A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 2, "Revolution And The 14th Colony" TOC
Ch. 8 - Tumult of Passions.


The "Massacre" (1770):

The label "Boston Massacre" was created by those who are given to hyperbolical description. It refers to an event which we shall now but briefly touch upon. It was where, at Boston, on March 5th, 1770, a mob of citizens were taunting a line of British soldiers who were drawn up before the customhouse. "The rougher elements of the population were led to believe that they could heap indignities upon the troops with impunity. They were told that the soldiers would not fire in self-defense ..."1 On the day in question, one of the officers, a Captain Preston, formed the opinion that a mob of men was about to rob the custom house and went with a number of soldiers in order to reenforce the sentries and to attempt to disburse the citizens that were assembling at the customhouse. There was, of course, no reasoning with the brute crowd. People were inviting the soldiers to shoot if they dared and came ever closer to the line of soldiers to the point where many were at bayonet points. Then, somebody said something, a push became a shove and in the process a soldier was knocked over. Then a cry was head: "fire." A loud volley rang out with the soldiers sending their shot directly into the crowd. Captain Preston was between his soldiers and the mob, thus it seemed likely, as he maintained, that it was not him that gave the order, indeed, he was nearly shot by his soldiers himself. The crowd staggered back; the smoke cleared; and "five Bostonians lay dead or dying."2

Captain Preston and his soldiers soon realized that the mob would be back, and, it was anticipated, many times stronger. The cry went out throughout Boston: "To Arms! To Arms!" Preston and his men took advantage of the lull and headed back to the guardhouse and the entire regiment (the 29th) stood under arms for the balance of the night with no further conflict with the Boston citizenry. There was, of course, a considerable fallout from this incident. The Whigs, those who were for changing the relationship the colonies had with the mother country, were to immediately rush to the presses to put out stories of how the Tories had deliberately hatched a plot to kill innocent citizens. When the facts came out, it would seem most including the Whig businessmen were of the belief that the deaths came about because of the "Lawless Banditti" that ran loose on account of "Democratic Tyranny." The soldiers that fired into the crowd were brought to account and they were found to have acted without proper orders. However, on the whole, the sympathy was with the soldiers and they were let off with little or no punishment.


The Gaspee (1772):

We next deal with, "The Burning of the Gaspee." It was an event during which a group of distinguished citizens from Rhode Island, after shooting its captain, went aboard the British Navy's armed schooner, Gaspee, and then saw to its burning. It might well be considered the first military move of the colonies against the mother country.

Rhode Island was considered by England to be a nest of smugglers; in fact, it was. In 1772, the British Government sent the Gaspee and Beaver, eight gun navy schooners, to Rhode Island with orders to assist the Revenue Officers of the colony in stamping out smuggling and illicit trade. Lieutenant Dudingston was the captain of the Gaspee. Dudingston proceeded to stop and search all ships that entered Narragansett Bay. On June 9th, Dudingston came up to the Rhode Island sailing vessel, Hannah, captained by Benjamin Lindsey. Lindsey was in no mood to give over to Dudingston's commands and determined just to sail on. The resulting tacking duel was just about won by the Gaspee, when, just as the two vessels neared Providence, "Lindsey, who knew these waters well, tacked his ship in a right angled curve sharply to westward, clearing a long shallow sand-bar by inches, then in apparent confusion allowed her to lose headway. Quickly, Lieutenant Dudingston headed the Gaspee directly toward his quarry, confident that his masterly handling of the schooner had won the day. With all sails set, the Gaspee plowed into the sandbar and was well grounded."3

Captain Lindsey carried on into Providence and soon the whole town knew of the Gaspee's predicament. After much discussion at a local tavern, that night, a flotilla of boats proceeded out of Providence and soon located the Gaspee which was waiting out her time, hopeful the crew was, that she would float free with the high tide due to take place later that night. The Gaspee, without too much of a problem, though Dudingston was shot and wounded, was boarded and ransacked. After getting the British crew off, the last of the Providence boats to leave the scene set the Gaspee on fire. A commission was appointed to enquire into the affair. The enquiry was frustrated by the complicity of the citizenry to remain silent, though the British managed to squeeze a confession out of one fellow, Aaron Briggs. A year later, on "the twenty-third of June 1773, the commission closed its investigation. Their final report to the King stated that the Gaspee was destroyed by persons unknown. They accused Captain Linzee [a British officer] of obtaining Aaron Briggs' confession by illegal threats of hanging."4

In 1772, it is to be observed, that there was a fire at the naval base at Portsmouth. Shortly thereafter parliament passed an act, the Dockyard Act, which provided for a death sentence to any one found guilty of setting fire to the King's ships or dockyards in Great Britain or the colonies. So, a finding of guilty in respect to the burning of His Majesty's Ship Gaspee would have meant a state sanctioned killing of one or more of the Rhode Island men; such an execution would have served as an escalator and bring on, in its wake, more serious problems. But, as it was, the Gaspee incident, or, more particularly, the realization of those who would conspire to give the British authorities more trouble, was to bring on yet more difficulty, as it was now known that it was likely demonstrators could get away with overt acts of destruction.


