Saturday, November 18, 2023

Food Riots 1776 to 1779

 With Nancy J. Farrier



Photo by Jim, The Photographer
Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving is almost here. We’re overwhelmed with the cost of groceries and putting together a meal for family and friends. Prices have gone up on everything and we wonder why. This isn’t anything new.


During the revolutionary war, the British often blockaded the harbors, limiting access to certain foods. Much of what was available was commandeered to be sent to feed the American troops fighting the war. Plus, some merchants withheld their stock just to raise prices. They hoarded supplies, overpriced what little they offered for sale, monopolizing in particular the coffee, tea, flour, and sugar.


Boston Bread Riots (earlier date)
Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons
It was this third practice that angered the women who were struggling to keep up their homes and feed their families while their men were off fighting. This was hard enough without the storekeepers who were taking advantage and wanting to gain wealth at other’s expense. 


During the three-year period between 1776 and 1779, there were at least thirty food riots. Sometimes men participated, but most of them were women who were fighting to get food for their families. One of the farmers commented that what they were facing from the shopkeepers was the same oppression that brought on the war with Britain.


In 1777, Thomas Boylston, a merchant in Boston, attempted to drive up the price of coffee and sugar by hoarding them in his warehouse. Over one hundred women marched to his warehouse with carts and demanded the keys to open the doors.



When Boylston refused to give up the keys, one of the women picked him up by the neck and dumped him in a cart. He realized he was in a bad position and agreed to give up the keys. The women retrieved them from him and then tilted the cart and dumped him out in the street. They went on to open the warehouse and load their carts with the goods they needed, which they then distributed to those in need.


Abigail Adams !766
Photo by Benjamin Blyth
Wikimedia Commons
It is reported that several men were watching the incident with Thomas Boylston but didn’t interfere. Perhaps, they didn’t agree with the way the shopkeeper was taking advantage of families.


Abigail Adams reported the incident to her husband in an letter, telling him, “there has been much rout and noise in the town for several weeks.” She went on to relate the incident in detail in the letter.

In Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1777, women rioted when shopkeepers refused to sell goods for paper money. Some sixty women, wearing cloaks with hoods, marched to the wharves. One of them carried a musket and they brought two ox-carts with them.


Marching first to the distil-house where the sugar they needed was kept, the women were thwarted when the foreman locked the gates. The rioters asked some nearby men for assistance and they broke open the gates with their axes.


Versailles food riots 1789
Public Domain - Wikimedia Commons

The foreman resisted, but it was reported by Edwin Stone that the women seized the man by his hair, which was a hairpiece. He went on to say in his article, “…he eluded their grasp by leaving his artificial covering in their hands—and fleeing all but scalpless to the counting-room…” The foreman then locked himself in for safety.


After the women forced open the doors, they brought out two hogsheads of sugar and loaded them on their carts. Other merchants saw what was happening and opened negotiations with the women, agreeing to sell their products for paper money. 


While I don’t think these methods would work for us today, it is interesting to see the power women wield when they stand together against injustice. What are your thoughts? Have you ever heard of these food riots? (I had trouble finding pictures of the food riots talked about in this post so I added a couple of pictures of other food riots done by women in the 1700's.)


I do hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Enjoy your food and family.

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Thank you for posting today. I've not heard specifically about these food riots but the runs on supplies when COVID first hit reminds me of it. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Nancy.

    1. Connie, I was reminded of that too. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Have a blessed holiday.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving Nancy! I have not heard of this, one sure doesn't read about women doing this in our school history books. Thanks for posting!

    1. Happy Thanksgiving, Linda. Nope, we didn't read about this in school. lol