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The American Revolution comes to Lancaster

Ask any elementary student for the date of American Independence, and you will immediately get the response of July 4*.

But when did the American Revolution begin? It was a slow burn with the conflict’s groundwork being laid during the seven-year-long French and Indian War which ended in 1763. As with so many disagreements, much of it boiled down to money. After the fighting ended, Great Britain had debts to pay. The British Parliament felt it was the American colonies who should pay them.

Over the next ten years, the relationship between Parliament and the colonies continued to fray.

So when did Lancaster receive it’s call to arms?

Lancaster’s First Revolutionary Meeting

The first meeting of Lancaster’s Revolutionary patriots likely took place on June 15, 1774, at the courthouse when they resolved that they would boycott trade with Great Britain, urging all the merchants, traders, and manufacturers in the town to join in association with them.

First meeting of Revolutionary Lancaster patriots by Charles X. Carlson
The first meeting of Revolutionary Lancaster patriots by Charles X. Carlson

To understand why you have to rewind to the previous year.

Boston Tea Party

On December 16, 1773, under cover of darkness, over 100 men slipped aboard the cargo ships owned by the British East India Company docked at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. For the next three hours, these men dressed as Indians dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

bostonTeaParty1

The event became known as the Boston Tea Party. This political protest, orchestrated by the Sons of Liberty, was designed to demonstrate American colonists’ frustration and anger at the Britain Parliament for imposing “taxation without representation.”

This was the first significant act of defiance to British rule over the colonists. It showed Great Britain that Americans would not tolerate taxation and tyranny. The event rallied American patriots across the 13 colonies to fight for independence.

In response, the British Parliament passed the Boston Port Act in March 1774. It closed the port of Boston and demanded that the city’s residents pay for the nearly $1 million worth (in today’s money) of destroyed tea.

bostonTeaParty

The Boston Port Act was the first of four acts that together became known as the Coercive Acts. It was Parliament’s hope that the Coercive Acts would isolate Boston from Massachusetts, Massachusetts from New England and New England from the rest of North America, preventing unified colonial resistance to the British.

Their efforts backfired, though. It quickly aroused protests from all the colonies and galvanized many of the colonists.

Committee of Correspondence

A Committee of Correspondence was formed to correspond with Philadelphia patriots, and shortly afterward, formal resolves were printed and a large public meeting held at the Courthouse on July 9, 1774.

The Lancaster County Courthouse in Centre Square
The Lancaster County Courthouse in Centre Square

With George Ross as chairman, they proclaimed their allegiance to the British Crown, but denounced the British Parliament as having been “unconstitutional, unjust and oppressive.”

Meetings and resolutions like this all over the colonies brought many communities together in a common cause, and the organization of patriotic groups to suppress violators of the boycott agreements followed quickly.

The following month in August, two merchants were charged by the committee with having imported a chest of British tea. However, after an investigation, it was determined that the tea had been smuggled into the country without the tax being paid. All charges were dismissed. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

* While we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, 1776, the actual date is July 2. It was on that day when Congress officially declared our freedom from Great Britain when it approved a resolution in a unanimous vote.

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