The Opening Of Hostilities
Enforcement of the Association.—The Association adopted by the Continental Congress was approved throughout the colonies. In county and town meetings, in assemblies, provincial congresses, or special conventions, the patriot party expressed its approval. Though the New York assembly refused to sanction the proceedings of Congress, the committee of correspondence and many counties chose inspection committees. In Georgia the patriots had a difficult time, but when the provincial congress assembled at Savannah in March, 1775, forty-five of the deputies ratified the Association and local inspection committees were formed.
Military preparations.—Throughout the colonies military preparations were in progress. In October, 1774, Charles Lee wrote from Philadelphia to an English nobleman, "Virginia, Rhode Island and Carolina are forming corps. Massachusetts Bay has long had a sufficient number instructed to become instructive of the rest. Even this Quakering province is following the example." In December the provincial convention of Maryland recommended that all males between the ages of sixteen and fifty should form themselves into military companies. Delaware made provision for the arming and drilling of militia. Connecticut ordered the towns to double their military supplies, and Rhode Islanders seized forty-four cannon from the Newport batteries.
Whigs, neutrals, and Tories.—In spite of the military ardor thus displayed, public opinion was by no means a unit. In general the people were divided into three groups, patriots, neutrals, and Loyalists. Among the patriots, or Whigs as they were called, was a small group of ultra-radicals who favored independence. A great majority of the Whigs stood for strenuous opposition to British policy but not for independence. The neutrals in the main presented three shades of opinion: those with patriot sympathies but who were still wavering, those who were indifferent or were religiously opposed to violence, and those who had Loyalist leanings but had not made a definite decision. The third great group was composed of Loyalists or Tories. These were not all of like mind, one portion being openly in favor of the king but not ready to take up arms, the rest being openly belligerent. As the Revolution progressed shadings within groups gradually disappeared, wavering neutrals linked themselves with patriots or Loyalists, and sections became distinctly Whig or Tory.
Even before the adoption of the Association, ill feeling showed itself. As Howard says, "Tarring and featherings was becoming the order of the day.... Loyalists were bitterly stigmatized as Tories and traitors, and the cause of liberty was sullied by acts of intolerance and persecution." Channing says, "The story of tarring and featherings, riotings and burnings becomes monotonous, almost as much so as the reading of the papers that poured forth from counties, towns, conventions, meetings, congresses, and private individuals."
Revolution in Massachusetts.—The people of Massachusetts refused to submit to the Regulating Act. The "mandamus" councillors were threatened with violence and either declined the appointment or resigned, and the courts were unable to sit. On September 1, 1774, Gage sent soldiers to seize some powder stored near Boston and a rumor spread that the war ships had fired on Boston. The militia began to gather from neighboring counties, and Israel Putnam summoned the Connecticut militia to march to the assistance of Boston.
Gage refused to allow the meeting of the assembly called for October 5, but most of the representatives met at Salem where they declared themselves a provincial congress. A few days later the congress moved to Concord and then to Cambridge. It appointed a committee of safety which was empowered to call out the militia, and other committees attended to the collecting of stores and general defence. After the gathering of the second provincial congress on February 1, 1775, the committee of safety under the leadership of John Hancock and Joseph Warren was authorized to distribute arms.
Lexington.—On April 18 the watchful patriots discovered that British troops were preparing for an expedition, and William Dawes and Paul Revere were sent to spread the alarm. Soon after dawn of April 19 the British troops approached Lexington where they found sixty or seventy minutemen under arms. When they did not obey the order to lay down their arms and disperse, a shot was fired, followed by a volley which killed eight and wounded ten of the colonials. The regulars went on to Concord where another encounter occurred at the old North Bridge where the British had stationed a guard. After destroying some stores, the troops started back toward Boston. By this time the militia had gathered, and the incensed farmers and villagers from behind trees, rocks, and fences poured in a deadly fire which did not slacken until the soldiers were relieved at Lexington by troops under Lord Percy. When the march was resumed the battle began again, nor did it cease until the weary soldiers reached Charlestown.
Boston with Environs During the Revolution (Based on map in G.O. Trevelyan, The American Revolution, Part I, at end).