A Tea Party (1773):

Who would have thought that leaves from a bush that is common to and cultivated from ancient times in China, Japan, India, and adjacent countries -- should cause so much of a problem in the relationship as did exist between Great Britain and her American colonies. The shrub I refer to is of the genus thea. Because warm Water is unpalatable, the Chinese thought to put some Leaves of a Tree into it, to give it a better Taste. The oval pointed slightly toothed evergreen leaves of tea seemed to be the best. The leaves of the tea-plant, usually in a dried and prepared state for making the drink, was first imported into Europe in the 17th century. The custom, certainly for the English, then grew up and spread so that every well-regulated family put some time aside each day, once or maybe more, for the taking of tea.

We have already seen where in March of 1770, the English, upon Lord North having been elevated to being the Prime Minister, abolished all the duties imposed by Charles Townsend in the previous ministry, except that on tea. Quite aside from the rumblings coming from the colonies, these duties were being felt at home. The Townsend duties had an impact on the British commercial classes, for, there was a decline in exports. Even the tax on tea was reduced so as to cure the smuggling problem. At these lower rates, this tea tax would likely have been tolerable in the colonies, except for this: in May of 1773 the East India Company had been given authority to sell its tea free of duty except that which was to be sold in North America.5

On December 16th, 1773, there came into Boston Harbor three ships loaded with 298 chests of tea worth about £11,000. These ships were the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver.6 I will not go into the details as to what happened to this valuable cargo; the story is well known. We shall take up the consequences of throwing tea chests into Boston Harbor when we come to our next chapter. The news, incidently, of the "Boston Tea Party" was soon to circulate in Nova Scotia. We see where Simeon Perkins, then at Liverpool, made this entry into his diary:

21 Jan, Friday, 1774: "Capt. Ford arrived yesterday from Boston, bringing a letter and newspapers ... There is a tumult at Boston, occasioned by the East India Company sending quantities of tea to Boston, and other places in America, 342 chests of tea December [18th] last were destroyed by a number of people dressed as savages."
Halifax had its own tea party, of sorts. There was a man by the name of John Fillis (c.1724-1792) who was born in Boston, and, like a number from that town had come up to Nova Scotia within the first couple of days of the founding of Halifax in 1749. Through the years, right up the American Revolution, Fillis was a merchant at Halifax. It seems he dealt in wholesale lots and as such had an interest in merchant ships. It is reported7 that he had a branch of his business in Boston. The tax on tea was as much of a dilemma for Halifax merchants as it was for those at Boston; the reaction was much the same. I am not sure of the nature of the protest of the Halifax merchants, as were lead by Fillis. It did not seem to extend to encouraging men to dress as Indians and throw chests of tea in the harbour, but there was a demonstration just the same. John Fillis and a fellow merchant by the name of William Smith, both being prominent men of the community, were "stripped of their offices for having protested the landing of East India Company tea in Halifax."8

The relations between Great Britain and her North American colonies, by 1773, had reached a very critical stage. So critical a stage, in fact, that the parties were on the eve of war. In spite of the suspense and grave fear as to the issues, attended with uncertainty and risk as indeed they were -- What did Britain do? Did she get her best diplomats together, so to sit down with the representatives of the colonies, so to smooth the waters and set a course which would meet the expectations of the interested parties, so to work matters out? No, she took ink and parchment and cast her chances by passing legislation.

In 1774, the English took five measures, gauged, it was thought, to reduce colonial disobedience:

  1. The port of Boston was closed down with British war ships blockading its mouth.
  2. The Charter of Massachusetts was remodeled giving greater control to England.
  3. An English act was passed allowing for a trial to take place in England where the person charged was indicted in Massachusetts of a capital offense.
  4. British soldiers would be quartered on the colonists.
  5. The Quebec Act was passed, allowing for a greater political liberty of Roman Catholics. For the colonists who had fought the Frenchmen to the north of them for years, The Quebec Act was particularly galling.

These measures, details of which we will next take up, brought on an armed rebellion.


[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 9 - "The Intolerable Acts" (1774).]

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