Resistance to British

“How shall we be governd so as to retain our Liberties?”

In the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Parliament had passed the Coercive Acts or, as they were referred to by Americans, the Intolerable Acts, by which the British closed the port of Boston, dissolved the provincial assembly, and sent additional troops to occupy the city and quell unrest. The British forays into Lexington and Concord in April to seize stores of ammunition and their confrontation with local militias resulted in a widespread call to arms. Converging on Boston, militiamen began digging trenches and redoubts virtually surrounding Boston. Although the British won the day at the battle of Bunker Hill in June, their losses were so great they could not afford another such “victory.” From that time, the British army was in effect besieged in Boston.

In November 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress, John Adams among them, were meeting in Philadelphia. After having named George Washington to raise a Continental Army for the defense of the American cause and proceed to the Boston area, they were considering what should be done in light of what were viewed as unconstitutional acts on the part of the British Parliament and the rejection of conciliatory petitions from the colonists. Should the colonies separate from Britain or not? And what ought to be the form of government should that separation take place? Abigail Adams poses the latter question to her husband in a letter she wrote on November 27, 1775.

Tis a fortnight to Night since I wrote you a line during which, I have been confined with the Jaundice, Rhumatism and a most voilent cold; I yesterday took a puke which has releived me and I feel much better to day. . . .

I was pleasing myself with the thoughts that you would soon be upon your return. Tis in vain to repine. I hope the publick will reap what I sacrifice.

I wish I knew what mighty things were fabricating. If a form of Goverment is to be Established here what one will be assumed? Will it be left to our assemblies to chuse one? and will not many men have many minds? and shall we not run into Dissentions among ourselves?

I am more & more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature, & that power whether vested in many or a few is ever grasping, & like the grave cries give, give. The great fish swallow up the small, and he who is most strenuous for the Rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the perogatives of Goverment. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, & I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.

The Building up a Great Empire, which was only hinted at by my correspondent may now I suppose be realized even by the unbelievers. Yet will not ten thousand Difficulties arise in the formation of it? The Reigns of Goverment have been so long slakned, that I fear the people will not quietly submit to those restraints which are necessary for the peace, & security, of the community; if we seperate from Brittain, what Code of Laws will be established. How shall we be governd so as to retain our Liberties? Can any government be free which is not adminstred by general stated Laws? Who shall frame these Laws? Who will give them force & energy? Tis true your Resolutions as a Body have heithertoo had the force of Laws. But will they continue to have?

When I consider these things and the prejudices of people in favour of Ancient customs & Regulations, I feel anxious for the fate of our Monarchy or Democracy or what ever is to take place. I soon get lost in a Labyrinth of perplexities, but whatever occurs, may justice & righteousness be the Stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience & perseverance.

I believe I have tired you with politicks. . . . All Letters I believe have come safe to hand. I have Sixteen from you, & wish I had as many more.
Adieu. Yours.

There will be no post on November 27, Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holiday and consider what Abigail pondered on the same date in 1775. Posts will resume on December 1.

Abigail’s letter appears on pages 46-47 of In the Words of Women. It appears in the electronic edition of the Adams Family Papers: Electronic Archives, which can be found HERE.

“Enimys to their Country”

Two orphaned sisters, Ame and Elizabeth “Betsy” Cuming, had been helped by Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith to set up a small shop in Boston where they gave sewing lessons and sold goods imported from Britain. When Smith went to Scotland, Christian Arbuthnot Barnes, wife of businessman Henry Barnes, kept her friend informed about the situation of shopkeepers after Bostonians had resolved to boycott British goods.

Marlborough, November 20, 1769 Last thrusday, which was Thanksgiving Day a Ball was given by Mrs. [James] Murray at Brush Hill [in Milton, Massachusetts] to a number of Gentlemen and Ladys from Boston. Miss E. Cumings was one of the Party. Their goods and ours are arrived in very good order, which has caused a Commity [Committee] from the Well disposed [the patriots] to wait upon them and write to Mr. Barnes with a desire that the Goods may be stored till further orders. And so they are to better purpose I hope then they design’d them for; they are well Charg’d and I dare say will have a quick Sail [sale]. In short those dareing Sons of Libberty are now at the tip top of their Power and . . . even to Speak disrespectfully of the well disposed is a Crime equal to high Treason . . . When the deluded multitude finds they have been led astray by false maxims they may Possibly turn upon them with their own Weapons, what they are many innocent Sufferers have fatally expearanced. This is my Private opinion, but how I came to give it is a mistry for Polliticks is a Puddle I never chose to dabble in.

Barnes wrote again to Smith about an announcement that appeared in the newspaper denouncing the Cuming girls for continuing to sell boycotted goods.