Boston besieged.—The news of Lexington started thousands of New England volunteers toward Boston. John Stark led the New Hampshire men; Israel Putnam left his plow in the furrow to lead the Connecticut volunteers; and Nathanael Greene headed the Rhode Islanders. The volunteer forces in a few weeks were reinforced by large bodies of colonial troops. The Massachusetts congress voted to raise thirteen thousand six hundred men, and it called upon the other New England colonies to bring the army up to thirty thousand. The Rhode Island assembly voted to raise fifteen hundred men, and Connecticut six thousand, two-thirds of whom were to be sent to the aid of Boston. Gage, who had been reinforced with troops under Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne, found his army of six or seven thousand veterans shut up in Boston by an undisciplined and poorly organized force, which, however, outnumbered him three or four to one.
Bunker Hill.—The city was open to attack from Dorchester Heights and the Charlestown hills. To forestall the British, the colonials decided to occupy Bunker Hill. On the night of June 16 Colonel William Prescott was sent to fortify the position. For reasons which are not entirely clear, he led his men to Breed's Hill where a redoubt was constructed. When dawn disclosed the fortification, the warships and batteries opened fire. Prescott asked for reinforcements and small detachments came to his assistance. A British council of war was called. Clinton suggested the seizure of the causeway on Charlestown neck, a movement which would have cut off the colonial force from the mainland. But Gage and Howe, underestimating the fighting ability of their opponents, foolishly insisted upon a frontal attack. Twice the British were repulsed with staggering losses, but during the third charge the colonials exhausted their ammunition and were forced to retreat, first to Bunker Hill and then back to their own lines. Though the colonials technically had suffered a defeat, great was the rejoicing over the battle, for colonial troops had proven their prowess against the British regulars and had taken a toll of two for one.
Ticonderoga and Crown Point—While the troops were gathering about Boston, it occurred to Benedict Arnold that Ticonderoga would be an easy prize. He submitted his ideas to Warren and the committee of safety, who authorized him to proceed with not over four hundred men to reduce the fort. On the way to Boston Arnold had divulged his thoughts to certain Connecticut friends who immediately organized an expedition with the same object. Ethan Allen and others from the Hampshire grants had also conceived the idea of capturing the fortress and were on the march when joined by Arnold, who had gone forward ahead of his troops. Immediately the question of rank arose and after considerable discussion Allen and Arnold agreed to command jointly for the time being.
On May 10 Ticonderoga surrendered without a struggle and this was followed by an easy conquest of Crown Point and Ft. George. By this time Allen completely ignored his colleague, but the arrival of about a hundred of Arnold's men gave him his opportunity. Having captured a British schooner Arnold decided to make a raid on St. Johns. The town was easily captured and a British sloop fell into the hands of the audacious colonial. The operations supplied the Whig army with much needed artillery and stores, and it opened the way for operations in Canada.
Rebellion in Virginia.—Virginia at the same time was in a state of rebellion. The second revolutionary convention assembled at Richmond in March, 1775, and Patrick Henry boldly sounded the call to arms. The governor, Lord Dunmore, in alarm ordered the removal of the gunpowder from the magazine at Williamsburg and soon several thousand armed men made ready to march on the capital. When some of the leaders hesitated, Henry placed himself at the head of an armed band and marched toward Williamsburg. The governor discreetly agreed to pay for the powder, but two days later (May 6, 1775) issued a proclamation charging the people "not to aid, abet, or give countenance to the said Patrick Henry, or any other persons concerned in such unwarrantable combinations." In May a legal assembly was called but the members appeared in arms, and an attempted conciliation failed when it became known that a trap was prepared to kill any one who tampered with the magazine. Fearful of the mob, the governor fled to a war vessel.
The Mecklenburg Resolves.—The news of Lexington aroused every colony. South Carolina immediately raised two regiments. In North Carolina some of the frontiersmen held a meeting at Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and passed resolutions that crown commissions in the colonies were null and void, and that colonial constitutions were suspended. They also made governmental regulations until Congress could provide laws for them. The original resolutions were destroyed and afterward were reproduced from memory in the form of the so-called "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence" of May 20. Reliable historians now reject the authenticity of this document, but the original resolves were undoubtedly genuine.
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