New England Colonies > Province of Massachusetts Bay

Province of Massachusetts Bay

Background

The first decided protests against the exercise of sovereign power by the crown, the first general moral and political revolt that marked the approach of the American War of Independence, took place in Massachusetts; so that the most striking events in the general history of the colonies as a whole from 1760 to 1775 are an intimate part of her annals. The beginning of the active opposition to the crown may be placed in the resistance, led by James Otis, to the issuing of writs (after 1752, Otis's famous argument against them being made in 1760-1761) to compel citizens to assist the revenue officers; followed later by the outburst of feeling at the imposition of the Stamp Act (1765), when Massachusetts took the lead in confronting the royal power. The governors put in office at this time by the crown were not of conciliatory temperaments, and the measures instituted in parliament (see United States) served to increase bitterness of feeling. Royal troops sent to Boston (several regiments, 1768) irritated the populace, who were highly excited at the time, until in an outbreak on the 5th of March 1770 a file of garrison troops shot down in self-defence a few citizens in a crowd which assailed them. This is known as the “Boston Massacre.” The merchants combined to prevent the importation of goods which by law would yield the crown a revenue; and the patriots — as the anti-prerogative party called themselves — under the lead of Samuel Adams, instituted regular communication between the different towns, and afterwards, following the initiative of Virginia, with the other colonies, through “committees of correspondence”; a method of the utmost advantage thereafter in forcing on the revolution by intensifying and unifying the resistance of the colony, and by inducing the co-operation of other colonies. In 1773 (Dec. 16) a party of citizens, disguised as Indians and instigated by popular meetings, boarded some tea-ships in the harbour of Boston, and to prevent the landing of their taxable cargoes threw them into the sea; this incident is known in history as the “Boston tea-party.” Parliament in retaliation closed the port of Boston (1774), a proceeding which only aroused more bitter feeling in the country towns and enlisted the sympathy of the other colonies. The governorship was now given to General Thomas Gage, who commanded the troops which had been sent to Boston. Everything foreboded an outbreak. Most of the families of the highest social position were averse to extreme measures; a large number were not won over and became expatriated loyalists. The popular agitators, headed by Samuel Adams — with whom John Hancock, an opulent merchant and one of the few of the richer people who deserted the crown, leagued himself — forced on the movement, which became war in April 1775, when Gage sent an expedition to Concord and Lexington to destroy military stores accumulated by the patriots and to capture Adams and Hancock, temporarily staying at Lexington. This detachment, commanded by Lord Percy, was assaulted, and returned with heavy loss. The country towns now poured their militia into Cambridge, opposite Boston; troops came from neighbouring colonies, and Artemas Ward, a Massachusetts general, was placed in command of the irregular force, which with superior numbers at once shut the royal army up in Boston. An attempt of the provincials to seize and hold a commanding hill in Charlestown brought on the battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), in which the provincials were driven from the ground, although they lost much less heavily than the royal troops. Washington, chosen by the Continental Congress to command the army, arrived in Cambridge in July 1775, and stretching his lines around Boston, forced its evacuation in March 1776. The state was not again the scene of any conflict during the war. Generals Henry Knox and Benjamin Lincoln were the most distinguished officers contributed by the state to the revolutionary army. Out of an assessment at one time upon the states of $5,000,000 for the expenses of the war, Massachusetts was charged with $820,000, the next highest being $800,000 for Virginia. Of the 231,791 troops sent by all the colonies into the field, reckoning by annual terms, Massachusetts sent 67,907, the next highest being 31,939 from Connecticut, Virginia furnishing only 26,678; and her proportion of sailors was very much greater still. In every campaign in every colony save in 1779-80 her soldiery were in absolute, and still more in relative, number greater than those of any other colony.

Thirteen Colonies

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 17