A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Rowe's Revolution

"The Harmony Capt Shayler arrived from London & brings the Severest Act ever was penned against the Town of Boston."

Diary of John Rowe,
10 May 1774

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The Coercive Acts

Introduction

On 17 December 1773 a group of men dressed as Mohawk Indians dump 342 chests of East India Tea into Boston Harbor. Many people (both in England and America) consider Massachusetts to be the seat of dissent in Britain's North American colonies, and this event simply confirms that belief. In the spring of 1774, Parliament decides that chastising the residents of Boston and Massachusetts seems the obvious step towards pacifying all of the colonies.


Eager to quell the "commotions and insurrections" taking place in Boston, Parliament passes a series of acts, the first of which closes the port of Boston on 1 June 1774. Parliament doesn't stop there. Two additional Intolerable Acts—the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act—take effect in the summer of 1774. These three acts, together with the Quebec Act and the Quartering Act, are known collectively as the "Coercive Acts." Benjamin Franklin, serving as a colonial agent in London, satirizes these ministerial policies with a special creation of his own, which he calls an Act to Enforce Obedience in the American colonies.

Although three of these Coercive Acts affect Boston and Massachusetts most directly, the Boston Committee of Correspondence works furiously to remind all colonists that they "suffer in the common cause." The Committee formulates a plan of resistance known as the Solemn League and Covenant. The covenant calls upon all colonists to boycott British goods.

Responses to Boston's plan vary widely within the town and across North America. Some colonists fear that the Committee's proposed course of action will only bring more misery to the colonies. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Bostonian John Andrews comments that "animosities run higher than ever" in the town. At a town meeting in Braintree, citizens take a more promising view of the proffered covenant. Other colonists wonder if paying for the tea destroyed in Boston harbor will smooth Parliament's ruffled feathers.

In London, former Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson (who was replaced by General Thomas Gage in the spring of 1774) advises the ministry to act cautiously when managing the colonies. In a letter to his friend James Murray, Hutchinson writes, "I would have done what I could" to ease the suffering in Boston had he still been governor. Other towns and colonies act more concretely to assist the beleaguered residents of Boston. From Nova Scotia to Georgia, Americans respond to Boston's plea by sending food, supplies, and money. The Boston Committee of Donations is overwhelmed by an abundance of goodwill. Once again, Bostonians come to realize that they can depend on the Virginians to support a sister colony in crisis.

In September 1774, representatives from twelve of the American colonies gather in Philadelphia to discuss a unified course of resistance to the Coercive Acts. This Continental Congress also appeals to King George III for redress. Throughout the fall and winter of 1774-1775, colonies are left to wonder whether Parliament will see the error of its ways and repeal the cursed acts.