Prerevolutionary period 1750-1775
January 1750 “No Taxation Without Representation!” first used in American colonies by Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in a famous sermon in Boston, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission, advocating virtue as a defence against tyranny.
1751 Parliament prohibits the issue of paper money in New England.
1754 The Albany Plan of Union is drafted by Benjamin Franklin. The idea is to form a Grand Council, of delegates from each colony to levy taxes and provide for the common defence. The colonial assemblies reject Franklin’s idea, since the Grand Council would clearly curtail their own powers.
1756-1763 The French and Indian War / The Seven Years’ War between Great Britain and France and their respective allies. British victory is ratified in the Treaty of Paris (1763) making Britain and Spain the dominant powers in North America.
1763 Following the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Proclamation of 1763 signed by King George III of Great Britain prohibits any British settlement west of the Appalachian mountains and requires those already settled in those regions to return east in an attempt to ease tensions with Native Americans.
April 5, 1764 The Sugar Act is passed replacing the Molasses Act, bringing increased duties on imported sugar (of 3d per gallon) and coffee, indigo dye, textiles and wines. No French wine or foreign rum could be imported to the colonies, and foreign goods reshipped from Britain to the colonies had their duties doubled.
A new Vice Admiralty Court is established in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with jurisdiction over all of the American colonies in trade matters.
April 19, 1764 The Currency Act extends prohibition of paper money to colonies south of New England.
August 1764 Boston merchants agree on non-importation of British luxury goods to counter the Sugar Act. Other colonies follow from September.
March 22, 1765 The Stamp Act is passed, the first direct tax on the North American colonies by Parliament in their 150 year-old history. From November 1, 1765 Americans will pay this tax not to their own local legislatures in America, but directly to Britain. Under the Act, all printed materials are taxed including bills, newspapers, legal documents, licenses, pamphlets, almanacs, dice and playing cards. Parliament attempts compromise by exempting ships under 20 tons from detailed documentation and allows direct importation of colonial iron and lumber to Ireland.
March 24, 1765 The First Quartering Act is passed, requiring local officials to provide British troops barracks and supplies in inns, taverns and livery stables in the event that the barracks for soldiers and officers do not provide sufficient space. The colonies are to pay innkeepers and tavern owners for the use of their property.
May 29, 1765 Of the seven Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions proposed by Patrick Henry and George Johnston claiming that only the Virginia assembly can legally tax Virginia residents, five are passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses. The fifth resolve is rescinded the next day by the more conservative members of the House, because it declares any attempt to assume the power of taxation—other than by the General Assembly of Virginia—”has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.” All of the “resolves” (as formal resolutions are called during this period) are reprinted in papers across the colonies.
July 1765 The Sons of Liberty, an underground organization opposed to the Stamp Act, is formed in a number of towns throughout the thirteen American colonies. Tactics of violence and intimidation employed by its members eventually force all British stamp agents to resign, rendering the Stamp Act unenforceable in most colonies. The Sons of Liberty also convince many American merchants to cease orders of British trade goods.
August 14, 1765 A mob in Boston hang an effigy of Stamp Collector Andrew Oliver from Liberty Tree, a famous elm tree near Boston Common, and burn his house. Oliver decides to resign the next day and on August 17 is compelled to publicly resign his commission. Four months later he would be forced again to swear publicly that he will never act as Stamp Collector.
August 26, 1765 A mob in Boston attacks the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Chief Justice of Massachusetts, as Hutchinson and his family narrowly escape. Acts such as this, and the intimidation of Andrew Oliver, though condemned by the Sons of Liberty, help achieve their aim of making the Stamp Act an unenforceable law.
October 7-25, 1765 Stamp Act Congress, attended by eight colonies, meets in New York City to devise a unified protest against the Stamp Act coming into being on November 1. Ratifies John Dickinson’s “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” (Oct. 19) which, in addition to the specific protests against the Stamp Act, upholds that: Only the colonial assemblies had a right to tax the colonies (“no taxation without representation”); Colonists possessed all the Rights of Englishmen; Trial by jury was a right, and the use of Admiralty Courts was abusive; Without voting rights, Parliament could not represent the colonists. It prepares a resolution to be sent to King George III requesting the repeal of the Stamp Act.
October 28, 1765 New York agreement on non-importation of British goods. Other colonists follow.
November 1, 1765 The Stamp Act comes into effect in the colonies, with many daily transactions ceasing. Many colonists continue to conduct business without stamps, however. New York City is beset by violent protests.
