Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775

Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775

by Derek W. Beck


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492613954
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Award-winning author Derek W. Beck has always had a passion for military history, which inspired him to start his career in the U.S. Air Force. He has served as an officer on Active Duty in science roles and in space operations. In 2005, he earned a Master of Science degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he also fell in love with Boston's revolutionary past. To more fully pursue writing, he later transitioned to the Air Force Reserves, though he still remains quite active, presently holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Derek's first book, Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775, was published in October 2015 by Sourcebooks. When not working on future history books, Derek is a frequent contributor to the online Journal of the American Revolution. You can follow or connect with him through his website at www.derekbeck.com.

Read an Excerpt

Igniting the American Revolution : 1773â"1775

By Derek W. Beck

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Derek W. Beck
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4926-1396-1


Dawn of an Epoch

It began in late 1773.

December 16 was a dark, dank night, the thin crescent moon having at first been obscured by showery overcast, only to pass below the horizon just as the drizzle tapered off. The waters in the harbor were calm as the waves lapped softly against the sodden wharves. Except for the gentle wooden creaking of the various sail ships against their hemp moorings, all was eerily quiet in the little New England town of Boston.

Splash! The stillness of the night was shattered only for a moment, then instantly silent once more. Hack! Smack! The tranquility was broke once more, this time from the cracking of hatchets into hollow wooden crates. This hacking echoed across the harbor, followed by another heavy splash. Then more hatcheting. Splash!

These sounds came from Griffin's Wharf on the southeast side of Boston, where the two transports Dartmouth and Eleanor were docked, each holding 114 chests of detested East India Company tea onboard. Moored nearby was the brig Beaver with another 112 chests. Altogether, the shipment was 92,616 pounds of dutied tea (about 21 million cups of tea), worth about £9,659 then, and more than a million U.S. dollars today.

All along the wharf, a large but hushed crowd of spectators, including Bostonians and curious folk in from the countryside, watched as an extraordinary event unfolded. Parties of men dressed as "Mohawk Indians" worked to hoist the tea chests onto the decks of the three ships, while more worked to hatchet those chests open, pulling the loose-leaf tea from within and then tossing the tea and the chests overboard into the harbor.

* * *

For several years, the East India Company had been suffering financial problems, due in part to its own poor business practices, resulting in overdue loans to London banks and a massive surplus of unsold tea amounting to nearly three times its annual turnover. By December 1772, company officials had determined they could safely reduce their inventory to one year's worth of tea and sell off the remainder to inject some much-needed income, for some ninety percent of the company's profits came from tea.

But selling this surplus in Britain would mean unfavorable tax liabilities as well as restrictions to sell only at wholesale. If the company instead sold the surplus in Europe, that would depress the tea market there and encourage smuggling of the cheaper tea back to England, thus undercutting the company's sales at home. So the company ultimately devised a plan to sell the surplus tea at a steep discount in America. The problem was that, by law, the company had never before been permitted to export to America; that was a service provided by various merchants serving as middlemen. Consequently, the proposed plan had to be laid before the British Ministry, which had already deemed the company too powerful to let it founder and was even now moving to take some degree of control over it.

There was one important nuance to this scheme that seemed irrelevant at the time. Upon import to America, the tea would be subject to a tea duty of three pence per pound — the only remaining import tax left from the otherwise repealed Revenue Act of 1767, which the colonists had vehemently opposed. But ever since that partial repeal, American protestations had almost disappeared. In their place, colonists had returned to their avid consumption of tea, especially in Boston, where tea imports reached near-record highs. The British Ministry therefore had little reason to worry about this remaining tax on what was to be otherwise discounted tea. After all, it was expected that the colonists should be delighted to pay less for their tea.

Of the various teas the East India Company offered, their primary product was consumer-grade Bohea black tea, grown in the Bohea Hills (now Wuyi Shan) of Fujian Province, China. The company determined to sell this bestselling Bohea leaf at a steep discount of two shillings per pound, which included the tax. Though such a low price would still not undercut illegally smuggled Dutch tea — the primary supply for New York City and Philadelphia — the East India Company could expect a significant profit from the Boston market, whose primary source was legally imported tea from England. The Tea Act of May 10, 1773, made the scheme official.

Initially, the American response was mild. The first reaction came from New York, where smugglers and conspiring merchants worried that strong enforcement of the new act would cut into their considerable illicit profits. They justified their opposition by warning colonists that the East India Company would create a monopoly in America, squashing small merchants and businessmen. Philadelphia soon followed suit, then went further by demanding that its local East India Company consignees resign, which, after considerable public protest, they did. American merchants also worried about the implications of this huge government-backed monopoly and the precedent it could set for more government controls in other industries.

