250th Anniversary Timeline

  • The Gaspee Affair

    June 9, 1772

    When the British HMS Gaspee entered Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, the stage was set for an act of defiance by American colonists against Great Britain. Gaspee’s orders were to enforce British maritime trade regulations that residents avoided by smuggling goods.

    Frustrated residents responded to British enforcement by luring the Gaspee aground and proceeded to capture the crew and burn the schooner. King George III and Parliament were furious at this attack on their colonial powers. Great Britain established a Commission of Inquiry and offered a reward for information on attackers.

    The government gave the commission authority to send suspects directly to England for trial. Colonists thought this action violated the American court system and threatened colonial rights as Englishmen established by Anglo-Saxon law and the Magna Carta. The colonies reacted by creating the Committees of Correspondence and began planning the First Continental Congress.

    The Gaspee Incident planted the seed of independence in the colonies. Newspaper accounts of the Gaspee and the Commission of Inquiry appeared in the colonies and Great Britain. A popular pamphlet, The Essential Rights of the Americans written by Rev. John Allen highlighted the Gaspee incident and protested British tyranny. Often quoted by John Adams and James Otis the pamphlet warned the injustices may cause armed rebellion.

  • Virginia Establishes a Committee of Correspondence

    March 12, 1773

    Finding Great Britain’s intentions to send Gaspee Affair suspects to England for trial unconstitutional, the Virginia House of Burgesses responded by establishing an intercolonial committee of correspondence. The committee provided a communication network among colonial legislatures to create a unified approach to intrusions on the rights and liberties of American colonists.

    Peyton Randolph a respected Virginia leader of the House of Burgesses, served as the leader of Virginia’s intercolonial committee of correspondence. It consisted of eleven members and included Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Patrick Henry. The House of Burgesses directed the committee to obtain early and accurate details of Parliament Acts and resolutions, educate and unite citizens in defense of their constitutional rights as British subjects, and to report back.

    The committee’s existence under the authority of Great Britain’s representative body made organized resistance challenging and cautious of radical ideas. While they achieved limited success it began to communicate colonists’ concerns and contributed to the formation of the First Continental Congress. By 1774 inter-colonial committees of correspondence existed in all thirteen colonies except Pennsylvania.

  • The Boston Tea Party

    December 16, 1773

    Early in 1773 America and Great Britain foresaw few issues with tea shipments. Circumstances changed when seven ships sailed from Great Britain to America carrying East India Company tea regulated by the Tea Act. It allowed the East India Company to sell tea directly to colonists. Officials ordered the ship’s owner to pay a duty within 20 days of entering the port or risk the cargo’s seizure.

    Three ships, the Eleanor, Beaver, and the Dartmouth loaded with tea entered Boston Harbor and sparked a meeting of Bostonians at Old South Church. Parliament claimed the Tea Act was not about taxation, but Americans felt threatened and voted not to unload the tea. Bostonians urged officials to ship the tea back to England without paying the duty. Yet others supported British authority and Governor Thomas Hutchinson ruled the meeting illegal.

    Faced with the tea’s seizure, men called “Mohawks” boarded the ships at Griffin’s Wharf. The men broke open 342 tea chests filled with forty-six tons of tea worth over $1.7 million and tossed it into the water. Destroying the tea cargo was one of Boston’s most destructive events. In America and Great Britain discussions took place about compensating the EIC for their losses. Yet the Massachusetts Assembly blamed the unwillingness of others to compromise and resorting to violence.

  • The Intolerable Acts

    March-June 1774

    Great Britain passed four Coercive Acts to punish the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the Boston Tea Party. The four acts: Boston Port Act, Massachusetts Government Act, Administration of Justice Act, and Quartering Act. Along with the Quebec Act, that established new territorial administration, Americans found them cruel and called them the Intolerable Acts.

    The Boston Port Bill closed Boston’s port until the cost of the destroyed tea was repaid and demonstrated the power of Great Britain’s Navy. The port’s closure crippled Boston’s economy. With business at a standstill, Great Britain passed the Massachusetts Government Act that placed the royal colony under its direct control and eliminated its chartered ability to self-govern.

    Great Britain was skeptical of the American justice system and responded by passing the Administration of Justice Act. Under the act British soldiers were sent to England for trial and viewed by many colonists as a way for them to avoid justice.

    The Quartering Act applied to all the colonies. British soldiers would be housed or “quartered” in homes and buildings secured by royal governors instead of colonial legislatures. Colonists were enraged by Great Britain’s action to house foreign soldiers in their communities.

    Great Britain used The Intolerable Acts to reinforce British authority and remind colonists that they were governed by Parliament and the Crown.

  • British Occupy Boston

    March 18, 1774

    When news of the Boston Tea Party reached Great Britain, King George III determined that the colonists had disrespected the Constitution and were impacting British commerce.

