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Colonists' Responses to British Colonial Policies

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 1 year, 1 month ago

The Boston Tea Party, W.D. Cooper. The History of North America, 1789


BostonTea Party, W.D. Cooper. The History of North America, 1789 

Topics on the Page


Teaching the Revolution

  • Colonial Broadsides


Patriots and Causes of the Revolution

  • The Boston Massacre
  • The Worcester Revolution of 1774
  • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
  • Battles of Lexington and Concord
    • Prince Estabrook
  • Battle of Bunker Hill
  • Siege of Boston


Samuel Adams, John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Hancock


African Americans from Massachusetts during the Revolution

  • Slavery in Massachusetts and New England
  • Mum Bett (Elizabeth Freeman)



For an overview, see Teaching the Revolution, an essay by historian Carol Berkin from Baruch College and City University of New York from the History By Era series of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.




 American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804. Alan Taylor, W.W. Norton, 2016



    • 25,000 Americans in the military died in the war, one percent of the population, more deaths proportionally than any other war except the Civil War


    • 20 percent of the population remain loyal to the British Empire and faced great suffering and hardship from supporters of the Revolution.
      • 60,000 Loyalists fled to other parts of the British Empire



This is a TED talk about the Boston Tea Party, debunking common misconceptions about it and discussing the aftermath.



The Repeal, 1760s political cartoon depicting the repeal of the Stamp Act
The Repeal, 1760s political cartoon depicting the repeal of the Stamp Act

The Coming of Independence, a video with transcript from A Biography of America from Annenberg Learner.

The History of the American Revolution by David Ramsey (1789) is the first American national history written by an American revolutionary and printed in America.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngTimeline of British taxes and acts and American reactions until 1775.Provided by the Library of Congress

Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh's and Patrick Henry's Language of Resistance. See also Patrick Henry's Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech, March 23, 1775.

external image Red_apple.jpgA Common American Soldier from Colonial Williamsburg details the experiences of everyday members of the Revolutionary Army.


Focus Question: How did Americans resist British policies before 1775?


Colonial Broadsides

  • Notices written on single sheets of paper, printed on one side only, designed to have immediate impact on readers 


Colonial Broadsides:  A Student Created Play


Printed Broadsides in the British American Colonies, 1700-1760


Broadsides and Their Music in Colonial America



Patriots and Causes of the Revolution


Nathan Hale, 1925 Postage Stamp
Nathan Hale, 1925 Postage Stamp

Nathan Hale was one of the first American "spies" during the Revolution, and although he was caught, his quote "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country" is still widely known today. This is a short piece about the work he did and his eventual capture.

Paul Revere is another well known patriot. With the help of William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott, Revere
helped to warn the Sam Adams and John Hancock of the imminent British march to capture them. The link above leads to a map detailing their routes, and this is an account of the ride's events.

Too Late To Apologize (with lyrics) is a music video about the Declaration and the Constitution from Soomo Publishing.

There were a number causes to the American Revolution, but the primary cause for the outbreak of war revolved around the colonists' acts of defiance toward British policies. The colonists were not content with laws and taxes being enforced without their consent.


  • The British had just won the French and Indian war [4] and were claiming that the colonists were in their debt for the defense they provided them. They started levying several taxes on the colonies and began enacting laws without the colonists' approval.


  • Colonists began by publicly protesting the Stamp Act [6], which was able to bring together the colonies but also forced the British to repeat that they have full power over the colonies and continued to control them. At the same time they were also attacking the tax collectors, often violently. Colonists were also forced to quarter British troops in private homes.


    • In 1772, the colonists went as far as to destroy a British warship that was being used to make sure British policies were being forced, known as the Gaspee Affair
      • There was also the events known as the Boston Massacre in which British troops shot and killed 5 colonists who were taunting them and the Boston Tea Party, during which the Sons of Liberty, angered by import tariff regulation, dressed up as Mohawks and destroyed a shipment of British tea intended for the colonies by throwing it into the Boston Harbor.
        • The British responded with Coercive Acts effectively limiting Massachusetts' local government.


Tarring and Feathering:

In a violent act of defiance against British taxation, the colonists frequently tarred and feathered tax collectors. The colonists would take hot tar to be used to protect ships and they would dump it on the tax collectors. The tar would burn the skin of the tax collectors beyond repair and could lead to death. To further humiliate the collectors the colonists would cover them in feathers as well. The feathers would stick to the tar adding insult too injury for the horribly maimed tax collectors. This act of violent defiance showed the discontent the colonists showed tears the British. 