Oh how I long to have one political Laugh with you would you not be deverted to see Squire Barnes and the Two little Miss Cumingses Posted together in a News Paper as Enimys to their Country; do Bless you, send us a little Dash of Politicks from tother side the Water that we may see something that has the appearance of Truth, for our well disposed support such a vast quantity of lies with their other articles that they begin to find a Difficulty in vending them. . . . and now Madm I have only to wish you a Merry Christmas and take my leave of you. . . .
Your affectionate Friend,
The letters appear in In the Words of Women on pages 14-15. The front page notice in the Boston Gazette of January 22, 1770, shaming those who refused to honor the boycott of British goods, can be seen in transcription here.

“the first martyr for the common good”

Black poet Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem about the four men killed by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre—a fifth died the next day— (see previous post). These men are considered to be the first martyrs to the American cause. But Wheatley wrote another poem about about a boy whom she called “the first martyr for the common good”. In “On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder’d by Richardson,” she gives an account of a boy named Christopher Snider (or Seider), killed two weeks before the Massacre.

Ebenezer Richardson was an informer for the British who passed along the names of Americans who were smuggling goods into the country without paying duties. On February 22, 1770, surrounded by an angry mob and fearing for his life, Richardson fired into the crowd killing Christopher Snider, a boy of eleven or twelve, the son of a German immigrant. Here is what Wheatley wrote.

In heavens eternal court it was decreed
Thou the first martyr for the common good
Long hid before, a vile infernal here
Prevents Achilles in his mid career
Where’er this fury darts his Pois’nous breath
All are endanger’d to the shafts of death
The generous Sires beheld the fatal wound
Saw their young champion gasping on the ground
They rais’d him up but to each present ear
What martial glories did his tongue declare
The wretch appal’d no longer can despise
But from the Striking victim turns his eyes—
When this young martial genius did appear
The Tory chief no longer could forbear.
Ripe for destruction, see the wretches doom
He waits the curses of the age to come
In vain he flies, by Justice Swiftly chaced
With unexpected infamy disgraced
By Richardson for ever banish’d here
The grand Usurpers bravely vaunted Heir.
We bring the body from the watry bower
To lodge it where it shall remove no more
Snider behold with what Majestic Love
The Illustrious retinue begins to move
With Secret rage fair freedom’s foes beneath
See in thy corse ev’n Majesty in Death.

Wheatley’s poem can be found HERE.

“A Lady’s Adieu to her Tea Table”

Despite the fact that the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party has passed (December 16, see “A Pernicious Article of Commerce”), I could not resist posting this poem “A Lady’s Adieu to her Tea Table” that appeared in the Virginia Gazette, January 20, 1774. I discovered it on The City University of New York, La Guardia Community College website: “Women’s Leadership in American History,” which is supported by The New york Times and J. P. Morgan Chase. It was the basis for a lesson plan for 11th grade Social Studies. It would also be suitable for English classes. As a former teacher of 11th grade Social Studies who is totally committed to the idea of using primary source materials in history classes, I appreciate how interesting a couple of periods could be discussing the context and various elements of the poem.

Farewell the Tea Board, with its gaudy Equipage,
Of Cups and Saucers, Cream Bucket, Sugar Tongs,
The pretty Tea Chest also, lately stor’d
With Hyson and Congo and best Double Fine.
Full many a joyous Moment have I sat by ye,
Hearing the Girls’ Tattle, the Old Maids talk Scandal.
And the spruce Coxcomb laugh at – maybe – Nothing.
No more shall I dish out the once lov’d Liquor,
Though now detestable,
Because I’m taught (and I believe it true)
Its Use will fasten slavish Chains upon my Country,
And LIBERTY’s the Goddess I would choose
To reign triumphant in AMERICA.

I hope teachers among the readers of this blog will use the student handout and this document which are on pages 7 and 8 of the Leadership packet. Be sure to take a look at the other lessons using primary sources. A treasure trove of ideas, documents, and plans!

posted January 2nd, 2014 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Lesson plans,Primary sources,Reading old documents,Resistance to British

“the destruction of the detestable weed”

Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop was the wife of Harvard Professor John Winthrop. In a letter to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, dated January 1, 1774, she commented on the Boston Tea Party which occurred on December 16, 1773. I particularly like the last sentence.

Yonder, the destruction of the detestable weed, made so by cruel exaction, engages our attention. The virtuous and noble resolution of America’s sons, in defiance of threatened desolation and misery from arbitrary Despots, demands our highest regard. May they yet be endowed with all that firmness necessary to carry them through all their difficulties, till they come off conquerors. . . . We hope to see good accounts of the Tea cast away on the Cape. The Union of the Colonies, the firm and sedate resolution of the People, is an omen for good unto us. And be it known unto Britain, even American daughters are Politicians and Patriots, and will aid the good work with their female efforts.

Hannah’s letter was read at the conclusion of The Proceedings of a Special Meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society held in Boston on December 16, 1873, to celebrate the One Hundreth Anniversary of the Destruction of the Tea in Boston Harbor, pages 68-69.

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