The Boston Massacre, 1770; print by Paul Revere (Library of Congress)
In 1763, colonists across British North America could not have been prouder to be subjects of the empire. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with redcoat soldiers, they had trounced their mutual enemies in the French and Indian War. In towns and cities across America, they toasted King George, his ministers, and his military. In New York City, grateful residents erected a statute in honor of their great king, a testament to the belief that their future lay with him.
On July 9, 1776, a crowd of American soldiers and sailors tore down the statue, and melted down its precious lead into 42,088 musket balls to fire at the king’s army. The two sides were now at war—delegates in Philadelphia had finalized the Declaration of Independence just five days earlier—and that war would rage for the next seven years.
Richard Bell, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park explores the tumultuous years between 1763 and 1776. He examines four of the extraordinary events that turned 13 loyal British colonies into a united confederation willing to go to war to achieve independence.
9:30–10:45 a.m. Stamps and Mobs
The Stamp Act was not supposed to be controversial. But when the British Parliament authorized this new tax on the commercial use of paper in 1765, it sparked unprecedented protests that forged common cause between merchants and consumers.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Redcoats and Snowballs
In 1768, Parliament sent four redcoat regiments to Boston to keep the peace. Instead, these occupying troops and the residents of this struggling port city taunted and antagonized each other. After two years of escalating provocations, the powder-keg finally exploded, when on March 5, 1770, a fistfight and a stray snowball triggered a shoot-out that left five local men dead in the street.
12:15–1:15 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own.)
1:15–2:15 p.m. Tea and Tar
The imperial crisis sprang back to life in December 1773 when a team of working men, acting on behalf of leading smugglers like John Hancock, threw cases of East India Company tea into Boston’s muddy harbor. Later known as the Boston Tea Party, this act seen as property destruction and terrorism poisoned relations between Crown and colonies as never before.
2–3:30 p.m. Hearts and Minds
In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, most colonists still hoped for a peaceful reconciliation with king and Parliament. But that was about to change. Focusing on the propaganda efforts of a small group of patriots, Bell examines why ordinary people—not just in Boston but across 12 other mainland colonies— finally embraced armed resistance and the cause of independence.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)