Home    Table of Contents     Next Chapter     Black & White Version


The Tribes and the States

W. J. Sidis




        113. A New Military Regime Enters Massachusetts.  General Gage was sent over from England to take charge of the new military dictatorship established in the province by the Boston Port Bill. As with the previous case of the Andros tyranny, it meant a dissolution of town meetings, legislatures, and in fact everything that gave the people of the province any connection with the administration of the colony. In neighboring New Hampshire, which was wedged in between two parts of the province of Massachusetts Bay (Maine then being part of Massachusetts), and where the royal governors and the town meetings were still functioning as rival governments of the same territory, this military rule in Massachusetts, besides establishing a threat of the return of the Andros domination, was also enough to revive the old hostility between the two rival systems of government locally, the town meetings, which meant to say, the people of New Hampshire as a whole, naturally sympathized with the suppressed town meetings in Massachusetts on which they had been modelled. Connecticut and Rhode Island, the only provinces which elected their own governors, were naturally afraid of losing the self-government they had enjoyed all this time. Even the South felt that it was a threat to them in their battle for land in the interior if once the precedent of military occupation of an American colony should become established. In Pennsylvania, where the strain had been continuing between the people and the ruling Penn family, this military occupation and dictatorship in Massachusetts was naturally felt to be a dangerous precedent; while the "lower Delaware counties," which had been trying to break away from the control of Pennsylvania, naturally found encouragement in a civil disobedience movement such as was forming in Middlesex. In the Green Mountains, where independence had been practically an accomplished fact for years, the civil disobedience movement in Massachusetts was sympathized with, but naturally did not go as far as Vermont in defiance of British authority. Thus all the colonies of English origin, except the recently colonized New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, were definitely raged on the side of the civil disobedience organization in Massachusetts. Even little Bermuda, out in mid-Atlantic, felt the "representative institutions" they boasted of were now being endangered. But it was otherwise with the British possessions in America which were not of British origin. New York, which was still largely Dutch in speech after over a century of British rule, had always been used to considering government from above as the only natural procedure, and so had the tendency to sympathize with the military rule in Massachusetts; also the City of New York felt that it could derive benefit from the suppression of trade in the rival port of Boston. The Floridas, recently conquered from France and Spain, had never had any representative institutions to defend. The same thing happened with the French in Canada, although a small group of "patriots" there saw an opportunity to organize an insurrection and return to French rule; but the numerous small landowners, knowing the opposition of the "Bastonnais" to feudal tenure of land, were afraid of losing their estates; besides which, the Canadian efforts to expand into the interior conflicted with the claims of Virginia’s rebels, and the Canadians, since the Quebec Act, had a certain amount of British recognition on their side.

        The actual commencement of the military authority in Massachusetts accentuated the split between legislatures and governors in the other colonies. The Virginia legislature set aside June 1, the date of the inauguration of the new Massachusetts military rule, as a day of mourning; whereat the governor ordered the legislature dissolved, and used military force to drive them out of the hall where they were meeting; the Burgesses then all went to a neighboring building, resuming the session, declaring themselves, and not the governor, to be the true government of Virginia.

        Boston temporarily accepted the military governorship with a sullen determination to refuse to co-operate, and to resist under cover, as far as possible. The import and export trade of Boston being cut off under the new regulations (part of the punishment for the "Tea Party"), the Boston merchants were offered free use of Salem wharves for the emergency.

        The military control of Massachusetts never penetrated far into the interior of Massachusetts, but confined itself largely to the seacoast, and most particularly to Boston, with a sub-headquarters at Salem, where it was hoped to establish a capital of the province to replace Boston. The whole regime, while intended to be an abolition of representative government in Massachusetts, was primarily a punishment of Boston for the destruction of the East India Company's tea.

        In the interior of Massachusetts, and through almost all of Maine, the "civil disobedience" regime was in full effect, having its own peace officers, its own legislature, its own courts (the "committees of safety" that were formed to replace the town meetings if it should be found impracticable to call all the citizens together for a meeting), and its own militia (the Minute Men). Raids by the British militia, either to make arrests or to confiscate munitions of the Minute Men, were frequent, and repressions were common during these raids; but beginning with the effectiveness of the civil disobedience regime, directed from Middlesex County, the old Okamakammesset land, we may say that Massachusetts, except certain small seaboard areas, was functioning in point of fact independently of Great Britain, subject merely to occasional raids, which were generally met by peaceable forms of resistance as far as possible.

        The military regime imposed by Great Britain was actually intended to be a renewal of the Andros tyranny which was overthrown in Boston in 1689; but General Gage was of a different character from Andros, in that Gage did not go out of his way to look for trouble. Faced with a hostile interior, he preferred to wait his time rather than risk too much by an immediate attack; and neither had he any intention of unnecessarily provoking another such revolt in Boston as "smote the crest of Andros down"; Gage was resolute when action was called for, but did not believe in unnecessary severity.

        Thus, on June 1, 1774, the Province of Massachusetts Bay was divided into two regimes, neither of which had taken any part of the previous colonial government into its own formation. One was the British military regime, in Boston, and a few other seacoast places, which, instead of taking over the former colonial government, built anew on the basis of the militia sent over from England; while, on the opposite side of the picture, occupying the whole interior of the province, was the civil disobedience regime, which was actually independent of Great Britain and had no connection with anything in any of the other colonies, and which, likewise, used no part of the colonial government in the formation of the new regime. The regime built up by the "civil disobedience" went back to the town meetings, the meetings of the citizens of each town, and, discarding all the former superstructure, built everything anew.

