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Explain the role Massachusetts played in the Revolution, including important events that took place and important leaders from Massachusetts.
Topics on the Page
A. the Boston Massacre
See Dramatic Event Page on the Boston Massacre
B. the Boston Tea Party and the Worcester Revolution of 1774
C. the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill and The Siege of Boston
Paul Revere's Ride
D. Sam Adams, John Adams, and John Hancock
African Americans and the Revolution
Slavery and Its Abolition in Massachusetts
Focus Question: What were the key events and who were the important leaders that contributed to Massachusetts' role in the American Revolution?
For more, see
AP United States History 4
American revolution timeline
"Massachusetts casts a long shadow," noted historians Richard D. Brown and Jack Tager, authors of
Massachusetts: A Concise History
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2000).
Events in Massachusetts set the stage for the Revolution, for here the origins of the conflict were played out in a contrast between two cultures—Yankee culture "oriented toward fulfilling the aspirations of common farmers and tradesmen" and British culture, "frankly elitist and cosmopolitan, aimed at refinement, excellence and order" (p. 58).
Following the French and Indian War, British policies brought Yankee culture and British culture in Massachusetts into conflict, "polarizing not only Massachusetts politics but social visions as well. Promoting obedience to British government came to signify an attachment to the orderly, hierarchical world of patronage and privilege" (p. 58). Then different events propelled the colonists toward rebellion.
The Boston Massacre
United States History I.4
Dramatic Event page on the
On March 5, 1770, a crowd American colonists began throwing snowballs, sticks, and stones at the British troops
guarding the Boston Customs House. The soldiers became enraged after one of them had been hit and fired into the crowd.
Although the British troops were under strict order to not fire upon the turbulent crowd, several American colonists were killed by British soldiers, the most famous being
. The event became known as the Boston Massacre.
The American colonists were the instigators of this confrontation, but they were able to use the event for propaganda to rally support for the patriots. After the "massacre," there was a town meeting held in which the American people called for the removal of the British sentinel that was responsible for the five deaths and six injuries of the incident.
At the trial, future President John Adams defended British Captain John Preston and his soldiers.
Two British soldiers would be found guilty for manslaughter, the rest were acquitted of all charges.
For more, see
Perspectives on the Boston Massacre
from the Massachusetts Historical Society
Poster by Paul Revere inaccurately depicting the Boston Massacre
Boston Massacre Trials (1770)
from Famous Trials Websites from University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law has eyewitness depositions, the soldiers trial account, John Adams summation, and more resources.
Key Figures in the Boston Massacre Trial
, including future President John Adams who defended the British soldiers.
John Adams and the Boston Massacre
from the ACLU
an anonymous eyewitness of the Massacre
the Indictment of Murder of Crispus Attucks
issued to the court.
The Boston Massacre: Fact, Fiction, or Bad Memory
B. Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773) and Worcester Revolution of 1774
There are three really good videos that explain the early difficulties the colonist had with British rule, especially around the time of the Boston Massacre.
Taxes and Smuggling
Boston Tea Party
More taxes and tea
American colonists raided a ship,
, in the Boston Harbor. The colonists, disguised as Native Americans, dumped the cargo of tea overboard in protest over the high taxes they were paying on tea. This act was an expression of American frustration with would became known as 'taxation without representation'. Many Colonists did not believe it was fair that the colonies were being unfairly burdened with the war debt from the French and Indian war. On top of that they were not even consulted on or given a chance to voice their opinion on the matter.
In response to this raid, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts which precipitated the close of Boston commerce until Bostonians repaid the British East India Company for their lost product. The colonists of Massachusetts refused helping to bring on the Revolutionary War.
Click here for a
List of Participants in the Boston Tea Party
Here is a video that gives a brief overview of the Boston Tea Party
Here is a useful website from the
Massachusetts Historical Society
about the lead up to the American Revolution. This link is specifically about the Boston Tea Party, but from there one has access to the website's resources about a wide range of topics, including the Boston Massacre, Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
"Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"
speech by Patrick Henry on March 23rd 1775.
Sons of Liberty
were a secret political organization that helped organize the Boston Tea Party and helped the revolution by acting out against the British.
The Worcester Revolution of 1774
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
And this all happened over a year BEFORE the out break of the war
The Worcester Revolution of 1774 i
n which groups of colonists shut down courts around Massachusetts in the summer of 1774.
C. Battles of Lexington/Concord and Bunker (Breed’s) Hill and The Siege of Boston
See also Grade
for more on battles during the Revolutionary War
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)
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
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.
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.
for the military science of the Battles at Lexington and Concord.
is an excellent interactive animation of these events from
The Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775)
View of the Attack on Bunker's Hill with the Burning of Charlestown. Engraving, 1783
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
Go 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 and attack and won the Battle of Bunker Hill.
D. Samuel Adams, John Adams, and John Hancock
John Adams by Mather Brown, 1788
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.
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.
John Quincy Adams
later became the sixth President of the United States.
Here is a
biography of John Adams' wife
.There are some useful lesson plans available here as well.
Click here for a link to
Abigail Adams's "Remember the Ladies" letter
to John Adams (1776) from the Massachusetts Historical Society.
is mainly known for his service as President of the Second Continental Congress and his signature on the Declaration of Independence.
His signature was large and meant to be seen by all who read it.
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.
Painting of John Hancock by artist John Singleton Copley, 1765
Sign 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
, 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 in the Revolution
Some 1500 people of African descent from Massachusetts served in the Continental Army, according to Liberty Fund D.C.
The number is inexact since
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
," Bob Dunn, The Recorder, July 4, 2011, pp. A1-2.
For more, go to the website for the book
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.
For more on African Americans during the Revolutionary War, see
Slavery and Its Abolition in Massachusetts
for information on the growth of slavery before the American Revolution
United State History I.31
for information on the abolitionist movement before the Civil War.
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.
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, there were no laws directly outlawing 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)
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.
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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