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Archive for the ‘Colonial history (1607-1775)’ Category

On April 12, 1770, British Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts.  That’s Today’s History Lesson, and you’re free to go.  Enjoy your evening.

For those of you that would like a wee bit more information, you’re welcome to hang out for a couple minutes longer.

The Townshend Acts were a series of laws passed by the British in the late 1760s.  Their function (like many of the “acts” of the time) involved some form of taxation.  The British were carrying an enormous war debt and needed help paying for it.  They also maintained a sizeable military force in the Colonies, and one of its functions was (ostensibly) to protect the Colonies.  So Parliament believed that the protected citizens should help defray the costs.

The Townshend Acts 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.  In the past, it had been notoriously difficult for the British to collect the taxes it levied against the Colonies, because people didn’t want to pay and found ways around them.  The Townshend Acts were designed to make the people kind of feel better about paying up.

The taxes from these acts were used to pay the salaries of judges and governors, the idea being that the money collected came from the Colonists, so the people in power would be independent of British rule.  Yeah, it seems a little fishy to me, too.  The money was also used to improve enforcement of other trade rules (in other words, to make sure taxes from other laws still in place were collected).  And, in the case of the New York Restraining Act, there was a bit of punishment for the response to the Quartering Act.

Like most other tax laws of the day, these were met with serious opposition.  This led to the call by local British officials for more soldiers.  This led to more unrest, and eventually the city of Boston was occupied by the British.  This led to more angst, and then there was the death of Christopher Seider which, along with the strong British presence, culminated in the Boston Massacre.

At this point, debate began on at least a partial repeal of the “revenue” parts of the Townshend Acts.  That repeal was passed a month later, on April 12th.

One interesting note as we close.  The one tax that remained was the tax on tea, and we all know how that ended up.

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As Garrison Keillor would say, “Well, it’s been a quiet week…“.  I thought about writing every day last week, but I have this silly little birth defect in my lower back that flares up from time to time.  It’s usually not too much trouble – a little discomfort, a little inconvenience – but this time it was worse.  While walking and riding my bike weren’t too bad, it was pretty painful to sit.  So I spent a lot of time standing around the house, and standing isn’t really conducive to typing on the computer.

I’m a little better today, so much so that I was able to do a few things around the house while my wife was off at a baby shower.  The small of my back is still quite tender, but it seems the worst may have passed.  So while things are good, let’s have a quick write here.

We’ll head back to pre-Revolutionary days.  After all, if I’m not on a World War Two battlefield, I’m pretty much in the Colonies.

The Stamp Act was created by a vote of British Parliament in March of 1765.  It was levied on the Colonies in November of that year.  And to say it was unpopular would be a gross understatement.  But it’s not as though taxes were a new thing.  The Thirteen Colonies had seen their share in recent years, particularly since Britain had stopped fighting with France.  The government had put down its sword and taken up its fiscal pen, only to find itself mired in the all-consuming quicksand of debt.

The interest payment alone on the debt amounted to more than half of the overall yearly budget.  And regardless of the actual number, that’s a staggering percentage.  So the British decided to raise taxes.  Sometimes that’s a necessity.  Living in 21st-century America and up to our eyeballs in government debt, we understand the reality of taxes.  If any government (American, British, or Quatloo) wants to spend lots and lots of money, the people outside of the government are going to have to provide that money.  It was no different in the 18th-century British empire.  But the British also maintained a solid military presence in the Colonies, and Parliament believed it was reasonable that the Colonies pay for the benefits they received.

It wasn’t so much that taxes angered the Colonies.  As I just wrote, taxes weren’t new.  But as we all know, the Colonies were required to pay the taxes without any participation in the process.  They weren’t allowed to offer up alternative ideas, no “colonial” representatives were given any voting power in Parliament, and Colonists had no say in how the revenue would be spent.

So while the tax wasn’t really all that evil, the Colonists were pretty unhappy.

And when it went into effect, the British discovered that enforcing the tax was really difficult.  More troubling was the fact that many colonial merchants were now refusing to import British products until the Stamp Act was repealed.  As a result, British companies were feeling a pinch.  Most troubling of all was the discontent that the taxes had created in America.  People were taking to the streets.  There was shouting.  They were burning tax collectors in effigy (see the image above).  There were inflammatory articles in newspapers that fanned the emotions of the readers.

The British realized that no good thing was coming out of what amounted to a one-penny tax.  So on March 18, 1766, Parliament and King George III repealed the Stamp Act.  For the Colonists, it was a victory of principle and the end of a hated four-month tax.  For the British, it was “back to the drawing board” for new ideas on getting the Colonists to pony up and help pay down the debt.

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Pretty much everybody has heard of the Boston Massacre.  Even if one doesn’t know all the details, almost anyone can put enough facts together to get the gist of the story.  Way back in 2008, when Today’s History Lesson was newborn, my good friend Michael covered the Boston Massacre.  I don’t feel any real need to add to his very good synopsis, but let’s take a couple minutes and cover a related issue.

