It is often claimed that Massachusetts and Virginia originated the scheme of Revolutionary Committees of Correspondence, but the fact is that the General Assembly of New York on the 18th of October, 1764, appointed a Committee of Correspondence, of which Robert R. Livingston was the chairman. This was the earliest movement of the kind in America, anticipating the action of Massachusetts by six years and that of Virginia by nine. It is also true that the New York committee was more active and less timid than that of Massachusetts.
The organization known as the Sons of Liberty originated in New York and spread to nearly all the other colonies. It was made up of men who gave their time, their means, and their energies to the cause of liberty. Their sufferings and sacrifices were great, and many of them gave up their lives for their country. They were foremost in every struggle, shrank from no danger, and suffered many privations without complaint. They acted as a unit and made their influence widely felt. The two leading members of this organization were John Lamb of New York City, and William Bradford of Philadelphia. Another prominent member was Hugh Gaines of New York, who wrote largely for the patriot press, and was active on committees and as member of various organizations. He served in the army with distinction and at the close of the war became a prominent member of the Society of the Cincinnati. It was one of the New York Sons of Liberty, who, so far as is known, was the first to distinctly point to independence in any written document. It was John Morin Scott who in May, 1765, said, “If the welfare of the mother country necessarily requires a sacrifice of the most natural rights of the colonies—their right of making their own laws, and disposing of their own property by representatives of their own choosing—if such is really the case between Great Britain and her colonies, then the connection between them ought to cease and sooner or later it must inevitably cease.”
Events were shaping themselves for the final outbreak in 1769, as will be seen by the following extracts from a circular headed “To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York,” and signed “A Son of Liberty,” in possession of the New York Historical Society: “My Dear Fellow-Citizens and Countrymen:
“In a Day when the Minions of Tyranny and Despotism in the Mother Country, and the Colonies, are indefatigable in laying every Snare that their malevolent and corrupt Hearts can suggest, to enslave a free people; when this unfortunate Country has been striving under many Disadvantages for three Years past, to preserve their Freedom; . . . when the Merchants of this City and the Capital towns on the Continent, have nobly and cheerfully sacrificed their private Interests to the publick Good, rather than to promote the Designs of the Enemies of our happy Constitution; it might justly be expected, that in this day of Constitutional Light, the Representatives of this Colony, would not be so hardy, nor so lost to all sense of Duty to their Constituents . . . as to betray the Trust committed to them [in passing the vote to give the troops £1,000 out of the Treasury and £1,000 out of the money to be put out on loan, and which the colony would be obliged to make good]. And that they have betrayed the Liberties of the People. . . . And what makes the Assembly’s granting this Money the more grievous, is, that it goes to the Support of the Troops kept here, not to protect, but to enslave us. . . . Is this a State to be rested in when our all is at Stake? No, my Countrymen, Rouse! imitate the noble Example of the Friends of Liberty in England, who rather than be enslaved contend for their right with the K—g, Lords and Commons. And will you suffer your Liberties to be torn from you by your own Representatives? Tell it not in Boston; publish it not in the Streets of Charleston! . . . Assemble in the Fields on Monday next, where your sense ought to be taken on this important Point.”
After the meeting of the following day, which disapproved the action of the Assembly, another handbill, signed “Legion,” appeared, which “caused the Assembly much annoyance, was declared libelous, and a reward of £150 was offered for the discovery of the writer.” Through information given by James Parker, a printer, in whose office the printing was done, and who was threatened with the loss of his place as Secretary of the Postoffice if he did not give the name of the writer, Alexander Macdougal was arrested and imprisoned. New York honors him by naming a street for him, and the historian names him as the first martyr to the cause of liberty. Here is an extract from a letter sent to London from New York on January 22, 1770, which tells of the troublous times in the city:
The trouble referred to in this letter culminated in the two days’ battle of Golden Hill, which has been glorified and perpetuated in history.
[A Liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, which may be surmounted by an ensign or a liberty cap.]
Battle of Golden Hill
Golden Hill was on John Street, near William, and was so called because of the effect produced by the ripening of the wheat grown there. The stamp act greatly aroused the Sons of Liberty in New York. They erected a liberty pole on the common near Golden Hill, and it was a rallying point for the patriots, their headquarters being near by. The pole was cut down by the British soldiers, and replaced by the Sons of Liberty. Twice after this the pole was cut down by the soldiers and erected again by the Sons of Liberty. The fourth pole was fastened with iron braces and protected by filling it with nails, but on the 16th of January the soldiers destroyed this, cut it in pieces, and piled them before the door of La Montayne’s Tavern. This led to the collision between the Sons of Liberty and the British that is spoken of as the Battle of Golden Hill. One citizen was killed, three severely wounded, and a considerable number injured. Many of the soldiers were badly beaten.
The New York Tea Party.