Image result for tarring and featheringTarring and Feathering 


Watch a video from YA author John Green on Taxes and Smuggling


Political Cartoon: "The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Drought." (1774), written to convince the British public that Great Britain had the right to tax the colonies.



external image wr1774-logo.png


The Worcester Revolution of 1774 is another example of pre-war colonists resisting British rule in their every day lives. This event saw the entirety of the county of Worcester cast off British rule and through out British appointed officials

  • On September 6, 1774 over 30 townships in the county sent militia men to the county seat of Worcester, numbering over 4,000
    • They lined the streets for nearly a quarter mile and made every British official walk the gauntlet
  • They were forced to recant their allegiance to the crown and swear never to up hold British law
    • This event spread to the surrounding country side and to every other county and town in the state! (except for Boston)
  • The entirety of Massachusetts over turned British rule, not a single town would follow British law
    • This all happened over a year BEFORE the out break of the war

Link to the Worcester Revolution of 1774, in which groups of colonists shut down courts across Massachusetts in the summer of 1774.


The First Continental Congress: 

  • Following the passing of the interolable acts after the Boston Tea Party delegates from 12 of the 13 american colonies met in Philadelphia in order to discuss how to handle the new laws. 
  • They met from September 5th to October 26th 1774
  • Their goal was to reduce or eliminate the effects of the intolerable acts as well as attempt to prevent any further conflict between the colonists and British parliament.
  • They were able to draft a list of grievances which they later sent to King George III 
  • They also made an agreement to reconvene in the future should their first meeting have no effect (essentially if King George rejected their plea then they would reconvene to reconsider their options.)


Click below for a short video on the First Continental Congress:


external image Grant_Wood_The_Midnight_Ride_of_Paul_Revere_1931.jpg

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (April 18, 1775)

The beginning of the battles are recalled in the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. 

The Midnight Ride (cartoon)

For an analytical and argumentative lesson plan pertaining to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, click here.

Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775)

The battles of Lexington and Concord were the first major battles, beginning with "the shot heard round the world."

Image from A Brief History of the United States, 1885
Image from A Brief History of the United States, 1885

For background, see Lexington and Concord

This was the first battle in which the Americans had a chance to fight the British face to face. The battles took place on April 19, 1775. People tend to place this battles together because the villages of Lexington and Concord are so close to each other.


  • The aim of the British was to seize and destroy the colonist cache of weapons and gunpowder in the town of Concord.


  • At Lexington the militia blocked the advance of the British. They were outnumbered and poorly organized. The British numbered 700 while the militia only numbered 77. The militia was overwhelmed and fell back.


  • At Concord the British seized the cache of weapons. But the militia received a number of reinforcements and were able to chase the British off. Emboldened by their victory and more militia arriving my the minute the colonial militiamen chased and harassed the now outnumbered British as they retreated towards Boston.


  • As the British retreated they were able to keep their causalities low which is really quiet an accomplishment considering they were constantly shoot at as they retreated. But with reinforcements from Boston the British were able to give the militia pause, allowing the entire British force to retreat safely to Boston, thus beginning what would later be known as the "Siege of Boston".


  • The colonial militias zeal and effort the chase the British off was a great early victory for the war and certainly helped to show that the British could be defeat, rallying more to the American cause. But in purely military terms it was a draw for the most part. The British accomplished their mission were able to, for the most part, make it safely back to Boston. Although the militia outnumbered the British as they marched back to Boston they failed to coordinate they efforts and lacked sufficient leadership to use their numbers effectively. If they had done so they could have inflicted heavier casualties or even wiped out the British force. There by eliminating them as factors in the Siege of Boston that followed.


Prince Estabrook


Prince Estabrook was an African American slave in Lexington who was wounded fighting against the British at the Battle of Lexington.  He was the first Black soldier to fight in the Revolution.

external image Red_apple.jpg


The National Park Service provides a booklet full of lesson plans and primary sources readings from Thomas Gage (commander of the British forces) all the way down to the inexperienced militiamen.

Here is an excellent interactive animation of these events from revolutionarywaranimated.com.

The Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775)

View of the Attack on Bunker's Hill with the Burning of Charlestown.  Engraving, 1783
View of the Attack on Bunker's Hill with the Burning of Charlestown. Engraving, 1783

The Battle of Bunker Hill was another battle in Massachusetts, fought in the village of Charlestown on June 17, 1775.

  • The battle wasn't fought on Bunker Hill but on Breed's Hill which was a neighboring hill. 

  • The site were the battle took place had 3 hills. The hills allowed for the Americans to take cover and surprise the British soldiers when they attacked.


  • While the British were able to hold the day, they experienced high causalities. For many colonists, the Battle of Bunker Hill showcased an army of country men and boys willing to stand up to the British crown.

The Siege of Boston

Click here for The Siege of Boston (April 1775 to March 1776) that includes eyewitness accounts. from the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Siege of Boston was an 11 month siege by Revolutionaries after they defeated the British at the battle of Lexington and Concord. The British eventually mounted an attack and won the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Click here for a detailed video about the Siege of Boston, and the ultimate evacuation of the British from the city.

Samuel Adams, John Adams, Abigail Adams and John Hancock


Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams


John Adams by Mather Brown, 1788
John Adams by Mather Brown, 1788


Samuel Adams was born in Boston in 1722.