The Fifth Anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

March 5, 1775 was the date and the Old South Meeting House was the venue.  The gathering included, of course, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.  There were several men that spoke, including Hancock and Benjamin Church.  They were followed by Dr. Joseph Warren, wearing a white toga (reminiscent of the orators in the ancient Roman Senate).  He spoke of the Pilgrims leaving Europe, comparing it to Noah’s year in the ark, leaving a sin-stained world for a fresh, new existence.  He talked about Britain’s committment to its taxation of the Colonies.

But Warren’s most colorful language was spared for the memories of those killed on that fateful day five years earlier, and Ira Stoll records it in his biography of Samuel Adams.  “Take heed, ye orphan babes, lest, whilst your streaming eyes are fixed upon the ghastly corpse, your feet glide on the stones bespattered with your father’s brains. . . . We wildly stare about, and with amazement ask, who spread this ruin round us?  what wretch has dared deface the image of his God?  has haughty France, or cruel Spain, sent forth her myrmidons?  has the grim savage rused again from the far distant wilderness?  or does some fiend, fierce from the depth of hell, with all the rancorous malice, which the apostate damned can feel, twang her destructive bow, and hurl her deadly arrows at our breast?  no, none of these; but, how astonishing!  It is the hand of Britain that inflicts the wound.”

Warren’s goal of winding up those gathered was achieved.  But more than that, the British officers that were present (and seated towards the front) also got excited, but for entirely different reasons.  As he finished, Samuel Adams told those assembled to return the following year to again commemorate the bloody massacre.

And it was the word “bloody” that set the officers off.  A bit of a melee ensued, and some report that Adams was challenged to a duel.  Others report that Adams accepted.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and a second Boston Massacre was avoided…barely.

But there is little doubt that Colonists like Church, Adams, and Hancock left the Meeting House with big British targets on their backs.  And you could add Joseph Warren to the list as well.  He joined the Massachusetts militia, but his Revolution (and his life) ended just three months later when he was killed at Bunker Hill.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

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Little Christopher Seider probably just wanted to play.  I will wager that, like any ten-year-old boy, he was short on attention and long on energy.  Running through town with his friends, throwing whatever he could fit in his hands, and yelling were not strange activities to him.

I can say all that because I was ten once, though it was quite a while ago.  I did all those things.  I also rode a bike, played with toys, watched a little TV, and so on.  The biggest difference between myself and Christopher Seider (besides the year in which we were ten) is that I lived to see my eleventh birthday.

Christopher Seider did not.

In fact, little Seider died on this day in history.  But his death was not just another in a long line of deaths that has plagued a world where death rates run pretty close to 100%.  This young boy lost his life at a significant time in history, and while you may not have heard of him, he was famous.

To know Christopher, you must also know Ebenezer Richardson.  Well, we can’t fully know him, because there isn’t a lot to know.  He was something of a shady character with a spotted reputation around Boston.  He was a Loyalist, which should give you a hint that we’re heading toward the time of the American Revolution.  He also was an informant to the Attorney General, giving up information about “rebel” activity in town.

February 22, 1770 was a cold, bleak, wintery Thursday that found the Boston townsfolk in an uproar about a local Loyalist merchant.  The standard action was to raise a ruckus at the shopkeeper’s home, yell a lot, throw some rocks, break a window or two, and make their point.  Ebenezer Richardson, wanting to protect a fellow Loyalist, tried to stop the mob, but they simply threw rocks at him, at least one of which hit him in the head.

So Richardson did what all too many people do when something doesn’t go their way:  get a gun and shoot somebody.  More specifically, he went to his house, grabbed his musket, and headed for the shopkeeper’s house, where the mob had gathered.  He climbed to the top of a neighboring building and…

Christopher Seider had little idea what the mob was about, but here was a chance to run down the streets of Boston and throw some rocks.  He and his friends were having a ball.  The people they were with were not only going to let them throw rocks, they were going to do it themselves.  For a ten-year-old, this was pretty exciting.  Exciting, that is, until the bullets started flying.

Richardson, in an effort to break up the mob, began firing randomly into the crowd.  He hit Christopher twice, in the chest and head, and the little boy died that evening.  Ebenezer was immediately apprehended and jailed, but later acquitted.

Needless to say, Seider’s death galvanized Bostonians against the British.  Where there used to be vocal exchanges between the two groups, there now snowballs, which became rocks and homemade spears.  The tensions rapidly reached the breaking point.

Two weeks later, the rocks and snowballs morphed into a physical group attack, as angry citizens charged into a group of British soldiers.  This most famous of events, which we know as the Boston Massacre, left another five people dead.

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There are a lot of things I could say about the Seven Years’ War, but most of those things would be made up.  I vaguely remember discussing it in high school American History class and again in World History, but I was in high school many years ago and the memories have mostly faded.

I seem to recall that this conflict was something of a “world war”, not so much because the conflict spanned the globe (though it was pretty widespread), but more because the players involved were all the “all-star” countries.  Britain and Prussia and Portugal were on one side.  They were opposed by France, Russia, Spain, and Austria on the other.  There were probably some other players, too.  The conflict included the French and Indian War, where George Washington became a colonial hero.

The war began in 1755 and, if we hold to the war’s name, simple math tells us the war ended in 1762.  In fact, the Treaty of Paris (not this Treaty of Paris) was signed on February 10, 1763.  And as it turns out, a bunch of territory conquered by each nation was returned to its previous owners, which begs the question as to why they went to war in the first place.  Of course, I don’t know…like I said, high school was twenty-five years ago.

