Friday, July 28, 2023

Withdraw the "sacred guarantee of their liberties" // 20 May 1774 – the London government's retaliation for the Boston Tea Party

On the very same day that the Siege of Derry began - 18 April 1689 - on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean the Boston Revolt happened. 2000 colonists took up arms, an orange flag was raised on Beacon Hill overlooking Boston Harbour (highlighted on the 1722 map above, and on the detail of this 1689 map below). A public Declaration of the Gentlemen, Merchants, and Inhabitants of Boston, and the Countrey Adjacent was made in the market square, including this reference – 

... the Almighty God hath been pleased to prosper the noble undertaking of the Prince of Orange, to preserve the three Kingdoms ...


Around the same time a German emigrant, Jacob Leisler, and 400 men seized control of the Province of New York, making a declaration in the name of William and Mary. He named himself Lieutenant Governor of New York, but then seems to have gone rogue. Lots more detail here.

On 7 October 1691, during the joint reign of King William III and Queen Mary II, the Province of Massachusetts Bay was granted its Charter. It was based upon William and Mary's Bill of Rights of 1689, which was their very first law, passed at their Coronation. In The Minutemen and Their World (published 2001) Robert A Gross described it as follows – "the Massachusetts Province Charter of 1691, which the inhabitants treasured as a sacred guarantee of their liberties". Shown above is the original manuscript, from this website.

Jump forward 80-ish years and Boston Harbour was probably still a delicate infusion with a tinge of brown from the 342 chests of tea that the Sons of Liberty had thrown into it in December 1773.

One of the responses by the government came on 20 May 1774 when the Massachusetts Charter was 'abrogated' or withdrawn by the London Parliament (see Wikipedia here). Massachusetts had its autonomy scrapped, and it was made a royal colony, with a new governor installed - military man Thomas Gage. His job was to implement four punitive new laws, known to the 'colonists' as the Intolerable Acts.

Son of Ulster emigrants Hugh Williamson, in his The Plea Of The Colonies which was published the next year in 1775, wrote that “the charter of Massachusetts was changed without necessity, without provocation ... by that single stroke every other province was informed that nothing was sacred or secure"


• News of William Prince of Orange's arrival at Torbay had reached Boston a few weeks before all of this kicked off, on 4 April 1689, when a young Bostonian called John Winslow returned from the Caribbean island of Nevis with news of William's Declaration of October 1688. Winslow was arrested and imprisoned for bringing a 'traitorous and treasonable libel into the country', with an astronomical bail of £2000 offered. The Declaration was reprinted in Boston around that time by "R.P." Richard Pierce. See full account here.

• 1985 article Communicating an English Revolution to the Colonies, 1688-1689 by Ian K. Steele is on Jstor here.

• The full quote from The Minutemen and Their World, by Robert A Gross (2001): "Parliament contemptuously abrogated the Massachusetts Province Charter of 1691, which the inhabitants treasured as a sacred guarantee of their liberties".

• Another quote: "After the “Glorious Revolution”, William III issued Massachusetts Bay “and all the adjacent territories” which they united, a new Royal charter in 1691, which reflected all the political progress brought by the English Bill of Rights. The tone, style and intent of that colonial charter, echoed the original 1606 first charter as well as previous royal charters going back to Magna Carta, as the document insisted on the solemnity and contractual form of the grant of freedom and political liberties given by the King to his subjects..." - from this pdf on

• Neighbouring Connecticut had its charter revoked by King James II in 1687, in his attempt to merge various colonies in America into a new 'Dominion of New England'. It was reinstated by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689. Summary here.

• Image below from this website