    Responsibility fell to Prime Minister Lord North to craft legislation that reprimanded the Massachusetts Bay Colony for their rebellious actions. On March 18, Lord North presented the Boston Port Bill to Parliament. The Act closed Boston’s port until the East India Company received reimbursement for their loss, and order was restored. Under the Boston Port Act, colonial exports to foreign ports ceased and American imports were limited to British Army provisions and basic goods such as fuel and wheat.

    By cutting off Boston merchants from trade, Lord North aimed to achieve peace in the colony but instead created outrage against Parliament and the Crown. The Boston Committee of Correspondence responded by calling for a boycott of British goods and sought support for the trade embargo from Salem and Marblehead ports. Bostonians held mixed opinions of the city’s punishment. Outside of New England, colonies called for consideration of alternatives to nonimportation and nonexportation of British goods. Alternatives included reimbursing the East India Company and calling for an intercolonial congress. Conflict arose throughout the colonies between the desire for order and the fear that what happened in Boston could occur in other ports.

  • The Powder Alarm

    September 1, 1774

    Decades of French and Native American attacks compelled colonists to stockpile munitions for protection. After the Intolerable Acts and the Boston Tea Party, Great Britain identified the traditional gunpowder stores as a threat to maintaining peace. Great Britain sent General Thomas Gage to America and appointed him Royal Governor of Massachusetts to restore order.

    Militia leader and loyalist William Brattle notified General Gage about an increase in local militia and that colony-owned gunpowder was stored northwest of Boston at the Charlestown Powder House. General Gage ordered 300 troops to secretly sail to Charlestown, seize the colony’s remaining legal gunpowder and secure it at Castle William. British troops were unprepared for the colonists’ reactions that viewed the troops as a sign that war was approaching with Great Britain. British secrecy led to false rumors: that the colonies were “up in arms,” British ships and troops were firing on Boston, and six people were dead.

    Four thousand colonists gathered on Cambridge Common for revenge and to protest the exhibit of royal power. When Brattle’s role became public the colonists’ fear turned to rage. Protesting colonists surrounded Lieutenant Governor Thomas Oliver’s home demanding his resignation and received it. Inspired, American colonists drew closer to a revolution.

  • First Continental Congress Convened

    September 5, 1774

    To unify the colonies’ response to the Coercive Acts the First Continental Congress convened on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Seven weeks of secret debate among delegates produced the colonies’ economic response to the Acts referred to in America as the Intolerable Acts. Representing 12 of the 13 colonies (Georgia declined) the 56 delegates were selected by colonial assemblies, and the Committees of Correspondence. Delegates included prominent colonists and leaders of the future United States: George Washington, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Peyton Randolph, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams.

    Within eight days of convening, Congress accepted The Suffolk Resolves encouraging Massachusetts to boycott British goods within the colonies in an orderly manner. It called for an end to exports to Great Britain if the Acts weren’t repealed by September 10, 1775.

    Delegates proceeded to address a second document, the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress listing the rights of colonists, objections to the Intolerable Acts, and itemized objections that went beyond the Acts. This Declaration asserted colonists’ rights to participate in their government without designating limits on Parliament’s trade regulations.

    On its last day in session, Congress approved a formal petition to King George III outlining the colonies’ grievances against Parliament. At the same time, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress reorganized its militia and designated them Minutemen.

    Congress agreed to reconvene in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, not expecting war to break out. Their decision to reconvene created an unprecedented intercolonial decision-making body.

  • The Suffolk Resolves

    September 9, 1774

    Angered by Parliament’s Coercive Acts, Suffolk County, Massachusetts held a county convention where an appointed committee presented 19 resolves focused on a probable independent future. The Suffolk Resolves urged Massachusetts to establish a separate free state until Parliament repealed the Coercive Acts and to appoint militia officers and begin arming local forces. Finding the Coercive Acts unconstitutional and void, Suffolk Resolves demanded the resignation of officials charged with their enforcement. It warned General Thomas Gage not to arrest citizens on political charges.

    The Suffolk Resolves used bold language, italicized key words, and established goals that exceeded other colonies’ protests, earning Massachusetts a leadership role in the resistance against British policies. While declaring loyalty to King George III it stated, “an indispensable Duty” to defend established “civil and religious Rights and Liberties.” Yet colonists no longer felt they owed loyalty to a king who violated these rights. Sensitive to maintaining social order, the Suffolk Resolves instructed colonists to conduct themselves in an orderly manner while opposing British measures.

    Respecting Continental Congress recommendations, the Suffolk Resolves recommended a publicly funded system for defense. It advised tax collectors to halt payments to the Massachusetts treasury until the government “was placed on a constitutional Foundation.”

    Proposed by Dr. Joseph Warren on September 9, 1774, they underwent revisions and then were unanimously accepted. Paul Revere delivered the Suffolk Resolves to the First Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia where on September 17, 1774, Congress endorsed them.

  • Battle of Point Pleasant

    October 4-6, 1774