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Thursday, February 16, 2017

"A Soldier Received a Bad Cut on the Shoulder" - The Battle of Golden Hill

In 1767 England was in the midst of a financial crisis. Charles Townshend, the impetuous Chancellor of the Exchequer, of whom it was said, “his mouth often outran his mind”, suddenly announced that he knew how to increase revenue via taxation of the American colonies. As a result, Parliament enacted a series of laws directed at raising revenue. The Townshend Acts, as they became known, provided for an American import tax on paper, painter’s lead, glass and tea. The acts also tightened custom policies and revived the vice-admiralty courts. Although a minority within the House of Commons opposed the measure, the majority rationalized it would raise colonial revenue, punish the colonists for their ill-behavior during the Stamp Act crisis, and exercise the rights to which Parliament laid claim to in the Declaratory Act.

Boston and New York City stood at the forefront of opposition to the Townshend Acts. Boston, residents quickly resorted to violence. By comparison, New York initially took a more cautious approach to the Townshend Acts and implemented a widespread boycott of goods. Specifically, on September 5, 1768, New York City merchants and tradesmen resolved

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Reflecting on the salutary [beneficial/curative] Measures entered into by the People of Boston and this City to restrict the Importation of Goods from Great Britain until the Acts of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. were repealed; and being animated with a Spirit of Liberty and thinking it our Duty to exert ourselves by all lawful Means to maintain and obtain our just Rights and Privileges, which we claim under our most excellent Constitution as Englishmen, not to be taxed but by our own Consent or that of our Representatives; and in order to support and strengthen our Neighbors, the Merchants of this City, we the Subscribers [signers], uniting in the common Cause, do agree to and with each other, as follows:

First, That we will not ourselves purchase or take any Goods or Merchandise imported from Europe by any Merchant directly or indirectly, contrary to the true Intent and Meaning of an Agreement of the Merchants of this City, on the twenty-seventh of August last.

Secondly, That we will not ourselves, or by any other Means, buy any Kind of Goods from any Merchant, Storekeeper, or Retailer (if any such there be) who shall refuse to join with their Brethren in signing the said Agreement; but that we will use every lawful Means in our Power to prevent our Acquaintance from dealing with them.

Thirdly, That if any Merchant, in or from Europe, should import any Goods in order to sell them in this Province contrary to the above Agreement, that we ourselves will by no Means deal with such Importers; and as far as we can, by all lawful Means, endeavor to discourage the Sale of such Goods.

Fourthly, That we will endeavor to fall upon some Expedient to make known such Importers or Retailers as shall refuse to unite in maintaining and obtaining the Liberties of their Country.

Fifthly, That we, his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, Inhabitants of the City of New York, being filled with Love and Gratitude to our present most gracious Sovereign, and the highest Veneration for the British Constitution, which we unite to plead as our Birth Right; and are always willing to unite to support and maintain, give it as our Opinion, and are determined to deem that Persons who shall refuse to unite in the Common Cause, as acting the Part of an Enemy to the true Interest of Great Britain and her Colonies, and consequently not deserving the Patronage of Merchants or Mechanics.


Unfortunately, by 1769 New York colony entered into an economic depression as a direct result of the boycott. Tensions rose and in 1770, New York succumbed to violence.

On January 19, 1770, New York merchant Isaac Sears and others attempted to stop a group of British soldiers from passing out handbills criticizing local citizens. The pamphlets chastised the local citizenry over a failed attempt by regulars to destroy a liberty pole erected on Golden Hill, New York City. Sears detained some of the soldiers and marched his captives towards the mayor's office, while the rest of the British regulars retreated to their barracks to sound an alarm.

A crowd of townsfolk soon arrived along with a score of soldiers. “In the mean Time, a considerable Number of People collected opposite to the Mayor’s. Shortly after, about twenty Soldiers with Cutlasses and Bayonets from the lower Barracks made their Appearance” The soldiers, who were greatly outnumbered, were quickly surrounded. Nevertheless, the soldiers attempted to rescue their fellow soldiers held captive in the mayor’s office. “When the Soldiers came opposite to his House, they halted. Many of them drew their Swords and Bayonets; some say they all drew. But all that were present agree that many did, and faced about to the Door and demanded the Soldiers in Custody. Some of them attempted to get into the House to rescue them. Capt. Richardson and others at the Door prevented them, and desired them to put up their Arms and go to their Barracks, that the Soldiers were before the Mayor who would do them Justice. The Soldiers within likewise desired them to go away to their Barracks and leave them to the Determination of the Mayor.”

Upon seeing the soldiers draw their weapons; the townsmen quickly retreated and armed themselves. Despite attempts by local officials and officers to defuse the situation, a full scale brawl, later called the “Battle of Golden Hill”, erupted. By the end of the fight, several of the soldiers were badly bruised while one “soldier received a bad cut on the shoulder.” One Citizen was wounded in the Face and had two of his Teeth broke by a Stroke of a Bayonet. Another was stabbed and later died of his wounds.

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