J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Daily Arrivals of Gunpowder for Gen. Washington

Back on 5 August, I posted a letter from Gen. John Sullivan reporting Gen. George Washington’s astonishment at discovering that the Continental Army had much less gunpowder than its leaders had thought. Already the commander-in-chief was working to find more. On 4 August, Washington wrote urgent notes to Gov. Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut and the Committee of Safety in New Hampshire, with the message that

our Stock of Powder is so small, as in a great Degree to make our heavy Artillery useless: I must therefore request you will exert yourselves to forward what ever can be spared from your Province as soon as Possible.
By the 20th, the situation had improved. Washington wrote to Gen. Philip Schuyler of New York, “the daily arrivals of that Article give us Reason to hope we shall soon have a very ample supply.” Visitors from the Continental Congress had brought news that on 10 August the Pennsylvania Council of Safety had sent 382 pounds of musket powder and 1,754 pounds of cannon powder north. As of the 21st, that shipment had reached Albany.

Meanwhile, inside Boston, selectmen Timothy Newell was hearing the effects of the resupply in renewed cannon fire from the provincial siege lines.
16th [Aug]. Cannonade from both lines.

17th. Cannonade again.

19th. D[itt]o.—A 42 pounder split on the lines, killed a bombardier and wounded one or two men.

20th to 25th. Daily firing from the lines and from the Centinels on both sides.
Even after this crisis passed, Washington rarely let up his pressure on Congress and provincial governments to keep supplying the army. On 7 September, he wrote:
I have only to inform the Honr. Congress, that I have received a small supply of 7000 lb. Powder this Week, from Rhode Island, and in a few days expect 7 Tons of Lead and 500 Stand of Arms, A part of the same Importation, and to request that more Money may be forwarded with all Expedition; the Military Chest being nearly exhausted.
While on 20 August Washington had looked forward to “a very ample supply” of powder because he expected a little over two thousand pounds to arrive soon, when he wrote to Congress three weeks later he called seven thousand pounds only “a small supply.” He didn’t want that body to become complacent about supplies.

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