But some countries actually did alright for themselves.  Here in America, Britain (which already owned the Thirteen Colonies) gained from France all the territory east of the Mississippi that it didn’t already possess.  France also ceded New Orleans and, if I recall, the Lousiana Territory to Spain.

So Britain did alright as far as territory was concerned.  But as we well know in the 21st century, war carries baggage of its own, and the 18th century was no different.  In his biography of Samuel Adams, Ira Stoll writes, “One might not know it from the lavish spending or displays of wealth at the coronation, but Britain was mired in war debt . . . The debt was staggering – by 1763 it was £122.6 million, which meant £4.4 million just in annual interest costs, or more than half the total annual budget of £8 million.

The incredible financial burden not only caused King George III to come to the peace table, it had him looking for ways to pay down this massive debt.  And that meant taxes.  And it meant taxing the Thirteen Colonies.  And that meant imposing the taxes on the Colonists without really seeking their input or getting their approval.

First, steps were taken to better enforce collection of existing tariffs, which didn’t sit well with folks accustomed to having the British mostly look the other way.  But it was the Sugar Act, imposed the following year, that started the Colonial blood boiling.

These were some of the very first steps down the road to the American Revolution, and they began as the ink was still drying on a peace treaty.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

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When the members of British Parliament debated the Tea Act, some were skeptical of the measure’s success.  William Dowdeswell stood up and said, “I tell the Lord Noble [the bill's author] now, if he don’t take off the duty, they won’t take the tea.”  He had little idea how accurate he would be.  The majority of Parliament’s members didn’t side with Dowdesdell, and the Tea Act of 1773 was passed in May.

Over the next few months, word of the Tea Act began trickling through the Colonies.  It was accompanied by a rumor that 300 chests of tea were headed for Boston Harbor in what appeared to be a test of wills.  Those opposed to the Act moved into high gear, working hard to convince their fellow citizens to abstain from British tea.  The Town Meeting of Boston met and, led by Samuel Adams, drafted a resolution reminding men of their freedoms and chastising the British for, once again, imposing legislation on the Colonies without consent.

Newspapers got into the act as well.  The Massachusetts Spy turned up the rhetoric and Ira Stoll’s biography of Samuel Adams gives the details.  The paper suggested that the (supposedly) incoming tea would likely be infested with disease-carrying insects.  It could not be sold in England, so it was being shipped to the Colonies.  The best remedy was simply to avoid the tea altogether.

On November 28, 1773, the rumor became reality when the Dartmouth arrived in Boston Harbor, carrying 114 chests of East India Company tea.  The Eleanor arrived on December 2nd with another 114 chests and the Beaver joined them on the 15th with her 112 chests.

The pieces were now in place for the most famous of all pre-Revolution events…The Boston Tea Party.

Recommended Viewing:  The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum website – Lots of great stuff, and an actual museum that’s currently under construction.

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Several months back I got a smartphone.  I really didn’t have much interest in one at the time, but since our company was planning to build a mobile version of one of our websites, it kind of made sense (as one of the developers) to have one.  So now we’re developing the site, and it’s been pretty handy.  In the meantime, I’ve added a few free apps to the phone, which have made the fact that it’s bulkier than its predecessor a little more bearable.  One of the first apps I installed was one called “Latest Quakes” that allows me see when quakes occur anywhere in the world.  And this year, we’ve had plenty of them to view.

Back in 1755, smartphones didn’t exist.  Dumb phones didn’t exist, either.  But earthquakes did, and they could certainly be felt, whether seismographs were around or not.  And one of the largest quakes to hit the eastern seaboard occurred on November 18, 1755.  The quake has been estimated to be something greater than 6.0.  Now that doesn’t sound especially large in light of the quake that struck off Japan’s coast back in March, but apparently, the composition of the ground east of the Rockies means that earthquakes have a greater “punch per Richter number”.

This particular quake struck early in the morning off the coast of Massachusetts.  It was in the general vicinity of Cape Ann, so it’s been named the Cape Ann Earthquake, but the shaking wasn’t limited to Cape Ann.  It was felt as far south as South Carolina and well out into the Atlantic.  Damage in eastern Massachusetts was pretty extensive.  Since the Richter Scale didn’t exist back then, earthquakes were measured by the Chimneys-Knocked-Down Scale.  Jay Feldman quotes the Boston Weekly News-Letter in When the Mississippi Ran Backwards (which, by the way, is a completely fascinating read)  “The Convulsions were so extreme as to wreck the Houses in this Town to such a Degree that the Tops of many Chimnies…were thrown down…”.  Fences were reported knocked down and there was some soil liquifaction as well.

Many citizens pointed ominously to the sky and fingered the Hand of God as the cause of the quake, citing punishment for evil deeds and immoral behavior.  This led to something of a religious revival, as preachers took the opportunity to remind their congregations of the Almighty’s Powerful right hand.  It also led to a lot of employment opportunities for guys that knew something about brickwork.

Recommended Reading: When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes – A super-intriguing tale. A little murder. A little earthquake. A Cape Ann mention.  I think you’ll like it.

