The causes of the American Revolution are complex, and events leading to the war were as involved as those leading to any war.
There is no doubt that the increasing wealth and success of the colonies was a factor, creating a sense of self-reliance. It’s no wonder that several successful businessmen prominent in the Revolutionary cause were from Marblehead.
In the 1750s and ’60s, Marblehead was one of the wealthiest towns in all of the English colonies. There had been many years of relative freedom from governmental constraints while England was occupied in wars with France. This caused colonists to feel independent and to rebel against forms of taxation and restricted freedom they felt to be unfair. England was financially strained and by the 1760s sought to claim income from the American colonies.
The colonies were such a rich prize, just waiting to be plucked. Perhaps if the crown had been less greedy and more willing to extend self-governing rights, an open break might not have occurred. We hear a lot about taxation as a cause for unrest, but taxes were not what bothered the colonists most. They wanted a say in their government, and that was the real issue.
We are used to thinking of 1776 as the start of the American Revolution. That is the date of the Declaration of Independence, and as such marks the declaration of war, but signs of unrest and rebellion had begun much earlier.
As early as 1754, Benjamin Franklin called for a single government for the American colonies. One of the most inflammatory moves by the British government was the Stamp Act of 1765, which was the first tax levied directly on American colonists by the British Parliament. The act imposed a tax on all paper documents in the colonies. Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 and repealed it in 1766. Then came the Townshend Act which taxed British goods imported into the colonies, including tea.
The people of Marblehead were incensed by these laws and saw King George and Parliament as their enemies. They protested the purchase of English goods and boycotted tea. In Boston, British troops were brought in to keep the peace which incensed everyone and finally resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770. The final stand on tea took place in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party. Marbleheader Elisha Story took part as a member of the Sons of Liberty, and was supported by most of the town.
Next time, we’ll explore the role of loyalists and their increasingly unpopular position in Marblehead.
Pam Peterson chairs the Marblehead Historical Commission.