J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Allison on the Revolution in Boston, 5 Apr.

On Wednesday, 5 April, Robert J. Allison will speak about “Boston and the American Revolution” at the Boston Public Library as part of its Local & Family History Series.

This talk will explore such questions as “Why did the Revolution begin in Boston?” and “Why were Bostonians more rebellious than other British subjects in North America?”

Though perhaps, given what Rhode Islanders got away with in the years before 1775, an equally important question might be “Why did the British royal government push back harder against the political resistance in Boston?”

Bob Allison is chairman of the history department of Suffolk University, where he also created a popular online course about Boston history. His many books include The Boston Massacre, A Short History of Boston, and The American Revolution: A Concise History. Bob is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and leader of the Revolution 250 coalition.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. in the Abbey Room of the big library building in Copley Square. It is free and open to the public.


Dan Cornette said...

“Why did the Revolution begin in Boston?”

I find it unfortunate that we still need to perpetuate the idea that the Revolution began in Boston. While it's true Boston was the location of the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, these two events had more to do with the fact that Boston was the seat of the American Board of Customs Commissioners, and perhaps the disparate impact of the Sugar Act on the New England colonies.

The bias revealed in that question reflects the sectionalism of modern historians. I think it makes about as much sense as asking why Virginia won the American Revolution. There were references to the "common cause" of the American colonies as early as 1773. Moreover, I believe that if Boston's merchant community was not assured of support from the other colonies it would not have supported the tea riot on Dec. 16, 1773. In which case the Revolution would have been very short. I think the more interesting question is how did the far flung American colonies with diverse interests come together to form a united front against the British.

J. L. Bell said...

I have no problem with the question of why the American Revolution began in Boston, or eastern Massachusetts. That region did see the first street protests against the Stamp Act, the nastiest fight over non-importation, the most active response from the Customs Commissioners (as you note), the Massacre, the Tea Party, the Coercive Acts, the Powder Alarm, and the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

That's not to say important things didn't happen elsewhere, of course. As you note, continental approval (and, to some extent, rivalry) prompted the Massachusetts Patriots to keep pushing against the Stamp Act, Tea Act, and other measures. But generally the conflict was worst in New England.

I think the bigger problem with a Boston-based Revolutionary historiography is the notion that the Revolution ended in Boston with a bit of mopping up after the British left. That's also an exaggeration, of course, but a lot of narratives seem to skip from the evacuation of 1776 to Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, and Yorktown.