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October 17th might not be a super important day in your world.  If you have children, you might recognize the day as “just two weeks to Halloween”, which serves as a good reminder to get out and get your candy purchased.  But for me, it’s pretty much another day, which this fall (with as beautiful as its been) has been pretty good.

October 17, 1749 was a pretty special day for a young Samuel Adams.  It was on this day that the twenty-seven year old bookeeper (and budding revolutionist) married Elizabeth Checkley, three years his junior.  Elizabeth had come into his life just after the death of his father the previous year, and she provided a soothing elixir for his sadness.

Her father, Samuel Checkley, was an ordained minister – ordained by Increase and Cotton Mather, by the way – and he performed the ceremony that Friday.

Unfortunately, this happy union would see its share of heartache.  They had six children, but only two, Samuel and Hannah, lived to adulthood.  Their first child lived just 18 days and their third just a day and a half.  The fourth child lived only 3 months.  Their last child was stillborn and, 19 days later, Elizabeth herself died.  In his biography of Samuel Adams, Ira Stoll writes Adams’ words in their family Bible…“To her husband she was as sincere a Friend as she was a faithful Wife. . . .She ran her Christian race with remarkable steadiness and finished in triumph.  She left two small children.  God grant they may inherit her graces.”

But that was all to come.  For today, it was joy and marital bliss for Samuel Adams.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

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When the delegates to the First Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia in the early fall of 1774, there was plenty of discontent and dissatisfaction.  The taxes on British tea led to a boycott of the product…until the British government passed the Tea Act of 1973, which drastically reduced the price of tea in the Colonies.  This led to the famous Tea Party, where 90,000 pounds of British tea were served up cold with Boston Harbor’s finest salt water.

The British government responded with the Intolerable Acts, which the Colonists hated even more than cold, salty tea.  They began meeting with increased frequency in town squares, meeting halls, homes, and of course, local pubs, voicing their displeasure and anger at how the mother country simultaneously taxed them to death while denying them any legitimate say in government affairs.

But still, the idea of rebellion against, and ultimately, independence from England was just a bit too radical for most of America’s citizens.  Many were inclined to think that it was the British government itself that was undermining the good will of King George III, an idea that Ron Chernow, in his biography of our first President, described as “pleasing fiction”.

Speaking for the majority, George Washington said, “I am well satisfied, as I can be of my existence, that no such thing is desired by any thinking man in all North America;  on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest advocates for liberty that peace and tranquillity, upon constitutional grounds, may be restored and the horrors of civil discord prevented.”

Of course, not everyone held exactly the same opinion of the British.  When the Second Virginia Convention convened in March of 1775, it was Patrick Henry who made no bones about his feelings.  On March 23, 1775, Henry stood up in the Henrico Parish Church (where the Convention was held) and uttered some of the most famous words of the Revolutionary era.  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Henry’s impassioned speech catapulted him to the Governor’s chair…and to a prominent place in the Revolution’s history.

Recommended Reading:  Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation

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Unless you vacation in the West Indies, you’ve probably never heard of Nevis.  Located a couple of hundred miles south and east of Puerto Rico, Nevis is a 36-square-mile chunk of rock dominated by the 3,200-foot natural lookout of Nevis Peak.  If you visit the official website for Nevis, it won’t take you long to figure out that tourism is what drives the economy.  Like many islands in the Caribbean, Nevis is blessed with spectacular views, a tropical climate, and gobs of blue-as-azure ocean.

But in the 18th century, tourism didn’t drive any economy, including Nevis.  And while it’s a relative unknown to us today, back then this small island was well-known, and part of a European rivalry, which saw countries vying for a growing, and very lucrative, sugar trade.  Fortunes could be made very quickly under the right circumstances, and those circumstances usually included lots of slaves to work the plantations.  In addition, the British sent shiploads of criminals and other riffraff to Nevis, hoping to clean up the streets of London.  Ron Chernow described it as “a tropical hellhole of dissipated whites and fractious slaves, all framed by a backdrop of luxuriant natural beauty.”

It was into this environment that Alexander Hamilton made his entrance on January 11, 1755…or maybe it was 1757.  For a long time, 1757 was the recognized year.  And while modern scholarship still hasn’t fully decided which year it was, close examination of the facts gives an edge to the earlier date.

But there is no doubt that Hamilton was an illegitimate child.  In today’s culture, children born out of wedlock make up a significant percentage of all babies born.  In 1755, that was not the case, and it raised eyebrows, even in a place of such moral laxity (dare I say debauchery?) as Nevis.

Rachel Faucette, Hamilton’s mother, was married off as a teen by her mother to Johann Michael Lavien, a man approaching 30 who, despite his flashy dress and aristrocratic pretense, tended to make terrible financial divisions and bumbled from one misfortune to another.  The marriage was a nightmare.  Rachel had no love for her husband, who eventually accused her of adultery (which may have been true) and threw her into prison, thinking some time behind bars would bring her around.

