Prelude to the Revolutionary War

Discontent reached a peak on March 5, 1770, when a violent encounter between patriots and British soldiers of the 29th Regiment resulted in the deaths of five colonists and the wounding of several others. The Americans attacked the soldiers with wooden clubs, rocks, and snowballs, and threatened them with swords. During the confrontation, one soldier’s gun was knocked out of his hand by a wooden club. When the soldier picked up his gun, he fired into the crowd and encouraged his fellow soldiers to fire also. None of the Bostonians had guns. Americans called this the “Boston Massacre,” the British vaguely referred to “an incident in King Street.”

In 1773, Parliament enacted the Tea Act, which further inflamed the patriots’ sense of injustice and, in the heart of seafaring New England, threatened the profits of maritime merchants. Although the Tea Act actually reduced the price of tea while maintaining the tax, it required colonists to buy their tea only from the British East India Company, which sold directly to consumers and subsequently caused many colonial merchants to lose business. In an act of defiance against the Tea Act, the patriots of Boston orchestrated and carried out the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

Boston Tea Party by D. Berger

Boston Tea Party by D. Berger

The Boston Tea Party occurred after several meetings had been held in the city to discuss what should be done about the new tea tax. At a town meeting in Faneuil Hall on November 5, 1773, patriot leaders insisted that the commissioners of the East India Company resign. A few weeks later, when three ships loaded with British tea entered Boston Harbor, debates were held to discuss what to do about the situation. The ships were not allowed to return their cargo to England, and the customs duties had to be paid by December 16.

On that day, Bostonians gathered at Old South Meeting House for further deliberations. They made a final attempt to gain permission for the ships to leave without unloading the cargo. Captain Rotch, whose family owned two of the ships, was sent to the house of Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson, a seven-mile journey, to obtain this permission. Rotch returned to the Old South Meeting House at 6:00 pm and reported that the governor had refused the patriots’ request. After the colonists’ initial outburst at the news, Samuel Adams spoke the words that signaled patriot action: “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Immediately a group of patriots, recruited across class lines, went down to the harbor and dumped approximately 90,000 pounds of British tea into the water. In response, in 1774, Britain passed the Coercive (or Intolerable) Acts, closing the harbor until someone paid for the destroyed tea and forcing Massachusetts to relinquish self-government to Parliament.

Colonial hostility toward British rule reached a crucial turning point on April 19, 1775. In an attempt to quell patriot rebellion, British General Thomas Gage commanded his troops to confiscate patriot arms in Concord, Massachusetts. Relying on secrecy, Gage expected to take the arms before the patriots had a chance to resist. But couriers Paul Revere and William Dawes warned the people of Concord and nearby Lexington. When British troops under the command of Major John Pitcairn arrived in the area, they were met by a well trained and armed colonial militia led by Captain John Parker. Seventy-seven militia men lined up on Lexington Common to face a force of 700 British soldiers. Knowing the colonials were outnumbered, Parker wanted only for his men to make a show of their resolve against the opposing troops. But someone fired a shot as the British dispersed under Pitcairn’s orders. As the militia began to flee, British fire killed eight Americans.

After the shooting in Lexington, the British continued to march six miles to Concord where they began to search houses for arms. Some soldiers were sent across the North Bridge to Colonel James Barrett’s farm where they thought weapons were hidden. Others remained to guard the bridge. News of what was happening spread, and patriot militia made their way toward Concord and the bridge. As they did, they saw smoke rising in the distance and feared that homes were being burned. Resolved to defend their homes and families, the militia continued to advance. The British fired, killing two Americans. At that point, Major John Buttrick, leader of the Concord militia, implored his men to retaliate, shouting “Fire, fellow soldiers, for God’s sake, fire!” This was the first time American militia had fired on the British army. Two British soldiers were killed in the first American volley. Outnumbered four to one, the British retreated back to town.

As the British troops prepared to set off for Boston, the Americans continued to arrive, joined by companies from other towns. At Meriam’s Corner, the colonials gathered along the road, taking cover where they could. The fighting that began there escalated into a 6-hour running skirmish. For 16 miles, along the road back towards Boston, patriot militia pursued and fired on the retreating British troops.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, February, 2017

Source: National Park Service


Also See:  American Revolution (main page)

2 thoughts on “Prelude to the Revolutionary War”

  1. Hi

    I would love to know how to get back copies of the monthly news letter. I used to get them every month but my computer crashed and I lost everything. If it isn’t too much trouble could y0u please tell me how to get the last 3-4 years of the monthly news letter ?

    I would greatly appreciate it.

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