December 1766 The American boycott of English imports spreads, as over 200 Boston merchants join the movement.
January, 1766 The Second Quartering Act billets troops on unoccupied taverns and dwellings. New York refuses to comply.
January 17, 1766 Petitions of British merchants affected by boycotts reach Parliament.
February 13, 1766 Benjamin Franklin testifies to Parliament that the Stamp Act is an “internal tax” and that Parliament is restricted to levying “external taxes”. He warns of a possible revolution in the American colonies if the Stamp Act is enforced by the British military.
March 18, 1766 Repeal of Stamp Act. The same day, Indemnity Act prevents prosecution of non-compliants, the Declaratory Act however asserts Parliament’s right to legislate for colonies “in all cases whatsoever”, and the Sons of Liberty disband.
April 1766 News of the repeal of the Stamp Act results in celebrations in the colonies and a relaxation of the boycott of imported British trade goods.
August 1766 Violence breaks out in New York between British soldiers and armed colonists, including members of the restarted Sons of Liberty due to New York colony’s continued refusal to comply with the Quartering Act.
November 1, 1766 American Trade Act reduces duty on molasses to 1d per gallon and establishes two freeports in the Caribbean.
December 1766 New York legislature suspended after voting against compliance with the Quartering Act.
June 6, 1767 New York Assembly finally appropriates money for quartering, but petitions Parliament to repeal.
June 29, 1767 Townshend Acts are passed by Parliament imposing a new series of taxes on the colonists to offset the costs of administering and protecting the American colonies. Items taxed include imports such as paper, glass, tea, lead and paints. Parliament believes colonists would accept “external taxes” such as these as tariffs on goods imported to America.
The Act also creates a colonial duty collection and enforcement agency, the Board of Customs Commissioners in Boston.
The Sons of Liberty reorganize in various colonies.
October 1767 Bostonians reinstate a boycott of British luxury items.
November 5, 1767 Customs officials arrive in Boston.
December 30, 1767 Samuel Adams’ Circular Letter condemning the Townshend Acts is adopted by Massachusetts General Court.
December 31, 1767 Non-importation agreements within and among various colonies commence.
February 11, 1768 Adams’ Circular Letter is sent to assemblies throughout the colonies, opposing taxation without representation and calling for the colonists to unite in their actions against the British government, and instructing them on the methods the Massachusetts General Court is using to oppose the Townshend Acts.
March 1768 New Vice Admiralty Courts are established in Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston.
April 21, 1768 Lord Hillsborough, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, orders colonial governors to stop their own assemblies from endorsing Adams’ Circular Letter. Hillsborough also orders the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the General Court if the Massachusetts assembly does not revoke the letter. By the end of April the assemblies of New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey have endorsed the letter.
May, 1768 A British warship armed with 50 cannons sails into Boston harbour following a call for help from custom commissioners who are constantly being harassed by Boston agitators.
June 10, 1768 Customs officials seize the Liberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock. This follows an incident of a customs official being locked up in the ship’s cabin and the illegal unloading of imported wine into Boston without payment of duties. After attacks from Bostonians (“Liberty Riot”), the Customs Commissioners escape to Castle William an island off Boston (June 11), then request military aid (June 15).
July 1768 Governor of Massachusetts dissolves the General Court after the legislature defies his order to revoke Adams’ Circular Letter.
July 1768 Merchants in Boston and New York boycott British goods until the Townshend Acts are repealed.
September 1768 Massachusetts Convention meets to discuss the Townshend Acts. At a town meeting in Boston, residents are urged to arm themselves.
October 1, 1768 British warships arrive in Boston harbour and leave two of commander of all British military forces in the colonies General Thomas Gage’s infantry regiments to set up permanent residence in the town to enforce customs laws and keep order.
January 26, 1769 MP Isaac Barré predicts revolt of the American colonists if Parliament persists in taxation policy.
February 9, 1769 Parliament revives Statute of Henry VIII for juryless trials of provincials in London.
March 1769 Merchants in Philadelphia join the boycott of British trade goods.
May 1769 Massachusetts voters ousts rescinders and return supporters of the Circular Letter, including John Hancock.
May 16, 1769 George Mason writes resolutions presented by George Washington to the Virginia House of Burgesses opposing taxation without representation, stating that only Virginia’s governor and legislature could tax its citizens. They additionally condemn Britain’s stationing of troops in Boston following the adoption of Samuel Adams’ Circular Letter, and British plans to possibly send American agitators to Britain for trial. The members draft a formal letter to the King.
