1. Lesson title: Shopkeepers in Revolutionary Boston
Teacher-author:This lesson was created by Dave Neumann, Long Beach Unified School District.
In this activity, students will investigate the challenges that Elizabeth Murray's shopkeeper friends experienced in the 1760s, during the disputes that led to the American Revolution. The activity involves several steps. First, students will read some background information on the disputes over Britain's decision to tax the colonies with the Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767). Then they will read about the experiences of Elizabeth Murray's shopkeeper friends in Boston, from the announcement of the Stamp Act to the Boston Massacre. Within the section on Murray's friends, there are several links to related primary documents. After answering questions for a particular document, students can return to the narrative about Murray's friends.
3. Historical background and bibliography
In the early 1760s, American colonists thought of themselves as loyal English subjects of the best government ever devised. But a few short years later, Americans were calling their king a tyrant and declaring their intention to be free from the control of England.
This dramatic change in attitude was caused in large part by Parliament's decision to tax the colonies to help pay for the costly French and Indian War. Many Americans throughout the colonies reacted angrily to the Stamp Act of 1765. They argued that they had carried much of the burden of the recent war and that Parliament's decision to tax them violated a long-standing tradition of self-taxation. Many colonists were also coming to enjoy luxury consumer goods during this time, and taxes on these goods reminded them of their dependence on Britain.
To show their displeasure with Parliament, patriots organized a boycott on imported British goods. Buying products or "refusing to do so" became a political act. Protests against the Stamp Act were successful, and the tax was repealed. But in 1767, the Townshend Acts prompted colonists to protest again through riots and a newseries of boycotts. The boycotts worked onlyif everyone agreed to them. So leaders of the protest put pressure on shopkeepers not to sell imported goods to those American colonists who chose to ignore the boycott.
As the crisis between the colonies and Britain intensified, Americans in key areas of Patriot resistance like Boston felt pressure to choose sides. In some ways, choosing sides was even more complicated for women than for men because of their legal position in colonial society. According to the political philosophy the American colonists inherited from British thinkers, women were not citizens. Typically, leaders from both sides assumed that a wife had the same loyalty as her husband, even if she had never said anything one way or the other. When war broke out, civilians experienced many hardships, including loss of property, forced quartering of troops, assault and separation from family members. Some women who crossed troop lines to visit family members were accused of being spies, and thereby drawn into the politics of war.
Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 36-39. Mary Beth Norton, Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980).
4. Guiding questions
How did Elizabeth Murray's shopkeeper friends respond to the dilemma they faced between needing to earn a living and giving in to the pressure to support boycotts of British goods?
5. Learning objectives
Students will analyze the experiences of every day people within the context of the era in which they lived. Students will analyze primary documents, using them to understand life in the eighteenth century.
Input and Guided Practice: See ¿Directions¿ at right
Independent practice: See ¿Directions¿ at right
The lesson could conclude by sharing out verbally, with brief quickwrites, or with longer and more formally-structured essays