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Desperate Sons
Book Discussion Guide -
Chapters 13 - 15

Welcome to Chapters 13-15 of our Desperate Sons Book Discussion Guide. Desperate Sons is a book about the origins of the Sons of Liberty during the American Revolution. There have been few books devoted to this topic, so author Les Standiford has done a great service by providing it for us. We are reading the book for our American History Book Club, in which we read books about America's founding period and post the notes as a reading guide for our visitors.

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Chapters 13-15 deal primarily with the Townshend Acts and the colonists response to these five Acts of Parliament, which attempted to tax several imported items into the colonies, established a board of customs commissioners in the colonies to enforce the acts, created new courts to deal with offenders and shut down the government of New York until it complied with the Quartering Act, which demanded the colonies pay for the expenses of British troops stationed in them.

Of course, the Sons of Liberty did not like any of this and they rose up in response to demand their rights. Samuel Adams encouraged a non-importation agreement that spread throughout the colonies. Soldiers in New York suffered from continual harrassment by the citizens and several skirmishes took place between them. In South Carolina, Christopher Gadsden organizes patriots in a non-importation agreement.

Massachusetts sends a petition to the King demanding that the Townshend Acts be repealed. When it refuses to rescind the letter, the governor disbands the assembly. Meanwhile, the new customs officials in Boston anger the citizens when they impound a ship owned by John Hancock. The officials are threatened and harangued until they leave the town and take cover on a warship in the harbor. In response, General Gage sends troops to occupy Boston and protect the customs officials.

A period of peace eventually comes and some of the soldiers are removed from the town, but violence erupts in New York when soldiers destroy the town's Liberty Pole. Citizens riot and soldiers attack in what some call the first bloodshed of the Revolution at the Battle of Golden Hill.

If you have not yet ordered your copy of Desperate Sons, you can order a copy from Amazon here.

This page has Chapters 13 - 15 of our reading guide. You can also go to the first page and start reading with us from the beginning here - Desperate Sons Book Discussion Guide.

Find other book discussion guides on our American History Book Club page.

Desperate Sons by Les Standiford

Chapters 13 - 15:

Better Days
Townshend Fans the Flames and...
The Road to Massacre


  • Parliament passes the Currency Act, forbidding the colonies from printing money, in an effort to control wildly fluctuating currency values, and the Quartering Act, requiring the colonists to house and supply British troops.
  • New troops stationed at New York City are met with protests and rioting. When the troops cut down the citizens' "Liberty Pole," physical violence ensues, citizens stop selling to soldiers, soldiers are harrassed and the Governor prepares for a battle.
  • Parliament passes the Townshend Acts in another attempt to raise revenue from the colonies. They establish a board of commissioners and courts in the colonies to deal with the enforcement of customs taxes and shut down the New York Assembly until it complies with the Quartering Act's requirement to house and pay for the troops stationed there.
  • John Dickinson writes his Letters From a Farmer in Pennsylvania letters, summing up American thought about British policies, especially that Parliament has no right to tax them since they have no representatives in Parliament.
  • Samuel Adams pushes a non-importation agreement that spreads throughout the colonies.
  • The Massachusetts Assembly passes a petition asking King George to rescind the Townshend Acts, explaining how they are unconstitutional and violate the rights of the colonists. They send the petition to other colonies and ask them to do the same.
  • Parliament instructs Governor Bernard to shut down the Massachusetts Assembly unless they retract the petition. They refuse and the government is disbanded.
  • The new customs officials begin their work in Boston and are harrassed by the town from the start. They request military support and the HMS Romney is dispatched to Boston.
  • John Hancock's ship Liberty is confiscated on smuggling charges and rioters go after the customs officials involved, causing them to flee to the Romney in the harbor. General Gage sends troops to Boston in response.
  • Four regiments of troops arrive in Boston and a congress of Massachusetts delegates meets to protest their presence in Boston.
  • Sam Adams begins publishing "The Journal of the Times," a weekly publication describing events in Boston designed for public consumption and to be printed in newspapers around the colonies.
  • Things calm down in Boston. Governor Bernard leaves for London permanently and General Gage removes half the troops from Boston.
  • Christopher Gadsden leads the Sons of Liberty in South Carolina in establishing a non-importation agreement of British goods.
  • Violence erupts again in New York when soldiers destroy the latest Liberty Pole. A riot ensues and soldiers injure several people in what is known as the Battle of Golden Hill.

