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Extra! Extra! White men get angry, throw snowballs, toss tea in harbor!
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Teddy tosses against tyranny
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It is not every day that a bunch of grown men take off their clothes, cover their faces with burnt cork, and go down to the harbor to behave mischievously. But tax Americans enough, and that is what they are bound to do.

I visited the site of the Boston Tea Party - Ground Zero for the country's first tax rebellion -- this afternoon, and boy was it nippy! Autumn has come to Boston, and the yellowing leaves are being blown about the streets by a bone-chilling wind. As I pulled the collar of my jacket snugly around my neck, I realized that about 230 years ago, hundreds of onlookers standing in this very spot watched a group of men act like children.

Despite the winter chill, one December night in 1773, one hundred fifty Bostonians dressed up as Mohawk Indians and raided three British merchant ships. Once aboard, they demanded to have the keys to the ship holds. When the keys were handed over, the fifty Bostonians brought out hundreds of cases of tea from India, hacked them open with hatchets, and tossed the tea leaves into the harbor. The British seamen only watched in disbelief.

What made the group of Bostonians act as they did? And why didn't the British navy fire upon these lawbreakers?

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At the time, America was just realizing its strength. Although the country was rapidly gaining wealth, America was still controlled from across the Atlantic Ocean by the relatively tiny country of England.

Of course, "tiny" England was, at the time, the most powerful country on Earth. It would take an immense effort by colonial Americans to oust the ruling government. The problem for those who wanted to kick out the British government was that most colonial Americans of English descent still thought of themselves as British. They could sing all the words to "God Save the King," and they had family ties back in England. To the common colonial guy, speaking or acting out against the British was the same as speaking out against the King of England himself.

Can you imagine what the beginning of the revolution would be like in today's world? What if you heard about a movement, led by mostly rich, middle class white men, who wanted to overthrow the U.S. government because of high taxes? Would you join them?

For most colonists at the time, the answer was probably no. While some actively began to participate in anti-British activity, most people either stayed loyal to the British crown or neutral on the whole issue of American sovereignty.

The British did not do much to help their cause in America. When the first trembles of revolution began to be felt, the British responded by sending in thousands of troops, raising taxes, and creating trade monopolies for British merchants. This angered a lot of colonists, especially in Boston, which depended heavily on trade.

from working class to founding father
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Boston was considered a hotbed of anti-British activity; it was flooded with British soldiers, dubbed "redcoats," for obvious reason. The high numbers of soldiers did not sit well with local Bostonians, many of whom found themselves competing with British soldiers for work on the docks.

One night in March 1770, a group of nine British soldiers was on patrol when some dock workers, perhaps under the influence of a little too much alcohol, threw some snowballs at them. Pretty quickly, everyone around the dock joined in the fun, playing "hit the British" with snowballs and ice. Eventually, one person picked up a stone and decided to add it to the mix. WHACK! The stone hit the captain of the British patrol square in the back. "I do say," the captain might have said, spilling his cup of tea, "these heathens are volleying stones at our bodices!"

The British yelled at the crowd and the crowd taunted back. Surrounded by angry, stone-throwing dock workers, the British raised their guns. Suddenly, an anonymous person yelled, "Fire!", and shots rang out. When the smoke cleared, four men lay dying, and a fifth would die the next morning. This bloody outburst would be forever memorialized as the Boston Massacre.

How much of a massacre was the Boston Massacre? Hundreds of Native Americans were being killed just a few hundred miles to the east, but their murder was not called a massacre. What made the murder of these five men in Boston a massacre?

We should look closely at who called this event a massacre and who stood to benefit from a popular revolt. Silversmith Samuel Adams carved an engraving that depicted the Boston Massacre, enraging the local populace. Instead of showing the scene at night, as it happened, Sam Adams depicted it as having occurred during the day. And most interestingly, the black man who was the first to die that night, Crispus Attucks, was portrayed as a white man.

the engracing Revere made
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How could Adams have made this mistake? Easy. The purpose of the engraving was not to inform the colonists about what actually happened that night; it was to fuel the flames of revolt against the British. The colonists would be more angered by five white men being shot than by four white men and an "inferior" black man. Sam Adams was not the only guy interested in fostering ill will against the British. John Hancock was one of the richest men in the colonies. He stood to gain a fortune if the colonies became independent and he no longer had to pay his taxes to the British. It should come as no surprise that many of the men in power who favored the revolution had great financial interest in having a free state. At the same time, the lower classes, who didn't have these financial incentives, had to be stirred up to fight the actual battles against the British.
my, what a tremendous tombstone you have John
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So the killing of five men was called a massacre. Posters went up condemning the British for their heinous action. Sam Adams went around giving speeches against the tyranny of British rule. Soon enough, people were getting mad. Farmers began collecting muskets and preparing for a war.

Wanna see what happens next? Get the inside scoop on the battles of Lexington and Concord!

Teddy

Please email me at: teddy@ustrek.org

 

Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - What They Did Was Treason!
Kevin - And justice for all of the rich and powerful
Teddy - The first day of war is always the longest
Making a Difference - Sometimes the wrong side of the law is the right place to be