Slowly, the American resistance grew and reshaped itself into a defensible and legitimate argument: the Tea Act was a renewed effort by the British Ministry to force-feed America a tax it had never consented to. Despite the fact that Americans had accepted the tea tax left over from the former Revenue Act, public sentiment was soon roused against this new massive tea shipment. From their perspective, Parliament appeared to once again be forcing overt recognition of its claim to tax America. And so the Tea Act rekindled the flames of antipathy between the colonies and the mother country.

Boston, however, was slow to respond to the mounting crisis. Instead, radicals there were preoccupied with another issue: that its governing authorities might soon be paid directly by Parliament, thus stripping the colony of fiduciary control over its crown officers and thereby eliminating the colony's balance of power with its local government and violating its colonial charter. (John Adams allegedly admitted years later that, had there not been resistance led elsewhere, Boston would probably have accepted the tea, duty and all.) But when Boston saw the response of her sister seaports, she soon responded with a kind of mob violence that had grown typical for the town over the past decade when protesting tax-related acts of Parliament.

It began with harassment and threats, with Boston radicals demanding that once the tea arrived, the East India Company's local consignees send it back to England. The consignees stalled for weeks until the radicals set a town meeting and demanded the six consignees attend to resign their commissions. When the consignees failed to attend, a mob stormed one of their stores, where the consignees were known to be meeting. The consignees rushed to a secure counting room and there remained until the mob at last dispersed, and then spirited themselves to the safety of the secluded island fortress of Castle William in Boston Harbor, having never agreed to the mob's demands.

Amid this turmoil, on November 28, 1773, the transport Dartmouth came up Boston Harbor, carrying with it the first of the detested, dutied tea. Dartmouth first moored under the sixty-four protective guns of the HMS Captain, the flagship of Rear Admiral of the Blue John Montagu, fleet commander in North America. But when Dartmouth's Capt. James Hall came ashore, the Sons of Liberty, an organized group of radical protesters led by Samuel Adams, either induced or coerced him to bring his Dartmouth up to the town and dock it at Griffin's Wharf instead. There the Sons of Liberty could guard the ship and ensure the tea was not off-loaded, which would weaken their goal to get the tea sent back to England. That position also meant the Royal Navy could not intervene, in case the radicals turned aggressive, for if the Navy dared fire at Dartmouth, they would also be firing into the town.

The second transport, Eleanor, arrived on December 2, and her captain also was ordered to moor at Griffin's Wharf, this time by the year-old Committee of Correspondence. This committee acted on behalf of the popularly elected General Assembly, which had gradually grown more defiant against the royal governor because of his perceived support of all the recent controversial acts of Parliament. (Akin to the modern state's house of representatives, the General Assembly was the people's only direct representative at the colonial level.) A third tea ship, the brig Beaver, was observed in Massachusetts Bay on December 7. But with her tea, she also brought smallpox, and so she remained to the south for cleansing and smoking before she sailed within sight of the other tea ships on the fifteenth. (A fourth, the brig William, had blown ashore on the back side of Cape Cod and was totally destroyed, but her cargo was salvable and later brought to Castle William.)

Now that the tea had arrived, the transport captains were in a quandary. They cared little about the political debate surrounding their goods, but worried greatly about their business. First, they offered to deliver their cargo, but the consignees refused to accept it, citing the resolves and fury of the townspeople. The ships' captains thus had no one to deliver the tea to.

Worse, per a parliamentary act of 1696, customs officials could confiscate a ship's lucrative cargo if duties were not paid within twenty days after the ship's arrival, and for Dartmouth, this was December 17. If this happened, the captains would owe the East India Company for the loss. For Boston radicals, confiscation was just as unacceptable as having the tea properly landed. The customs officers would then sell the confiscated tea at a discount, and radical leaders knew well that the tea-drinking populace would not remain so obdurate if discounted tea became widely available.

Nor could the transport captains simply return to England, because trade laws dictated that cargo once exported, if returned to the mother country, was subject to confiscation by authorities there. Not that it mattered. Castle William stood guard over the only water approach into and out of Boston, and both it and the Royal Navy had long-standing orders to seize or destroy any departing vessel without a pass — which Boston customs officers were refusing to issue to the tea ships until the duties were paid. Even Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to issue a pass, judging it a matter for the customs officers. As it was, the transport captains were stuck, and the bureaucracy of the local officials turned a bad situation worse.

On December 16 afternoon, the eve of the twentieth day for Dartmouth (the other transports still had a few days more), more than five thousand people from the town and neighboring countryside descended on Boston to see how the quandary would be resolved. The still-standing two-story, redbrick Old South Meeting House, with its tall, white steeple adorned with a massive clock, had for decades served both as a public gathering place and a church. Though it was the largest building in town, it could not hold the throng, which spilled onto the street. There the people heard radical leaders preach firmness and resolve against the encroaching powers of Parliament. Among them were fifty-one-year-old Samuel Adams (only his enemies called him Sam), thirty-six-year-old John Hancock, and young Josiah Quincy Jr., just twenty-nine.

