“The Unhappy Sufferers”: Bostonians vs. Brits circa. 1770

Featured Image Source

Image 1: Excise Payment in Tar and Feathers

Image Source

Context: The caption reads “The Bostonians paying the excise-man or tarring & feathering”. This cartoon depicts a fiendish-looking group of Bostonians “paying their dues” to the British tax collector by tarring and feathering him. Tarring and feathering is the act of dousing someone in tar and feathers in an attempt to humiliate them. The Brit is also being forced to drink tea. Behind the mob stands a “liberty tree” with a “Stamp Act” poster on its trunk and a noose hanging from a branch. Out on the water is a recreation of the Boston Tea Party in which Bostonians threw tea overboard a British ship as a way to protest the Tea Act.

Image 2: “The Patriot’s copious Tears . . . which embalms the Dead”

Image Source

Context: This drawing shows a scene from the “Bloody Massacre”, also known as the “Boston Massacre”, in which British soldiers shot and killed multiple people after being harassed by a mob of civilians. This was during the British occupation in Boston. In the image, we see the British soldiers on the right attacking

Student Questions

  1. Who do you think the target audiences of these images are? Are they meant to be seen by the same or different demographics of people?
  2. What purpose do you think these images serve? Why might have been the authors motive in creating them?
  3. Put yourself in the perspective of a Bostonian during the 1770s. How might you respond to each of these images? Would your perspective change as a person living in Britain?

Instructional Goals and Model Answers

  • Students will be able to investigate an author’s purpose by analyzing the work created by that author in the context for which it was created.
  1. The target audiences for these images are different. Image 1 is meant to be seen by the British. This image shows the Bostonians as cruel people who do terrible things to the British because they don’t want to pay taxes. Image 2’s target audience are the people living in the colonies. The picture and accompanying description paint the British as uncaring people who are indifferent about killing the Bostonians.
  2. I think these images are meant to make the people within their targeted demographic angry and strengthen the biases they have about the opposite group of people. The colonists wanted support in their rebellion against the British while the British wanted those within Britain to support the decisions being made by them in the American colonies.
  3. As a Bostonian, both of these images would probably enrage me. The first image because it paints people like me in a bad light. The second image would also make me angry at the British for cruelly murdering people within my city. It may also inspire me to support the rebellion. As a British person, I would probably be disgusted by the images. Image 1 would make me upset and sick because it depicts someone like me being harassed by people going against the government I support. Image 2, however, might make me feel mixed things. If I already support the British troops, I’d probably be upset that the Bostonians depicted the soldiers in the way that they did. If I wasn’t sure about my stance on the colonies, I might start thinking negatively about the soldiers in the colonies.

8 Replies to ““The Unhappy Sufferers”: Bostonians vs. Brits circa. 1770”

  1. Amazing choice of sources, Madi! Your post demonstrates how important it is to consider multiple perspectives in history. In high school U.S. history, I, and probably many others, saw the “Bloody Massacre” primary source. In this class, we were taught a one-sided Bostonian perspective that was rich with other primary sources, but they were all pro-Bostonian. It’s great that my teacher used amazing primary sources, but it would have been better to include anti-Bostonian perspectives. History is far from black and white!

    1. I agree with Matt. A great selection of images give students multiple perspectives. Excellent questions and model replies point to deeper investigation by students.

      I especially like the featured image. I’ve never seen that one before. I followed the link back to LOC and downloaded the TIF version which is a big file, but it shows the details. So much for students to explore. Even has identifiers at bottom to explain who each person is.

      BTW – I recently saw the “John Adams” TV series (played by Paul Giamatti). In one scene they tarred and feathered some British tax collector. Poured hot tar over his head. So he got burned then choked on feathers. What a horrific punishment. Much worse than I ever realized.

      1. I downloaded the TIF version, as well. It was definitely worth the wait! The image is really detailed and gives a great perspective on what the author was conveying.

        That scene sounds terrible! I remember learning about tarring and feathering in middle and high school. My teachers made it seem like it was a very normal occurrence and that it caused no pain or damage, other than humiliation. I wonder if this is the lasting impression we have because of a long history of pro-American bias.

    2. I remember the same experience, Matt! When learning about most events in history, I was always told the American perspective with very little (if any) alternate stories. I think this makes sense because I had an American schooling with American teachers, so it seemed like that perspective is the only one that mattered. However, we know that historians have to remain unbiased in their analyses. I think we should demonstrate this in the classroom by offering alternate perspectives!

  2. I really love this post Madi! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the perspective of events like the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, heck the whole Revolutionary War even, had multiple viewpoints and perspectives. This post is a great way to highlight how different sides of the conflict saw things. I think it would blow students minds to share this with them.

    1. I think perspective is a VERY underrated concept in history classes! It really is beneficial for students to understand that every event is told by at least two stories. Maybe teaching this concept could create more empathetic adults!

  3. I love this! My favorite thing you do is ask students to put themselves in the shoes of a Bostonian looking at these images. This inspires not only critical thinking, but creativity and empathy.
    The picture of the Boston Massacre is especially interesting, because even the name is propaganda. Calling it a massacre was the last straw for many colonists, despite the fact that it was far fro, an actual massacre.
    Really love this time period and the sources/questions you used!

    1. It really is strange looking at this image while knowing how the events of this “massacre” unfolded. I actually had to do some researching while creating this post because the image threw me off! I saw it and was left thinking “wait… am I remembering this correctly?”

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