The colonists were incensed, not so much because of the tax, but, because of the way in which it was levied, and
because of its purpose. One of the rights an Englishman holds most
precious is that of being represented in the lawmaking body that decides
upon the taxes. It is true that the Americans had their own Assemblies,
but they were not represented in Parliament, the English taxing body. And,
it was Parliament that had levied the Stamp Tax and had made other
unsatisfactory laws for the colonists. Moreover, the colonists did not
believe that a standing army was needed in America in a time of peace.
People in Boston greeted the Stamp Act as they
would have greeted some great sorrow. The church bells were tolled, the
flags were put at half-staff, and a storm of protest broke forth.
New York, copies were made of the law, but,
in place of the king's coat of arms, usually printed on all legal papers,
a grinning skull appeared. The people then destroyed boxes of the hated
stamps and stamped paper, and threatened the men who were appointed to
collect the stamp tax. James Otis suggested that a Congress be called to
take action. Nine of the colonies sent delegates to this Congress, which
was held in
New York and signed a petition that was sent to the king and
After much debate, the Parliament saw that they had made a
mistake and repealed the
Stamp Act. However, King George saw it differently. Not willing to listen
to his advisers, he believed in showing the colonists “their
place." With his influence, Parliament then passed several laws taxing
the colonists in other ways, including duties on various imports such as
glass, lead, paper, and tea. The levying of these taxes, together with the presence of
British troops sent to the colonies, caused further anger among the
On January 17, 1770, British soldiers sawed down a "Liberty
pole," which had been placed in what is now City Hall Park, in New York
City by the "Sons of Liberty," a group of American Patriots. The pole,
complete with banners, had been set up in celebration of the Stamp Act
having been repealed in 1765. Two days later, when the soldiers also began
posting British handbills that were titled "God and a Soldier," which
attacked the Sons of Liberty as "the real enemies of society." man
named Isaac Sears and several others tried to stop them. The group then
captured some of the soldiers and marched his captives toward the mayor's
office. More colonists gathered and when more soldiers arrived to disburse
them, it resulted in a skirmish known as the Battle of Golden Hill. In the
melee, several of the soldiers were badly bruised and one a had a serious
wound. Some of the townsfolk were also wounded and one had been fatally
Two months later, On March 5th, a similar clash occurred in
Boston. That evening, when a party of boys taunted a British sentry in
front of the custom house door, a guard came out and a crowd gathered. As
the crowd grew larger, more people began to harass the soldiers, and in
the end shots were fired. Five civilians were killed and several wounded.
The resentment of the colonists grew.
Throughout the country rang the bold words of Patrick Henry, of Virginia:
"Taxation without representation is tyranny!" The colonists refused to buy
goods from English merchants until the taxes were repealed. This, in turn,
called forth a protest from the merchants, who were rapidly losing money.
But, the king's party argued that if every one of the taxes placed upon
the colonists were taken away, the colonists would feel that they had won.
So another plan was adopted. Most of the taxes
were removed, but a small tax upon tea was retained. The tax was so small
that it was cheaper for the colonists to buy their tea from England than
to smuggle it from Holland and the English merchants were sure they would
get back their trade.
But, the Americans, still refused to buy their tea and when
three shiploads came into the Boston harbor in the fall of 1773, the
colonists decided to act. They warned the ship's master that "it was at his peril, if he
suffered any of the tea brought by him to be landed." They urged him to
take his tea back to England. But the governor would not permit him to
sail out of the harbor, and kept warships on the watch to prevent his
On the morning of December 16, 1773, thousands of people
gathered at a town meeting. "How will tea mingle with salt water?" some
one hinted. Action was taken that very evening. At about nine o'clock
there rang through the quiet streets the war whoop of Mohawk
Fifty white Party men in Indian guise, hatchet in hand, rushed down to the
wharf and boarded the ships. The tea chest were then opened and their
contents thrown overboard into the sea.
The news of this daring spread to the other cities to which
tea had been sent --
New York, Philadelphia, and
Charleston. They were
inspired by the action of brave little Boston and they, too, refused to
buy the tea. Boston's punishment came quickly. Her port was ordered closed
until she should pay for the destroyed tea. This meant that nearly all her
business was stopped, and that she could get no supplies by sea. The
English government thought that, by making an example of Massachusetts in
this way, it would frighten the other colonies into submission. But, it was
mistaken. The colonies felt that Boston was suffering for them all, so
they loyally rallied around her and sent her supplies, accompanied by
messages of courage. The women, in societies known as the "Daughters of
Liberty," pledged themselves to wear homespun clothes and not to drink
On September 5, 1774, representatives from all the colonies, except
Georgia, met in Philadelphia at a meeting that was known as the First Continental Congress. Georgia did not
send delegates as, at the time, they were seeking help from London in
pacifying its smoldering
Indian frontier. The 56 members met to consider
their options, including an economic boycott of British trade; publish a
list of rights and grievances; and petition King George for redress of
those grievances. The delegates also called for a second meeting in the
event that their petition was unsuccessful in halting enforcement of the
When their appeal to the Crown had no effect, the
Second Continental Congress was convened the following year on May 10,
1775 to organize the defense of the colonies at the onset of the American
Revolutionary War. The delegates also urged each colony to set up and
train its own militia.
It had been but a month or two before, that
Patrick Henry had stood up in old St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia,
and cried, " We must fight. I repeat it, sir, we must fight. I know not
what course others may take, but, as for me, give me liberty or give me
he had but voiced the feelings of the greater part of the colonists. For a
long time they had been working together to avoid war. Now, they had to
work together to prepare for it.