To the contrary, Rachel Faucette Lavien found her will strengthened and, upon her release, she simply left her husband (and a young son) on St. Croix and fled (with her mother) to St. Kitts, right next door to Nevis.  And at some point, she met James Hamilton.  He had come to the West Indies (like so many others) to seek a quick fortune in the world of sugar.  But he was late to the game and lacked business sense (much like Lavien), so he ended up doing menial work attempting to make ends meet.

And from this relationship came two sons, James, Jr. and Alexander.  And while their parents may have gotten married, the Church certainly did not recognize it.  She had not officially divorced her first husband, which meant her “second” marriage was considered null and void.  Her two children were, by extension, illegitimate.

And that stigma would follow Hamilton all his life, despite his tremendous accomplishments.  Whether in the West Indies or in New York, family heritage and bloodlines meant a great deal in the 18th century.  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing many of the facets of this complex man, and it’s safe to say that, throughout the fabric of his persona, the backdrop of his birth and those first 16 or 17 years spent in Nevis were deeply etched into it.

But rather than being overcome by his roots, Alexander Hamilton rose above stigma and hardship.  He studied hard, had a head for business, and impressed those around him, to the point that the leaders on Nevis took up a collection and sent young Hamilton to America, where his talents and intelligence could be developed.  Hamilton became a student, a graduate, an aide-de-camp to General Washington, a powerful lawyer, an awesome orator, a catalyst for a new Constitution when it was needed, and its most ardent defender when it was done.  He was our first Treasury Secretary and, as we have learned on these pages, his influence is still with us, more than 200 years after his untimely death.

As Chernow writes, “Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate our modern world.”

Happy Birthday, Alexander Hamilton!!

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For George Boone III, business wasn’t very good.  It had been decent, but times in early 18th century England were changing.  Demand for woolen products was decreasing.  Boone, a weaver, still had work in the village of Bradninch, but it wasn’t nearly as easy now.  Modern technologies, like a cheaper and lighter wool cloth, were causing demand for his materials to drop.  Hard times and unemployment were making purchasers more scarce.  Times were tough.  And George Boone III had mouths to feed…many mouths.

George and his wife Mary had 10 children and, even in the 1700s, they required shoes, clothes, and plenty of provender.  England was becoming a more difficult place to make ends meet, so Boone’s thoughts turned to emmigration…and America.  In 1713, three of George’s older children traveled to Pennsylvania.  George IV (23), Sarah (21), and Squire (17) made the arduous trip across the Atlantic, as much to seek opportunities for their father and the rest of the family as they did for themselves.

By 1717, the entire family had arrived in The New World, living briefly in the Quaker community of North Wales before settling in Oley.  It was here that Squire Boone became a trustee of the Oley Monthly Meeting, and where he would marry Sarah Morgan.  Robert Morgan writes, “The Boones were leaders of their community.  …George IV and his wife, Deborah, deeded land for the Quaker burial ground.  George III was a justice of the peace.  Several Boones served as delegates to the quarterly and annual meetings of the Friends.  They provided care to the sick or struggling.”  The Boones were good people.

Squire was a weaver like his father, but he also farmed, raised cattle, ran a gristmill, and was a blacksmith.  And like his father, he and wife Sarah Boone would have numerous children.  But it was Squire’s sixth child that is most familiar to us.  Daniel was born on November 2, 1734 (October 22 if you don’t account for the Gregorian Calendar).  Morgan continues, “From the very beginning the family sensed that Daniel was different from the other children.  Lively, apparently tireless, curious, when very young he helped out in the family trades of blacksmithing, milling, and farming.  But family lore has it that from the very first Daniel like to roam in the woods. … He was born to be an outdoorsman and hunter…”.

And as we know, young Daniel would grow up to become one of the most famous frontiersmen in American history.  Lauded as a hunter, outdoorsman, and explorer, the stories (and legends) of his life have served to make him one of America’s earliest folk heroes.  He’s been the subject of conversation before, and he will be again.

Recommended Reading:  Boone

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He was a noted silversmith in Boston in the late 18th century, but it’s certainly not how he’s best known.  His name is mentioned in 21st-century kitchens every single day, but most cooks have no idea they’re doing so when they grab the saucepan from the drawer.  He was the father of a dozen children, but pretty much no one knows that, either.

Nope.

When it comes to Paul Revere, we pretty much know him for one thing.  The Midnight Ride.  What else is there, right?  Well, other than the remaining 83 years of his life, not much.  His ride is the stuff of legends, not surprisingly, a number of legends surround that famous event…the precursor to the opening shots of the American Revolution.

British soldiers had been a (mostly unwelcome) fixture in Boston for years.  But in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the Redcoats took up residence in greater numbers, both to keep the peace and to enforce the closure of Boston Harbor.  As Boston became more and more a powderkeg than a bustling harbor town, Paul Revere turned much of his silversmithing business over to his oldest son and served as a messenger, shuttling updates on the situation in Boston to others in the Colonies.

So Revere’s midnight ride, begun in the last hour of April 18, 1775, was nothing new.  It was what he had been doing for some time, though this time, the news was a little more urgent.  British regulars had begun moving across the Charles River.  Their destinations were two-fold, as were their objectives.  First, they headed for Lexington (10 miles west of Boston) to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were both considered important leaders in the Colonial resistance.  And realizing that meeting this objective would likely inflame the Colonists to take up arms, the British had as their second objective seizing the ammunition depot at Concord (5 miles further west of Lexington).

