A long-simmering feud developed between the New York assembly and royal officials in that colony following the passage of the Quartering Act in 1765. The assembly at first refused to appropriate funds in the full amount requested by the Crown for troop maintenance. Later, as animosities deepened, the legislators would refuse to grant any support funds whatsoever.
This tense situation worsened in 1767 when Parliament imposed unpopular taxation through the Townshend Acts. Critics of royal policies in New York City showed their displeasure by erecting a liberty pole in what today is City Hall Park; the area became a congregating place for noisy radicals.
The situation changed in late 1769 when new members were seated in the colonial assembly. These moderates promptly voted ?2,000 for troop maintenance, a move that pleased royal officials, but angered the critics. Alexander McDougal, leader of the local Sons of Liberty, published a pamphlet entitled, To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York, in a successful effort to stir up popular emotions. Soldiers responded by posting broadsides that were uncomplimentary of the citizenry. Clashes on the streets between redcoats and residents occurred with increasing frequency. British authorities responded on January 17, 1770 by dispatching soldiers to cut down the liberty pole, a deliberately provocative act.
Violence erupted from these tensions on January 19. A small contingent of soldiers was detained by a mob and other soldiers soon arrived to rescue their own. The mob grew in numbers, some of whom carried cutlasses and clubs, but retreated to a nearby wheat field called Golden Hill. Taunting continued and the soldiers charged the crowd with fixed bayonets. Several serious injuries resulted, but no deaths. British officers arrived, restored order and sent their soldiers back to their barracks.
The “Battle of Golden Hill” has sometimes been regarded as the first significant encounter between armed British soldiers and armed American colonists. Word of this event circulated rapidly through the colonies and may have put soldiers in Boston on edge six weeks before the Boston Massacre.