        Thus, in the other colonies, the movement against the British government had to be built up on the already existing legislatures, and was therefore a movement of one part of the colonial government against another part, so that even a successful revolt could only result in a continuation of the old regime in some form; but in Massachusetts, on the contrary, no part of the old colonial administration was used, and the change of administration in the area under control of the "civil disobedience" regime was not only independent, but completely new. Thus, not only did Massachusetts have the first independent regime in America of any of the white settlements; it was the only colony in which a complete break was made from the old order, taking over no officials , no assemblies, no departmental organizations whatever. Vermont, of course, formed really another exception, since it had been in a state of de facto independence for eighteen years; but, even there, there was a complete continuation in its entirety of the regime that had recognized a nominal allegiance to Great Britain, as contrasted with the complete break in Massachusetts.

        Another characteristic of the "civil disobedience" in Massachusetts was the complete lack of visible leadership, which did not prevent the organization from functioning with perfect smoothness and accord. Of course, there was considerable under-cover directing done; but that was ordinarily not known to those taking part in the "civil disobedience" administration, who functioned without any actual known leaders, as is generally the way that New Englanders function best.

        This date, Wednesday, June 1, 1774, which was intended by England to mark the complete subjugation of Massachusetts, was also the date of the commencement of an independent administrative regime, and is the date from which, at present, Massachusetts dates its actual independence. From that date on, the population of Massachusetts and Maine refused to recognize or obey the orders of the government of Great Britain.

        114. Congress of the United Colonies.  The implied threat to void the charters of the other American colonies and to administer them direct from England became very much of a reality when the military regime was established in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Virginia became more anxious than ever to assert her charter "rights" of aggression into the interior, and an application was made to Great Britain to permit the incorporation of the "Vandalia Company" to hold the land between the mountains and the Ohio River. The request was refused, in accordance with the British policy of reserving for the tribes the land beyond the mountains.

        At this denial, Virginia became suddenly solicitous about "rights" and "liberty," though the said rights apparently actually consisted of the right to steal land from others. So a call was sent out for united action in the form of a sort of revival of the Stamp Act Congress to send new petitions to Great Britain for mercy, and, as a result in September the "Congress of the United Colonies of America" met at Philadelphia, consisting of delegates from the various legislatures in sympathy with the protest at British policies. This Congress, like its short-lived predecessor of 1754, was known as the "Continental Congress," and considered itself as a renewal of the former experiment, whose author, Benjamin Franklin, was a member of the new Congress.

        It must be remembered that at that time there was no American nation, nor was even British North America considered a single country, but as a group of a number of separate countries under a single sovereignty. The only connection, for example, between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was in their common subjection to England; and England saw to it that the various colonies made no attempt to get together for common action on the American side of the ocean. The formation of the Continental Congress, therefore, in September, 1774, was in itself an act of defiance of British authority, though having nothing whatever to do, except incidentally, with the "civil disobedience" trouble in Massachusetts. The Continental Congress was also not an attempt to make a single country out of the various colonies represented, but simply an attempt to organise some sort of concerted action for emergencies, as was the New York Congress of the rebel provinces in 1690. The Continental Congress was thus not as yet the creation of a federal authority, but was merely the embryo of such an organisation. It derived its sources, however, very definitely from the Continental Congress of 1754, which was of Iroquois origin, and from the old traditions of the New England Confederation and its successor the new York Congress, this being a line of descent tracing directly to the Penacook Federation.

        The Continental Congress of 1774 represented colonial legislatures exclusively, unlike the abortive one of 1754, which represented the colonial administrations which were mostly appointed from England. Georgia, which was not recognized in the 1754 plan because it was a penal colony, nevertheless had an organized provincial assembly, and was therefore represented in the Continental Congress, where their recognition of equality made them glad to join. In Penn's domain, the so-called Lower Delaware Counties, having a separate legislature from Pennsylvania proper, though under the same governor, were naturally considered as part of Pennsylvania in Franklin's original plan of 1754, but had separate representation in the Congress of the United Colonies, and were recognized as a separate colony there, though not officially by the provincial administration in Philadelphia. The unrecognized colonies of Vermont, Transylvania, and Watauga were refused representation in the Continental Congress because their legislatures had no regular standing that the other legislatures could recognize, besides the fact that recognizing them would have been denying the claims of the member colonies of New York, Virginia, and North Carolina; and this the Continental Congress had no authority to do. Virginia and North Carolina were in the Continental Congress mainly in order to protest against Great Britain's failure to recognize their claims to Transylvania and Watauga respectively, and therefore the Continental Congress had to respect those claims.

         This Continental Congress had no authority over the respective colonies whatever, but was intended as a council of the colonies for action against encroachments by the British administrations. The colonies represented were: New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Lower Delaware Counties of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Continental Congress also having no executive power, there was no actual administrative head, the nearest thing to a head possessed by this Philadelphia organization being the chairman, or President of the Congress, who was actually nothing more than a chairman, with no authority whatever himself.

