The Quartering Act of 1765 required the colonies to provide provisions and lodging to British soldiers. In New York, it led to political opposition and violent protests that culminated in the Battle of Golden Hill in 1770, which took place just a few weeks before the Boston Massacre.
Summary of the Quartering Act of 1765
After the French and Indian War, the British government decided it was necessary to maintain a standing army in North America to protect the colonial frontier against the threat of attacks by Native American Indian Tribes. However, the cost of keeping an army in North America was expensive. On March 24, 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765, which required colonial legislatures to provide money to cover some of the expenses of the troops. In 1766, the act was expanded to require the colonies to provide barracks for the troops. The colonies thought the army was unnecessary and being asked to pay for it was nothing more than a tax. At first, opposition to the Quartering Act was strongest in New York City, where troops were stationed under the command of General Thomas Gage. After the Stamp Act was repealed, there were several incidents where British troops clashed with residents of New York, including members of the Sons of Liberty, over a Liberty Pole that had been erected near the soldiers’ barracks. The fighting led to the Battle of Golden Hill, or the Golden Hill Riots, in January 1770. Over a two-day period, British soldiers attacked members of the Sons of Liberty and residents of New York in what some consider to be the “first bloodshed of the American Revolution.” The Quartering Act was expanded in 1774 as a part of the Coercive Acts, which were designed to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party.
This painting by Charles MacKubin Lefferts depicts Redcoats fighting with citizens of New York during the Battle of Golden Hill in January 1770. Image Source: New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.
Quartering Act of 1765 — Quick Facts
Key fact — The Quartering Act did not require colonists to house soldiers in inhabited homes.
- Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765 on March 24, 1765.
- It was passed to help defray the cost of maintaining British troops — or Redcoats — in the American colonies after the French and Indian War.
- If Redcoats were stationed in a colony, the colonial legislature was required to provide money to cover the cost of basic needs, such as bedding, cooking utensils, firewood, beer or cider, and candles for troops.
- In 1766, the act was expanded and required the colony to provide barracks for the Redcoats.
- If barracks were not available, colonies were required to house soldiers in private commercial properties, such as inns and stables, and, as a last resort, in uninhabited homes and barns.
George Grenville was Prime Minister when the Quartering Act was enacted. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Colonial Resistance to the Quartering Act of 1765
The colonies resisted the Quartering Act for two main reasons:
- Fear of a standing army.
- Taxation without representation.
Fear of a Standing Army
While there were colonists that understood the idea that a standing army was necessary, people generally disliked them because they could be used to enforce the will of a monarch or government on the people. During the war, the colonies had no issue with providing for the needs of soldiers, but providing for a standing army was not popular. Outside of wartime, colonies preferred the idea of using militia forces for defense. The militias could be called up and disbanded as needed and the colonial legislatures had control over them.
Taxation Without Representation
After the French and Indian War, the threat of the French was significantly reduced. The presence of the troops in New York City and, eventually, Boston, was viewed as a way for Parliament to force compliance with unpopular laws, like the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts. The idea of forcing the colonies to cover the expenses of the soldiers was eventually viewed as taxation, which led to the popular slogan, “Not taxation without representation.”
Effects of the Quartering Act in New York
The Quartering Act helped lead to the American Revolution, especially in New York, because the presence of troops in the city led to several violent incidents that involved British Redcoats, citizens of New York, and members of the Sons of Liberty.
Formation of the New York Sons of Liberty
After the Stamp Act was passed, the New York Sons of Liberty, led by Isaac Sears, John Lamb, and Alexander McDougall, formed and organized resistance to British policy. Not only did the Sons of Liberty antagonize the Redcoats, but some of them were also members of the New York Assembly. At first, the New York Assembly refused to provide the money needed for the expenses, which upset the soldiers and British officials.
John Lamb was a prominent leader of the Sons of Liberty in New York. Image Source: Department of Homeland Security.
British Troops Stationed in New York
In New York, the Quartering Act was not an issue until 1,500 troops arrived in 1766 and the New York Provincial Assembly refused to provide the money needed to provide for the new troops, who were forced to stay on ships in the harbor.
