A Brief History
On July 14, 1791, a buddy of Benjamin Franklin triggered a series of riots in England eponymously named “The Priestly Riots.”
English scientist and polymath, adept in the ways of chemistry, electricity, philosophy, theology, grammar, politics and education, he even invented carbonated water. His main crime in the eyes of English traditionalists was supporting the ongoing French Revolution, especially in regard to religion, with “reason” replacing much of the religious tenets of more mystical themes and his dissent against the Church of England.
Not only did Priestly support the French Revolution, he had also been a supporter of the American cause in the American war for independence.
The Priestly Riots, which began in Birmingham on July 14th and lasted an additional three days, may have had the tacit approval of local and national government officials, and authorities were indeed slow to respond to aid the beleaguered Dissenters as Priestley’s supporters were called. Churches, chapels, homes, and businesses were burned, and rioters looted valuables and liquor. Prosecutions of rioters were half-hearted and even King George III spoke in favor of the rioters!
While no victims of the rioters were killed, Priestly and many others were compelled to leave Birmingham for less hostile climes.
Question for students (and subscribers): Did you know we have Joseph Priestly to thank for our carbonated beverages? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Corry, John. The life of Joseph Priestly. HardPress, 2018.
Priestly, Joseph. Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air. Kindle, 2012.
The featured image in this article, a print by Robert Dent of the Priestley Riots, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.
You can also watch video versions of this article on YouTube.