Paul Revere and William Dawes set out from the Old North Church.  And of course, as they departed, the famous pair of lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) were held up in the steeple to warn Charlestown (just to the north) of the British movements.

Revere and Dawes would both reach Lexington in time to warn Adams and Hancock, but neither would reach Concord.  They were stopped at a roadblock were Paul was detained.  Dawes made his escape, but was soon thrown from his horse and didn’t complete his ride.

Paul Revere would survive the war and found the Revere Copper Company, which was renamed Copper and Brass, Inc.  And that company would begin producing Revere Ware Copper Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, which to this day sits in millions of cupboards.

But that doesn’t matter, because the British would continue on and engage the Colonists in both Lexington and Concord the next day (which I hope to cover tomorrow), and the American Revolution was on.  And Paul Revere’s name, stamped on a kitchen cooking utensil or not, would become synonymous with start of the fight for American independence.

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As the last week of 1765′s month of May passed into June, the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies were angry…really angry.  And it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that their feelings were caused by taxes.  For all of us today, taxes are part of life…and death.

We are taxed for using the telephone.  We’re taxed for working.  We’re taxed (heavily) for putting gas in our cars, and are taxed again if that car doesn’t get very good gas mileage.  We get taxed for selling a stock at a profit, for stocking up on non-food grocery items, and for running a grocery store.  Just yesterday, the U.S. Congress passed a health care package that has millions of Americans upset or at least concerned.  Why?  Because they believe it will raise their taxes.

Taxes are a way of 21st-century life in America and lots of people don’t like it.  But at least we have a say in it.  We can call our Representatives, Senators, and local officials and voice our opinions.  Every couple of years we can cast ballots to keep those officials in, or remove them from, office.  We can collect signatures and instigate ballot initiatives.  We can start a pep rally, hold up a sign, and talk through a megaphone.

In other words, 21st-century Americans have options.

Citizens that lived in America in May of 1765?  Well, they didn’t have much recourse, and that’s what got them wound up.  But we really have to go back a couple of months, because news moved more slowly back then.

On March 22, 1765, Parliament…the British Parliament, passed the Stamp Act.  In case you’re wondering, it had little to do with stamps…at least stamps as we commonly know them, though it was vaguely similar.  The Stamp Act required that nearly everything written on paper in America (books and private correspondence excluded) had to be produced on stamped paper.  Newspapers, pamphlets, advertisements, diplomas, all legal documents (contracts, bonds, bills), and even playing cards all required stamped paper.

While this wasn’t the first time the Colonists had been taxed, it was the first time the British had attempted to tax Americans in such a direct manner.  And frankly, the Crown’s reasoning was probably justified.

The British had just finished winning the French and Indian War.   Those in Parliament believed that the Colonists stood to gain most directly from the expenditures of money and blood, so they reasoned that the Colonists should help pay a portion of the costs.  In addition, the British needed to maintain a military presence to prevent further conflict, and the taxes from the Stamp Act would help defray those costs as well.  My dad has often said that “everything translates to bucks”, and that was true in 1765 as well.  Somebody has to pay for things, be it health care or Redcoats keeping the peace.

What made the Colonists angry was that they had no say in the legislation.  There were no Senators to contact.  Representatives didn’t exist, and elections were nearly 30 years down the road.  They were simply told to use the paper and pay the tax, and Parliament expected complete compliance.

Nearly everyone was affected, and when word arrived two months later, most of them were very upset.  The summer of 1765 was strained emotion boil over to violence, particularly in Boston.  Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor, was accused of having supported the tax, and had his house destroyed by a mob.  One wonders if those who committed the act felt any remorse when they discovered they were wrong.

As it turns out, the Stamp Act, which took effect in November, was rather difficult to enforce, and was repealed in March of 1766.  But in conjunction with that, Parliament passed legislation allowing them to govern on the Colonies’ behalf whenever they saw fit.

In the end, the Stamp Act of 1765 didn’t cost the Colonists a lot in tax revenue, and it was only around for a few months.  But the seeds of doubt and distrust that were sown because of it would have “revolutionary” implications just a decade later.

Recommended Reading: John Adams

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This has not been our typical Independence Day weather.  It’s been cloudy and rainy most of the day.  Temperatures didn’t even reach 70°, and I can’t remember the last time it was this cool on the 4th.  Of course, I struggle to remember what I had for breakfast, so…

We’ve decided to sit and watch fireworks from the front step, rather than fight the crowds to be cold for a couple hours.  But watching the “bombs bursting in air” has put me in a Colonial state of mind.  So let’s go back…not to 1776, but to July 4, 1774, when fireworks of a different sort were being lit.

Located in Tappan, New York, and owned by a Dutch colonist, Yoast Mabie’s Tavern was a popular gathering place for those of a “revolutionary” spirit, who got in the spirit with the aid of the spirits they consumed.

And in 1774, there was plenty to discuss.  The last of the Intolerable Acts had just been foisted on the Colonists by Britain, and for many, they were just about the last straw.  It mattered little that the Colonists had, in part, brought it on themselves with their actions, because mugs of well-brewed ale combined with outrage tended to blind men to their own culpability.

