A Connecticut Response to the Coercive Acts

On December 16, 1773, Bostonians dumped 340 chests holding 92,000 pounds or 46 tons of East India Company tea into the harbor. Due to the distance news had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and then for the gears of government to crank a response, it was not until March of 1774 that Lord Frederick North, his administration, and Parliament passed the Coercive Acts.

The Coercive or Intolerable Acts as they were referred to in the American colonies were actually four acts in total, including the Boston Port Act, which closed the port to all commerce, the Massachusetts Government Act, restricting town meetings and changed the governor’s council to an appointed body, the Administration of Justice Act, which gave immunity to British officials from prosecution in Massachusetts, and lastly the Quartering Act, ordering colonists to house British troops when demanded.

Side note: A fifth act, the Quebec Act extended freedom of worship to Canadian Catholics and this decree was looped into the Intolerable Acts by the colonists.

Understandably the response in Massachusetts was one of defiance, protest, and angst and the acts are credited with promoting momentum toward independence. What was not truly appreciated by the British government was the outcry from other colonies.

On this date in 1774, the town of Farmington, Connecticut showed what the passage of the Coercive Acts meant. On May 19, a handbill, a small printed advertisement or notice, was distributed around the town inviting the inhabitants to a gathering to honor “the immortal Goddess of Liberty.”

Northwest View of Farmington from Round Hill – John Warner Barber, 1836

Besides the event to honor liberty, the handbill informed readers the day would include an execution of “the late infamous Act of the British Parliament.” A Connecticut newspaper covered the day’s activities, estimating the crowd size at over 1,000 people and within the crowd were members of the Sons of Liberty.

As the day wound down and the sun started to set, the town erected a tall pole, “consecrated to the Shrine of Liberty.” To cap off the day, a reading of the Boston Port Bill was completed and the legislation was “sentenced to the flames.” If that was not enough to show their distaste, the paper was “executed by the hands of the common hangman.”

Yet, the day’s activities were not done nor was it suffice enough to just execute the heinous act in the eyes of these colonists. Unanimously, the men of the town resolved that:

“the present Ministry, being instigated by the Devil, and led on by their own wicked and corrupt hearts, have a design to take away our liberties and properties and to enslave us forever… [furthermore, Farmington condemned] the insults offered to the town of Boston…[urging] those Pimps and Parasites who dared to advise their Master to such detestable measures, be held in utter abhorrence by us and every American, and their names loaded with the curses of all succeeding generations.”

Fiery rhetoric from the citizens of Farmington but the resolution was not finished until a secular invocation was given:

“Do thou great LIBERTY inspire our souls! And make our lives in thy possession happy! Or our deaths glorious in they just defense!

Seven years later, men vowing to defend that quest for liberty marched in. The tramping boots were on the feet of a European army but not a British one looking for retribution. Instead, a French force, under the comte de Rochambeau would spend the night of June 25, 1781. This force would march directly through the town, according to an atlas of maps attributed to the French leader and gathered together in October 1782.

“Camp à Farmington le 28 Octobre, 13 milles de Barn’s Tavern. — 1782.”
(courtesy of University of Connecticut Library)

This may have been the largest gathering in the town since the May 19, 1774

The march of the French took them from Hartford, Connecticut down the Farmington Avenue until they reached the town of Farmington, which would be their seventh encampment on the trek. The Frenchman spent that early summer evening on the south-side of the town, on the edge of the town center or green. Rochambeau and his coterie of officers found quarters inside, at the Elm Tree Inn.

As the Frenchmen bedded down for the evening near the town center, one wonders if the liberty pole was still standing…

*For an excellent overview of this and other events from the general populace of Colonial America on the eve of the American Revolution, the author highly recommends “American Insurgents, American Patriots” by T.H. Breen.*

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