  • He was a voice who made people think about what was going on in the world around them and why the British had so much control over the colonies from far away. 
  • He voiced the opinion of “no taxation without representation,” which meant that the people wanted no new taxes unless they were represented in Parliament.

Click here to watch a short video about the life of Samuel Adams, and his role in the Revolutionary War.

John Adams was born in 1735 and would later become the second President of the newly established United States.

  • He served in the nation's highest office between 1797 and 1801, after his time as George Washington's Vice President. 
  • He was an ambassador to France and Holland for many years during the Revolution and was able to get some form of French support for the colonists.
  • His son John Quincy Adams later became the sixth President of the United States.


Abigail Adams

external image Abigail_Adams_First_Spouse_Coin_reverse.jpg

Here is a biography of John Adams' wife Abigail .There are some useful lesson plans available here as well.

Click here for information about Abigail Adams's famous "Remember the Ladies" letter to John Adams (1776).

John Hancock is mainly known for his service as President of the Second Continental Congress and his signature on the Declaration of Independence.


Painting of John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765

Painting of John Hancock by artist John Singleton Copley, 1765

  • He was born in Boston in 1737 and was orphaned and adopted by a wealthy uncle.
  • He would realize as a teen that politics were his strong point and he wanted to understand them more.

As an adult became one of the richest merchants in the colony while still investing a great deal of his time in politics.

    • Hancock was also the man who appointed George Washington to be Commander in Chief of the Army in 1775.
      • After the Revolution, he served as Governor of Massachusetts until his death in 1793.

Click here for a short video detailing the life of John Hancock, and his role in the Revolutionary War.

external image Twitter_logo.svgSign into Twitter to read a tweet a day from John Quincy Adams' diaries beginning in 1809 from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Click here for a short biography of Deborah Sampson, a female revolutionary fighter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She served 17 months in the revolutionary army before being honorably discharged in 1781.

African Americans from Massachusetts in the Revolution

Some 1700 people of African and Native American descent living in Massachusetts served in the Continental Army, according to the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

  • The number is inexact since military list only terms like "black," "mulatto," or "brown" since many of the soldiers did not have surnames and were listed by appearance only.
  • Most slaves enlisted to gain freedom at the completion of their service ("Fight to be Free," Bob Dunn, The Recorder, July 4, 2011, pp. A1-2.)

For an in-depth look at the history of African Americans of Massachusetts in the Revolution, click here.

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.png Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). This publication arose as part of a settlement of a 1984 lawsuit by a woman who denied admittance to a DAR chapter in Washington, D. C.


Warrant Signed by Governor Winslow of Plymouth for the Sale of Indian Captives as Slaves, 1660s


Warrant Signed by Governor Winslow of Plymouth for the Sale of Indian Captives as Slaves, 1660s



Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England.


  • In 1641, Governor John Winthrop wrote the first laws legalizing slavery in North America. This law was followed by many other laws on governing slaves in the colonies, including laws on social activities, marriages, taxes, and curfews of the slaves.



Quote from Massachusetts Body of Liberties:


there “shall never be any bond slavery unless  it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us"



John Winthrop, City on a Hill Sermon (1630)


Slaves in New England, Medford Historical Society & Museum


Most of the slaves in Massachusetts were house servants of wealthy families, although there were still slaves working as field hands. 


  • Slavery would continue, even with growing opposition, in Massachusetts until the 1780's. 


    • However, no laws directly outlawed the institution of slavery, but rather a series of events ended slavery. 


      • The first of these events was the ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. 


        • Slavery in Massachusetts would slowly die away after Massachusetts adopted this new constitution.


Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bet)



Brom and Bett v. Ashley (1781)


  • In 1781, Elizabeth Freeman was the first African American slave to be freed under the new Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.
  • She filed suit in Berkshire County Court in Great Barrington on the basis that slavery was illegal because it denied her rightful freedom and equality. Heretofore, slaves had only gained freedom on the basis of a broken promise by a master, not on the grounds of the illegality of the practice itself.

For more information, see The Legal End of Slavery in Massachusetts from the website "African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts." This site includes documents and information on the Quock Walker trials, which, along with the Elizabeth Freeman case, effectively ended slavery in the state.

Slavery in Massachusetts by independent scholar Douglas Harper provides additional information about the place of African Americans in the state. Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England.


  • Harper reports that in Massachusetts the number of slaves changed from fewer than 200 slaves in 1676, and 550 in 1708 to about 2,000 in 1715. 


  • It reached its largest percentage of the total population between 1755 and 1764, when it stood at around 2.2 percent. Slaves were concentrated in the industrial and seaside towns. 


  • Boston's population was about 10 percent Black in 1752


Petition for Freedom to Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage, His Majesty's Council, and the House of Representatives, 25 May 1774 was submitted by a group of black slaves from Massachusetts, asserting that they share a common and natural right to be free with white citizens.

Here is a YouTube clip explaining how slavery was ended because of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

Massachusetts Constitution and the Abolition of Slavery

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