Samuel Adams: The Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Samuel Adams: The Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Samuel Adams was the second cousin of US President John Adams, and like his cousin, he served at the Continental Congress and was instrumental in America gaining independence. In fact, Samuel was most outspoken about independence, and was a notorious thorn in the side of the British before the Revolution. This is his story.

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The famous Samuel Adams, the cousin to the second US President John Adams, was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 27, 1722. Samuel and John were second cousins, which means they shared of great-grandparents. Like John, Samuel’s parents were of a staunchly Puritan background, and his upbringing was religiously strict. He was the son of Samuel Adams, Sr and Mary Fifield, and was one of twelve children the couple shared. Samuel was also one of only three of these twelve children to survive past childhood.

Also like his cousin John, Samuel attended Latin school as a child, and then went to Harvard University. He was admitted to Harvard a bit younger than John, gaining admittance at only fourteen years old as opposed to sixteen years old for John. Samuel went to Harvard to fulfill the hopes of his parents that he would go into the ministry (another similarity he shared with his cousin John). Samuel, though (and also like John) decided this was not where his interests were, and instead went into politics. He graduated from Harvard at eighteen years old and obtained an aster’s degree from there when he was twenty-one.

After graduating from Harvard, Samuel wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do for a career, though he knew he was interested in politics. A career in politics required establishment in some other career first, a career in which he could become known to potential voters. Samuel decided on going into business, establishing a short-lived counting house. Later, his father gave him one thousand pounds to start another business. Samuel lent half of it to a friend (who didn’t pay him back), and then spent the rest on frivolities. To his father, this squandering of the money proved that business did not truly interest Samuel.

Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams



As such, Samuel’s father made him a partner in the family malt business, where Samuel worked for about five years. At that time, the issue of American colonists being impressed into the British Navy against their will brought him back to his interest in politics. He started an anti-British newspaper with a friend, and won his first political office in 1747, gaining an elected position as a clerk at the Boston Market. His love of politics stoked; this office kicked off his successful runs for several other ones. In one infamous incident, Samuel was elected as a tax collector in Boston but refused to collect taxes from anyone. This bankrupted the town council, and they filed many lawsuits against him, but his refusal to collect taxes made him so popular with the common people that he easily won more offices.

In 1749, Samuel married Elizabeth Checkley. Together, they had six children, only two of whom survived the dangerous 18th century period of childhood. Eight years after their marriage, Elizabeth died in childbirth (the child, a son, was stillborn). Samuel married a second time in 1764 to Elizabeth Wells. This second marriage produced no children.

Around the time of his second marriage, Samuel became a famous thorn in the side of British authorities. This began with the Sugar Act of 1764. Samuel protested publicly about Britain’s policy of taxing the colonies without allowing them representation in parliament. In turn, British authorities blamed Samuel for outbreaks of violence in the American colonies after the passage of the Stamp Act the following year. Samuel never participated in any mob himself, but he did not discourage other people from doing so. 

His popularity among the people of Boston saw him elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives after the Stamp Act. This election to such a lofty position was likely because he had influence with British merchants in the city, and those merchants had influence with British lawmakers to convince them to not implement other taxes.

Samuel was notorious for disobeying the Royal governors, Parliament, and even the King. When locals wanted to boycott British imports, he encouraged it. He also encouraged local sentiment when it came to removing British troops from Massachusetts who were sent to enforce royal and parliamentary decrees. There are some historians who suspect Samuel personally instigated the Boston Massacre in order to further the cause of American independence that he was already committed to by that time. Nothing is proven about this, but it is a popular theory among some historians and would be perfectly in character with Samuel Adams. 

Interestingly, Samuel encouraged his cousin John to defend the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre case, yet wrote letters of outrage to the editors of local papers at their acquittal.

Samuel was definitely present when the mob involved in the Boston Tea Party marched out to the ships in disguise to dump the tea. He was, in fact, presiding over a meeting being held against the Tea Act, and the attendees at the meeting got so upset about the Tea Act that they dumped the tea right into the harbor. Samuel never said if he went with them to the ships to dump the tea, or if he even watched them do it, but he was definitely part of the group prior to the actual tea-dumping event taking place. He also used the Boston Tea Party’s popularity and fame to promote his stance for independence with local papers, writing that the incident was acceptable because the participants were protesting an illegal act by Parliament in the only way they could.

Samuel Adams, bronze and granite statue, 1880, located in front of Faneuil Hall, which was the home of the Boston Town Meeting

Because Samuel was such a strong proponent of American independence and was popular with the Massachusetts people, he was elected to be a representative from the colony to the Second Continental Congress. Because this congress worked under a rule of secrecy, most of its activities are not recorded. Yet, Thomas Jefferson later credited Samuel Adams with being the person who had the most influence on that congress, and who initially steered it in the direction of independence. 

During the American Revolution, Samuel was an instrumental person in expelling about three hundred people from Boston who were loyal to the British and confiscating their property. He also personally opposed allowing them to return to Massachusetts after the war.

Samuel Adams died October 2, 1803, age 81, and was buried at the historic Granary Burying Ground in Boston. At this time, a local Boston newspaper gave him his most appropriate title, one that has stayed with his memory to this day—The Father of the American Revolution.


 

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