Rebels among Us
Opposing the Stamp Act, the Sons of Liberty soon organized with leaders such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. This secret, patriotic society kept meeting after the act was repealed in 1766, forming the Committees of Correspondence that fostered resistance to British economic control. The Sons of Liberty also defied the British dictates by helping American merchants who refused to import goods carried in British ships.
Educated at Harvard, Samuel Adams was a law student and merchant. But when his own ventures failed, he joined his father in a brewery business. With the now-famous Samuel Adams beer, you'd never guess that that business failed following his father's death! But Adams was known for his rebellious posture against many of the British acts. Active in Boston political circles, he was elected to the lower house of the General Court and promoted the Boston chapter of the Sons of Liberty.
Paul Revere, a silversmith and engraver, was also a patriot. His elegant silverware, bowls, pitchers, and tea sets were favorites of Boston aristocracy, but he also used his talents to make artificial teeth, surgical instruments, and engraved printing plates.
Patrick Henry was a self-educated statesman who rose to prominence in the colonies as a lawyer and later as a member of the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, where he introduced resolutions against the Stamp Act.
John Hancock was another Harvard-educated patriot who became a colonial businessman, and a rather wealthy one, after inheriting his mercantile firm. Elected to the Massachusetts legislature, Hancock was soon at odds with the British government in 1768 when customs officials seized his sloop after he failed to pay import duties on his cargo. His zealous defense won him popularity among the factions of people opposed to British control of the colonies.
All of these famous rabble-rousers would play integral roles in the unfolding of the future political drama.
The Boston Massacre
On March 5, 1770, a group of colonists living in Boston were demonstrating in front of the not-too-popular Customs House, where British troops had been called to quell the American protests. The colonists felt beleaguered, and if you can imagine the scene, there were probably harsh words and bitter tensions. The squad of soldiers responded by firing shots into the crowd. Crispus Attucks, leader of this group of protesting colonists, became the first to die for American liberty, in addition to four others. Attucks was of mixed descent, most likely a man of black, white, and Native American heritage. The event became known as the Boston Massacre, depicted by Paul Revere in one of his most famous engravings. In 1888, a monument was erected in the Boston Common to honor Attucks and the others who gave their lives for liberty.
Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre is a good example of colonial propaganda. Revere shows the British soldiers standing in a straight line and firing point blank into a mostly unarmed, defenseless group of colonists. Most eyewitness accounts did not agree with Revere's depiction of the event.
In retrospect, the Boston Massacre, though a tragic brawl, was probably not as heroic as the patriots depicted it. Nonetheless, it stirred passions for personal liberty, justice, and independence. Following the assault, John Hancock joined others demanding the removal of British troops from Boston. Perhaps sensing that this was a no-win situation, the British acquiesced and indeed withdrew them.
After the repeal of the Townshend Acts, the tea tax was the only remaining tariff. Again, to really understand the magnitude of this colonial dilemma, you have to envision yourself reared with the English tradition of sipping this favorite cup of brew. And even though Parliament awarded a monopoly on the sale of tea to Britain's primary tea producer, the East India Company, which sold tea directly at lower prices than the colonial middlemen could offer, the issue of taxation stung.
Sipping a little less tea was indeed a small annoyance made into a mountain of resentment because of the tax. When half a million pounds of tea was sent to the four primary ports — Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, and Boston — anti-British sentiment rallied to the point that tea-laden ships turned back from Philadelphia and New York, unable to unload. In Charleston, although the tea was unloaded, it was stored rather than sold. That left Boston, where the governor was adamant that colonists pay the levy. In December 1773, as the loaded ships sat at anchor, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and some fifty patriots (some dressed as Native Americans) boarded the ships and dumped 343 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This bold act, known as the Boston Tea Party, met with the king's wrath; in response, he closed the port of Boston and imposed a military form of government.
The colonists' civil liberties were further curtailed when they were forced to house the British troops that occupied Massachusetts. Indeed, these restrictions, known as Intolerable Acts, were meant to punish the citizens of Massachusetts for their rebellious attitude. It didn't take long for the other colonies to surmise that their liberty also might be at stake.