At length, Francis Rotch, acting on behalf of his father, Joseph, the owner of the Dartmouth, was sent by the boisterous town meeting to call on the governor at his countryside home in Milton and plead for a pass to allow his ship's departure along with her tea. But Governor Hutchinson remained resolute, claiming that permitting the ship to sail without clearance from customs would be a violation of the Acts of Trade.

Boston had already grown dark at quarter till six, when the disheartened young Rotch returned more than two hours later to Old South and gave his pitiful news. To this, the crowd erupted, "A mob! A mob!" Some spectators began to slip out to the streets. Eleanor owner John Rowe asked, "Who knows how tea will mingle with salt water?" To this, the applause intensified. But order was quickly restored as radical Dr. Thomas Young reminded the crowd that Rotch had endeavored to comply with the town's demands.

The meeting's moderator Samuel Savage then asked: would Rotch send away his vessel, tea and all, under the present circumstances? Rotch answered he could not possibly comply, for doing so would completely ruin him. When asked if he would then land the tea, Rotch said he would not, unless forced by the government. At this, Samuel Adams said he could "think of nothing further to be done ... for the Salvation of their Country".

As even more spectators slipped away, the meeting continued with some final formalities for several minutes. Then, "hideous Yelling ... [came from the street] as of an Hundred People, some imitating ... [war whoops] of Indians and others the Whistle of a Boatswain, which was answered by some few in the House": "Boston harbor a tea-pot tonight!" "Hurrah for Griffin's Wharf!" "The Mohawks are come!" Cheers erupted in Old South as many more poured onto the streets. As one witness wrote, "What with that, and the consequent noise of breaking up the meeting, you'd thought that the inhabitants of the infernal regions had broke loose." Samuel Adams tried to stay the crowd by declaring the meeting not yet done, and Dr. Young gave a speech on the (dubious) ill health effects of tea for maybe fifteen minutes before a crowd that had shrank to less than a hundred. But in truth, Young's speech was a ruse; Adams and his radical colleagues desired an alibi while events began to unfold outside.

Meanwhile, the crowd outside parted to reveal upward of one hundred disguised men thought to resemble Mohawk Indians, their faces smeared with grease and soot, some in rags, others "cloath'd in Blankets with the heads muffled, and copper color'd countenances, being each arm'd with a hatchet or axe, and pair pistols". They spoke in code to one another, but "their jargon was unintelligible to all but themselves."

These men knew they were about to commit a crime, and though their fervor had obliged them to participate on moral grounds, they feared retribution. They pulled off their incognitos so well that one participant noted, "[we] should not have known each other except by our voices. Our most intimate friends among the spectators had not the least knowledge of us." Most would take their secret involvement to their graves, but the most famous participant may have been Paul Revere.

These "Mohawks" quickly formed ranks and marched off through the parted crowd toward Griffin's Wharf, the spectators following closely behind. As they reached their destination, they split into three parties. Two groups boarded the tea ships Dartmouth and Eleanor moored at Griffin's Wharf, aboard which they found customs officials and forced them ashore. The other went by boat to the nearby Beaver, commandeered her, and warped her alongside the other two vessels.

As Beaver hauled in, "Mohawks" on the other two ships began their work silently and without fanfare. Some dropped into the hold and secured the blocks and tackles to the heavy tea chests. Others hoisted the chests onto the spar deck. The rest put their hatchets to work, staving in the wooden chests to reveal the aromatic Bohea black tea, only to then pour the loose-leaf overboard, into the water, before finally heaving over the shattered chests themselves.


Excerpted from Igniting the American Revolution : 1773â"1775 by Derek W. Beck. Copyright © 2015 Derek W. Beck. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Acknowledgments ix