On this night, exactly two years before the Declaration of Independence went to press, inhabitants of Orangetown and the Province of New York gathered and adopted, in response to the Intolerable Acts, a set of resolutions.  Maintaining their loyalty to the King, they still spoke strongly against the oppressive measures levied against the Colonies in general, and against Boston in particular.

The Orangetown Resolutions read as follows:

  • 1st, That we are and ever wish to be, true and loyal subjects to his Majesty George the Third, king of Great Britain.
  • 2nd, That we are most cordially disposed to support his majesty and defend his crown and dignity in every constitutional measure, as far as lies in our power.
  • 3rd, That however well disposed we are towards his majesty, we cannot see the late acts of Parliament imposing duties upon us, and the act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our abhorance of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction.
  • 4th, That we are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure to obtain a repeal of acts, not only destructive to us, but which, of course, must distress thousands in the mother country.
  • 5th, That it is our unanimous opinion that the stopping of all exportation and importation to and from Great Britain and the West Indies would be the most effectual method to obtain a speedy repeal.
  • 6th, That it is our most ardent wish to see concord and harmony restored to England and her colonies.
  • 7th, That the following gentlemen, to wit: Colonel Abraham Lent, John Haring, Esquire, Mr. Thomas Outwater, Mr. Gardner Jones, and Peter T. Haring, may be a committee for this town to correspond with the City of New York, and to conclude and agree upon such measures as they shall judge necessary in order to obtain a repeal of said acts.

Pretty good language, maybe some of the best that’s ever come from a bar.  Daniel Webster called taverns “the headquarters of the Revolution”, and Mabie’s Tavern would go on to greater fame during the Revolution, but that’s for another time.

Recommended Reading:  The 76 House website – Mabie’s Tavern is still around.

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On January 6, 1759, Martha Custis got married…for the second time.  Her first marriage, to Daniel Custis, had lasted less than 10 years before his death in 1757.  She was left with two children (two other children had died as toddlers) and a great deal of money.  Her husband was a wealthy land-owner and their estate, called White House Plantation, spanned 18,000 acres.

Of course, Martha’s new husband was well-to-do in his own right.  A young man named George Washington, who lived in the northeast corner of Virginia at Mount Vernon, owned several thousand acres of his own.  Recently retired from the military as a Brigadier General, he had been introduced by friends to Martha the year before, though it’s almost certain that Washington knew both Martha and her first husband prior to that.

Apparently it didn’t take long for the suitor to realize that he had found his match, as he only called on her a few times before proposing.  The ceremony, held at White House Plantation, was the beginning of a partnership that would last 40 years, see the birth of a new nation from the seeds of Revolution, and culminate with Martha’s second husband as the first President of the United States.

Recommended Reading: His Excellency:  George Washington - Joseph Ellis is simply terrific.

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The Boston Tea Party is one of those events in American history that really needs no introduction and no explanation. Frankly, very little needs to be said about it at all…it’s that well-known.  The Sons of Liberty dressed themselves up like local tribes of Natives, boarded the tea ships in the harbor, and proceeded to dump 90,000 pounds of tea overboard.  But maybe you didn’t know that it happened on December 16, 1773.  So that should just about cover it for Today’s History Lesson.

Almost…

Maybe we should give just a bit of context.  The British East India Company enjoyed a government-sponsored monopoly on tea sales, not only in the Colonies, but in Britain as well.  The Colonists (and the British, for that matter), desirous of avoiding the heavy taxes the monopoly allowed, turned to the world’s second oldest profession:  smuggling.  Tea from Holland wasn’t taxed, so purchasing it and sneaking it into the country for sale not only made the smugglers a fortune, but provided tea to consumers at a hefty discount.  The British East India Company saw a significant reduction in sales.

Over time, the tea company’s plight worsened, and British government responded in a most progressive way.  They simply reduced the tariffs on tea by passing the Tea Act of 1773 in May.  The government took a hit in revenue, but this move wasn’t about revenue, it was about retribution.  Now British tea was cheaper than the smuggled Dutch tea.

Many of the Colonists, some probably over cups of British tea, talked with raised voices and sharp hand gestures about how the British could simply run roughshod over them whenever they saw fit.  A few of the Colonists decided that direct action was needed.  And those were the seeds that, when planted and watered, grew to become the Boston Tea Party.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

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In today’s world of nearly instantaneous communication, it’s really easy to forget how arcane things used to be…in the 1990′s.  Remember about 1992?  Email was in its infancy for the general public.  The Internet?…yeah, right.  You connected with a 14kbps modem over your phone line to one of about 5 websites and most of us used that one system that always said, “You’ve got mail” when you first logged in.  Cell phones were outrageously expensive and weighed 500 pounds, about the same as a laptop computer.  Back then, you actually talked on a phone connected to a wall, “text” was still just a noun, and “google” didn’t exist outside of a chemistry class.

Ok, that’s going back 15 years or so.  Let’s regress to the most important time in the history of this country.  235 years ago, the United States was being founded, fought over, and freed from foreign control.  A Revolution was needed, but how to sway opinions and change minds and keep the Colonists informed?  How did they communicate without computers and email groups?  They had no cell phones…and no wall-mounted rotary phones, either.  But they did have pens and paper, horses, carriages, and ships.  And they had the ability to organize.  And so they did, by forming the Committees of Correspondence.  The purpose of these groups was to act as sort of a “clearing house” for news.