Meanwhile, in all the towns, civilians were secretly meeting at night,
practicing and drilling,
so that they might be ready for war at a minute's notice. For this reason,
they were called Minute Men. Further preparations were made by storing
away supplies such as powder, shot and food.
Though all this was done secretly, Governor Gage of
Massachusetts found out that supplies were being stored at Concord. At
about the same time, he received orders to arrest and send to England for
treason, two of the leaders -- Samuel Adams and John Hancock. But, neither
Adams nor Hancock was to be found in Boston and it was reported that they
were in Lexington.
Governor Gage thought that if he could make a quick,
unexpected dash for Lexington and Concord he might succeed in capturing
the men and the hidden stores. Accordingly, in the dead of night, April
18, 1775, he sent a force of British soldiers from Boston to make their
way secretly to Lexington. But, the Americans had been warned by Paul
When the British arrived at Lexington the next
morning, Adams and Hancock had gone and the Minute Men were drawn up on
the village green. The astonished English commander ordered the patriots
to disperse, but they stood their ground. The commander then drew his own
pistol and gave the order to fire*. With the first volley, eight of the
Minute Men fell dead and ten more were wounded. The Revolutionary War had begun.
(* Editors note: No one really knows who fired the first
shot of the American Revolution, known as 'The shot heard round the
world', as there have been many contradictory accounts passed down from the
The British then continued their advance for Concord to get
possession of the supplies. However, when the soldiers arrived, the supplies had mysteriously disappeared. Still more
surprising than the disappearance of the stores was the great number of
Minute Men who guarded the city and drove back some 200 Redcoats from the
Concord Bridge. As the British began their retreat to Boston, they were
fired upon all they way by patriots hiding in the bushes along the
The news of the war quickly spread through the colonies. On all sides came
the call, "Minute Men to arms!" How this call was answered is well
illustrated by the zeal of Israel Putnam, an old fighter of the French and
Indian War. When a horseman galloped by his field giving the cry to arms,
Putnam rode quickly to Boston, where Minute Men had gathered from all
parts of the colony.
In colonial days Boston occupied only one of the several peninsulas which
the city now covers, and on one, the British army was quartered. Across
the channel was the village of Charlestown, and beyond it, Bunker Hill.
The Americans saw that if they could fortify and hold this hill, they
would command Boston.
So, on the night of June 16, 1775, their men crept up the
slope and set to work throwing up rude fortifications. When morning dawned
they stood in firm possession of the hill. The British realized that if
they were to keep Boston they must dislodge the Americans from their
position. They debated as to the best method of attack. Had they gone by
sea to the rear of the hill they might have been easily successful; but
they decided to make a charge at the front.
The Americans had little powder, so their two
commanders, General Putnam and Colonel Prescott, warned the men to wait
until the enemy was close upon them. Up the hill marched the well-trained
soldiers of England. Closer and yet closer they came, and still no sign
from the Americans.
Then, quick and sharp came the order from
behind the breastworks, "Fire!" A great volley broke forth, scattering the
British and forcing them down the hill. Again they formed, and again they
climbed the hill.
Again that death-dealing volley forced them back and down. A
third time they tried. The American powder was nearly exhausted; yet the
valiant defenders fought on, with guns, with stones, with knives, even
with their fists. But the British were too strong. The Americans were
forced back, and the British held the hill. Putnam was disappointed. It
seemed to him that after such gallant fighting the patriots should have
held out longer, but others said that the defense put up that day was
wonderful, even though it ended in defeat. Throughout the country there
was great rejoicing.
But, there were great difficulties ahead. An army was needed, but, it was
hard to get each colony to promise its share of men. To make matters more
difficult, the new Congress was constantly bickering, which weakened its
power and discouraged the people. They did make one very wise decision;
however, that of appointing George Washington as Commander in Chief of the
Continental Army. His remarkable military skill, already shown in the
French and Indian War, and his high character made him a fitting leader in
the great cause.
When told of his appointment, Washington said, "I beg it may be remembered
by every gentleman in this room, that, I this day declare, with the utmost
sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."
Despite his modest doubts, he would bring honor and glory to himself and
to his country.
Beneath a famous old elm tree, at Cambridge, Massachusetts
on July 3, 1775, that Washington, tall and dignified, first stood before
the eager young soldiers and drew forth his sword as commander of the
No one knew better than
Washington the great task that
was before him. The drilling of the soldiers until they were weary, the
constant begging for supplies, which were so slow in coming, the petty
quarrels among the soldiers themselves — all these difficulties, together
with the great responsibility of the position, would have daunted most
A number of great battles and hundreds of skirmishes would take place over the next
eight years in the fledgling nation's struggle for independence.
In April, 1782, the British Commons voted to end the war in
America and preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of
November, 1782, though the formal end of the war did not occur until the
Treaty of Paris and Treaties of Versailles were signed on September 3,
1783. The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783, and
the United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Paris treaty
on January 14, 1784.
The total loss of life resulting from the American Revolutionary War is
unknown, but it is estimated that some 25,000 American Revolutionaries
died during active military service. Only about 8,000 of these deaths were
in battle; the other 17,000 soldiers died from disease. The number of
patriots seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from
8,500 to 25,000.
A. Perry, G. Price, 1914. Compiled and
of America, updated February, 2017
About the Article:
This article on the American Revolution was, for the most part, written by Arthur Cecil
Perry and Gertrude A. Price and included in a chapter of their book
"American History," published in 1914. However, the original content
has been heavily edited and additional information added.