         Although the Province of Massachusetts Bay was the actual center of the "civil disobedience" movement that was challenging British authority in America, it was not allowed representation in the Continental Congress mainly because of that very fact. The Continental Congress was a congress of officially recognized colonial legislative assemblies, and Massachusetts now had nothing like that to show. The military administration there had ordered the legislature at first adjourned to Cambridge, since Boston was being punished for the "Tea Party," and could not be used as an assembly place; and, as the first thing the legislature did was to send Governor Gage a protest at being convened at a distance from the provincial records, Gage immediately ordered the legislature dissolved. No further attempt was made to reconvene it, since the Provincial Assembly in Concord, which was in charge of the "civil disobedience" movement, was actually fulfilling legislative functions for all parts of Massachusetts not under direct watch of the military, and had the allegiance of the now outlawed town meetings, which were the people of the province. This Provincial Assembly, however, having no legal standing under British sovereignty, could not be recognized as a legislature by the Continental Congress, which accordingly had no representation from Massachusetts.

         The Continental Congress of 1774, like its predecessor, the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 in New York, met long enough to draw up a single petition, and then adjourned. This document was a so-called "Petition of Rights," which was merely an elaboration of the theory of individual and colonial rights originally expounded in the Stamp Act petition, and consisted mainly of begging King George not to treat the other American colonies as he had treated poor Massachusetts. This had, of course, very little in common with the civil disobedience movement of Massachusetts, which had scorned mere petitions, and preferred to function through open defiance and through a system of secret organizations which could, at the proper time, act in measures of complete surprise. The refusal of the Continental Congress to recognize Massachusetts's Provincial Assembly indicated how little sympathy there was between the two movements, the rebel movement of Massachusetts which was defying British authority on the one hand, and the Continental Congress which was petitioning the King for mercy on the other hand.

         115. The Provincial Congress in Massachusetts.  The civil disobedience regime in Massachusetts included mainly the farmers looking for a restoration of their land, and the under-cover factory workers who wanted the right to work in the type of cooperation which Massachusetts had evolved for the conduct of its factories, where the workers were not nominally but actually in control of their work. The smuggling ring which had little sympathy with these elements, but was now forced to cooperate with them, and which the British considered as the leaders of the rebellious movement in Massachusetts, was mainly in the places actually ruled by the British militia, so that they and the civil disobedience were actually separated, though in communication with one another; and the rebels of the interior preferred to use the smugglers as their spies in British-controlled territory, a purpose for which the elaborate organization of "correspondence committees" was admirably adapted.

         Upon the dissolution of the General Court (provincial legislature) of Massachusetts, General Gage called for election of a new legislature, to assemble in October at Salem. The entire province participated in this election, though it was known that the legislature was expected to be merely a "rubber stamp" for Gage, which is precisely what the representatives from the civil disobedience districts were instructed not to allow. Around Boston, and the other seacoast centers held by the militia, the loyalists, (or Tories, as they were called), who had taken refuge there from all over the province, elected a number of representatives, as did also some of the smuggling ring who naturally had to side with the "provincials," as the British called the rebels.

         The first thing the General Court did at Salem was to elect delegates to the Continental Congress, as they could now do, being an officially recognized legislature acting in opposition to the British administration. Governor Gage, not intending to allow such actions, again ordered the legislature dissolved, and, on their refusal to adjourn, had them driven out by soldiers. The Tories in the legislature then acquiesced; but the remainder of the legislature, which was the majority, banded together quietly later on, re-organizing as the Provincial Congress, and adjourned to Concord.

         The moving of the Provincial Congress to Concord, and taking the place of the old Provincial Assembly at the head of the "civil disobedience," was a disadvantage to the revolutionaries in supplying them a thread of connection with the old colonial regime, as well as with the military government established by the Boston Port Bill, therefore tending to end the discontinuity that, so far, the rebels in Massachusetts alone had achieved; but, even so, the Provincial Congress was largely kept in the background, and the County Conventions, especially that of Middlesex, took a more prominent place.

         The election of delegates to the Continental Congress, and the adoption of the title of Congress by the provincial legislature, were intended as gestures of unity and co-operation with a Continental Congress that had so far refused to recognize Massachusetts. It was too late for the Massachusetts delegates actually to go to Philadelphia, as the Continental Congress of 1774 had already adjourned; but this action of Massachusetts was a move for the convocation of a new Continental Congress, which the other colonies, the ones represented in the Congress of 1774, arranged for, and set for the following May in Philadelphia. The custom now became fixed of electing and convening a new Continental Congress every year.

         The Provincial Congress, though it was allowed to be the nominal head of the "civil disobedience" movement, consisted more of representatives of the smuggling ring and other elements who only had a theoretical interest in what was going on, and were therefore not so rebellious in tendencies as the Middlesex revolutionary element required. Accordingly it did not hold the allegiance of the people in "civil disobedience" territory to the extent that its predecessor, the Provincial Assembly, which represented directly the County Conventions, held. On the other hand, its presence in Concord gained the rebels the sympathies of elements whose co-operation was needed at the time, and also made it possible to co-operate with the other colonies through the medium of such an incipient federation as the Continental Congress. So the Provincial Congress was allowed to function in Concord as the nominal head of civil disobedience, while the real allegiance of the people was retained by the County Conventions, and the town meetings and town Committees of Safety.