When events took place in one Colony, the committees had to be sure that the news was transmitted to the other Colonies.  But more importantly, the news accounts also had to accurately reflect the views of those governing the Colony.  What’s more, the committees also had to be sure to get the news to right people.  The messages would be crafted, proofed and approved, and then sent via carrier (horse or ship if the distance was long) to the other Colonies or to foreign countries.

The first committees were actually formed in the mid 1760′s, but they were generally temporary groups used to address a particular issue, like the Currency Act of 1764 or the Stamp Act just a year later.  But on November 2, 1772, the first permanent Committee of Correspondence was set up in Massachusetts by Samuel Adams (shown above) and Joseph Warren.  Within months, dozens of other committees had formed in the Colony and, just a year later, every Colony but Pennsylvania had a network of Committees in action.

And as the tensions between the Colonies and the Crown grew, the Committees played a vital role, passing news and keeping messages consistent.  The greatest service they provided was to organize the meeting of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

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A couple of months had gone by since the British had passed The Intolerable Acts, and the colonists had not been idle.  The Acts, among other things, closed the port of Boston until the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party had been paid for, took away the ability of the Massachusetts government to make political appointments, and gave British soldiers the rights of public housing.  These measures incensed the colonists, particularly those already pushing for a break from the British.

So what to do?  A meeting was needed to discuss a united reaction.  But, unlike today, where a meeting would simply be scheduled and notifications emailed to those invited, all correspondence had to be written by hand, then edited, then approved, then sent in the mail…which went by horse or ship.  Since responses were often weeks in coming, it’s no surprise that something like the First Continental Congress took a few months to organize.

But it got done, thanks in great part to the Committees of Correspondence.  These were organized groups of people in each colony that coordinated all political messages and communication between the other colonies…a Revolutionary-era email group that kept all the talking points straight.  Their good work insured that, on September 5, 1774, a total of 55 delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies (the Province of Georgia sent none) gathered in Philadelphia, just as planned.

And for the next 50 days, they would discuss, debate, and argue the British actions and how they, as British Colonies, should respond.

Recommended Reading: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic

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It’s pretty safe to say that, in the mid 1770′s, relations between the American Colonies and the British government were pretty sour.  The British crown tried hard to maintain order and, more importantly, control over its subjects, while those subjects were becoming more and more angry at the measures being forced upon them.  It had turned into an “action/reaction” scenario, where moves on one side were countered by the other.

The colonists had boycotted tea from the Dutch East India Company in response to taxes levied by the British.  The British responded by passing the Tea Act, which waived all British tariffs and allowed the tea to be sold at ridiculously low prices, thereby undercutting local sales.  And here we go…Infuriated, a group of men dressed up as American Indians, boarded the tea ships in Boston Harbor, and proceeded to dump the tea into the harbor.  The British were outraged by December, 1773′s famed Boston Tea Party and, over the first half of 1774, passed a series of measures aimed at punishing the Colony of Massachusetts.

These measures came to be known by the Colonists as the Intolerable Acts.  First, the British closed Boston Harbor until the destroyed tea was paid for.  Next, Massachusetts officials were informed that all appointments required British approval which, for all intents and purposes, abolished the government.  The blood of the Colonists began to boil anew.

Then came the Quartering Act.  Passed on June 2, 1774, it did not apply to Massachusetts alone, but to all the Colonies.  It gave soldiers the right to be housed in barracks and pubic housing, but also in other unoccupied buildings should the need arise.  The law, while not terribly unreasonable in normal circumstances, still caused trouble.  Some Colonists saw this as a British attempt to infiltrate their lives and bring control via intimidation.  Others, already planting the seeds in revolt and independence, saw the soldiers as spies who would compile lists of “malcontents” to be dealt with should the need arise.

The Quartering Act of 1774 could be said to have been the most tolerable of the Intolerable Acts, but for many Colonists, it was simply one more stone laid in the road towards revolution.

Recommended Reading: 1776 – McCullough is one of the most engaging historians ever.

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On this day way back in 1622, a well-coordinated surprise attack by Algonquian Indians outside of the settlement of Jamestown left 347 men, women and children dead – almost a third of the entire population of the Virginina colonies.  So let’s see…  Jamestown was founded in 1607, so that it means it took just 15 years to make mortal enemies worthy enough of a massacre.

 One colonist amoung hundreds recognized who was at fault in their dealings with the Indians.

There is scarce any man amongst us that doth soe much as afforde them a good thought in his hart, and most men with their mouthes give them nothing but maledictions and bitter execrations… If there bee wronge on any side, it is on ours who are not soe charitable to them as Christians ought to bee.

Outrage was the expected result of such a tragedy.  But interestingly, it was welcomed outrage.  Back in England, John Smith called it “good for the plantation because now we have just cause to destroy them by all means possible.”  That they did.  The population of the Algonquians went from around 24,000 in 1607 to just 2,000 in 1669.

Recommended reading: American Colonies

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