Ten days later, the Governor of Virginia dissolves the House of Burgesses. However, the prorogued Burgesses meet the next day in a Williamsburg tavern and adopt the Virginia Association, a non-importation organization which boycotts British trade goods, luxury items and slaves.
August 1, 1769 On departure of Francis Bernard, Hutchinson becomes Governor of Massachusetts.
October 1769 Rhode Island, New Jersey and North Carolina join boycott of British goods.
December 1769 Cabinet decides to repeal all Townshend Duties except that on tea.
January 19, 1770 Confrontations between 40 soldiers and members of the Sons of Liberty in New York City over the posting of broadsheets by the British culminate in the Battle of Golden Hill. Several men are seriously wounded with one of the townsfolk fatally stabbed.
March 1770 On Hillsborough’s instruction Hutchinson moves Massachusetts General Court to Cambridge. This inspires controversy over metropolitan alteration of colonial custom. Irish patriot Charles Lucas pens Letter to the Town of Boston opposing attacks by the British ministry.
Samuel Adams mounts campaign of opposition to British military presence.
March 5, 1770 The Boston Massacre occurs as a mob harasses British soldiers who then fire their muskets pointblank into the crowd, killing three instantly, mortally wounding two others and injuring six.
After the incident, the new Governor Hutchinson, at the insistence of Samuel Adams, withdraws British troops out of Boston to nearby harbour islands. The captain of the British soldiers, Thomas Preston, is then arrested along with eight of his men and charged with murder.
March 5, 1770 Parliament debates repeal of Duties.
April 12, 1770 The Townshend Acts, except tea duty and Board of Customs Commissioners, are repealed along with the Quartering Act. The Repeal of Townshend Acts does not include the principle of making governors and magistrates independent of assemblies and answerable to the Crown.
October 1770 Trial begins for the British soldiers arrested after the Boston Massacre. Colonial lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy successfully defend Captain Preston and six of his men, who are acquitted on December 4, 1770. Two other soldiers are during that same verdict found guilty of manslaughter, branded on the thumb, and then released.
January 1771 Non-importation ends and trade returns to normal.
September 1771 Samuel Adams, concerned about quiescence, proposes a network of corresponding societies to instruct and arouse the public. Boston Town Meeting forms Committee of Correspondence. Other towns follow.
June 10, 1772 A British customs schooner called the Gaspée runs aground off Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay. Colonists from Providence row out to the schooner and attack it, set the British crew ashore, then burn the ship. In September, a 500 pound reward is offered by the Crown for the capture of those colonists, who would then be sent to Britain for trial. The announcement that they would be sent to Britain further upsets many American colonists. Judge Stephen Hopkins prevents arrest of offenders.
June 13, 1772 Hutchinson announces he would now receive his salary from the Crown. General Court expresses resentment at gubernatorial escape from accountability to legislature.
November 1772 Boston Town Meeting assembles, called by Samuel Adams. During the meeting, a 21-member Committee of Correspondence is appointed to communicate with other towns and colonies.
A few weeks later, Boston Committee of Correspondence endorses Samuel Adams’ A State of the Rights of the Colonists, with its three radical proclamations asserting the rights of the colonies to self-rule, and other writings.
March 1773 The Virginia Burgesses appoint an eleven-member Committee of Correspondence to communicate with the other colonies regarding common complaints against the British government. Members of that committee include Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. The Virginia Committee of Correspondence is followed a few months later by similar Committees in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and South Carolina.
May 10, 1773 The Tea Act takes effect. It maintains a threepenny per pound import tax on tea arriving in the colonies, which had already been in effect for six years. It also gives the near-bankrupt British East India Company a virtual tea monopoly by allowing it to sell directly to colonial agents, bypassing any middlemen, thus underselling American merchants. The East India Company had successfully lobbied Parliament for such a measure. In September, Parliament authorizes the company to ship half a million pounds of tea to a group of chosen tea agents.
June 15, 1773 The Currency Act is modified by Parliament to permit issue of paper money through loan offices to pay public debts.
September 1773 The North Carolina Assembly devises a new superior court law ignoring royal prohibition of laws for confiscating non-residents property in debt suits. Controversy paralyzes North Carolina legislature until Independence.
