A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Topic List

Introduction

Individuals and nations are moved to bold and decisive action not in the midst of calm but in the heat of strife. In the years between 1764 and 1776, America truly became a nation. Where before America had been a cluster of competing British colonies—with differing origins, goals, and policies—by 1776 colonists had forged a separate identity flexible enough to support not just revolution but nation building.

By investigating the lives and events recorded in newspapers, official documents and personal correspondence from our collection, you will immerse yourself in the past and discover the fears, friction and turmoil that shaped these tumultuous times.

To begin your journey, choose from one of the 15 topics leading up to the revolution represented by the icons at right.

If you’d like to more about how this site works, read About this site.

  • The Sugar Act

    The French and Indian War comes to an end in 1763. Britain has defeated France in North America, but the victory comes with a price. Parliament is left with a huge debt to pay, and the prime minister decides to share this burden with the colonies. In 1764, Parliament passes the Sugar Act, setting off a debate on colonial rights and taxation. Read more ...

  • The Stamp Act

    Despite protests from colonists who believe they should be able to tax themselves, Parliament passes the Stamp Act in March 1765. The act requires that official stamped paper be purchased and used for all legal documents, commercial paper transactions, and newspapers. Colonists respond swiftly—and sometimes violently—to the act, prompting its repeal in 1766. Read more ...

  • The Formation of the Sons of Liberty

    In response to the Stamp Act of 1765, local groups calling themselves “Sons of Liberty” spring up throughout the American colonies. These groups perform many functions, ranging from organizing protests against the Stamp Act to keeping citizens in line. They continue to influence their communities long after the Stamp Act is repealed in 1766. Read more...

  • The Townshend Acts

    After the failure of the Sugar and Stamp Acts, Parliament is determined to prove its right to tax the American colonies. In 1767, it passes the Townshend Acts. Colonists continue to argue against taxation without representation, even as troops are sent to protect customs employees in Boston in 1768. Read more...

  • Non-consumption and Non-importation

    The colonial economy is in poor shape in 1767. The passage of the Townshend Acts, which levy duties on items including glass, paint, and tea, only makes matters worse. In response, many colonists refuse to consume or purchase British goods, while encouraging merchants to abandon selling British imports. The movement falters, however, when the Acts are partially repealed in 1770. Read more...

  • The Boston Massacre

    Tensions are on the rise in Boston in the winter of 1770. On 5 March, a violent confrontation erupts between soldiers and townspeople, leaving five colonists dead. The propaganda war that follows will consume Bostonians throughout the summer and fall of 1770. Read more...

  • The Formation of the Committees of Correspondence

    The Boston Committee of Correspondence plays a crucial role in the growth of the committee of correspondence movement throughout the colonies. Formed in 1772 to protest a new government policy concerning the payment of the Massachusetts governor and judges, Bostonians seek support in other towns and colonies. In March 1773, the Virginia House of Burgesses proposes that each colony appoint a committee for intercolonial correspondence. Read more...

  • The Boston Tea Party

    In the spring of 1773 Parliament passes the Tea Act, giving the East India Company a monopoly over the sale of tea in North America. Some patriots refuse to drink or buy the tea, while others take more drastic steps to prevent the sale of the “pernicious weed.” Bostonians stage a rather dramatic protest in December 1773, and debate over their actions rages on into 1774. Read more...s

  • The Coercive Acts

    In the spring of 1774, Parliament passes the Coercive Acts in response to the destruction of the East India’s tea cargo in Boston in December 1773. Massachusetts and Boston are singled out and punished, but the acts do not produce the desired effect. Throughout 1774 and into 1775, the other North American colonies question the wisdom of Parliament’s reaction. Read more...

  • The First Continental Congress

    News of the Coercive Acts arrives in the colonies in the spring of 1774. In response, patriots organize a colony-wide congress to discuss a united course of resistance. The First Continental Congress meets in September and October 1774. Colonists continue to debate the course of action prescribed by Congress throughout fall and winter of 1775. Read more...

  • Lexington and Concord

    In the fall of 1774, General Thomas Gage—now the governor of Massachusetts—begins sending his troops on scouting missions into the countryside surrounding Boston. One such mission sparks a violent confrontation on 19 April 1775. Both British and American propagandists hasten to explain their side of story in the months that follow. Read more...

  • The Second Continental Congress

    The First Continental Congress adjourns in October 1774, and by the spring of 1775 it is clear that the body must convene once again. War has broken out in Massachusetts, and the colonies must now consider the question of American independence. Their debates lead to decisive action in the spring of 1776. Read more...

  • The Battle of Bunker Hill

    The British retreat to Boston after the confrontations at Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. In June, American troops fortify Breed’s Hill in nearby Charlestown. The two forces clash on 17 June 1775. Although the British are ultimately victorious, both sides suffer devastating casualties. Read more...

  • Washington Takes Command of the Continental Army

    Early battles of the Revolution are fought mainly by New England troops. If the colonies are to fight as a united body, then they must have leader that all will agree on, and George Washington is the Congress’ choice for commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. He arrives in Boston in July 1775, and works tirelessly to expel the British from Boston in the winter and spring of 1776. Read more...

  • Declarations of Independence

    The Second Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1776, debating the question of American independence while also waging war with Great Britain. In June, a committee is organized to draft the document that will shape the course of American history. Read more...