Battle of the Liberty Pole
After the Stamp Act was repealed, the people of New York held a celebration on June 4, 1766 — King George III’s birthday — to celebrate. The people were joined by British officials and military officers for the celebration. The Sons of Liberty erected a pole, which had a flag on top with the words, “The King, Pitt, and Liberty.” The pole became known as New York City’s Liberty Pole, and the location upset the soldiers who lived in nearby barracks. Over the next four years, the pole would be cut down — or blown up — several times by the soldiers. Each time, the Sons of Liberty would put up a new one. The continuous back and forth over the Liberty Pole raised tensions between the soldiers and people, which contributed to the violent fighting that took place in January 1770.
This illustration depicts the Sons of Liberty defending the Liberty Pole from British Redcoats. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
New York Restraining Act and Townshend Acts
In 1767, Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act, which prohibited the Governor and Assembly from passing any new laws until the colony agreed to comply with the Quartering Act.
The New York Restraining Act is often considered part of the Townshend Acts, which were passed in 1767 and 1768. The Townshend Acts were largely designed to raise revenue, enforce the collection of revenue, and prosecute violators of the laws.
The Sons of Liberty rallied against the Townshend Acts, not just in New York, but throughout the colonies. They revived the Committees of Correspondence and the Non-Importation Agreements.
The New York Sons of Liberty wrote to merchants in Boston and asked them to join in the boycott of British goods. Most of the colonies joined in the boycott, but not fully. They still continued to import goods, but not as much as they had before.
New York Assembly Agrees to Comply with the Quartering Act
The Assembly held its first session on November 22 and a bill was introduced to make loans available to people through the Assembly. The bill was popular because there were New Yorkers in need of money and they could apply for loans. The Assembly would profit from the interest on the loans.
On December 15, 1769, the Assembly met again, and a motion was made that some of the profit from the loans should be set aside and used to support the troops. Many people saw it as a scheme by the governor, Cadwallader Colden to comply with the Quartering Act.
The Assembly voted to raise 1,800 pounds for the soldiers, however, the soldiers felt it was not enough money, and felt disrespected by the Assembly.
December 16, 1769 — To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York
The Sons of Liberty were outraged at the action of the Assembly because they believed the extra troops and additional money to cover their housing and food were not needed.
On December 16, 1769, a pamphlet called “To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York” was published and signed by “A Son of Liberty.” The author was most likely Alexander McDougall.
The pamphlet criticized the Assembly for providing money for the troops, and said doing so acknowledged the authority of Parliament to levy taxes on the colonies:
“Our granting money to the troops, is implicitly acknowledging the authority that enacted the revenue acts, and their being obligatory on us, as these acts were enacted for the express purpose of taking money out of our pockets without our consent; and to provide for the defending and support of government in America; which revenue we say by our grant of money, is not sufficient for the purpose aforesaid; therefore we supply the deficiency.”
The author of the pamphlet insisted the troops were not in New York “to protect” the people but to “enslave” them. The citizens of New York were invited to meet near the Liberty Pole the next day.
December 17, 1769 – John Lamb Chairs the Public Meeting
People gathered at The Fields — the location of the Liberty Pole — and conducted a meeting. John Lamb was chosen as chairman. The people agreed to send a message to the Assembly to inform the members that they disapproved of granting money to comply with the Quartering Act. A committee was selected to deliver the message to the Assembly, and Lamb was chosen as the chairman. The other members of the committee were Isaac Sears, Caspar Wistar, Alexander McDougall, Jacobus Van Zandt, Samuel Broome, Erasmus Williams, and James Yan Yaurk. The Assembly received the committee but refused to change their decision to provide the money to the soldiers.
December 18, 1769 — The Assembly Offers a Reward
Some members of the Assembly were furious over the “To the Betrayed Inhabitants” handbill. James De Lancey made a motion to take a vote on “whether the said paper was not an infamous and scandalous libel.”
The Assembly voted in favor of it being an “infamous and scandalous libel.” The only member of the Assembly that voted against it was Philip Schuyler. The Assembly voted to offer a reward of 150 pounds for information about the author or authors of the handbill.