Part 1 Ratcheting Tensions (1773 to 1774) 1

Chapter 1 Dawn of an Epoch 3

Chapter 2 Coercive Measures 18

Chapter 3 An Army from Across the Sea 33

Chapter 4 An Unstable Peace 50

Part 2 Taking Up Arms (January to Mid-May 1775) 71

Chapter 5 A Disquieting Thaw 73

Chapter 6 Many Preparations 98

Chapter 7 The Die Is Cast 110

Chapter 8 The Rending of an Empire 145

Chapter 9 A Countryside Unleashed 177

Chapter 10 An Emboldened People 217

Chapter 11 The Spreading Flames of Rebellion 247

Epilogue 271

Abbreviations 273

Appendixes 275

Notes 357

Bibliography 443

Index 464

About the Author 468

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Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didnt want it to end
TamesinEustis More than 1 year ago
Derek Beck’s first book, Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775, is sure to ignite new appreciation for the Revolutionary period. In this age of “popularized” versions of American history, which too often sacrifice accuracy for glitz, Beck has attained that magical balance of truth in reporting and engaging storytelling. He retells familiar stories (the Boston Tea Party, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and Ticonderoga) by drawing on a vast well of original letters and diaries, which allows the characters to tell much of the story themselves and injects colorful realism at all points of the tale. Lesser-known events such as the early Powder Alarms and back-room dealings are also presented in an equally engaging way. Kudos also goes to Beck for not picking a particular hero or villain – American or British – and instead emphasizing the “grey areas” of human responses to world-shattering events. From committee meetings to the battlefield, the years leading up to the Revolution are presented more as a fascinating game of chess than as a battle between good and evil. It’s a refreshing approach, and proves that truth is just as, if not more, riveting than fiction. Aside from the very readable main body of the book, Beck also presents numerous appendices and extensive notes, a treasure trove for researchers and anyone who wishes to delve more deeply into the details of military maneuverings. The years 1773-1775 were only just the beginning of America’s revolutionary history, and this reader hopes that Derek Beck will continue to see us through with future titles.
SamForman More than 1 year ago
Joseph Warren, my biographical subject, is one of many characters that Beck deftly incorporates into his account of the British North American colonies on the brink of rebellion. Along the way he brings insights into his subjects’ characters, while jumping freely and smoothly between authentic detail and the arc of major events. His telling of the origin of the American Revolution emphasizes key personalities amongst colonial Americans as well as British leaders. In his characterization of Warren, Derek Beck has performed original scholarship in reconstructing this lesser-known American founder’s personal life as well as forensics utilizing post-mortem pictures of Warren’s remains. Comparable original insights come fast and furious, such as a gripping account of battles at Lexington and Concord. 'Igniting the Revolution' is a refreshing and, I believe, one of the best ever written accounts of a critical portion of the formation of the United States as a nation. Beck’s novelistic, almost cinematic presentation makes this a particularly delightful read. In addition to gaining readers, I hope that future popular media renderings of the era - such as the recent History Channel Sons of Liberty, will base their presentations on Mr. Beck’s work as opposed to presenting fanciful fiction as historical fact. The real story, as related by Derek Beck, is far more compelling. In a project of this size and scope, one is bound to find aspects with which to disagree. One thing that comically stuck out for me was the characterization of British lieutenant colonel and later general Francis Smith, who led the British soldiers confronting American militiamen on the iconic Lexington Green at the outset of the Revolutionary War. Smith’s chief sin would appear to have been obesity. Never mind that Benjamin Franklin could also be presented in such a bariatric manner. In Smith’s case the physical characterization is especially unsympathetic. It seems to be shorthand for him being slow of mind and dimwitted. Picky, picky! For me this was the exception among hundreds of pages and many expertly presented and entertaining vignettes. This book is particularly strong in characterizing the breakdown of civil government and subsequent outbreak of hostilities. The work focuses on pivotal events in the Northeast circa 1773-1775 and to a lesser extent other geographies. General readers will be delighted in the main flow of the narrative. Specialists and scholars will be impressed by extensive footnotes and appendices. These amply demonstrate the broad base of primary source material on which Derek Beck builds his engaging book. They also present alternate viewpoints and interpretations for those aspects equivocal in primary sources. General readers may want to skip over the appendices, losing nothing of the broad sweep and excitement of the narrative. I hope 'Igniting the Revolution' finds its place among the classic renderings of the American Revolution, both for its readability and base of accurate and often new scholarship. I believe readers will look forward to further contributions from this new voice chronicling American history in a most engaging manner. - Samuel A. Forman, author of the new young adult novel 'Twenty-One Heroes' and the American founders biography 'Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty.'
Swimminghitsuji More than 1 year ago
This book was a great read! I am recommending this book to everyone. US history is not my usual genre of choice but Derek Beck does a wonderful job of telling the story starting from the Boston Tea Party thru Ticonderoga. He fills in the gaps between the common highlights that are taught in school with nuance and details drawn from original sources such as letters and diaries. It is written in a way that is both engaging, informative, and easy to follow. Sometimes I forgot I was reading non-fiction. I learned a lot by reading this book. I now have a deeper understanding of what went into the American Revolution. My previous knowledge was limited to "no taxation without representation", the intolerable Acts, and a few scrimmages. There was so much more! For instance, the Powder Alarms where particularly new to me. The book does a great job giving insight and details into the who, what and why the colonies were heading to revolution. I never knew much about Joseph Warren. He played such an important role in the shaping of our country. Why he glossed over in our history books is beyond me. I whole hardily recommend this book to everyone.