Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Boston Spies' Report on the Redcoats

Francis Sicius
Colleges and Universities - Florida


Students collect information about British actions in Boston and send it by secret message to leaders in Philadelphia.


The student uses creative writing strategies appropriate to the format (for example, using appropriate voice; using descriptive language to clarify ideas and create vivid images; using elements of style, such as appropriate tone).

The student understands reasons Americans and those who led them went to war to win independence from England.

The student knows significant events between 1756 and 1776 that led to the outbreak of the American Revolution (for example, the French and Indian War, the Stamp Act, the Boston Tea Party).

The student knows selected principal ideas expressed in significant historical documents important to the founding of the United States (including but not limited to the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers).


-Copies of the following documents: -Quartering Act- Newspaper report on Boston Massacre; report by an anonymous citizen on Boston Massacre; Comments by Sam Adams. (These documents are available on the Internet. See Weblinks below for addresses.)


1.Download and print documents. (See Weblinks.)
a. Boston Massacre as reported in newspaper
b. Sam Adams' report
c. Boston Massacre reported by anonymous report
d. Quartering Act

2. Prepare secret ink and practice to make sure it works.

3. Prepare three-columned chart for
each “Philadelphia student- and a two-columned chart for -Boston students.-

4. Prepare folder for each student with documents and charts.


1. Explain to students the setting in Boston in 1774. Bostonians have refused to accept tea from the British India Tea Company because they can buy China tea cheaper. To emphasize their point, a number of young people diguised as Indians board the British India tea ship and throw the tea overboard. British reaction is to close the port of Boston until the tea is paid for and to station troops in Boston to control the mobs. The Bostonians are forced to provide food and shelter to the British soldiers.

2. Explain to students that a spy network existed between the two colonies, and it was important for the people in Philadelphia to know what was going on in Boston.

3. Arrange students in four groups: two Boston groups and two Philadelphia groups.

4. BOSTON GROUPS: Go over documents (Boston Massacre anonymous report , Sam Adams's letters). Compile facts of British atrocities and arguments for freedom. (See Weblinks.) Send list of British atrocities by secret message to Philadelphia group. (Mix ingredients to make ink.[see weblinks] Use clean fountain pen or a toothpick to write message and create a secret code. Create a numbered alphabet, such as A=9, B=8, C=7, etc.) To prepare message, students should have a two-columned sheet of paper. Column one is labeled British “atrocity”; column two is labeled Boston colonial reaction to “atrocity.”

5. PHILADELPHIA GROUPS: Begin to prepare argument for presentation to Congress. They will try to persuade the Congress to join in an armed rebellion with Boston. Use documents available (newspaper article on Boston massacre, -Quartering Act- published by the British.) Develop argument from these documents. Discuss which parts of the argument would be most persuasive.

6. Philadelphia group receives secret-coded letter and adds these facts to their argument. Ink can be revealed by holding letter over electric bulb. (Tell students that the colonists used a candle.)

7. Philadelphia groups prepare final argument for intervention. They present argument to the class (Continental Congress). Class asks questions of the group and debates among themselves. Class votes for or against sending aid to Boston to start an armed revolution.

8. All students should keep a journal which records their own reflections on what facts were presented and how persuasive the facts were.

9. Assess the activity. (See assessment.)


Collect arguments prepared by each student in their columned charts. Did they demonstrate an understanding of the reasons for the revolution? Did they understand specific events leading up to the call for independence? Did they understand ideas that would motivate the call for independence? Did the student extract sufficient information from primary documents? Did students prepare arguments with forceful descriptive language? Did they provide vivid images?


This plan could lead into a discussion of the debates leading to the Declaration of Independence. There are a number of other sources that students could read, for example, the Adams /Jefferson letters, which are published in one paperback volume by University of North Carolina Press.

Web Links

Web supplement for Boston Spies' Report on the Redcoats
Disappearing Ink

Web supplement for Boston Spies' Report on the Redcoats
Quartering Act

Web supplement for Boston Spies' Report on the Redcoats
Boston Massacre Newspaper report

Web supplement for Boston Spies' Report on the Redcoats
Sam Adams Rights of Colonists

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