In late 1773, the Tea Act was imposed by Parlimament. The Act sought to give the British East India Company a monopoly on the tea trade by imposing a heavy tax on Dutch tea. In protest, Patriots disguised as Mohawk Indians and led by John Hancock gathered in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. They were covered in blankets and each sported a hatchet or axe and a pair of pistols. They boarded 3 vessels in the harbor, broke open 342 cases of tea and tossed it into the Harbor.
Parliament took swift action by passing The Intolerable Acts, which consisted of a number of measures. First, the Boston Port Act closed the port altogether until the full value of the tea was paid for the destroyed tea. The Quartering Act saw a return of British troops and a blockade of the Harbor. Finally, the Massachusetts Regulating Act revoked the Colonial charter and gave the Governor very broad powers. Among the powers granted the governor was the sole power to appoint all judicial and office appointments and removals. The town selectmen, who were selected by the populace, could no longer call meetings without first obtaining the permission of the Governor. In addition, jurors were now selected by the Sheriff, who was appointed by the Governor.
The Town Council was replaced by the Mandamus Counselors. The counselers were appointed by “mandamus” by the Governor and consisted of 36 men. Mandamus meant that they were ordered to serve on the Council. People selected to serve were either staunch supporters of the Crown, or were intimidated to behave. The Council was officially known as “Mandamus Counselors”, but the populace named them “the Divan”, after the Ottoman empire’s Privy Council.
General Thomas Gage stepped in as the Governor, and combined with his power as the commanding general of all the British troops, was meant to be a show of extreme force to bring the unruly colonists into submission. All these actions, along with the efforts to disarm the inhabitants, had the opposite effect in driving them to form militias. Gage of course downplayed (lied about) the implementation of the Acts, but by Summer 1774, British warships arrived and the British began enforcement of the Intolerable Acts, including seizure of firearms and gunpowder.
Meetings were cancelled or controlled and strategies to disarm the inhabitants were developed by Gage using the Divan. It was decided that the easiest way to begin was to restrict trade or seize the gunpowder stored in the Powder Houses. (Gunpowder in those days was far less stable than today, so for safety reasons, gunpowder was stored in specially constructed Powder Houses that were built away from other businesses and homes.) Gage took decisive action on September 1, 1774, and sought to restrict withdrawals of powder from the Powder Houses. This decision became known as The Powder Alarm, and it was quickly modified from “protecting” the powder to a seizure by The Crown. This caused numerous protest at several of the British commander’s homes, as well as those members of the Divan, pressuring them to back off.
Gage then responded by ordering that merchants sell their inventory of firearms and ammunition to the Crown, as well as an order that the inhabitants turn in their arms. All these escalating actions took place in just two days!
The attention by the Crown was focused on Massachusetts with the enforcement of the Intolerable Acts, but word quickly spread and motivated the other colonies to begin mobilizing their militias. John Andrews reported on September 5 that upwards of a hundred thousand men were armed and marching on Boston to support the patriots. News of The Powder Alarm first spread into Connecticut, followed quickly by Pennsylvania and Virginia. All the famous leaders of colonies became actively engaged in the protests against seizure of private property, names like Paul Revere, John Q Adams, John Andrews, John Hancock, and Dr. Joseph Warren.
The numbers of patriots that were well armed, and with great marksmanship skills, were already well known by the British, and the Intolerable Acts now caused them to become well organized. The Patriots formed the Provincial Congress, only to be declared by Gage as an unlawful assembly. The Provincial Congress met anyway, and they appointed a Committee of Safety, which had the power to call out the militia when necessary.
The patriot movement continued to expand the organization of militias and accumulation of arms and ammunition, now also including the colonies of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maryland, and South Carolina. Gage was a tyrant, but he was also very intelligent, and recognized that disarming the colonies was going to take many more troops, including hiring of Foreign Troops. An Act by Gage was rebutted with a stronger act by the Patriots, and tensions escalated and so did the Patriot’s reserves of people, arms, and ammunition. The British increased their searches and seizures anytime they could, especially with regard to arms and ammunition. By the end of 1774, the British had pushed the Americans closer and closer to outright rebellion.