Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776

Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776

Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776

Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776

Excerpt

Historians have long been at pains to explain why New York was the last of the thirteen colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain, in 1776. New York City is especially perplexing, for a decade earlier the opposition of its residents to the Stamp Act had brought the city to the brink of rebellion.

For months, in 1765, partisans had been erecting the stage and collecting the props for the street theater that was to commence as soon as the hated stamp tax became effective, on Friday, November 1. Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden, an overzealous royal appointee, had been busy since July readying Fort George, at the southwest tip of Manhattan Island, to withstand a mob's assault. And a "secret unknown party" opposed to the tax had been predicting violence for almost as long. Local patricians knew tumult was inevitable, but the violent tremor that struck on that Friday shook their confidence and convinced them that anarchy had engulfed New York.

The actual drama had begun on Thursday, the day before the Stamp Act was to take effect. After merchants voted to boycott British imports, dissidents roamed the streets, shouting "Liberty" and breaking "thousands of windows." Rumor had it that Maj. Thomas James, a British officer who had bragged that he would "cram the Stamps down their Throats," was to be buried alive. Tension mounted on Friday. As soldiers prepared for the mob's onslaught, marines from warships in the harbor took up defensive positions inside the fort. Garden fences and other structures outside its walls were leveled so that "the Great Guns might . . .

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