        116. Aid From New Hampshire.  The province of New Hampshire, located as it is between Massachusetts and Maine, both of which were then under Massachusetts Bay military rule, and in both of which a "civil disobedience" campaign was organized, was in a peculiar position, as holding an important line of communication for the Massachusetts rebels. Since New Hampshire had always been under two rival regimes, the royal governors and the town meetings, which were merely at temporary peace with each other, the sympathy of the town meetings, which meant that of most of the people of New Hampshire, naturally went with the rebels of the neighboring province. The royal regime was, in fact, almost isolated in that province, which had the "civil disobedience" territory of Massachusetts to the south, and the similar region of Maine to the east, while to the west and northwest stretched the Green Mountain range, the home of the defiant and unrecognized colony which called itself Vermont. By sea, through the one harbor of Portsmouth, was the only line of communication New Hampshire had that was not controlled by either the Massachusetts civil disobedience system or the Vermont insurgents; and even that was so close to Maine that any strong rebel action across the Piscataqua might mean a blockade.

         The people of the New Hampshire towns had generally expressed a certain sympathy with the people of the neighboring province. In Portsmouth, a protest meeting over the Boston tea affair had been held the previous winter at the same time that the "Tea Party" was going on in Boston; and this winter the people of Portsmouth, as well as in the neighboring regions of Maine, were preparing for a grand memorial on Friday, December 16, the first anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

         In the meantime, in Massachusetts, throughout the civil disobedience territory, the scattered British patrols that occasionally appeared were busy on the hunt for the ammunition that the civil disobedience regime was secretly making and smuggling to its minute men. The ammunition factory itself was located on a thickly wooded hilltop in Watertown, a Middlesex town not far from Boston itself, and from this location they had the advantage of being able to see a long distance without being seen themselves. The smuggling of powder and guns was usually carried on successfully, although sometimes the munitions were captured by the British militia. Occasionally such artifices as raised drawbridges, or causing small local fights with the militia, were used successfully to detain the patrols until the contraband munitions could be removed to a place of safety.

         Smuggling into Maine, however, really required the co-operation of the people of the twenty-mile corridor of New Hampshire that separated the two parts of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Portsmouth being the New Hampshire town that had to take the brunt of this smuggling trade; it was also the capital and the only seaport of the province.

         Since both the British militia and the people of Massachusetts anticipated clashes on the Tea Party anniversary, much smuggling of munitions went on in preparation for the sixteenth of December; and this included the sending of supplies across New Hampshire to the Minute Men in Maine; while the townspeople of Portsmouth also procured part of the smuggled ammunition to be ready for emergencies for their own anniversary celebration.

         Governor Gage had so far not attempted to interfere with New Hampshire, which, being a separate colony and administered as a separate nation, was outside his territory; but this time he sent to the royal administration in Portsmouth to ask for aid in the suppression of the ammunition-smuggling.

         The town correspondence committee in Boston received word of this move, and, on Wednesday, December 14, they sent one of their couriers, a Boston silversmith by the name of Paul Revere, to Portsmouth by way of the marshes of the New Hampshire coast, to warn Portsmouth townspeople and the Minute Men in Maine across the river, of the new move, and of the way the administration of New Hampshire was taking a hand in matters.

         The messenger reached Portsmouth after an all-day ride, in the evening of the fourteenth, but too late to forestall action by the governor of New Hampshire. The smuggled ammunition had been intercepted by the British authorities in New Hampshire, and taken by the soldiers to Fort William and Mary, on the island of New Castle in Portsmouth Harbor. However, the appearance of the rider gave them new courage, and carried with it the suggestion of co-operation from the neighboring province. A group of citizens of Portsmouth banded together hastily, with such arms as they were able to assemble in Portsmouth, rushed over to New Castle, where Fort William and Mary, not expecting such a sudden onslaught from the rear, proved unable to keep the rebels out, with the result that the crowd entered the fort, seized the captured ammunition, and returned to Portsmouth with it.

         This incident on the night of December 14, 1774, is now claimed by New Hampshire as the real start of the American Revolution, although it had no characteristics of a revolution about it. There was no actual defiance of authority; it was merely another of the numerous street riots that had been taking place in America for some time, on this occasion taken, on the spur of excitement, into the fort, but with no object of capturing anything but the smuggled goods they were after. There was no intention to challenge the army's right to occupy the fort, as was proved by the crowd's retiring as soon as they obtained the contraband they were seeking.

         But, in the eyes of England, this action placed New Hampshire in the same rebel category as Massachusetts. Their hands were too full with Massachusetts at the time for them to be able to give New Hampshire much attention, but it became painfully obvious that New Hampshire was slated to receive punishment next, after Massachusetts should have been fully dealt with.

        117. The Winter of 1774.  During the winter of 1774, Boston became more than ever isolated from the rest of Massachusetts. Military patrols interfered considerably with movement of people about the city, and the military administration was afraid that too much contact with the Middlesex rebels might result in a flare-up of some sort in Boston. Governor Gage was under orders to arrest Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Joseph Warren as leaders of the revolutionary movement and ship them to England to be tried for treason (England considered that no colonial court had sufficient authority for such a trial); but Gage realized that these men were not really leaders of the rebels, nor even a great influence with them, so he postponed the unpleasant duty as long as possible, especially since he considered that premature action might provoke an uprising of some sort in Boston; and this atmosphere of secret conspiracy that surrounded him made him suspicious of any trivial occurrence.

