[ A High Price to Pay ]

Battle of Bunker Hill engraving

“The Battle of Bunker’s Hill,” engraving by Smith & Knight, Boston, after a painting by Col. Trumbull. In: A History of New England…Vol. 1 (Boston, 1880).


These are Taxing Times

Starting in 1651 with the first of the Navigation Acts, Great Britain began placing trade restrictions on all the British colonies, including duties and taxes on imports and exports. Over the next 100+ years, a series of punitive Navigation Acts hampered the colonial economy by curtailing trade with any country considered a rival to Great Britain and mandating that only English ships could be used for transporting merchandise. This was a key reason New Englanders developed such a robust shipbuilding industry (boats made in the colonies were considered English vessels).

To avoid the onerous tariffs, many New England merchants engaged in various schemes and some even resorted to smuggling. While prohibited from doing so by law, they traded directly with Southern European countries and recreated the triangle trade – where rum was traded for enslaved Africans, who were traded in the West Indies for molasses and sugar to bring back to New England to make more rum. Great Britain retaliated against these offenses with even more stringent taxation policies, eliciting the cries on New England to “taxation without representation.”

To the British, a colony’s primary role was to serve the mother country, but to American colonists, the taxes, duties and governing policies had gone too far, demonstrating the British had no concern for the welfare and quality of life in colonial America. As daily life became more unbearable and hostilities grew, American colonists rebelled and fought for their rights and independence in the American Revolution (1775 – 1783).

While the colonies won the war and gained economic freedom from England, it would take another thirty years and the War of 1812 before that freedom was completely recognized internationally, and the U.S.A could begin its historical growth as an independent nation.


Questions to Consider:

How do you feel about government taxes today?

Do you feel Congress is representing your views?

Do you feel your tax dollars are being put to good use?

Are high taxes on certain products unfair – such as luxury tax?


You’re Invited to a Tea Party!

ship model of the Dartmouth

Richard Glanville
Model of the ship Dartmouth of Bedford [New Bedford], Massachusetts, 2013. Purchased in honor of John Garfield, 2013.54

Built for merchant Joseph Rotch in 1767, the ship Dartmouth was the first large vessel built at Bedford Village. The Dartmouth, built to carry cargos of whale oil to Great Britain and goods to the colonies in return became famously involved in “Destruction of the Tea” in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773.


Did you know that the bark Dartmouth, one of the “Boston Tea Party” ships, was the first large vessel built in New Bedford? In 1767, members of the Rotch family, Quakers form Nantucket and New Bedford, commissioned the construction of the Dartmouth (182 tons, 63 feet long at the keet). She was a merchant vessel used to trade whale oil from the colonies for commercial goods from Great Britain.

In 1773, the British government enacted the Tea Act which allowed the British East India Company to export tea duty-free but they could levy a tax on its sale in the American colonies (Americans drank a lot of tea!). In protest, the famous slogan “No taxation without representation” was voiced loudly by a coalition of Boston merchants and craftsmen calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty,”

When the Dartmouth, the Beaver (also a Rotch vessel) and the Eleanor arrived in Boston harbor with their cargos of tea, the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Native Americans, boarded the vessels and threw all of the tea overboard in a non-violent protest against the Crown. This was among the more significant events leading up to the American Revolution. Unfortunately, the Dartmouth was lost the very next year, in 1774, on her return voyage from London.


Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin


The Boston Massacre – March 5, 1770


Boston Massacre, Lithograph by J.H. Buford, Boston after a drawing by W. Champney, 1856. Gift of Mrs. David Kempton. # 1918.2Boston Massacre, Lithograph by J.H. Buford, Boston after a drawing by W. Champney, 1856. Gift of Mrs. David Kempton. # 1918.2

This print depicts the death of Crispus Attucks, a mixed Wampanoag and African American mariner, and was issued just before the Civil War as an abolitionist symbol.

On King Street in Boston, Massachusetts, colonists harassed a British soldier at his post which soon resulted in an angry mob. Other soldiers came to his support and, without orders, fired into the crowd killing five people including Crispus Attucks, a black mariner.

At the time of the Boston Massacre, British soldiers were stationed in Boston, and their presence was anything but popular. One of their primary objectives was to enforce the Townshend Acts of 1767, a series of laws meant to generate income to pay colonial governors.

Paul Revere’s famous engraving of this scene (copied from the original sketch by a local artist, Henry Pelham) was advertised in the Boston Gazette (from which the above lithograph is loosely derived) and sold as a print. This masterpiece of anti-British propaganda spread throughout the colonies and incited even more animosity toward the British. (See Lithograph by J.H. Buford, above)


“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” – Thomas Jefferson


“Not Worth a Continental”

The American colonial economy, while thriving with trade, was cash poor. Apart from codfish, lumber, furs and whale oil, New Englanders did not have a great deal of valuable produce or raw materials to trade with England in return for manufactured goods.

Gold and silver coinage (called specie), the medium of exchange upon which the American dollar was based, were not produced in the colonies although they were readily accepted as legal tender as late as 1857.

The values of these coins were inconsistent as each colony rated the exchange differently. So the Colonists printed paper money and as long as the paper was backed by English specie, it maintained its value.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress issued paper money to cover military expenses backed by the intention of collecting tax revenue to cover the cost. This led to rampant inflation and devaluation of the Continental dollar, soon widely perceived as worthless. The American economy took more than a decade to recover from the war.


detail of drumJohn Ashton, Jr., of London. Military drum, circa 1780, White pine, vellum, oak, rope leather, ferrous metal. 00.134.6

This drum is purported to have been used by Rhode Island native Levi Smith in a company commanded by
Major General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), “The Fighting Quaker,” during the American Revolution. It bears the early seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts depicting an Algonquin Native American and the motto: “Ense Petit  Placidam Sub Libertate Quietem,” meaning “She seeks with the sword a quiet peace under liberty.”





flagAmerican flag, possibly before 1820, Wool and cotton. 00.110.22

The nine stripes on this flag represent the nine colonies that made up the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 that met in New York in June of that year to protest a tax deemed onerous. Present at the Congress were delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.










Major support for this exhibition comes from the William M. Wood Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Last modified: August 19, 2016