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Setting the Stage

In December 1773, in an era of increasing tensions between England and her American colonies, American patriots in Boston staged the Boston Tea Party. Massachusetts was at the forefront of colonial agitation and resistance and in response to the Tea Party, England’s Parliament, with the support of King George III, decided to punish Boston and Massachusetts by passing the Coercive Acts (known as the Intolerable Acts in the colonies). These acts shut down the port of Boston and suspended the colonial assembly. To show how serious the government was, England sent large numbers of British troops to be garrisoned in Boston to enforce the law as the Royal Navy ringed the port with their warships to keep Boston harbor closed. These actions cut off trade, crippled the economy, and put colonists out of work. British soldiers and colonists, now living in close proximity, frequently brawled in the streets and in the taverns. People who had never paid much attention to political affairs now became overt or secret supporters of one side or the other. Those who resisted British authority were known as “Patriots” or “Whigs” while those who supported the Crown and Parliament’s actions were known as “Loyalists” or “Tories.” Most Patriots in 1775 were not interested in independence, but rather were seeking to be treated as British subjects in England were. In 1774, Massachusetts and the other colonies sent representatives to meet in Philadelphia and discuss how to resolve these problems. This meeting became known as the First Continental Congress. The following year, as events in Massachusetts began to be felt in the other twelve colonies, a Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to continue to seek ways in which to restore harmonious relations between England and all her colonies.

In late summer, 1774, General Thomas Gage, as Royal Governor of Massachusetts, suspended the elected colonial legislature. In defiance of his order, the delegates decided to form the First Massachusetts Provincial Congress. In October of 1774, the Provincial Congress, directed the establishment of the minute companies, from existing militia, “...to enlist one quarter of ye least of the number of the respective companies, and form them into companies of fifty privates at the least who shall equip and hold themselves in readiness on the shortest notice…”1 Biased patriot centered broadsides and newspaper reports fueled and provoked hostility. Tensions ran high by the spring of 1775 as Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, was forced to deal with an ever growing tide of resistance.

1 The Journals of each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, Dutton and Wentworth, Printers to the State, Boston, 1838, pp. 33 - 34.

 


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