The Journal of William Thomas Emerson: A Revolutionary War Patriot, Boston, Massachusetts, 1774

Many people assume that the American Revolution began in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, but the truth is much more complicated. In fact, the American colonists had been unhappy for years. One reason for their unhappiness was taxation without representation — the colonists had no voice in the British government but still paid taxes to England. Those taxes increased because the king wanted a standing British army guarding the colonies. The British felt that between the threats of the French and the Indians, an army was needed at all times, and the colonists should pay for that protection. As a result, the British raised taxes on everyday goods like paper, tea, and glass. Taxes were raised in 1764, 1765, and 1767. It was too much for some colonists. Called “patriots,” these colonists protested and boycotted the taxes. Initially, there were only a few rebellious colonists, then their numbers grew. At first, each colony acted on its own, but soon they realized that they made more of a difference when they stood together. The 13 colonies banded together and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 starting the American Revolutionary War.

Meet William Thomas Emerson

William Thomas Emerson was a 12 year old living in Boston. He worked for the patriots as the colonies readied for war with the British. Here he writes about the tension between Boston residents and the British soldiers stationed in the city.

Innocent citizens can hardly walk down the street without being confronted by them [British soldiers]. They jab you in the ribs with the butts of their bayonets and then laugh like they’ve heard the best joke. They utter abuse and threats for no reason, causing an uproar wherever they go. They’re as thick as bees.

Last week Mr. Davenport, the butcher, was tripped by one of them while carrying something and found himself lying in the mud. The soldiers stood around pointing and ridiculing Mr. Davenport. They stopped when the other butchers in the market came out of their stalls, wiping their hands on their aprons and circling round the soldiers, sharpened cleavers and knives at the ready.