        To such a governor, the constant series of complaints that the citizens of Boston and the other points under actual military control kept pouring in on the slightest occasion was sufficient to give an impression as to the difficulty of his task; but still, he was enough of a military man to stand firm in spite of everything, and stick to his determination to knock the idea of resistance out of the heads of those Yankees in Massachusetts and Maine. But one particular complaint seemed to make a special impression on him. In December, when the boys of the Boston Latin School began coasting down the slope of School Street, in front of the school, as had been their habit every winter, one of Gage's officers, who was billeted across the street from the school, and was disturbed by the coasting, and who considered that sledding might interfere with military processions in the street, had the coast broken up so as to prevent the further use of sleds on that street. The school-boys met together in standard town-meeting style, drew up a complaint and delegated the principal of the school to present the complaint to the officer across the street. This was reported by the officer to Governor Gage, who ordered the coast on School Street restored, remarking that it was impossible to eradicate the notion of liberty from a people who acquired it from childhood. Gage could become hardened to complaints in general, but seemed to think a complaint from children was something to be feared. These children were the future Bostonians, and they were fast learning the art of passive resistance which was being promulgated from Middlesex.

        We may note that the Boston Latin School of that day was an elementary school, not a high school as it has become at the present time, and it was then actually situated on School Street, at about the place where is now the hotel known as the Parker House; while the headquarters of the officer to whom the complaint was made is now the location of the Boston City Hall!

        Anniversaries that the rebels (or rather, the "civil disobedients" and the seaport smuggling rings) might use as an occasion for celebration and gatherings, were most especially feared by Governor Gage, and at such times he always took special measures to see that no disturbance was attempted in the territory under occupation of his soldiers. The rebels themselves took full advantage of this, not to make special resistance on those days, but to work on his fears. The New Hampshire incident preceding the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party is a good example of this.

        On Sunday, March 5, 1775, the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, it was attempted as usual to hold in the Old South Church a memorial service for the victims of that incident. The Governor could not help seeing some sort of menace to himself in such a celebration, but was afraid to raise too much trouble. Dr. Joseph Warren―one of those whom Gage had been ordered to arrest―was scheduled to make the speech. The building was so crowded that the people overflowed into the surrounding streets, and stood so thick that it was with great difficulty that even Dr. Warren could get in. From the Province House across the street, Governor Gage himself was watching the crowd, ready to give orders to his regiment in case of the slightest sign of trouble. The subject selected by Dr. Warren for his speech was "On the Baneful Influence of Standing Armies in Time of Peace," and it duly impressed the audience with the moral that was obviously intended, though not definitely stated. No attempts at rioting, however, took place, but General Gage felt that something was in the air, that some new form of resistance had been presented to the citizens of Boston without his knowing quite what or how.

        But, with the coming of spring, a seemingly more dangerous anniversary was at hand―April 18, the anniversary of the overthrow of Andros, traditionally celebrated by the rebel elements in Massachusetts as a double anniversary, the 18th for the overthrow of despotism, and the 19th for the restoration of the popular administration under the Puritan regime. This seemed particularly ominous, as Gage was, in point of fact, taking Andros's place, and attempting to restore Andros's system of despotic and military administration. What might not the anniversary of Andros's overthrow mean for Gage? It was on that day then, that Gage determined to arrest the "rebel leaders" he was ordered to ship to England―Adams, Hancock, and Warren―and during that period he was going to make a real effort to crush the civil disobedience campaign in Concord itself, and take possession of Middlesex itself. But, when the 18th of April came around, it appeared that the three Bostonians that were slated for arrest were not to be found anywhere. All three, warned by the correspondence committee spy system, had disappeared: Dr. Warren was hiding, and Adams and Hancock had been sent into Middlesex County, to hide out there until they should have the chance to go secretly to Philadelphia and attend the Continental Congress, to which the Salem legislature had sent them as delegates.

        Also, for no special reason except to put fear into the city of Boston, and to prevent any demonstrations on the 18th and 19th, Gage had the fleet in the harbor bombard Boston on the 18th. This is the standard idea the army and navy of England always have of punishing any recalcitrant community; in this case, it merely served to stir up resentment in many quarters where there had been none before, and consolidated the rebel's ranks.

        During this winter there had also been considerable migration of the population, the Tory element in the interior of Massachusetts moving into Boston to avoid clashes with the civil disobedients, while the rebel sympathizers in Boston, to a large extent, moved into Middlesex and other interior points. But the Tories in many cases did not consider even the military protection in Boston as sufficient, and it was not difficult to see that more trouble was in store. So there was considerable migration of Tories from Boston to Canada and to New York; while, on the other hand, many rebel sympathizers moved out of New York, mainly to Philadelphia.

        118. New York Attempts to Oust the Vermonters.  Vermont had been definitely assigned by England to the province of New York, but with New Hampshire issuing the land grants to settlers. The Vermonters never actually recognized New York's jurisdiction, and were prepared to resist any attempt to break up the town-meeting system of administration they had organized, but which was strictly illegal in New York. It was not entirely a defiance to British authority, since they had gone through the formality of acquiring land title from New Hampshire, so that their right to the land would be recognized in England.

        But the Continental Congress of 1774, consisting of legislatures which were mostly at variance with the royal governors of their respective provinces, was encouraging Virginia in pressing its claims to land beyond the mountains where independent local governments had already been set up; and the hint to the New York legislature and its followers was only too obvious. The court sitting at Albany, though royal by appointment, was, of course, not unwilling to extend jurisdiction at this time to suppress the Vermont rebels, at the same time hoping for a reconciliation with the people and its legislature, the interior of the province, unlike New York City, being in sympathy with the Continental Congress, and not above being bribed by an offer of new lands.