October 16, 1773 Colonists hold a mass meeting in Philadelphia in opposition to the Tea Act and the monopoly of the East India Company. A committee then forces British tea agents to resign their positions. Virginians and Bostonians call on colonists to form inter-colonial correspondence committees.
November 1773 Boston Town Meeting endorses the actions taken by Philadelphia colonists. Bostonians then try (November 6), but fail, to get their British tea agents to resign. A few weeks later, three ships bearing tea, the Darmouth, Eleanor and Beaver sail into Boston harbour.
November 29 and 30, 1773 Two mass meetings are held in Boston over what to do about the tea aboard the three ships now docked in Boston harbour. Bostonians decide to send the tea on the ship, Dartmouth, back to Britain without paying any import duties. Governor Hutchinson opposes this plan and orders harbour officials not to let the ship sail out of the harbour unless the tea taxes have been paid.
December 1773 Samuel Adams secures publication of letters by Governors Bernard and Hutchinson advocating reduction of colonial liberties.
December 16, 1773 About 8000 Bostonians gather to hear Samuel Adams tell them that Governor Hutchinson has repeated his command not to allow the ships out of the harbour until the tea taxes are paid. That night, the Boston Tea Party occurs as Sons of Liberty disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians then board the three ships and dump all 342 containers (90,000 lb) of tea into the harbour.
January 29, 1774 An angry Parliament passes the Coercive or ‘Intolerable’ Acts comprising of the Boston Port Act (to take effect from March 31, 1774) shutting down all commercial shipping in Boston harbour until Massachusetts payed the taxes owed on the tea dumped in the harbour and also reimbursed the East India Company for the loss of the tea; Massachusetts Regulating Act and the Government Act (May 20) providing that the King appoint Council members, royal officials in Massachusetts be protected from being sued in colonial courts and town meetings occur only annually and discuss only local matters; Administration of Justice Act (May 20) providing for trials of provincials in other colonies or in Britain away from sympathetic juries; Quartering Act (June 2) billeting troops on unoccupied buildings.
In addition, the Quebec Act (June 22) establishes a centralized government in Canada controlled by the British and, controversially, extends the southern boundary of Canada into territories claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia. It guarantees free practice of the Roman Catholic faith and transfers jurisdiction of western lands to the Canadian Catholic colony governed by French civil law with no jury trials or elected assembly.
March 1774 Barré reminds Parliament of the vast importance of American commerce to Britain.
March 8, 1774 Massachusetts Assembly tries to prohibit the slave trade but is prorogued the next day.
May 12, 1774 Bostonians at a town meeting call for a boycott of British imported goods in response to the Boston Port Act.
May 13, 1774 General Gage arrives in Boston to replace Hutchinson as Governor, putting Massachusetts under military rule. He is followed by the arrival of four regiments of British troops in Boston.
May 17-23, 1774 Rhode Island issues the first call for an inter-colonial grand congress against the Coercive Acts. New York and Pennsylvania soon follow.
May-August 1774 Crowds close Massachusetts court houses in response to the Coercive Acts and force judges to resign in public ceremonies.
June 5, 1774 Solemn League and Covenant is drawn up by the Boston Committee of Correspondence, binding subscribers to end trade in and consumption of British imports as of October 1.
June 17, 1774 Massachusetts calls for a “Continental Congress”. All colonies except Georgia begin electing delegates.
Gage dissolves Massachusetts General Court. Representatives meet illegally in Concord and invite the Pre-Government Act Council to resume business as if still under the 1691 Charter. Other colonial legislatures similarly ignore prorogations and dissolutions.
September 1, 1774 Boston-based British troops seize cannon and powder from stores in Charles Town and Cambridge.
September 9, 1774 Joseph Warren presents “Suffolk Resolves” advocating non-importation, though most colonies prefer to await actions by Continental Congress.
Publications voicing opposition to measures of Parliament include Thomas Jefferson’s Summary View of the Rights of British America.
Jamaica sends “Petition and Memorial” to George III supporting Massachusetts. Other island governors report a “republican spirit.” In Parliament itself William Pitt (the Elder), 1st Earl of Chatham, John Wilkes, Edmund Burke and Barré maintain vocal dissent.
October 7, 1774 Massachusetts House, meeting in Salem, declares itself a Provincial Congress. Massachusetts Congress names John Hancock to head Committee of Safety authorized to call out militia. Calls on localities to drill militia (February 1775).
