia, Patrick Henry presents seven Virginia Resolutions to the House of Burgesses claiming that only the Virginia assembly can legally tax Virginia residents, saying, "If this be treason, make the most of it." Also in May, the first medical school in America is founded, in Philadelphia.

1765 - In July, the Sons of Liberty , an underground organization opposed to the Stamp Act, is formed in a number of colonial towns. Its members use violence and intimidation to eventually force all of the British stamp agents to resign and also stop many American merchants from ordering British trade goods.

1765 - August 26, a mob in Boston attacks the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Chief Justice of Massachusetts, as Hutchinson and his family narrowly escape.

1765 - In October, the Stamp Act Congress convenes in New York City, with representatives from nine of the colonies. The Congress prepares a resolution to be sent to King George III and the English Parliament. The petition requests the repeal of the Stamp Act and the Acts of 1764. The petition asserts that only colonial legislatures can tax colonial residents and that taxation without representation violates the colonists' basic civil rights.

1765 - On November 1, most daily business and legal transactions in the colonies cease as the Stamp Act goes into effect with nearly all of the colonists refusing to use the stamps. In New York City, violence breaks out as a mob burns the royal governor in effigy, harasses British troops, then loots houses.

1765 - In December, British General Thomas Gage, commander of all English military forces in America, asks the New York assembly to make colonists comply with the Quartering Act and house and supply his troops. Also in December, the American boycott of English imports spreads, as over 200 Boston merchants join the movement.

1766 - In January, the New York assembly refuses to completely comply with Gen. Gage's request to enforce the Quartering Act.

1766 - In March, King George III signs a bill repealing the Stamp Act after much debate in the English Parliament, which included an appearance by Ben Franklin arguing for repeal and warning of a possible revolution in the American colonies if the Stamp Act was enforced by the British military.

1766 - On the same day it repealed the Stamp Act, the English Parliament passes the Declaratory Act stating that the British government has total power to legislate any laws governing the American colonies in all cases whatsoever.

1766 - In April, news of the repeal of the Stamp Act results in celebrations in the colonies and a relaxation of the boycott of imported English trade goods.

1766 - In August, violence breaks out in New York between British soldiers and armed colonists, including Sons of Liberty members. The violence erupts as a result of the continuing refusal of New York colonists to comply with the Quartering Act. In December, the New York legislature is suspended by the English Crown after once again voting to refuse to comply with the Act.

1767 - In June, The English Parliament passes the Townshend Revenue Acts , imposing a new series of taxes on the colonists to offset the costs of administering and protecting the American colonies. Items taxed include imports such as paper, tea, glass, lead and paints. The Act also establishes a colonial board of customs commissioners in Boston. In October, Bostonians decide to reinstate a boycott of English luxury items.

1768 - In February, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts writes a Circular Letter opposing taxation without representation and calling for the colonists to unite in their actions against the British government. The letter is sent to assemblies throughout the colonies and also instructs them on the methods the Massachusetts general court is using to oppose the Townshend Acts.

1768 - In April, England's Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, orders colonial governors to stop their own assemblies from endorsing Adams' circular letter. Hillsborough also orders the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the general court if the Massachusetts assembly does not revoke the letter. By month's end, the assemblies of New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey have endorsed the letter.

1768 - In May, a British warship armed with 50 cannons sails into Boston harbor after a call for help from custom commissioners who are constantly being harassed by Boston agitators. In June, a customs official is locked up in the cabin of the Liberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock. Imported wine is then unloaded illegally into Boston without payment of duties. Following this incident, customs officials seize Hancock's sloop. After threats of violence from Bostonians, the customs officials escape to an island off Boston, then request the intervention of British troops.

1768 - In July, the governor of Massachusetts dissolves the general court after the legislature defies his order to revoke Adams' circular letter. In August, in Boston and New York, merchants agree to boycott most British goods until the Townshend Acts are repealed. In September, at a town meeting in Boston, residents are urged to arm themselves. Later in September, English warships sail into Boston Harbor, then two regiments of English infantry land in Boston and set up permanent residence to keep order.

1769 - In March, merchants in Philadelphia join the boycott of British trade goods. In May, a set of resolutions written by George Mason is presented by George Washington to the Virginia House of Burgesses. The Virginia Resolves oppose taxation without representation, the British opposition to the circular letters, and British plans to possibly send American agitators to England for trial. Ten days later, the Royal governor of Virginia dissolves the House of Burgesses. However, its members meet the next day in a Williamsburg tavern and agree to a boycott of British trade goods, luxury items and slaves.

1769 - In July, in the territory of California, San Diego is founded by Franciscan Friar Juniper Serra. In October, the boycott of English goods spreads to New Jersey, Rhode Island, and then North Carolina.

1770 - The population of the American colonies reaches 2,210,000 persons.

1770 - Violence erupts in January between members of the Sons of Liberty in New York and 40 British soldiers over the posting of broadsheets by the British. Several men are seriously wounded.

March 5, 1770 - The Boston Massacre occurs as a mob harasses British soldiers who then fire their muskets pointblank into the crowd, killing three instantly, mortally wounding two others and injuring six. After the incident, the new Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, at the insistence of Sam Adams, withdraws British troops out of Boston to nearby harbor islands. The captain of the British soldiers, Thomas Preston, is then arrested along with eight of his men and charged with murder.

1770 - In April, the Townshend Acts are repealed by the British. All duties on imports into the colonies are eliminated except for tea. Also, the Quartering Act is not renewed.

1770 - In October, trial begins for the British soldiers arrested after the Boston Massacre. Colonial lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy successfully defend Captain Preston and six of his men, who are acquitted. Two other soldiers are found guilty of manslaughter, branded, then released.