        So some technicalities were found, according to which all the land grants made by New Hampshire were void, and New York province sued in its own courts to oust all the Vermonters. Ethan Allen, the head of the Vermonter's small army of defense, was despatched to Albany to defend the Vermonter's side of the case. Since he was not a lawyer but a soldier, his speech was not based upon legal technicalities, but upon the general principles of rights such as the New England rebels had been enunciating; and, as might be expected of such a speech before a court and in a community unmistakably hostile, the case, which had obviously been pre-judged anyway, was decided in favor of New York's own provincial claims, in a court decision bearing the full weight of British authority, as well as having the full support of the Continental Congress and of the New York Sons of Liberty. It was ordered that all Vermonters be ousted from their land; a thing which, considering the situation, was much easier to order than to do.

        As Allen left the court house at Albany, he was surrounded by a jeering throng of the citizens, who, whether Tory or rebel, were all against the Yankee intruders in Vermont. They kept on shouting at him: "Now do you know you're licked?" Allen mounted his horse, shouted: "The gods of the mountains are not the gods of the plains," and rode off to Vermont to organize resistance. A new volunteer army, known as the "Green Mountain Boys," was organized by Allen in Vermont; and, to prevent undue opposition from the rebels elsewhere, Allen obtained a commission from his native province of Connecticut, so that he and his army should have some standing before the Continental Congress.

        The Vermonters "did not know when they were licked," and it was just that characteristically Yankee trait of persistence which enabled them to hold out in what seemed at the time a most absurd defiance of British authority.

        119. The British Raid Middlesex.  We have seen that, on Tuesday, April 18, 1775, the eighty-sixth anniversary of the overthrow of the Andros regime in Boston, the new military regime which England had intended as a restoration of the Andros regime forestalled possible demonstrations in Boston by bombarding the city, and that the three leaders of the Boston smuggling ring, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Joseph Warren, were sought by the soldiers and went into hiding, the two former in Middlesex, the latter in Boston. The rebel celebration of the anniversary was a two-day celebration, and the military dictatorship planned to show its power the second day by raiding Middlesex County, the very center of the rebels, and taking possession of the center of civil disobedience, Concord, as well as seeking the fugitives, Adams and Hancock.

        The spy system that was kept up by the correspondence committees and by the tribal organization of the Okamakammessets was, however, in good order on such an occasion. Middlesex farmers who came to Faneuil Hall to sell their goods, as is still their custom, were commissioned to act as tribal spies, and kept their ears open for news of any hostile military move while they were in Boston. The news thus reached Concord in the early evening of the 18th, through tribesmen returning home from market, that a visit from the "duly constituted" authorities could be expected next morning, looking for fugitives and munitions, and to destroy the Provincial Congress and the entire civil disobedience organization.

        In order to throw the authorities in Boston off the track, and make them believe that Middlesex was unwarned, it was arranged that the Boston correspondence committees should send out three messengers to Middlesex in the middle of the night, but as conspicuously as possible. This was arranged under direction of Dr. Joseph Warren, who sent out three messengers in a style somewhat similar to Van Corlear's ride through Manhattan Island when the British attacked New Amsterdam. These riders, operating by a set of signal lights that could be seen by the militia better than by the messengers themselves, started out through Middlesex shouting from door to door the absurd news "The British are coming"―absurd because Massachusetts was recognized British territory, and Middlesex itself had British patrols trying to keep order. The three messengers were Paul Revere, who started from Charlestown―the same messenger that rode to Portsmouth the time New Hampshire captured their confiscated ammunition―and two other messengers, William Dawes and a Dr. Prescott, sent to Middlesex by way of Roxbury. All three messengers were captured before they went far―as it was deliberately designed that they should be. It should have been obvious that, after the cautious way the civil disobedience regime had been conducted, a message of that importance would not be sent out with so little precaution, in such a dramatic and conspicuous manner, broadcasting the news to friend and foe alike in this manner. But the military authorities, who, as is frequently the case, fail to see through such pretext, were easily deceived by that ruse, and were now able to proceed on the assumption that they had actually prevented Middlesex County from getting any news of the impending raid. In point of fact, the Lexington committee of safety had circulated a notice of the raid to the townspeople at nine in the evening, about two hours before the three riders started out from Boston.

        That night the soldiers were ordered to permit no one to leave Boston―though the order came too late to prevent this dramatic display of horsemanship. In all the surrounding towns, patrols watched carefully for any signs of demonstration, or any crowds massing in the streets; all of which, however, was no part of the civil disobedience plans. From start to finish, there were no mass demonstrations, making it extremely difficult for the British soldiery to find any mark to shoot at. One mass demonstration such as other countries find necessary for having a revolution or a disagreement with authorities, and the whole uprising could have been quelled with very little difficulty. But, particularly on the night when the military were looking for such demonstrations, all was serene in Middlesex―apparently. The soldiers on patrol in the metropolitan part of Middlesex met with no trouble or interference; and, outside of capturing the three riders with the false messages, nothing unusual occurred.

