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Monday, January 3, 2022

January 3, 2022: 2022 Anniversaries: 1772 and the Revolution

[A few years back I started January by highlighting some of the historic anniversaries we’d be commemorating in the year to come. It was a fun series, so I thought I’d do the same this year with some 2022 anniversaries. Leading up to a special post on predictions for 2022!]

On three moments that foreshadowed three distinct layers to the oncoming Revolution.

1)      Committee of Correspondence: One of the main things that had to happen before there could be an American Revolution was that 13 disparate and in many ways dissimilar colonies had to find common cause, and one of the principal means for achieving that cohesion was through writing. In April 1772, fiery Massachusetts legislator Samuel Adams proposed a means for such collective conversation, a “Committee of Correspondence” between the colonies over their relationship with England. It took a few months to get off the ground, but on November 2nd Adams and his colleague and friend Joseph Warren formally formed the first such Committee, a vital moment in the development of an overarching American pre-Revolutionary perspective and voice.

2)      The Gaspee Affair: The build-up to the Revolution was also and equally defined by impassioned and violent protest, however. If the 1770 Boston Massacre was one of the first prominent such events, a second took place in June 1772, when Rhode Island merchant sailor and firebrand Abraham Whipple led a group of fifty compatriots in trapping and burning the British customs schooner HMS Gaspee off the colony’s coast. The attack, undertaken in opposition to the longstanding Navigation Acts by which England heavily taxed American shipping, is sometimes defined as the Revolution’s first act of war, and at the very least was one of those significant steps that fundamentally altered the relationship between the colonies and the Crown.

3)      Somerset v. Stewart: Events in the colonies were far from the only precipitating factors in the Revolution, of course. In recent years, thanks in large part to the 1619 Project, more and more attention has been paid to the effects of England’s evolving anti-slavery efforts and moments on the colonies. One prominent such anti-slavery moment was the June 1772 legal decision Somerset v. Stewart, in which Judge Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery was (at least in some essential ways) incompatible with English Common Law. The question of whether and how this decision applied to the colonies, and thus what role it played in the pre-Revolutionary debates over slavery, was in that era and remains in our own contested—but there’s no doubt that both cases and histories like this one played a role, and represent one more 1772 step on the road to Revolution.

Next anniversary tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

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