Bostonians In Distress Analysis Essay

The students are looking at the differences in how the British/Loyalists and the Patriots saw the actions of Great Britain between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution and how each side portrayed the other to promote their own point of view. They are also examining the role of propaganda to support each side’s cause. This lesson is an extension of the causes and issues leading to the War for Independence. Additional opportunities to examine point of view have been provided.

Historical Background

As the colonists begin to develop an American identity, several events create tension between their British roots and their growing American culture and way of life. During years of salutary neglect, Americans had developed their own economy, government and policies. This independent life style and American culture was particularly highlighted with the Great Awakening.

After fighting as allies with the British during the French and Indian War, the colonists expected the reward of use of the land they had helped to gain from the French. However, the British, under their economic policy of Mercantilism, had other ideas of how the colonies to re-enrich the British treasury. Depriving the colonists of their wish to settle the land west of the Appalachian Mountains through the Proclamation of 1763, and increasing their revenue through the Sugar Act was only the beginning of actions that would build tension signaled by the end of salutary neglect.

As the British continued to levy taxed in their attempt to rebuild the treasury, the increase in tensions led to resistance, especially in the cities. With the repeal of the Stamp Act, the sides were both less willing to compromise and responses gradually escalated into violence. As the colonists began to move from attempting to procure their rights as British citizens (“no taxation without representation”) to throwing off an increasingly belligerent “mother country,” the resistance began to solidify into calls for independence (“give me liberty, or give me death”). The perception of British unreasonableness which culminated in the Coercive/Intolerable Acts and King George III’s rejection of the Olive Branch Petition began to unite the disparate factions that existed both in Britain and in the colonies.

Nevertheless, there remained dissent to the independence movement in the colonies. Through an examination of selected images, the students will examine through British (who were paying more significant taxes than the colonists) and loyalist eyes and through Patriot eyes the explanation and interpretation of the colonists’ behavior in response to British actions in the colonies leading to the Revolutionary War/War for Independence.

To develop an awareness of bias, propaganda, and point of view, students will critically examine two images, one produced by an American and the other by a British artist. They will consider the content and the message by answering questions that require them to use skills of close reading, sourcing, contextualization and corroboration. After their analysis, they will apply those skills to a third image whose message may easily be interpreted as support for either side. After analyzing the source together, they will be asked to individually determine which side they believe the image was meant to support. Their ability to support their opinion using their knowledge of events studied and information discovered in the analysis of the image will be used to assess their summary.

Lesson Objective

How did the Patriots unite opinion in support of the American War for Independence and how was their cause viewed by the British, the Loyalists and the Neutrals. When this activity is concluded, my students should understand that not every American supported the Patriot cause and on what those differences were based. The SOL addressed by this lesson is VUS 4C: “The student will demonstrate knowledge of events and issues of the Revolutionary War by describing the political differences among the colonists concerning separation from Great Britain.”



  1. Preview: We will have done a primary source analysis of three different versions of the Boston Massacre, studied the various events that preceded the hostilities, and analyzed a cartoon. The lesson will begin with a brief cartoon illustrating perspective, a very brief review of the reasons the sides were so split, a re-analysis of the cartoon, mnemonic refreshers for the two sides leading to the Boston Tea Party.
  2. As a collaborative effort, the class will discuss and answer the questions regarding each primary source.
  3. Close reading: What do you see in this picture? Who are the people in this image? What is happening in this picture? What symbols do you notice? What is the overall message of this image?
  4. Sourcing: Who do you think created this image? What can you tell about the author’s point of view or intention?
  5. Contextualizing: Why did the author create this image? Who was the intended audience? What significant events happened before and after this image?
  6. Corroborating: What viewpoints does each of these images reflect? Given these different viewpoints, what can you know about how people felt about British actions in the American colonies?


The students will analyze part of the third primary source image questions together, then will write in support of their opinion regarding which side the third image most reflects. Their answers will be assessed based on the points they are able to draw from the image and their background to support their stand.


“The Bostonians in Distress.” Copy of mezzotint attributed to Philip Dawe, 1774. National Archives and Records Administration.

“The Bostonian’s Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring & Feathering.” Copy of mezzotint attributed to Philip Dawe, 1774. National Archives and Records Administration.

“The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor.” 1773. Copy of lithograph by Sarony & Major, 1846. National Archives and Records Administration.

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DescriptionThe Bostonians in distress LCCN2011647025.jpg
English:Title: The Bostonians in distress

Abstract: Print shows a re-drawn and reversed image of the famous British political cartoon where Bostonians held captive in a cage are suspended from the "Liberty Tree." Three British sailors standing in a boat feed them fish from a basket labeled "To -- from the Committee of --" in return for a bundle of papers labeled "Promises"; around the tree and in the background are cannons and British troops. The paper in the hand of one jailed Bostonian says "They tried with the Lord in their Troubl & he saved them out of their Distress. CVIL 13." Physical description: 1 print : mezzotint ; plate 35.7 x 23.3 cm on sheet 43.8 x 31.6 cm.

Notes: Exhibited in: "Creating the United States" at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 2011.; Forms part of: British Cartoon Prints Collection (Library of Congress).; Title from item.; Not listed in the Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum. Division I, political and personal satires, but similar to print of the same title described in v. 5, no. 5241.; Differences from the original cartoon issued by Sayer and Bennett in London on Nov. 19, 1774 (PC 1 - 5241) include the word "Boston" added to the cage; three ships instead of four in the background, and different branches on the tree limb holding the cage. Overall, this view is reversed in orientation and more crudely engraved.; Similar to print published in: The American Revolution in drawings and prints; a checklist of 1765-1790 graphics in the Library of Congress / Compiled by Donald H. Cresswell, with a foreword by Sinclair H. Hitchings. Washington : [For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off.], 1975, no. 673.
SourceLibrary of Congress
AuthorBritish Cartoon Prints Collection
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Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

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