        Of the actual transmission of the notice of the coming raid, the general public naturally had no knowledge. It was passed among the secret correspondence committees, through channels provided by the Tribe and by the Sons of Liberty organizations, aided by the committees of safety, which finally received the messages and spread the news to their followers in each town. But so secretly was this done that it never became publicly known, and the rider, Paul Revere, who, according to his subsequent affidavit, never actually went beyond the Cambridge hills, now is credited with warning the population. He and the other two riders, Dawes and Prescott, of course performed a useful spy service to the rebels by throwing the army off guard, and making the government authorities believe they wee making a surprise raid; but to the unknown members of the tribe of the Okamakammessets, who obtained the news by mingling with the farmers in Faneuil Hall, and brought it quietly back to Middlesex while they apparently had with them only a wagon emptied of its load of farm produce, belongs the real credit of notifying Middlesex County and the entire civil disobedience organization of the coming attack, and enabling them to resist in the most effective way that could be planned by joint action of the towns in and around Middlesex.

         In the early morning of the 19th, the second day of the rebel anniversary celebration, marking the restoration of popular Puritan government in 1689, about five hundred soldiers were landed from the British ship Somerset on the Middlesex shore, in the swampy tide-flats where is now East Cambridge. Another contingent of five-hundred were sent out of Boston by land, through Roxbury and Brookline and over the bridge at the town of Cambridge (where the Anderson Bridge is now located), into Middlesex. All was quiet as they marched through these towns―even in Cambridge, the first Middlesex settlement they encountered. Beyond Cambridge, the troops from the Somerset joined them, and they continued along the very path that had been laid out as a post-road long ago by the Iroquois and Penacook tribes, and followed the highway into the heart of Middlesex.

         The next town they passed through was Menotomy (now known as Arlington). It was dawn, and the streets and the town-house square were absolutely empty―most suspiciously empty, had the soldiers only been able to read the signs rightly. All the soldiers in this punitive expedition were surprised how foolishly easy it was, after all, to march into this dreaded county of Middlesex―when suddenly they found themselves being peppered with bullets flying in all directions. And still the square was as vacant as if the town had never been inhabited for a long time. The minute-men were there, watching the triumphal entry into Menotomy, and shooting at them from behind every picket fence in town, thoroughly invisible while they could see everything.

         Had the army been able to shoot back, their morale might have been more easily maintained; but, as it was, it was impossible even to fire back. There was nothing to shoot at. And there, in the square at Menotomy, the modern Arlington Center, began the first real signs of revolution in America―the attack on the British army, on the representatives of all duly constituted authority in Massachusetts, by the townspeople of the little town of Menotomy, in Middlesex County, in the dawn of that eventful day, April 19, 1775.

        The British troops, still highly irritated over this attack by an invisible enemy, though they had sustained no actual losses, continued their march. It was reported that the fugitives Adams and Hancock were hiding in the next town, Lexington, and they must hurry on to capture these dangerous characters, since the king wanted them shipped back to England for trial. It took another hour to march on to Lexington, where they again found an empty street. Their experience in Menotomy might have warned them against empty streets in Middlesex, but they had not learned yet how American fighting was conducted. The army passed by the very inn where Adams and Hancock were spending the night, and marched into the heart of the town of Lexington. Nothing was as yet to be seen, and, at the church ahead of them, the road forked, while behind the church, between the two branches of the road, was the town green, the park which forms the center of all New England towns. The British militia took the right branch of the road, and passed by the church, when they suddenly found themselves face to face with a couple of hundred minute men gathered on Lexington Green, and who had been invisible until then, due to the church obstructing the view. These minute men had been gathered there all night, expecting trouble, and preparing to meet it, with arms if necessary. Their captain had given them their orders: "Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon. But, if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!" This was a natural order under the circumstances, simply amounting to directions not to start a fight, but to be ready to meet it; but the last part of the order, turning out as it did to be prophetic, seems to have made an impression as though it had been so intended. At that, we may really consider that the war had already started, at Menotomy one hour earlier.

         Faced with this defiant-looking crowd of minute-men, the leader of the British punitive expedition, Col. Pitcairn, shouted, "Disperse, you rebels!" Then, seeing that no attention was paid to his "reading the riot act," he called out again: Damn you, why don't you disperse?" Upon which the soldiers fired, killing seven minute-men. The minute-men fired back, but the soldiers went on along the road. Their chief objective was Concord, the headquarters of the civil disobedience conspiracy.

         While this shooting was going on, the fugitives Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whom the army was seeking, took advantage of the excitement, and started out from Lexington, walking across country to Woburn, about four miles away. There they waited for an opportunity to get a stage to take them to Philadelphia where the Continental Congress was to meet in May. Adams and Hancock were elected as delegates to the Continental Congress by the legislature that Gage had dissolved in Salem, and, in spite of the army sent put to capture them, they attended the Continental Congress according to schedule.

         The British army continued its march into Bedford, where they found similar trouble to what they had encountered in Menotomy, and at about seven in the morning they entered Concord, thoroughly irritated, and with their morale already badly damaged, in spite of their apparent victory at Lexington. Fighting invisible enemies on a long, hard march is not the best means of maintaining an army's courage.

