“Last of the Puritans”: Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams Courtesy Library of Congress

Called the Father of the American Revolution by neighbors and friends, and once referred to as the Last of the Puritans by another, Samuel Adams did much to change the course of American history. Yet he isn’t nearly as well known as he should be. This is in part due to his own actions. He did very little if nothing to ensure future generations the story of his life. He didn’t care for personal glory. Still we should not forget this Founding Father.

Samuel Adams II was born on September 16, 1722 in Boston to Samuel Adams I and Mary Fifeld, a fairly well to do family. The Adams’ wanted their three surviving children to receive a good education and by the time he was 14 years old, Adams II was attending Harvard. There he studied for the ministry. Adams suffered from palsy which would worsen later in life.

But harmony was not to last long. Great Britain’s ever increasing interest in the Colonies, was affecting the Adams family directly. Adams I was a director of a land bank and when it was dissolved by Parliament, he was responsible for the debts that were wracked up. As a result of this and the many lawsuits that followed, Adams II’s inheritance was whittled down a considerable amount. Adams II became very interested in politics and when he graduated in 1740, he was no longer looking to become a minister. He did, however, remain a devout Christian.

Adams II was truly inept when it came to making a living. His father tried several ways to help his son into the business world, failing each time. The only thing Adams II ever enjoyed business wise was when he and others opened up a newspaper. In this case Adams II was able to express his political opinions. In 1748 Adams I died. His son was left without a supporter and with the responsibility of caring for his mother, sister and brother. Before his father’s death Adams II had been made partner in the family brewery. But up until now, his father had done the actual managing. With in a few years it would be bankrupt.

In 1749 Adams married Elizabeth Checkly. Although happily married they were not without their hardships. By the time Elizabeth died in 1757, only two of their six children were living. In 1756 Adams had become a tax collector, but because he would not collect from people who were hard up for money, he failed and Boston found itself facing a large deficit. In December 1764 Adams remarried, this time to an Elizabeth Wells. The next year his son Samuel Adams III was sent to Harvard. Because he was still financially strapped, his son’s education was most likely paid by friends.

Francis Bernard Courtesy Wikipedia

When Britain began their infamous taxing of the Colonies, Adams rallied support, protesting the taxes and organizing a boycott. Adams was strictly against violence and preferred peaceful protests.  In 1768 with the Townshend Acts having descended on America, Adams wrote a circular letter which was approved by the Massachusetts House and sent out to other Colonies. In a show of force the warship Romney was sent to Boston, due to the support gained by the circular letter. The captain immediately began rounding up civilians and pressing them into service. The British government also wanted the letter rescinded. When the House refused, Massachusetts governor, Francis Bernard had the House dissolved.

When two regiments of British troops arrived, it only served to further infuriate colonists. They wanted the troops out. In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, Governor Thomas Hutchinson had one regiment moved to Caste William Island. This was not satisfactory and Adams called for the other to go as well. Hutchinson eventually gave in to reason, threats and the thought of 10,000 Americans taking on 600 redcoats. When the soldiers involved in the Massacre were tried only two were convicted. Adams had insisted on a fair trial, but was not happy with the verdict. His cousins had defended the British, John Adams being one of them.

Boston Tea Party Courtesy Wikipedia

After the Boston Massacre things began to quiet down, but Adams was not at all inactive. In this time he wrote essays, formed a committee of correspondence and continued to serve in the Massachusetts House. Support for the America cause reignited in 1773 when the Boston Tea Party took place and the Coercive Acts were passed in its wake. Fears of war were so great that on June 1, 1774 a day of prayers and fasting was held by colonists.

The new governor, Thomas Gage tried to buy Adams off, but found it couldn’t be done. Although Adams was living poorly, he could not betray the American cause. In 1774 Adams was on his way to Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental Congress where he met with approval. In 1775 while commemorating the Boston Massacre in Boston, British soldiers sought to assassinate three of the Patriot leaders, Adams being one of them. While the redcoats did manage to wreak havoc in the meeting and Adams and an officer got into a fight, no blood was shed.

That same year Adams and John Hancock left for Lexington. Word leaked back to Gage, who Patriots believed wished to have them arrested. Paul Revere was sent to warn the pair arriving early in the morning. When the British arrived Adams and Hancock were hiding out. In 1776 Adams witnessed what he had worked long and hard for, American independence. Adams was the second to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Constitution Courtesy Wikipedia

On February 24, 1781 Adams signed the Articles of Confederation ad soon after resigned from Congress. Back in Boston he was given a Tory home in exchange for his back pay stretching all the way back to 1774. Adams former home had become irreparable due to the Boston occupation.  Living in his hometown once again, Adams took up local political positions. He and Hancock even mended their friendship (which had been broken during the War), the latter now governor of Massachusetts. When the forming of a new government began (e.g. Constitution), Adams was at first negative of it but soon gave it his approval. In 1788 Adams son Samuel Adams III died. He had been a surgeon during the Revolution and at the end of the war his health had been left in a deplorable state. In 1794 Adams became governor. He died on October 2, 1803 a true Patriot.

Source : Puls, Marl. Samuel Adams : Father of the American Revolution

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25 thoughts on ““Last of the Puritans”: Samuel Adams

  1. I do love these short profiles of people whose names are so familiar but about whom many of us know so little.

    Funnily enough last week on my own tour of the UK cathedrals this year, I found a plaque to the guy who was Lord Chief Justice of Massachusetts at the time of what Britain called ‘the calamities’! He went to live in Birmingham after 1776 and is buried there.

    I also came across a very brief account of the ‘explorer’ Stanley, who has links to the St Asaph cathedral in Wales, but who apparently fought for the South in the American Civil War before becoming a journalist for the New York Herald. I’d love to see you profile him one day!

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    • ‘The calamities’? Very interesting, hadn’t heard that one.

      I just took a quick look about Henry Stanley on Wikipedia and he does indeed sound interesting. I’ll see if I can pick up a book on him and what I come up with. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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  2. Everyone recognizes Samuel Adams (thanks to the beer, no doubt) but few know he was a revolutionary firebrand (who, incidentally, didn’t brew lagers, ales, and stouts) — enjoyed the post.

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  3. Great story, did not know much about him and yet he did contribute a lot. I was wondering why we have the Samuel Adam beer now even though his brewery went bankrupt then, and found that someone else opened the beer company in honor of him. 🙂

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    • Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      Adams was held in high regard even as America crept closer to wartime. Children were being named after him. I wonder what he would think about the beer being named in his honor.

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  4. This is amazing! So much information in so short a space. Very well written. Thank you so much! I will most definitely be back to this site often. I love the history of the people.

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  5. Interesting read and great timing. I’ve just begun to dig into an old (published in 1901) Annals of Augusta County, VA , 1726-1871 which my grandfather annotated, added newspaper articles and more. Feels like pretty close to a primary source to me. Apparently a relative was a representative from Kentucky at the Constitutional Convention. Fascinating read and so touching to have my grandfather’s notes. Don’t know if I’ll use it for a blog but I may come around with questions, and of course to learn what else you write about.

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    • Sounds very interesting! I’ve been doing alot of genealogy research for the past few years and it seems the information available is unending on some people, while others are extremely elusive. My North Carolina ancestors for one.

      Glad you liked the post, thanks for your comment!

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  6. Great post! I found this interesting program the other day (intended for high school history teachers, I think), where an actor recites some of Samuel Adams’ speeches.

    Kind of fun!:)

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