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From Grandfather's Chair, 1840

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part 3
Chapter 7


"OUR old chair," resumed Grandfather, "did not now stand in the midst of a gay circle of British officers. The troops, as I told you, had been removed to Castle William immediately after the Boston massacre. Still, however, there were many tories, custom house officers, and Englishmen who used to assemble in the British Coffee House and talk over the affairs of the period. Matters grew worse and worse; and in 1773 the people did a deed which incensed the king and ministry more than any of their former doings."

Grandfather here described the affair, which is known by the name of the Boston Tea Party. The Americans, for some time past, had left off importing tea, on account of the oppressive tax. The East India Company, in London, had a large stock of tea on hand, which they had expected to sell to the Americans, but could find no market for it. But, after a while, the government persuaded this company of merchants to send the tea to America.

"How odd it is," observed Clara, "that the liberties of America should have had anything to do with a cup of tea!"

Grandfather smiled, and proceeded with his narrative. When the people of Boston heard that several cargoes of tea were coming across the Atlantic, they held a great many meetings at Faneuil Hall, in the Old South Church, and under Liberty Tree. In the midst of their debates, three ships arrived in the harbor with the tea on hoard. The people spent more than a fortnight in consulting what should be done. At last, on the 16th of December, 1773, they demanded of Governor Hutchinson that he should immediately send the ships back to England.

The governor replied that the ships must not leave the harbor until the custom house duties upon the tea should be paid. Now, the payment of these duties was the very thing against which the people had set their faces; because it was a tax unjustly imposed upon America by the English government. Therefore, in the dusk of the evening, as soon as Governor Hutchinson's reply was received, an immense crowd hastened to Griffin's Wharf, where the tea-ships lay. The place is now called Liverpool Wharf.

"When the crowd reached the wharf," said Grandfather, "they saw that a set of wild-looking figures were already on board of the ships. You would have imagined that the Indian warriors of old times had come back again; for they wore the Indian dress, and had their faces covered with red and black paint, like the Indians when they go to war. These grim figures hoisted the tea-chests on the decks of the vessels, broke them open, and threw all the contents into the harbor."

"Grandfather," said little Alice, "I suppose Indians don't love tea; else they would never waste it so."

"They were not real Indians, my child," answered Grandfather. "They were white men in disguise; because a heavy punishment would have been inflicted on them if the king's officers had found who they were. But it was never known. From that day to this, though the matter has been talked of by all the world, nobody can tell the names of those Indian figures. Some people say that there were very famous men among them, who afterwards became governors and generals. Whether this be true I cannot tell."

When tidings of this bold deed were carried to England, King George was greatly enraged. Parliament immediately passed an act, by which all vessels were forbidden to take in or discharge their cargoes at the port of Boston. In this way they expected to ruin all the merchants, and starve the poor people, by depriving them of employment. At the same time another act was passed, taking away many rights and privileges which had been granted in the charter of Massachusetts.

Governor Hutchinson, soon afterward, was summoned to England, in order that he might give his advice about the management of American affairs. General Gage, an officer of the old French War, and since commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, was appointed governor in his stead. One of his first acts was to make Salem, instead of Boston, the metropolis of Massachusetts, by summoning the General Court to meet there.

According to Grandfather's description, this was the most gloomy time that Massachusetts had ever seen. The people groaned under as heavy a tyranny as in the days of Sir Edmund Andros. Boston looked as if it were afflicted with some dreadful pestilence, so sad were the inhabitants, and so desolate the streets. There was no cheerful hum of business. The merchants shut up their warehouses, and the laboring men stood idle about the wharves. But all America felt interested in the good town of Boston; and contributions were raised, in many places, for the relief of the poor inhabitants.

"Our dear old chair!" exclaimed Clara. "How dismal it must have been now!"

"Oh," replied Grandfather, "a gay throng of officers had now come back to the British Coffee House; so that the old chair had no lack of mirthful company. Soon after General Gage became governor a great many troops had arrived, and were encamped upon the Common. Boston was now a garrisoned and fortified town; for the general had built a battery across the Neck, on the road to Roxbury, and placed guards for its defence. Everything looked as if a civil war were close at hand."

"Did the people make ready to fight?" asked Charley.

"A Continental Congress assembled at Philadelphia," said Grandfather, "and proposed such measures as they thought most conducive to the public good. A Provincial Congress was likewise chosen in Massachusetts. They exhorted the people to arm and discipline themselves. A great number of minute-men were enrolled. The Americans called them minute-men, because they engaged to be ready to fight at a minute's warning. The English officers laughed, and said that the name was a very proper one, because the minute-men would run away the minute they saw the enemy. Whether they would fight or run was soon to be proved."

Grandfather told the children that the first open resistance offered to the British troops, in the province of Massachusetts, was at Salem. Colonel Timothy Pickering, with thirty or forty militia-men, prevented the English colonel, Leslie, with four times as many regular soldiers, from taking possession of some military stores. No blood was shed on this occasion; but soon afterward it began to flow.

General Gage sent eight hundred soldiers to Concord, about eighteen miles from Boston, to destroy some ammunition and provisions which the colonists had collected there. They set out on their march on the evening of the 18th of April, 1775. The next morning, the general sent Lord Percy with nine hundred men to strengthen the troops that had gone before. All that day the inhabitants of Boston heard various rumors. Some said that the British were making great slaughter among our countrymen. Others affirmed that every man had turned out with his musket, and that not a single soldier would ever get back to Boston.

"It was after sunset," continued Grandfather, "when the troops, who had marched forth so proudly, were seen entering Charlestown. They were covered with dust, and so hot and weary that their tongues hung out of their mouths. Many of them were faint with wounds. They had not all returned. Nearly three hundred were strewn, dead or dying, along the road from Concord. The yeomanry had risen upon the invaders and driven them back."

"Was this the battle of Lexington?" asked Charley.

"Yes," replied Grandfather; "it was so called, because the British, without provocation, had fired upon a party of minute-men, near Lexington meeting-house, and killed eight of them. That fatal volley, which was fired by order of Major Pitcairn, began the war of the Revolution."

About this time, if Grandfather had been correctly informed, our chair disappeared from the British Coffee House. The manner of its departure cannot be satisfactorily ascertained. Perhaps the keeper of the Coffee House turned it out of doors on account of its old-fashioned aspect. Perhaps he sold it as a curiosity. Perhaps it was taken, without leave, by some person who regarded it as public property because it had once figured under Liberty Tree. Or perhaps the old chair, being of a peaceable disposition, had made use of its four oaken legs and run away from the seat of war.

"It would have made a terrible clattering over the pavement," said Charley, laughing.

"Meanwhile," continued Grandfather, "during the mysterious non-appearance of our chair, an army of twenty thousand men had started up and come to the siege of Boston. General Gage and his troops were cooped up within the narrow precincts of the peninsula. On the 17th of June, 1775, the famous battle of Bunker Hill was fought. Here General Warren fell. The British got the victory, indeed, but with the loss of more than a thousand officers and men."

"O, Grandfather," cried Charley, "you must tell us about that famous battle."

"No, Charley," said Grandfather, "I am not like other historians. Battles shall not hold a prominent place in the history of our quiet and comfortable old chair. But to-morrow eveniug, Laurence, Clara, and yourself, and dear little Alice too, shall visit the Diorama of Bunker Hill. There you shall see the whole business, the burning of Charlestown and all, with your own eyes, and hear the cannon and musketry with your own ears."

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