         In Concord, the same suspiciously empty streets. The rebel supply of ammunition there was discovered, and the British seized it to bring it back to Boston (which, as it turned out, they did in faster time than they had intended). In the offing, down the street, appeared a small group of minute-men similar to those at Lexington, but retreating rapidly. Although the militia had not intended to go beyond Concord, they started off in pursuit. The minute-men retreated across the bridge which crosses the Concord River at that point―the old Wamesset River which was the heart if the land of the Okamakammessets. The British followed in hot pursuit. At the bridge, they were forced to thin out, coming a few at a time over the narrow way. On the other side of the bridge, they found, not the small group of minute-men they were pursuing, but an aggregation of about three thousand waiting for them: the minute-men of all surrounding towns, who had poured into Concord during the night in order to be ready to meet the emergency. As at Lexington, the British soldiers fired; the fire was returned by a rebel force that outnumbered them, and the British, who, on account of the bridge, were not in a position to make much use of their numbers, and whose morale had been injured already by the earlier events of the morning, broke out in a panic. They ran―ran as hard as they could―all of the twenty-odd miles of the road back to Boston. The issue had been tried out between Middlesex and the British Empire, and Middlesex County was winning.

         The word was sent out into the interior of Massachusetts of the victory over the raiders, in the cryptic form: "Their sun has set on Worcester and Middlesex." This might seem on the surface, to be a message of defeat; but, taken in connection with the famous British boast that the sun never sets on the British dominions, the meaning becomes obvious. The inhabitants were now rid of the military authority, and of the nobles who had been taking away their land and forcing them into servitude. From now on, no more saluting the lord of the manor; the farmers had regained the freedom they had traditionally enjoyed before the days of the infamous Governor Andros.

"He made obeissance, mute and slow,
      Repaid by nod polite;
For such the way with high and low
      Till after Concord fight."
                                              - Holmes.

         From Concord, the town that had served as the center of the civil disobedience campaign, now dated the foundations of an independent America, from the battle at the old Concord bridge on the morning of April 19, 1775. The province of Massachusetts Bay was now definitely beginning a revolution, and well may Massachusetts celebrate the anniversary, April 19, in memory of this occasion, which was also the anniversary of the restoration of popular government after Andros was overthrown. The rebels had made a good job of celebrating their anniversary.

         120. The Pursuit.  The British troops retreated in panic from Concord, closely pursued by minute-men, who, in addition to the ones at Concord, came swarming from all directions ready to shoot at the fleeing soldiers. Rebel groups appeared all along the road, some showing themselves and firing, flying various rebel banners, prominent among which was the one set up by the Okamakammessets, the red banner of the red tribes, with the pine-tree which was the emblem of the Penacook peoples, and which had recently become a symbol of liberty.

"The people's spokesmen were pursued
      By soldiers through the land,
While round them Bay Land's people, armed,
      Arose on every hand.
They thus repulsed the tyrant's men,
      As, floating at their head,
Appeared the Bay Land freedom's flag;
      The banner of the red."

         Though many groups of minute-men were visible, many more of them were not to be seen, but fired, in the fashion of the red men, from behind trees, fences, and any other hiding-places they could find. Through Lexington and Menotomy ran the pursuit; here the British army split, part heading for Charlestown and part heading for Roxbury. The part running towards Charlestown passed through Medford, where new groups of minute-men from distant Lynn and Salem were ready to greet them with rifles and bullets; but, as in Charlestown, they were met by more soldiers, who finally conducted them safely to the Somerset or to Boston. The other group, running through Cambridge and Roxbury, had a longer way to go, but did not have to rely on boats to take them into Boston. All along the way they were encouraged to better speed by shots from behind trees and fences, or sometimes from people whom they saw, though they were in far too great a hurry to return the fire. Through Cambridge thus, over the Charles River, across the plains south of the river, pressed the pursuit; then into the hill district at Brookline, where the road winds between the hills of the town. From their lookout points on Corey Hill and Aspinwall Hill the Brookline minute-men, themselves unseen, opened fire; no messengers had been needed to let them know what was coming, for from the top of Corey Hill they could see the army approaching over an hour in advance of their reaching Brookline. By now the panic among the British soldiers had grown remarkably, and, with Boston practically in sight, they redoubled their speed. Through Roxbury, where they encountered similar fire from the heights of Parker Hill and the Highlands, and over Boston Neck, the isthmus that then was Boston's only connection with the mainland, though now the tidal flats on both sides of it have been thoroughly filled in. At the junction of the road in Roxbury which has since been given the name of Warren Street, they could see the minute-men from Dorchester approaching down that road, joining the pursuit. A reinforcement came out from Boston to meet the British, conducting them safely into the town, while the Roxbury and Dorchester minute-men, pursuing, halted at the isthmus, and dug themselves into a trench which they made across the isthmus at about the point where now stands the Northampton Street elevated station. Here they could remain unseen, and, with the fewest possible men, they could bottle up the authorities in Boston. The siege of Boston had begun, and, in that one day, April 19, 1775, the revolution had begun, the interior of Massachusetts had been cleared of all the duly constituted authorities, and the civil disobedience regime, now converted into an instrument of active opposition, was supreme in its own territory.

         Minute-men in the following towns of Middlesex and its vicinity contributed to the fighting and pursuit on that eventful day, Wednesday, April 19, 1775, when revolution began in America:

Acton Bedford Billerica Brookline
Beverly Cambridge Carlisle Charlestown
Chelmsford Concord Danvers Dedham
Dorchester Framingham Lexington Lincoln
Lynn Littleton Medford Milton
Menotomy Needham Newton Pepperell
Roxbury Reading Salem Stow
Sudbury Watertown Westford Woburn

These thirty-two towns started resistance to the "duly-constituted authorities," and began a revolution which was to lead to America's independence. These thirty-two towns in Massachusetts may well be considered the nucleus of independent United States.


Home    Contents    Next