HOW THE OLD BAY COLONY LED THE VAN.
HERE were many things happening or
getting ready to happen, in the year 1761, in Boston and inn the old Bay
That was the year in which news came that the young,
slow witted, good-hearted, pig-headed, and bumptious George III. had
become King of England and had declared that he would be king. That was
the year in which brave, bold, impetuous, and fearless James Otis stood
out as the people’s champion and openly declared :hat "kings were
made for the good of the people, and not the people for
them." That was the year in which, so John Adams always insisted, the
story of the American Revolution began. That was the year in which this
same John Adams’s sturdy cousin Sam was declaiming against the evils of
foreign masters and the tyrannies of kings.
A most remarkable, outspoken,
clearheaded, masterful man was Samuel Adams of Boston. Born in that quaint
little sea town in 1722, he had no head for business, but a great one for
organization. And from his earliest boyhood he was American and rebel.
In the year 1740,
when he was about eighteen years old, he took
part in the commencement exercises at Harvard College and had this as
the topic of his oration:
Is it lawful to resist the supreme magistrate if the
commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved?"
"Must assuredly it is right and lawful,"
the boy declared; and he pleaded his case so earnestly and eloquently
that even aristocratic, king-worshiping Governor, Shirley voted to give
him his degree, while the college boys who applauded him said to one
another, "Why, that Sam Adams is a regular rebel, isn’t he?"
He was indeed a rebel to anything like tyranny. When
he saw that the English government was only interested in the colonies
for what it could force from them for the personal profit of that
motherland of England which he felt to be no true or devoted mother, he
stirred up his fellow-citizens of Boston, of Massachusetts, and of
America to protest and to rebel. He urged the various town meetings
of the Bay colony to assert their rights and demand recognition; he
drafted the protest against taxation without representation sent over
the sea to England; he advocated the first Continental Congress; he
issued the circular letter which Massachusetts sent to the other
colonies urging unity of action; he was fearless, sincere, unyielding,
and absolutely incorruptible. He organized revolution. British gold
could not bribe him; British steel could not kill him; he, more than any
other man, led Massachusetts into rebellion and America into revolution;
and as the bronze tablet, set in the wall of the big building that
stands on the site of his Boston home, assures the world, this
same Samuel Adams was, in truth, the "Father of
If, as John Adams said, independence was born in the
old townhouse when James Otis made his famous speech, it was rocked into
health and strength in that ever famous Faneuil Hall. which Otis called
the "cradle of liberty," because there Samuel
Adams nursed America into that made a mighty nation. Three standing in
Boston. may rightly be regarded as the primary schools of revolution—the
old Statehouse, Faneuil Hall, and the Old South Meetinghouse, in each
which Sam Adams, the leader of the people, spoke the ringing words that
led to liberty.
Under the inspiration of James Otis and the
leadership of Samuel Adams things in the Old Bay colony began o look
very bad for the king’s cause.
Parliament tried to raise money by taxes and restrictions;
these the colony would neither pay nor per-nit. From criticism to
protest, to refusal, to rebellion, he spirit of opposition passed, and
at last the precepts hat Samuel Adams preached, the people of Massachusetts
practiced, when opposition culminated in those two famous historic
events, the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.
The first of these disturbances came
because the people of Boston objected to having soldiers, who were
to force the colony into submission, thrust upon a free
colony as unwelcome guests; the second came because the people of
Massachusetts determined not to receive an article unjustly urged upon
them to their own disadvantage.
For the protection of the province, which the
colonists neither desired nor required, King George proposed to garrison
the town with his redcoats, and thus, under cover of protection, overawe
the people into doing what he said they must.
But the people had been free from these red-coated
good-for-nothings too long to submit tamely to their
presence. So the relations between soldiers and
citizens became strained. The boys of the town, ever ready for a lark,
and the lawless class, never friendly to uniformed authority, began to
plague and pester the redcoats. The soldiers retaliated; and one day on
King (now State) Street, one of the garrison struck a boy,
who, no doubt, had worried him into retaliation.
It was the spark that set the tinder alight. The boy
stirred up other boys; the workingmen and the restless element joined
forces; and boys and men alike gathered about the gate of the main
guardhouse, opposite the south door of the townhouse (or old Statehouse,
as we call it), and began to jeer at the soldiers as they passed between
the guardhouse and their barracks.
The soldiers threatened the crowd, and the crowd
flung back taunts; the alarm bell began to ring; more
curious ones joined the crowd. One of the
officers ordered the soldiers into the guardhouse and slammed the gate
against the crowd. Only a sentinel remained outside.
"That’s the lobster that struck me! "
cried a boy in the crowd, pointing at the sentinel
and using the nickname that the street boys gave the hated redcoats. It
was the boy who had already got himself into trouble. "Why don’t
he take one of his size? He knocked me down with the butt end of his
"Ah, the coward! Pitch him over! Knock him down!
The sentinel drew back and began to load his gun.