1772 - In June, a British customs schooner, the Gaspee, runs aground off Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay. Colonists from Providence row out to the schooner and attack it, set the British crew ashore, then burn the ship. In September, a 500 pound reward is offered by the English Crown for the capture of those colonists, who would then be sent to England for trial. The announcement that they would be sent to England further upsets many American colonists.

1772 - In November, a Boston town meeting assembles, called by Sam Adams. During the meeting, a 21 member committee of correspondence is appointed to communicate with other towns and colonies. A few weeks later, the town meeting endorses three radical proclamations asserting the rights of the colonies to self-rule.

1773 - In March, the Virginia House of Burgesses appoints an eleven member committee of correspondence to communicate with the other colonies regarding common complaints against the British. Members of that committee include, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. Virginia is followed a few months later by New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and South Carolina.

1773 - May 10, the Tea Act takes effect. It maintains a threepenny per pound import tax on tea arriving in the colonies, which had already been in effect for six years. It also gives the near bankrupt British East India Company a virtual tea monopoly by allowing it to sell directly to colonial agents, bypassing any middlemen, thus underselling American merchants. The East India Company had successfully lobbied Parliament for such a measure. In September, Parliament authorizes the company to ship half a million pounds of tea to a group of chosen tea agents.

1773 - In October, colonists hold a mass meeting in Philadelphia in opposition to the tea tax and the monopoly of the East India Company. A committee then forces British tea agents to resign their positions. In November, a town meeting is held in Boston endorsing the actions taken by Philadelphia colonists. Bostonians then try, but fail, to get their British tea agents to resign. A few weeks later, three ships bearing tea sail into Boston harbor.

1773 - November 29/30, two mass meetings occur in Boston over what to do about the tea aboard the three ships now docked in Boston harbor. Colonists decide to send the tea on the ship, Dartmouth, back to England without paying any import duties. The Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson, is opposed to this and orders harbor officials not to let the ship sail out of the harbor unless the tea taxes have been paid.

December 16, 1773 - About 8000 Bostonians gather to hear Sam Adams tell them Royal Governor Hutchinson has repeated his command not to allow the ships out of the harbor until the tea taxes are paid. That night, the Boston Tea Party occurs as colonial activists disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians then board the ships and dump all 342 containers of tea into the harbor.

1774 - In March, an angry English Parliament passes the first of a series of Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts by Americans) in response to the rebellion in Massachusetts. The Boston Port Bill effectively shuts down all commercial shipping in Boston harbor until Massachusetts pays the taxes owed on the tea dumped in the harbor and also reimburses the East India Company for the loss of the tea.

1774 - May 12, Bostonians at a town meeting call for a boycott of British imports in response to the Boston Port Bill. May 13, General Thomas Gage, commander of all British military forces in the colonies, arrives in Boston and replaces Hutchinson as Royal governor, putting Massachusetts under military rule. He is followed by the arrival of four regiments of British troops.

1774 - May 17-23, colonists in Providence, New York and Philadelphia begin calling for an intercolonial congress to overcome the Coercive Acts and discuss a common course of action against the British.

1774 - May 20, The English Parliament enacts the next series of Coercive Acts, which include the Massachusetts Regulating Act and the Government Act virtually ending any self-rule by the colonists there. Instead, the English Crown and the Royal governor assume political power formerly exercised by colonists. Also enacted the Administration of Justice Act which protects royal officials in Massachusetts from being sued in colonial courts, and the Quebec Act establishing a centralized government in Canada controlled by the Crown and English Parliament. The Quebec Act greatly upsets American colonists by extending the southern boundary of Canada into territories claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia.

1774 - In June, a new version of the 1765 Quartering Act is enacted by the English Parliament requiring all of the American colonies to provide housing for British troops in occupied houses and taverns and in unoccupied buildings. In September, Massachusetts Governor Gage seizes that colony's arsenal of weapons at Charlestown.

1774 - September 5 to October 26, the First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia with 56 delegates, representing every colony, except Georgia. Attendants include Patrick Henry, George Washington, Sam Adams and John Hancock.

On September 17, the Congress declares its opposition to the Coercive Acts, saying they are "not to be obeyed," and also promotes the formation of local militia units. On October 14, a Declaration and Resolves is adopted that opposes the Coercive Acts, the Quebec Act, and other measure taken by the British that undermine self-rule. The rights of the colonists are asserted, including the rights to "life, liberty and property." On October 20, the Congress adopts the Continental Association in which delegates agree to a boycott of English imports, effect an embargo of exports to Britain, and discontinue the slave trade.

1775 - February 1, in Cambridge, Mass., a provincial congress is held during which John Hancock and Joseph Warren begin defensive preparations for a state of war. February 9, the English Parliament declares Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. March 23, in Virginia, Patrick Henry delivers a speech against British rule, stating, "Give me liberty or give me death!" March 30, the New England Restraining Act is endorsed by King George III, requiring New England colonies to trade exclusively with England and also bans fishing in the North Atlantic.

1775 - In April, Massachusetts Governor Gage is ordered to enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress "open rebellion" among the colonists by all necessary force.

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The American Revolution

Massachusetts played a key role in the American Revolution. In December 1773, Boston was the site of the famous Boston Tea Party in reaction to the Tea Act that had been passed by the British. Parliament reacted by passing acts to control the colony, including a naval blockade of the harbor. The first Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, and five men from Massachusetts attended: John Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Cushing, and Robert Treat Paine.

On April 19, 1775, Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, were the sites of the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War. After this, the colonists laid siege to Boston, which the British troops held. The siege eventually ended when the British evacuated in March 1776. Signers of the Declaration of Independence from Massachusetts on July 4, 1776, were John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, and Elbridge Gerry. The war continued for seven more years with many Massachusetts volunteers fighting for the Continental Army.

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