In 1774, following the infamous Boston Tea Party the previous December, when residents had dumped a cargo of imported tea into the Harbour at Boston, Massachusetts, the British governor to the state had been ordered, using amendments to the Massachusetts Colonial Government Charter, to disband the locally elected councils in favour of members appointed by the Governor. In retaliation, a shadow patriot government, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was set up by the dissenters. They compiled their objections, the Suffolk Resolves, named so after Suffolk County, where Boston was the main city, to refuse to obey the Massachusetts Government act and threatened to boycott imported goods from Britain, unless the ‘Intolerable Acts’ were repealed.
The Intolerable Acts or Coercive Acts, were a series of Acts passed by the British Government to place taxes on the colonial states to raise revenue. This revenue would be used to pay colonial governors to remain loyal to Britain, and included the Stamp act which forced colonists to pay for a watermark on all their paper, and the Townsend Acts which among others included a tax to pay for a British Militia presence in the Colonies, despite them already providing their own trained army, and the Quartering Act which forced them to provide living accommodation and provisions for the British Militia. Massachusetts was unique among the colonial states in that they had the power to elect their own executive council. The Massachusetts Government act removed that right, alongside the already tough restrictions forced by the King and British government in response to the Boston Tea Party in an effort to suppress the mounting discontent. The British Government mistakenly believed the independent local government of Massachusetts was responsible for the unrest.
In October 1774, British Governor Thomas Gage attempted to use the Act to dissolve the provincial assembly. They retaliated by setting up their own alternative which controlled everything outside Boston. The City itself, containing the Governor and his small army, was left under his control. In response, by February 1775, Massachusetts was declared to be in a state of rebellion by the British Government, and under Lt-Col Francis Smith, an army of 700 men were amassed, and began to prepare for hostilities. The patriot militia had begun preparing for conflict a few months prior. Smith’s men were given orders to covertly capture and destroy rebel supplies that were believed to be stored at Concord. The Patriot leaders however had obtained this intelligence, and had as a result moved their ammunition and so on to other areas. They also discovered when the British were to mount their attack and were able to warn each area’s militia. Historians today believe the intelligence source was Gage’s wife Margaret who was not only New Jersey born, and so a colonial sympathiser, but she was friends with Joseph Warren. At dawn on the morning of the 19th April, the two armies met, and the colonials were under instruction to remain in formation and not fire unless fired upon but to allow Smith’s men to conduct their search for weapons. Unfortunately, a shot or shots rang out, source unconfirmed and several of the colonial militia were injured or killed.
Although being outnumbered initially, through the day as more militia joined the action, and the British forces retreated towards Boston, the casualties mounted in a series of skirmishes, around Lexington, Concord, Arlington, Cambridge and their surroundings. The Americans employing cover tactics, whilst the British forces formed and shot from the open. As the militia force grew, they allowed the British forces to withdraw and retreat to Cambridge as night fell. By the next morning the colonial forces had increased to 15,000 men from throughout New England, their commander had been relieved, they had the town surrounded on three sides and further forces continued to arrive from the States of New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. After the battle that day, rumours of several atrocities committed by the British troops circulated, not last the murder of innocent house-holders as they retreated, the ransacking of property and theft.
Gage attempted to influence the British government with his version of events, sent in his official report. However the colonial leaders took over a hundred depositions from the militia, the townspeople and the British Prisoners, and send them in packets on a faster ship, which reached England’s press and officials over two weeks before Gage’s report arrived. Instead of accepting responsibility for their mistakes, the Government chose to allocate blame to Gage and the British Forces in America followed suit by blaming both Gage and Smith.
The War of Independence (The Revolutionary War) had begun.