Here to return to
BEGINNINGS OF THE REVOLUTION.
The colonies were very heavily taxed to pay the expenses of the long French and Indian War. Taxes were imposed by the Parliament of England, and as the colonies had no voice in its decisions, they complained that taxation without representation was unjust. The English replied that many of their own cities had no representation in Parliament, yet they had to pay taxes; that the wars had been carried on for the benefit of the colonies, and that they ought to pay their share of the expenses. To this the colonists said that they were willing to pay their share, but the fact that certain Englishmen were not represented in Parliament did not affect the rights of the case.
In order to make the colonists buy sugar and molasses from her planters in the West Indies, England had passed, in 1733, what was called the Sugar Act, which placed such a heavy duty on sugar and molasses raised in countries not under her control, that none could be imported from them except secretly.
In 1750 Parliament passed laws forbidding the colonists to make iron bars. This act put a stop to the iron industry and closed shops in New Hampshire that had been rolling iron bars since 1747. They were called slitted iron and from them the blacksmiths and mechanics cut out bolts and nails.
Besides these unjust laws, Great Britain claimed the right to press New England sailors into service in her navy, whenever she had need of men. One captain was taken from his ship just as he was leaving the harbor of Portsmouth.
Pine Tree Law. — In 1710 all pine trees twelve inches or more in diameter had been marked with the “King’s Arrow,” which indicated that they were to be saved for use in the royal navy, and in 1722 the general court of New Hampshire had made it a criminal offense to cut down any of them. This law, as may be imagined, was very unpopular with the settlers, since they needed the lumber as much for building their houses as did the king for his navy. Governor Wentworth was appointed “Surveyor of the King’s Woods,” and had under his authority several deputies whose duty it was to see that the Pine Tree Law was properly enforced. To add insult to injury, if any man wished to clear his land, he must pay one of the deputies to come and mark the king’s trees.
The Rioters at Weare (1772). — It happened at Weare, that a man named Mudgett fell under suspicion of cutting down the king’s trees, and Governor Wentworth sent one of his deputies, named Whiting, to arrest him. The sheriff did not arrive at Weare until late in the afternoon, when he found Mudgett with several companions at a neighboring tavern. The prisoner protested against being taken away that evening, and finally prevailed upon the sheriff to remain at the tavern overnight, assuring him that his friends would be able to provide bail in the morning.
The townspeople, aroused and indignant at the arrest of their neighbor, assembled during the night and determined to show the authorities the Contempt in which they held the “Pine Tree Law.” A company of stalwart men was chosen, and at about four o’clock in the morning they rapped on the door of the sheriff’s room and told him that the bailers of the prisoner stood ready outside. Whiting, grumbling at being aroused thus early, opened the door. He was then quickly seized, stretched over the bed and given his bail with good hickory switches which had been brought for the occasion. When sufficient bail had been administered, the much abused sheriff was taken down stairs, placed upon his horse, and amid the jeers of the people was led through the principal streets of the town.
These “rioters at Weare” were afterwards arraigned and each fined twenty shillings, which small fine leads us to think that the judge sympathized as much with the rioters as he did with the authorities. Of all the oppressive measures which the mother country imposed upon the colonies, none was so odious to the people of New Hampshire as the Pine Tree Law. It did more to unify our forefathers in active resistance against Great Britain than any other one thing.
Acts of Unjust Taxation. — The Navigation Acts, passed from 1650 onward, forbade the colonists to trade in any but English ships. These measures became so odious that it was impossible to enforce them, and smuggling was extensively carried on. In 1760, Parliament determined to put a stop to it and to enforce the laws. The sheriffs received orders to aid the collectors and were given power to search houses and vessels for goods that had been illegally imported. So strong was public opinion against this measure that the king’s officers did not dare even to remain in the colony.
Nothing of English manufacture could be sold, and the colonists made every endeavor to supply necessary articles by home manufacture. This served as a stimulus to New Hampshire industries. A great impetus was given to the weaving of Cloth in the homes, and one family, it is said, produced seven hundred yards in a year.
In February, 1765, the Stamp Act was passed, which enacted that legal papers and even newspapers must have a government stamp. They were sold by public officers, and the money was supposed to go for the protection and defense of the colonists.
When the ships bearing the stamps arrived at Portsmouth the bells tolled and the people assembled as for a funeral procession. A coffin with the word “LIBERTY” in capital letters engraved upon it, was borne to the cemetery on the shoulders of eight men, while the minute gun was fired. When they arrived at the burying ground, a funeral oration was pronounced and the coffin was lowered into the open grave. Then it was raised again with the inscription changed to “LIBERTY REVIVED,” and with cheering and shouting the procession returned to the town.
In the English Parliament, Chatham and Burke upheld the conduct of the colonists, but Parliament would not recede from its position, and these oppressive measures continued to widen the breach between England and her colonies until war was finally declared.