Book Discussion Guide -
Chapters 16 - 18
Welcome to Chapters 16-18 of our Desperate Sons Book Discussion Guide. We are reading Desperate Sons, by author Les Standiford for our American History Book Club. We post discussion questions, points of interest, prominent quotes and a brief synopsis of each chapter and you are invited to read along with us. Desperate Sons delves into the creation of the Sons of Liberty movement during the American Revolution. It looks at the major characters and events that shaped this movement and how they had such an impact on the Revolution.
Chapters 16-18 deal with the Boston Massacre, the Boston Massacre trials and the burning of the HMS Gaspee. Relations between soldiers and citizens in Boston had been simmering for a while. John Adams believed some were actively conspiring to bring things into an open armed clash. A week before the Boston Massacre, 11 year old Christopher Seider is killed when a mob attacks the home of a British informant. The man shoots his gun into the crowd to get the crowd to disperse and Christopher becomes the first casualty of the American Revolution.
One week later, a fishing wharf brawl turns into several days of street fighting, culminating in the Boston Massacre, in which several citizens are killed by soldiers defending themselves from a mob. This incident leads to the removal of all British troops from the city and to the trial of the century. John Adams is asked to defend the soldiers and he does so at great personal risk. Most of the soldiers are acquitted and Adams later calls it the greatest act of his life.
A period of peace ensues once the Townshend Acts are repealed, but an overzealous British captain succeeds in angering the citizens of Rhode Island with his constant harrassment of ships, looking for contraband and seizing cargo. The Governor tries to stop him, but the Admiral is offended that the Governor would try to stop this soldier from doing his duty (It's just like a soap opera!).
Finally, the ship runs aground near Providence and angry citizens board her, shooting the captain and burning the ship to the ground. The perpetrators are never brought to justice because no one in the colony will identify who did it!
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Desperate Sons by Les Standiford
Chapters 16 - 18:
Affray in King Street
Trial of the Century and...
Charred to the Waterline
- Isaac Sears raises a fifth Liberty Pole in New York, but on his private property this time because the city wouldn't allow another to be placed on city property.
- James Otis challenges several officials to a duel when they accuse him of being a traitor. Otis is then attacked in public by Customs Commissioner John Robinson. Otis sues him and his awarded £2,000.
- 11 year old Christopher Seider is killed when a mob attacks the home of British informant Ebenezer Richardson who fired his gun into the crowd.
- The Boston Massacre takes place on March 5, 1770. 5 citizens are killed and another 6 wounded when soldiers fired on a crowd that was harrassing them. Lt. Gov. Hutchinson sends the troops to Castle Island to get them out of the city in response.
- Parliament repeals all the Townshend Acts duties, except for the tax on tea!
- John Adams defends the soldiers at the Boston Massacre trials. Captain Preston and six soldiers are acquitted. Two soldiers are declared guilty of manslaughter, but the death sentence is waived.
- The non-importation agreements fall apart after the Townshend duties are repealed and a "quiet period" of peace envelopes the colonies.
- The HMS Gaspee is boarded and burned after running aground. It's captain had angered Rhode Island citizens by forcefully boarding ships looking for contraband and seizing cargo.
- A special court is convened and a reward offered to find the perpetrators against the Gaspee but no one comes forward and the court can't determine the names of any of the participants.
- What are your thoughts about the practice of "tarring and feathering?" Is it fair? Is it unjust? Is it torture? Or is it more of a simple humiliating tool to teach someone a lesson?
- What do you think of citizens taking the law into their own hands when officials do not respond to present needs, as happened after the Boston Massacre when the citizens demanded that the soldiers be sent out of town or else?
- What do you think of Parliament repealing all the Townshend Acts taxes... except for the tax on tea?
- If you were John Adams, would you have defended the Boston Massacre soldiers, knowing that many of your friends and neighbors would be outraged at you for doing so?
- What do you think of "civil disobedience," such as the burning of the Gaspee? Is it ever justified? What if the government is oppressing the citizens, as was the case with Lt. Dudingston?
- The burning of the Gaspee was a significant event at the time of its occurrence, but the story is little known today. Why do you think that might be?
Things That Caught Our Eye
- Christopher Seider's death can certainly be called the first death of the Revolution. His story is mostly lost though because of the Boston Massacre that overshadowed it a week later.
- The 13 Boston merchants who would not sign the non-importation agreement, even after the Boston Massacre, must have been the most stubborn (and dense) people on the planet!
- It's very interesting that John Adams had never served in the public sphere at all before the Boston Massacre trial. Then suddenly he was elected from Boston to the colonial assembly, never even having attended so much as a town hall meeting before.
- The conundrum of the Boston Massacre trial - If John Adams could successfully prove that Captain Preston did not order the soldiers to fire, he could not then base the soldiers' defense on having obeyed his order.
- Picturing the soldiers on the Gaspee running to hide in terror of the boarding colonists gives quite the impression of what the soldiers really thought of the colonists.
- The fact that not a single soul in Providence would step forward to identify the attackers of the Gaspee shows that either all the citizens were in unanimous accord about the issue, or that they were terrified of the backlash that might come against them if they testified.
- "If Sears had learned anything in his years of struggle, it was the enduring strength that this symbol (the liberty pole) lent to his cause. It was 'just a piece of wood,' but that was like calling a nation's flag 'just a piece of cloth.'"
- "As General Gage would admit, the stationing of troops proved to be an exercise in futility. 'The people were as Lawless and Licentious after the Troops arrived as they were before,' he lamented."
- "He must therefore expect from me no Art or Address, No Sophistry or Prevarication in such a Cause; nor any thing more than Fact, Evidence and Law would justify." - John Adams speaking of defending Captain Preston
- "Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches. Although the Clamour was very loud, among some Sorts of People, it has been a great Consolation to me through Life, that I acted in this Business with steady impartiality, and conducted it to so happy an issue." - John Adams speaking of the Boston Massacre trials
- "When Dudingston did not answer, Whipple made his fateful declaration: 'I am come for the commander of this vessel, and have him I will, dead or alive.'"
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Find other book discussion guides on our American History Book Club page.
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