"Look out! he’s going to fire," shouted
"Don’t you dare fire," young Henry Knox,
a bookseller’s clerk with a famous future before him, called out to
the redcoat. " If
you do they’ll kill you."
"I don’t care," said the sentry. "If
they touch me I’ll shoot ‘em."
It was the evening of March 5, 1770.
There was a little snow on the ground, and the boys began to snowball
the sentry and call him names. Then something harder than a snowball hit
him. This made him angry, and may have scared him a bit, too,—one man
alone against a crowd.
"Help! Corporal of the guard! Help! They’re
hitting me!" he shouted. " Turn
out! turn out!
The gates of the main guardhouse swung open, and a
sergeant with seven men hurried out.
"Prime and load! "
the sergeant commanded, and the guns were loaded.
Then Captain Preston joined his men, and
the eight soldiers with loaded muskets faced a howling mob of sixty or
seventy men and boys.
The boys made themselves very much in evidence. They
danced and pranced in front of the soldiers, mocking and baiting them.
"Yah, lobsters! "
they cried. "Fire if you dare! You dar’sn’t!
Then the men joined the boys in their dare.
"Put down your guns, you cowards, and meet us
even," they called out. "We’re not afraid of you!
The soldiers .lowered their bayonets for a charge;
the crowd swung their clubs; Captain Preston, in a rage, sprang at the
crowd and bade them be gone.
"Yah, lobsters! lobsters! bloody-backs! why don’t
you fire? Fire if you dare! " cried
the mob, gathering about their self-constituted leader, Crispus Attucks,
half Indian, half negro.
"Send your men back, captain," shouted
young Henry Knox. "It will be worse for you if you don’t."
"You let me alone. I know what I’m
about," retorted the angry captain.
But evidently he did not. For in his
excitement he either told his soldiers to shoot, or they thought he did,
and suddenly, bang went a gun! bang, bang, went another and yet another,
until the seven guns had all been fired and here and there in the mob
men had fallen, dead or dying—Crispus Attucks and Samuel Gray and
James Caldwell, dead; Samuel Maverick and James Carr, dying.
The mob broke and scattered; then as Captain Pres-
ton realized what he had done and drew his men
within the guardhouse, the people surged back again, clamorous and
"Tear down the guardhouse! "
they cried. "Murderers! murderers! "
Alarm. bells rang; the drums of the garrison beat to
arms; the town drums followed suit; people and soldiers were equally
excited. The streets were filled with a surging crowd. The Revolution
had begun. "opposite this spot," so runs a tablet set in the
front of a granite building on the corner of State and Exchange streets,
"the first blood of the Revolution was shed." And Boston
always observed the 5th of March, the anniversary of the Boston
Massacre, until the 4th of July became the nation’s anniversary day,
after the close of the American Revolution.
It was authority against lawlessness. It was the
soldiers against a mob. But the British authorities had
brought the trouble upon themselves. There was no
cause for sending soldiers to Boston; but they were sent; and the lawful
protests of the people ended at last in an unlawful mob, in riot and
massacre, for which England alone was to blame.
Again the people demanded the withdrawal of the
troops. An indignation meeting was held in Faneuil Hall. Sam Adams, John
Hancock, and a dozen other leading citizens went to the governor and
demanded that the regiments be at once sent away from the town. Another
indignation meeting was held in the Old South Meetinghouse. The governor
promised to have one regiment withdrawn.
"Both regiments or none! "
Samuel Adams demanded, and the crowd within and without the Old
South echoed his cry.
A committee of safety was formed; the
whole town turned out to the public funeral of the victims of the
massacre; Captain Preston and his soldiers were arrested land put on
trial for murder.
But Massachusetts never allowed
passion to override justice. When the British captain was
tried, John Adams and Josiah Quincy, leaders among the Massachusetts
patriots, appeared in court as his lawyers, so that justice might be
done and the captain and his men have a fair trial.
They did have one, and they were acquitted, although
two of the soldiers were lightly punished for manslaughter. For the
trial showed that the mob had goaded on the soldiers to what they
thought was self-defense; and so the trouble, for the time, passed over.
But the troops
and King George, disgusted with the whole affair, always referred to
those unlucky redcoats as "Sam Adams’s regiments."
On the very day of the Boston Massacre the British
Parliament insisted that the American colonies
must pay the tax on tea. You know the trouble that
followed, and how, when Sam Adams in the Old South Meetinghouse
declared, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the
country," the hated taxed tea was swiftly dumped overboard from the
ships in Boston harbor by patriotic "Sons of liberty" dressed
up as Indians; and how the first paragraph in the story of the American
Revolution—the Boston Massacre, Monday, March 5, 1770—was followed
by the second paragraph—the famous Boston Tea Party of Thursday,
December 16, 1773.
Thus did Massachusetts reply to the stupidities and
usurpations of the King of England. Thus did the Old Bay colony lead the
van in the struggle for independence, and thus did Samuel Adams, the man
of the people, go down into history as the organizer of overthrow,—the
"Father of the American Revolution."