While we always focus on 1776 every 4th of July, the summer of 1775 was equally important to America’s independence.
As Americans gather around their grills this Independence Day and celebrate yet another year of living in one of the greatest (though not perfect) democratic republics on Earth, it’s worthy to remember that American independence was not just about the declaration that made it so on July 4th, 1776. The American Revolution had been happening for years before our Founding Fathers finally signed the document that separated us from the British empire, and the entire thing came to a bloody head 240 years ago in the summer of 1775. In that year, the results of the colonies being oppressed went from rebellion to full-on war. Demonstrations, boycotts, riots and massacres turned into all-out battles with heavy casualties to officially usher in the start of the American Revolutionary War -- a year before the Declaration of Independence was even signed.
The seeds of revolution had been sown for over a decade before the war started. As loyal subjects during the The French and Indian War, the colonists fought alongside the British to ensure their victory in 1763, but the war had left Britain with quite a bit of debt. While the colonists rightfully expected their contributions to the war to be respected and repaid, the British empire instead sought to pay off their debts at the expense of the colonists. This ushered in years of new taxes via “acts” -- such as the Currency Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act and the infamous Tea Act. After the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the revered Boston Tea Party in 1773, the colonists in Boston became the British government’s number one enemy, and parliament sought to address the problem. In 1774, the British passed even more “acts” that were meant to to squash any threat of rebellion, known as the Intolerable Acts. In response, the colonists organized the First Continental Congress and started training their militias, essentially setting the stage for war.
While the colonists rightfully expected their contributions to the war to be respected and repaid, the British empire instead sought to pay off their debts at the expense of the colonists. This ushered in years of new taxes via “acts” -- such as the Currency Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act and the infamous Tea Act.
Sure enough, by February 1775, Massachusetts was declared in a state of rebellion and British troops were given the task of disarming the rebels and arresting their leaders, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock. This led to the famous ride of Paul Revere and the “shot heard ‘round the world” at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The British were searching for the colonists’ military supplies stored in Concord (just outside of Boston) and soundly defeated the rebels who tried to stop them in the early morning hours at Lexington. The British continued their march towards Concord where they encountered even more militiamen and both sides suffered even more casualties. Surprised and defeated, the British troops began their long march back to Boston, but at that point, word had gotten out about the bloodshed and the British were attacked from behind trees and rocks the entire way, experiencing heavy casualties. Around 15,000 militiamen then surrounded the British in Boston, setting the stage for a siege of the city.
Since Boston is on a peninsula, access to the city was mainly restricted to the harbors, which the British easily controlled. The Brits continued to build up their forces (to about 6,000) as well as their supplies throughout May 1775, fixing to bust out of the city and attack the militiamen in June. Word of this plan got out to the colonists, so they began their own maneuvers (with a little over 1,200 militiamen) into the peninsula of Charlestown to attack the British from there, setting the stage for the famous Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. It took the British three separate attacks and almost all of their reinforcements that day to eventually force the rebels to retreat from Charlestown back into Cambridge, and while it was technically a British victory, the British suffered enormous casualties -- over 200 dead and 800 wounded -- while the rebels only had around 500. While the First Continental Congress continued to tell parliament that they wanted to remain under the British empire with self-rule, the damage had been done. Good ol’ King George III declared that the all the states were now in rebellion, and anyone in the Continental Congress or in arms against the British troops were to be treated as traitors.
So while you and your family watch the parades and fireworks this 4th of July, please remember that the day is about much more than just independence -- it’s about perseverance, standing up to tyranny and venturing into the unknown, just as our Founding Fathers did in the summer of 1775.
That was the scene 240 years ago in what was to be known the following summer as the United States of America. It’s fascinating to think of the uncertainty at that time -- the colonists stopped considering themselves subjects and started thinking of themselves as states with rights. They fought back against their oppressive rulers with military arms and well-trained forces. They did so not knowing what their fate would be, and their leaders were just as uncertain. Even the militias did not engage in any more serious battles after Bunker Hill until later that year, a brief calm before the storm. So while you and your family watch the parades and fireworks this 4th of July, please remember that the day is about much more than just independence -- it’s about perseverance, standing up to tyranny and venturing into the unknown, just as our Founding Fathers did in the summer of 1775. At that point, thankfully, there was no turning back.
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