Almost after the last whiff of gunpowder dispersed into the blue skies over North America at the end of the French & Indian war in 1763, a crack began to develop in Britain’s newly won empire. The problems involved management of the new empire and the governance of the English settled colonies, native Indians, and the French speaking Quebec and the economics of empire. These cracks were subtle at first but over time, they seemed to split of their own weight. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and the British Parliament sought to exploit the colonies for quick funds. They enacted a series of coercive measures to pull revenue from the colonies.
|The French and Indian War sowed the seeds of later conflict|
between Britain and her colonies
The Stamp Act
The Stamp Act of 1765 was one of the first initial measures forced upon the American colonists, instated to help pay for troops stationed in North America after the British victory. A tax on paper – it was not well received and more and more American colonists became politically active.
The Townshend Acts
Then in 1767, Parliament passed a series of acts called the Townshend Acts, named after Charles
Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who devised the program. These included: the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act. This stirred up more agitation across the colonies but especially in New England where the acts met immediate resistance.
The King Street Incident
The political unrest caused by the Townshend Acts would lead to the event known to the British as the King Street incident. But you know it as The Boston Massacre. Colonial agitators accosted British soldiers and threatened them with violence. Their reaction led to the shooting of that name. By now the colonists in opposition to the Crown began organizing. The British met colonial reaction with one more action. The Tea Act was one of the final coercive measures passed by Parliament and became the last straw, making it the final unifying factor that brought the colonies from political agitation to an insurgent-like movement that would lead to open rebellion. The Parliament's insistence on the right to tax the colonies in the end became too much. The Tea Act was a lame attempt to convince the Americans to buy British tea and recognize Britain's right of taxation.
|Boston Massacre provided rebels propaganda|
The colonies refused to accept this policy, and instead, the Sons of Liberty, one of many local insurgent groups, staged what became known as the Boston Tea Party. The Loyalist governor, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to let ships leave without the colonists paying the duty. The radicals were stirred to action. The Sons of Liberty and their supporters disguised themselves as Mohawk warriors, and clambered aboard the remaining British vessels in port tied at Griffin’s Wharf. They sent 342 chests of British tea to the bottom of the harbor.
|Boston Tea Party|
The ReactionThe British responded to the party by instating the Intolerable Acts, which the colonies refused to submit to. The British government now tightened its grip on Massachusetts. The new royally appointed governor, General Thomas Gage, was given expanded powers, and several thousand more troops to garrison Boston and cow the colonists with a show of force. Along with these acts, Parliament closed Boston harbor, and sent 4,000 British troops to Boston, to patrol the "rebellious areas." Parliament believed that these acts were perfectly legitimate, that the colonies needed to pay for the maintenance of the British Empire. The colonies thought differently. And a drumbeat of actions began a small but growing political rift that would lead to an insurgency of sorts.
|Boston Port Bill closed the harbor|
impacting New England's economy
Birth of Rebellion
|Lieut Col Francis Smith |
led the ill-fated column
|General Thomas Gage faced a difficult situation|
An Intelligence War
But the patriots, as the rebels deemed themselves, had an intelligence network. Some believe Gage’s American wife, Margaret Kemble Gage, was a rebel spy. See my Blog post, “The Lady was a, Spy?” Regardless the source, the rebels had received word of the British orders. On 8 April, Paul Revere rode to Concord and notified local militias in the area to be on the alert for the British army forces. On 18 April, Revere received word of British “regulars” making their way to Lexington and Concord. Having already warned the militia in Concord, which had secured the weapons supply, Revere and William Dawes rode quickly to Lexington to warn the townspeople of the expected British onslaught.
|Margaret Kemble Gage: Spy?|
Shot Heard Round the World
This began a frantic race to Lexington during the night: The British pressing to maintain surprise, the patriots to gather enough forces to challenge them. The celebrated first clash took place at Lexington Green, the town square, dawn on the morning of 19 April. Militia captain John Parker, a veteran of the Seven Years' War, led some 80 Lexington militiamen, known as minutemen. The British had 700. Years later, one of the participants recalled Parker’s alleged words before the skirmish: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
|Race to Concord|
A British officer demanded that the militia disarm and disperse, and in the ensuing confusion, muskets were fired. To this day, there exists considerable uncertainty over whether the militiamen or the British soldiers fired first. Regardless, the British soldiers rushed forward with their bayonets. A skirmish ensued, during which eight militiamen were killed and only one British soldier wounded. Resistance melted away at Lexington, and the British moved on to Concord, where militia from Concord and nearby Lincoln awaited anxiously. The British found and destroyed some rebel weapons caches, but most of the colonists’ military supplies were hidden or destroyed.
|The shot heard round the world on Lexington Green|
At the approach of the huge British column, the Concord militia retreated to a ridge overlooking the town and militia colonel James Barrett withdrew from the town of Concord and led the men across the North Bridge to a hill about a mile north of town, where they could continue to watch the troop movements of the British and the activities in the center of town. The militia faced off against the regulars at the North Bridge.
|Minutemen take on British at North Bridge|
When a British covering party of around 100 regulars moved to secure the North Bridge, they were attacked by some 400 American patriots. The regulars were both outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Confused orders from their commander and the superior numbers of the rebels broke their morale. In a confused retreat, they abandoned their wounded in search of the safety of the approaching grenadier companies coming from Concord. Despite the setback at the North Bridge, the regulars continued to search for and destroy colonial military supplies in the town while the rebels watched anxiously. They paused for lunch, assembled for a march, and left Concord in the afternoon.
|Militias swarmed the returning British column inflicting maximum casualties|
But the deliberate actions of the British, aimed at displaying British superiority, had an unintended consequence. It gave the colonial militiamen from outlying towns and villages additional time to reach the road back to Boston. The call went out and more and more companies of militias swarmed along the British column as they marched back to Boston. It was all the officers could do to avoid panic with revenge-minded rebels continually firing on them from behind roadside houses, barns, trees, and stone walls. Some estimates give the rebel strength at 2,000 by time the British column returned to Boston. The bill for the day’s actions: British 273, Americans 95.
When the British returned to garrison, the militiamen began to lay siege to Boston. The call went out to the other colonies and soon they were joined by militias from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. These colonial forces would be constituted as the Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress. The Battles of Lexington and Concord turned the decade-long crack between the colonists and the mother country into a chasm Britain could never breach. It also widened the split between the patriots and Loyalist colonists, who soon would wage their own savage war within a war. But the immediate result was impressive: it roused 16,000 New Englanders to the join forces around Boston. Less than a year later, the British army of occupation would withdraw to Canada to prepare for a long war.
|The British occupation of Boston|
The American Revolutionary War had begun. But it would take another year for that to morph into a war for independence.