How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Rebellion

Note: The following is the ninth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Rebellion

By the 1760’s, the American colonies were no longer backwater settlements, but were populated by sophisticated intellectuals who had the space and ability to imagine a nation separate from Great Britain. In an act of protest against the Tea Act of 1773 and the Intolerable Acts of 1774, the people of Westborough and other American colonists began to boycott the purchase of teas and other goods imported by the East India Company. A flood of print produced in New England also began to appear and overwhelmed any ability by the British to counter colonists’ perspective that their rights were being infringed. Revolutionary pamphlets and broadsides, such as Thomas Paine’s incendiary Common Sense (1776), which sold over 150,000 copies, was key in motivating colonists to take action against the British government.

“Mr. Bradshaw having given me one of the Books entitled Common sense, I begin to read it — bold Strokes!”

–Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, Thursday, February 29, 1776

Under the Intolerable Acts, the people of Massachusetts no longer had a say in who could serve on the courts, which at the time held tremendous power in making decisions that affected individuals. So when the newly constituted courts were set to convene in Worcester on September 6, 1774, Westborough and other towns throughout Worcester County decided to send their militias to prevent the courts from meeting. Exactly 4,622 men from 37 towns marched to Worcester and forced the British court officials to resign their positions. We know this number because Westborough resident Breck Parkman cataloged the number of people who attended the event from each town, and his father, Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, wrote down these numbers in his diary. After shutting down the courts in Worcester, colonists proceeded to shut down the courts in every county seat in Massachusetts outside of Boston. From this point forward, the British never regained control of these areas of Masssachusetts, and the march to Worcester by Westborough and other towns is considered by many historians to be the true start of the American Revolution.

Rebellion came much later in India than in the American colonies, with the Great Rebellion of 1857 being the first major challenge to British rule. The rebellion started when 85 sepoys (Indian mercenary soldiers) refused to take part in firing practice over feared rumors that the grease used in the gun cartridges that the men had to bite off with their teeth was made from the fat of cows and pigs, which would have offended Hindus and Muslims, respectively. Insurrection quickly spread throughout the army, with 70,000 soldiers mutinying and 30,000 more deserting their units. Quelling the insurrection required Britain to rush 90,000 men from Europe to India and resulted in the British government seizing control of India from the East India Company in 1858.

Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, September 5-7, 1774
(American Antiquarian Society)

This page from Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary shows the number of men who marched to Worcester to prevent the British courts from meeting on September 6, 1774. (Parkman’s addition is off by 100.)

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Tea

Note: The following is the second in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Tea

“What misery this right of taxation is capable of producing in a provincial government. We need only recollect that our countrymen in India, have in the space of five or six years, in virtue of this right, destroyed, starved and driven away more inhabitants from Bengal, than are to be found at present in all our American Colonies.”

–Jonathan Shipley, from a speech intended for the House of Lords during debate over altering the Massachusetts charter in 1774 and subsequently published and distributed in the American colonies by Benjamin Franklin.

In 1771, the East India Company bought shiploads of tea on credit in the hope that it could reverse deficits created by the drop in tax collections due to the famine in Bengal. Over twenty ships carrying 90,000 chests of tea arrived in London that summer, more than twice as much tea as the British could consume in a year—and Great Britain had not even finished consuming the tea that had been shipped the year before! With its tea sitting in the harbor, its coffers empty, and with creditors demanding payment, the East India Company was nearly broke. The British government deemed the company too big and too important to fail, so Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, which gave license to the East India Company to corner the market on tea in the American colonies and tax it at the same time, moves that that would ultimately prove to be disastrous in England’s ability to maintain control over the American colonies.

The Tea Act of 1773 was passed around the same time that American newspapers were carrying reports about the high rates of taxation imposed by the British on Bengal, the ruthless measures put in place to maximize those tax collections, and the famine that resulted from these policies. American colonists naturally wondered whether the British government intended to impose similar imperial administrative rule on their part of the world, and if so, what would prevent America from experiencing a similar fate?

To protest the passage of the Tea Act, a group of rebels threw the excess tea that the East India Company had shipped to America into Boston Harbor, and the British government responded by passing the Intolerable Acts in 1774, which closed the ports in Boston, fundamentally changed the charter of Massachusetts, and consequentially led to rebellion with Westborough and Worcester leading the charge.

The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor, 1846
by N. Currier (Firm)
(Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91795889/)

This 1846 picture fancifully depicts the destruction of East India Company tea in Boston Harbor to protest its taxation in 1773.

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Read the next post in the series: Rebellion.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Taxes

Note: The following is the seventh in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Taxes

The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) was expensive and created massive government debt for Great Britain. The fact that the war was mostly fought in North America and that victory led to a new need to increase the number of soldiers in the colonies more than tenfold in order to prevent revolt in Quebec caused Britain to rethink their taxing strategy in the American colonies. In 1765, the British enacted the Stamp Act, which taxed legal papers and other documents in America. The colonies reacted swiftly against these new taxes—protests were especially intense in Boston, New York, and Rhode Island—so the British had little choice but to repeal them.

Following British victory at Plassey in Bengal during the Seven Years’ War, the East India Company acquired the diwani of Bengal, i.e., the right to collect taxes in exchange for regular payments to the Mughal emperor in Delhi. In 1769, after the British had pushed the limits of taxing Bengal to such a degree that its economy began to teeter, a drought hit. Because the British had already stockpiled food for themselves, food prices began to soar until famine broke out and up to ten million people died as a result. The severe loss of population resulted in dwindling tax revenues for the East India Company, so after the rains returned it wasn’t long before yet another financial crisis hit.

The British basically inherited the administrative tax system from previous Mughal rulers, but as they expanded their rule and taxing powers into other Indian regions, they sought out inconsistencies and put in place ruthless efficiencies to maximize tax collection. In addition to utilizing accounting and administrative tools, they instituted a census (in order to tax people, you have to know who they are and where they live). A British obsession over collecting information about the population for tax purposes grew. These censuses ended up changing the very nature of the Indian population, because it forced Indian society to start placing its people in categories that before were not perceived as important or even existed as concepts, such as caste and race.

The British never “measured” the American colonies in the way they did in India. They had no idea how many people lived in America, how fast the colonies were growing, or how large the militias in each colony were. This lack of data meant that the British had no way to gauge the seriousness of the move towards independence that was beginning to brew in the colonies.

The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive
by Benjamin West
(The British Library, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shah_%27Alam_conveying_the_grant_of_the_Diwani_to_Lord_Clive.jpg)

This painting depicts Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor, transferring tax collection rights, or diwani, for Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to Robert Clive and the East India Company in 1765. The moment was a turning point for the East India Company as it became less a trading company and more an administrative and military organization focused on tax collection.

List of Westborough Males Over 16 Years Old, 1777
(Westborough Public Library, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/z316sd686)

This list of Westborough males over the age of sixteen years old was used to determine who was eligible to serve in the American Revolution.

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Read the next post in the series: Tea.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.