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Massachusetts in the 18th century


Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams

In 1763, after Great Britain had made peace with France, Parliament made a new attempt to reorganize the governing structure of the empire. To pay Britain’s war debts and the cost of maintaining troops in America, Parliament sought to tax the colonies and enforce trade regulations that had been ignored. Massachusetts became the center for agitation against Parliament’s efforts, and most of the events leading to the American Revolution (1775-1783) took place there. The Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767 created widespread opposition. Boston rioted, and its merchants initiated a boycott among the colonies against British goods. The royal governor dissolved the General Court, and for eight months British troops occupied Boston. In 1770 British soldiers fired into a crowd of 60 jeering citizens, killing five and wounding six of them, in an incident called the Boston Massacre.

Repeal of the Townshend Acts that year brought a period of relative calm, although Parliament retained a tax on tea to assert its right to tax the colonies. In 1773 Parliament passed the Tea Act, allowing the financially troubled East India Company a monopoly on selling tea in America. The colonists, however, refused to accept the tea, rejecting Parliament’s authority to tax them and fearing the East India Company would hurt colonial merchants’ business. On December 16, 1773, a group of Boston residents, many of them disguised as Native Americans, dumped the first shipment of British tea into Boston Harbor in the Boston Tea Party. To punish Boston for its defiance, Parliament passed laws closing Boston Harbor, requiring residents to provide quarters for British troops, and revoking Massachusetts’s charter.

These measures, which colonists labeled the Intolerable Acts, united American colonies in support of Massachusetts and led to the meeting of the First Continental Congress in the fall of 1774, which organized a trade boycott and sent a declaration of grievances to the king. The royal governor of Massachusetts dissolved the General Court while it was electing delegates to the Continental Congress. Led by the radical independence advocate, Samuel Adams, the General Court refused to disband. Instead, it elected radical delegates to the congress, reconstituted itself as the government of Massachusetts, and moved into the countryside. This provincial assembly governed Massachusetts through most of the revolutionary period. The first battles of the American Revolution took place outside of Boston in 1775. On April 18 General Thomas Gage, the governor of Massachusetts, sent troops to seize ammunition and military supplies at Concord, some 29 km (about 18 mi) from Boston. Local patriots, including Paul Revere, set out to warn colonial militia that the troops were coming, and a group of militia met the British forces the next morning in Lexington. Shots were fired, and eight Americans were killed. The British went on to Concord, where they met more militiamen and turned back to Boston.

Thousands of colonists rallied from the countryside to attack the British, who suffered nearly 300 casualties before reaching safety in Boston (see Lexington, Battle of, and Concord, Battle of). The war for American independence had begun. The militia that followed British troops from Concord laid siege to Boston. The next battle occurred June 17 for control of Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, the heights that dominated Boston Harbor. American forces occupied Breed’s Hill and held off two British assaults in the Battle of Bunker Hill, but they then ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw. Although the Americans failed to force the British to evacuate Boston, their performance against trained British troops strengthened the colonies’ resolve to fight.

Boston remained in British hands until March 1776, when General George Washington, leading the Continental Army, fortified Dorchester Heights and forced the British to evacuate the city. The only other battle of the revolution that took place in Massachusetts occurred in September 1778, when the British burned New Bedford, a port from which American ships attacked British vessels. Massachusetts residents, especially lawyer and statesman John Adams, continued to play major roles in the national movement to form an independent nation. "Massachusetts" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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