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Cradle of Violence: How Boston's Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolutionby Russell Bourne
Synopses & Reviews
They did the dirty work of the American Revolution.
Their spontaneous uprisings and violent actions steered America toward resistance to the Acts of Parliament and finally toward revolution. They tarred and feathered the backsides of British customs officials, gutted the mansion of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, armed themselves with marline spikes and cudgels to fight on the waterfront against soldiers of the British occupation, and hurled the contents of 350 chests of British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor under the very guns of the anchored British fleet.
Cradle of Violence introduces the maritime workers who ignited the American Revolution: the fishermen desperate to escape impressment by Royal Navy press gangs, the frequently unemployed dockworkers, the wartime veterans and starving widows — all of whose mounting "tumults" led the way to rebellion. These were the hard-pressed but fiercely independent residents of Boston's North and South Ends who rallied around the Liberty Tree on Boston Common, who responded to Samuel Adams's cries against "Tyranny," and whose headstrong actions helped embolden John Hancock to sign the Declaration of Independence. Without the maritime mobs' violent demonstrations against authority, the politicians would not have spurred on to utter their impassioned words; Great Britain would not have been provoked to send forth troops to quell the mob-induced rebellion; the War of Independence would not have happened.
One of the mobs' most telling demonstrations brought about the Boston Massacre. After it, John Adams attempted to calm the town by dismissing the waterfront characters who had been killed as "a rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues, and outlandish jack tars." Cradle of Violence demonstrates that they were, more truly, America's first heroes.
When historians call Boston the "Cradle of Liberty," they usually credit Bostonians such as John Adams. But, as Russell Bourne argues in this fascinating book, it was not John Adams (who actually defended British soldiers in the aftermath of the 1770 Boston Massacre), but his cousin Sam Adams and the members of Boston's waterfront gangs who were at the vanguard of anti-British resistance. Bringing to life incidents such as the Stamp Act riots of 1765 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773, as well as many earlier actions that gave rise to the port's tradition of rebellion, Bourne shows how the language and actions of Boston's mobs became the template for America's revolution.
Before John Adams and John Hancock, beforethe Sons of Liberty and the Committees of Correspondence, before Paul Revere's midnight ride, there were the rebellious maritime poor of Boston. Although these fishermenand merchant seamen had sweated and died to produce the vast wealth of America's preeminent port, they were cut off from its benefits. Impressed by the Royal Navy and slaughtered in Great Britain's imperial wars, they were the first to feel the pain and privation of the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and other measures imposed by Parliament and King George III. And they were the first to take violent action against them.
Cradle of Violence tells the story of these sailors and their families and the rest of the oppressed maritime populace: the exploited apprentices and runaway slaves, the career smugglers and sometime pirates, the laid-off dockworkers and seasonal ropewalk spinners. Casually dismissed by political leaders, but with a salty heritage of crewing and fighting together against all challengers, they were the ones with the down and dirty strength to gather in the streets of Boston and resist the authority of the British Empire.
Bourne demonstrates that galvanizing events such as the destructive Stamp Act riots, theBoston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party could not have happened anywhere else in America. He shows how independent-minded merchants and ambitious craftsmen like Samuel Adams and Paul Revere made common cause with waterfront workers like cordwainer Ebenezer Mackintosh and Captain Henry Smith. In a communal rage, they started a sea swell of opposition to Great Britain that ultimately engulfed the land, resulting in the "shot heard 'round the world" of 1775.
The names of those rioters from Boston's North and South Ends don't appear on the Declaration of Independence or in the roll of delegates to the Continental Congress. These working-class rebels are more likely to show up on the list of seamen liberated from the town's jails at the time of the waterfront uprisings—on the rosters of those who died in the Boston Massacre—or in the pages of Cradle of Violence.
About the Author
Russell Bourne is a writer and publishing consultant. The author of several books on American history. He divides his time between Ithaca, New York and Castine, Maine.
Table of Contents
Preface: Boston’s “Jack Tars” and the Birth of Rebellion.
PART ONE: The Ancient Ideal of Seamen’s Equality.
1. The Maritime Origins of a Mutinous Town.
2. The Seaport’s First Revolt.
3. The Rising of the Mobs.
4. The South End Gang and the Stamp Act.
5. The Sailors’ Liberty Tree.
PART TWO: Waterfront Uprisings before the Revolution.
6. Tar, Feathers, and Terror.
7. A Dockside Riot and the Massacre.
8. The Maritime Workers’ Tea Party.
9. The Fighting Spirit of a Besieged Boston.
Epilogue “Public Liberty”: An Enduring Dream.
Acknowledgments, Sources, and Interpretations.
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