Discussion Questions

  • In revolutionary writings, standing armies are usually viewed as a threat to peace. Why would the Founders have believed this?
  • If you had been a citizen of New York when your elected government was shut down by Parliament for not obeying the law which required them to pay for British troops stationed there, what would your response have been?
  • The activities of the customs officials in Boston have been described as "privateering" or "racketeering" because officials could seemingly impound ships on any pretense, sell the goods and keep the profits. Ostensibly, however, they were merely enforcing the law. What do you think of this arrangement and the colonists' response to it?
  • The colonists argued that even small taxes were unjust. The amount wasn't the issue with them. They believed that if Parliament could tax them a small amount, it could tax them a large amount or do whatever it wanted to them. What do you think about this?

Things That Caught Our Eye

  • When the Liberty Poles were cut down in New York, the fury that erupted in the crowd could have easily started the Revolution a few years early.
  • John Dickinson's Farmer letters were influential in the leadup to the Revolution, especially in articulating the rights of the colonists and what Parliament's proper legal authority should be. During the war, he was a member of Congress, but was usually dragging his feet, often pushing for reconciliation instead of independence. He did, however, serve in the Pennsylvania and Delaware militia and signed the Articles of Confederation.
  • What's the difference between the troops that were stationed in Boston from the troops that were stationed in New York? The New York troops were staying in facilities in New York, but were not there to occupy the town or enforce the law. The Boston troops, on the other hand, were sent there specifically to subjugate the citizens and force them to comply with the revenue laws.
  • Sam Adams was a media genius. Who knew he was the first news reporter?
  • There are lots of events that lay claim to the title "First bloodshed of the American Revolution," but the Battle of Golden Hill seems to be a pretty good contender!


  • "As one participant wrote in his diary for the date, 'I never saw more Joy than on this occasion.'" (referring to the one year celebration of the repeal of the Stamp Act in Boston).
  • Governor Bernard, fearful that this would be the riot that would end him, hastily sent a message to General Gage, begging for reinforcements; in response, Gage sent a pair of regiments on the march to Boston."
  • "On the same day that the convention disbanded, there arrived in Boston harbor eight warships and four armed schooners bearing two battle-hardened regiments sent down from Halifax. No musket fire opposed them."
  • "...the prospect of an armed insurrection was simply inconceivable. They were in large part farmers, merchants, blacksmiths, and journeymen who had enough of a struggle just making ends meet in the rawboned wilderness. They wanted their concerns heard and their burdens relieved, but they were certainly not thinking of shooting someone to achieve those aims."
  • "Boston was now officially an occupied city, and for some commentators, it marked the point at which Samuel Adams, and by extension the Sons of Liberty everywhere, abandoned forever the illusion that the colonies could exist as a dependency of Great Britain."
  • "Shortly after Adams's death, his wife spoke of the many nights she had awakened to find herself alone in bed, lamplight from the adjoining study leaking through a cracked door, the incessant whisper of her husband's pen the only sound in the house."

Comment on this chapter

Desperate Sons Book Discussion Guide Chapters

Chapters 1 - 3 Chapters 4 - 6 Chapters 7 - 9
Chapters 10 - 12 Chapters 13 - 15 Chapters 16 - 18
Chapters 19 - 21 Chapters 22 - 24 Chapters 25 - 26

Thanks for reading Desperate Sons with us. If you have not yet ordered the book and would like to, you can order from Amazon here.

Find other book discussion guides on our American History Book Club page.

Published 1/15/13

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