De Lancey then brought another handbill to the attention of the Assembly, which has been posted earlier in the morning. It was signed “Legion,” and said:
To THE PUBLIC. — The spirit of the times renders it necessary for the inhabitants of the city to convene, in order effectually to avert the destructive consequences of the late BASE INGLORIOUS conduct of our General Assembly, who have in opposition to the loud and general voice of their constituents, the dictates of sound policy, the ties of gratitude, and the glorious struggle we have engaged in for our invaluable birthrights, dared to vote supplies to the troops without the least shadow of a pretext for their pernicious grant. The most eligible place will be in the Fields, near Mr. De La Montaigne’s, and the time — between 10 and 11 o’clock this morning, where we doubt not every friend to this country will attend.
The Assembly passed resolutions that this new handbill was libelous and a reward of 50 pounds was offered for information.
December 21, 1769 – John Lamb Questioned by the Assembly
The consensus in the Assembly was that John Lamb was the author, and he was questioned by a committee. The committee asked him about the public meeting, which produced the resolution condemning the Assembly’s decision to comply with the Quartering Act. Lamb told them he had exercised his rights as an Englishman, which justified his actions. The Assembly was satisfied and he was released.
Battle of Golden Hill
By January, resentment between the soldiers and the people was at a high. The soldiers carried out an attack on the Liberty Pole on January 13. They tried to blow it up, but failed, then attacked people who were watching from a nearby tavern. Although some of the soldiers were arrested for their actions, some of the others still tried to take down the pole but were unsuccessful.
On January 15, a broadside was posted that said, “the army is not kept here to protect us, but to enslave us.” It called for business owners to hire unemployed colonists for work, instead of British troops and said the people of New York had done more than enough to aid the troops by paying for their food and lodging. It accused the troops of being “ungrateful” and said they despised the very people they were supposed to be protecting.
The next day, some soldiers successfully were able to take down the Liberty Pole, cut it into pieces, and then dumped it in front of the tavern.
Soon after, on the 18th or 19th, soldiers posted a handbill that attacked the Sons of Liberty and called them the “real enemies.” It also called their intentions as Patriots into question by saying they “depended on a piece of wood” as the source of their freedom. The handbill also complained about how they were being treated.
That afternoon, two Sons of Liberty, Isaac Sears and Walter Quackenbos, apprehended some soldiers who were posting the handbill. They dragged them to the Mayor’s office and demanded to have them arrested. A large crowd gathered of both citizens and soldiers. The Mayor ordered the soldiers to return to their barracks.
As the soldiers returned, they went up Golden Hill, which was one of the highest points in the city at the time, and a crowd gathered around them. A second group of soldiers appeared at the top of the hill and saw their friends were surrounded. The second group was led by someone who was dressed like an officer, but the speculation from all accounts is that he was not actually an officer, but a soldier in disguise.
People in the crowd started punching at them and throwing things at the soldiers on the hill. Then the soldier at the top of the hill, who was dressed as an officer, shouted to the soldiers to, “draw your bayonets and cut your way through them!” The soldiers started slashing at the crowd and yelled, “Where are your Sons of Liberty now?”
The riot grew worse when more New Yorkers and soldiers joined in. The fighting spilled over into some side streets and into a nearby market known as the Fly Market. Word of the fighting spread and several city officials and British officers arrived on the scene and helped restore order.
The fighting finally died down and the soldiers were ordered to return to their barracks. There were significant injuries to both New Yorkers and soldiers. Early accounts of the fighting said that at least one person was killed, but over time that seems to have been proven false.
According to the New-York Gazette from February 5, “they madly attacked every Person that they could reach, and their Companions on Golden Hill were more inhuman, for, besides cutting a Sailor’s Head and Finger was defending himself against them, they stabbed another with a Bayonet, going about his Business, so badly that his Life was thought in Danger.”
A few minor incidents took place throughout the evening, but nothing to the extent of what happened during the day, which was quickly referred to as the Battle of Golden Hill. There was also some minor fighting that took place the next day.
The incident took place a few weeks before the Boston Massacre, so it is considered by some to be the “first bloodshed of the American Revolution.” Although people suffered injuries at the hands of the Redcoats, there is no evidence that anyone died, as they did at the Boston Massacre.
Significance of the Quartering Act of 1765
The Quartering Act of 1765 was important because it was one of the early laws that caused conflicts between the colonies and the British government. It led to the New York Restraining Act, which was part of the Townshend Acts, and the Battle of Golden Hill. The Quartering Act was amended in 1774 as part of the Coercive Acts and is a direct cause of the American Revolution and the American Revolutionary War.