The Liberty Boys were not to be balked by the action of Mayor Hicks and the Common Council on January 30, 1770, in refusing them a site on which to erect a fifth Liberty Pole; nor were they at a loss to find a house in which to meet when the owner of the property which they had previously used as a headquarters was won over to the opposition. To meet the first emergency, they purchased a piece of ground near where the fourth pole stood, and erected thereon what was destined to be the last rallying point previous to the Revolution. To meet the second emergency they purchased a house on what is now the corner of Broadway and Ann street, and christened it Hampden Hall. They consecrated it to the cause of liberty, and on March 19, 1770, celebrated the anniversary of the colony’s triumph over the exactions of the mother country.
Lord Dunmore superseded Colden as Governor on October 25, 1770. His instructions from the home government to the colonists, or rather their representatives, were similar to those of his predecessors—”to continue in well-doing and not to forget to make due appropriations for the troops quartered among them.” During his reign the case of Macdougal was tried, George Clinton, future Governor of New York and Vice-President of the United States, defending him. Later he was released through the influence of friends.
On July 8, 1771, William Tryon was appointed Governor, Lord Dunmore having been transferred to Virginia. This new Governor was voted an income of £2,000 by the complacent Assembly, but refused it, saying he was forbidden to receive any gifts from the Assembly—a new scheme by the home government for securing the submission of the colonies, as the salary of the Governor was to be paid from his majesty’s treasury, and the treasury to be supplied from the colonial taxes.
For the next two years—1772 and 1773—complete stagnation prevailed in New York. Few records of public improvements are to be found, commerce was only partially resumed, and the use of tea by the inhabitants was obsolete. The people thought only of resistance and awaited the day of deliverance from oppression. Only one street—Warren—was laid out and regulated in 1771, and an “iron railing made round the Bowling Green for £800.”- Murray street was regulated the following year.
Much has been written of the Boston Tea Party. New York also had a Tea Party in 1773. In order to entrap the colonists and unguardedly gain their assent to the principle of Parliamentary taxation, the home Ministry passed a law permitting the East India Company to export tea to the colonies free of the duty which before had been paid in England, but retaining the duty which was paid in America. This, of course, reduced the price of tea to the colonists. The bill was declared obnoxious, and measures were decided on to prevent the landing of the large shipments ordered to America. England was alarmed, especially as her Tea Commissions in New York had resigned their commissions. Strong resolutions were passed on November 27, 1773, by the Sons of Liberty condemnatory of the Revenue Act relating to tea, and pledging fealty to one another in the maintaining of a strict quarantine against its introduction in the colony: “Resolved, That, whether the duties imposed by this act be paid in Great Britain or in America, our liberties are equally affected.”
Here is the first record of a boycott;
“Resolved, That whoever shall aid and abet, or in any manner assist in the introduction of tea from any place whatsoever into this colony, while it is subject by a British Parliament to the payment of a duty for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, shall be deemed an enemy to the liberties of America.”
“Resolved, That whoever shall be aiding or assisting in the landing or carting of such tea from any ship or vessel, or shall hire any house, storehouse, or cellar, or any place whatsoever to deposit the tea, subject to such duty, as aforesaid, shall be deemed an enemy to the liberties of America.”
“Resolved, That whoever shall sell or buy, or in any manner contribute to the purchase of tea subject to duty, as aforesaid, or shall aid or abet in transporting such tea by land or water from the city until the 7th, Geo. Ill, Chapter 46, commonly called the Revenue Act, shall be totally and clearly repealed, shall be deemed an enemy to the liberties of America.”
“Resolved, That whether the duties imposed by this act be paid in Great Britain or in America, our liberties are equally affected.”
“Resolved, That whoever shall transgress any of these resolutions, we will not deal with or employ, or have any connection with him.”
On the 16th of December, 1773, the very day of the Boston Tea Party, the New York Sons of Liberty met in the City Hall and unanimously resolved that no tea should be allowed to be landed on any pretext whatever.
The first tea ship to reach Sandy Hook was the Nancy, commanded by Captain Lockyer. It arrived the 18th of April, 1774. On the advice of the pilot, Captain Lockyer decided to go to the city before attempting to land his cargo. He consulted with the Vigilance Committee and became satisfied that it would not be possible for him to land his tea, and he made no attempt to do so. While he was in the city Captain Chambers of the ship London arrived having on board eighteen chests of tea. He declared that he had no tea on board, but the Sons of Liberty made a search and found it, when he declared that it was a private venture and brought without knowledge of the East India Company. This did not satisfy the patriots and the tea was thrown into the harbor. He took the advice of the authorities and left with Lockyer. As the two captains left the people crowded the wharf, hurrahed, fired cannon, and hoisted a flag on the liberty pole as tokens of triumph. The people of New York were not less active, vigilant, or energetic, nor did they stand less firmly for principle than did their brethren at Boston, yet little has been said or written about their part in resisting the tax on tea.