September 5-October 26, 1774 First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia with 56 delegates, representing every colony, except Georgia. The Congress declares its opposition to all the Coercive Acts, saying they are “not to be obeyed,” and also promotes the formation of local militia units (September 17).
Rejects “Plan of Union” presented by Joseph Galloway for an American Congress sharing power with Parliament (September 28). Adopts “Declaration and Resolves” against the Coercive Acts and taxation without representation (October 14). Warns Massachusetts to avoid aggression but promises aid if attacked. Adopts Continental Association for non-importation and authorizes local Committees of Inspection to enforce embargo if demands not met within one year (October 18). Congress forms this Continental Association on October 24, non-importation taking effect on December 1 and enforced locally by the Committees of Inspection.
The rights to “life, liberty and property” are asserted and delegates agree to boycott British imports, effect an embargo of exports to Britain and discontinue the slave trade. Adjourns (October 26), resolving to reconvene next May.
December 1774 Pamphlet controversy between John Adams, writing as “Novanglus” and Daniel Leonard, as “Massachusettensis,” who argues in favour of Crown sovereignty whereby liberty is granted at pleasure. Adams replies that sovereignty is grounded in consent and Parliament’s power is limited to regulating external trade.
December 14, 1774 A band led by John Sullivan, warned by Paul Revere of plan to garrison Portsmouth, New Hampshire, peacefully overawes guards at Fort William and Mary and carries off arms and powder.
January 20, 1775 Chatham’s conciliatory Provisional Bill rejected by House of Lords. It had laid out plans for Parliament to remain sovereign in America but renounce taxation power over the thirteen colonies.
February 1, 1775 In Cambridge, Massachusetts Provincial Congress meet, during which meeting John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren begin defensive preparations for a state of war. The Provincial Congress appoints Warren and Dr. Benjamin Church to oversee medical needs of local militia. Committee of Safety later finds surgeons inadequately trained. Congress further shows increased professionalization of medicine through the creation of the Army Medical Department (May), although it suffered from inadequate funds and feuding administrators. Benjamin Church is appointed first Surgeon General of Continental Army (July 25).
February 9, 1775 Parliament declares Massachusetts in a state of rebellion but endorses Lord North’s conciliation plan whereby Parliament would forsake all but external taxes on colonies that taxed themselves (February 27).
March 21, 1775 Franklin departs Britain for America. Arrives in Philadelphia May 5.
March 23, 1775 In Virginia, Patrick Henry predicts fighting in New England in famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech.
March 30, 1775 Parliament passes New England Trade and Fisheries Act, or the New England Restraining Act banning trade with the West Indies but restoring it with Britain. It however, requires the New England colonies to trade exclusively with Britain and bans New England fishing in the North Atlantic. Extended to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina (April 13).
April 14, 1775 Gage receives letter from Secretary of State for the Colonies William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth commanding forceful implementation of the Coercive Acts and containing further orders to suppress “open rebellion” among colonists by using all necessary force, but refuses request for 20,000 troops to restore order. Dartmouth still believes trouble caused by a few rabble rousers.
April 18, 1775 Gage orders British soldiers to arrest patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington and then seize defence supplies from a weapons depot in Concord.
“Midnight Ride” of Paul Revere and William Dawes (April 18-19) from Boston to warn colonists that British soldiers were marching out from the town. Revere and Dawes reach Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock, and a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott (whom they meet between Lexington and Concord and offers to help spread the word), is the only one to make it in time to warn colonists in Concord.
Revere’s warning to colonists he passed, according to eyewitness accounts of the ride and Revere’s own descriptions, was “The Regulars are coming out”, and not the popularly misquoted “The British are coming!” The mission depended on secrecy, the countryside was filled with British army patrols, and most of the Massachusetts colonists (who were predominantly English in ethnic origin) did at this point still consider themselves British.
Meeting British patrols on the Concord road out of Lexington, the three riders decide to make a break for it. Revere is cornered and questioned at gunpoint by soldiers. He tells the troops their plans would be foiled, and that the whole countryside was marching at that very moment, ready to fight. The troops escort Revere back to Lexington, where they hear gunfire. It is only militiamen testing their rifles but it unnerves the unknowing British troops. Realizing they could move faster without prisoners, they release Revere but keep his horse.
Dawes, trying to escape the patrols, is thrown by his horse which bolts and tired and frustrated, he begins walking back to Lexington. Prescott evades capture and rides to Concord, completing the mission.