Re-Affirming Cape Cod's Independence Day

Oct 1, 2018

Barnstable County Commission Chairman Leo Cakounes signs a proclamation re-affirming Cape Cod Independence Day.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

244 years ago, on the morning of September 27th, 1774, 1,500 Cape Cod residents gathered at the Old Colonial Courthouse in Barnstable. The protesters were upset about new, punitive laws the British had imposed shortly after the Boston Tea Party.

Phineas Fiske, Director of Tales of Cape Cod.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“One of them was the Massachusetts Government Act, which abrogated the charter that had governed the colony since 1691, which was extremely democratic in its structure,” said Phineas Fiske, Director of Tales of Cape Cod, a Barnstable-based historic preservation organization.

Under the Massachusetts Government Act, there would only be one town meeting allowed per year, and the agenda had to be cleared with the Royal Governor. The people would no longer be allowed to choose their own representatives. Other restrictive measures were also imposed.

A plaque commemorates the events of September 27th, 1774.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“That did not set well with Cape Cod or other parts of Massachusetts. And as a result, a large group of people decided to prevent the Court from sitting in the Fall session of 1774 in protest against the new rules,” said Fiske.

The 1,500 people who showed up that morning at the courthouse represented one-tenth of the Cape’s entire population at the time. The movement to shut down the courts began in Berkshire County, and before long, other counties in the Commonwealth followed suit.

“The presiding judge, James Otis, Sr., agreed with the protesters both not to hold a court session, but more significantly, not to pay any attention whatsoever to the Massachusetts Government Act,” said Fiske. “As a result, by the end of the Fall of that year, 1774, they achieved, across the board, independence, freedom for Cape Cod from British control.”

The British didn’t have enough troops to pacify the entire colony, so they essentially gave up until the following Spring, when they sent an expedition to Concord to recover munitions that were stored there. What followed was the Battle of Lexington and Concord. That was the kickoff of the Revolutionary War. The Revolution had already occurred - a point John Adams made to a journalist in 1818.

The Olde Colonial Courthouse in Barnstable.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“And what he said was, ‘What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the American people,’” said Fiske.

Recently, the Barnstable County Commissioners held their weekly meeting at the Olde Colonial Courthouse, one of only two surviving buildings where these protests took place. They signed a proclamation re-affirming September 27th as the date Cape Cod won its independence from British rule without a single shot being fired.

Descendants of the original protesters sign a proclamation re-affirming September 27th as Cape Cod Independence Day.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

The scroll containing the proclamation will now travel around to local schools on Cape Cod to be used as an educational tool.

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