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, September 06, 2007

The Bermuda-Boston Connection

This summer I mentioned the shortage of gunpowder in the Continental Army, and Gen. George Washington’s efforts to pressure more out of the colonial governments. Here’s another comment on that situation, from Robert Beatson’s Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, published in London in 1804:

For a considerable time General Washington was so sparing of his ammunition, as plainly to indicate that he was scarce of powder; but the Congress devised means to obtain a supply of that article, before they had any commerce with the French or Dutch merchants.

Early in the month of August, an armed sloop from Philadelphia, and a schooner from Charlestown in South Carolina, repaired to the island of Bermuda, seized on the principal magazine, containing one hundred barrels of gunpowder, which they carried off.

This scheme was, in all probability, executed by the connivance of some pretended friends to Government. At any rate, the situation of the magazine in a great measure justified the enterprize, as it was far distant from the town, and had no dwelling-house near it.
On 20 Aug 1774, the governor of Bermuda, George James Bruere, wrote to Lord Dartmouth how some of the island’s planters were indeed showing sympathy for the rebellion on the mainland:
As the People here, have thought themselves of Sufficient Consequence, to Choose Delegates, and Address the Congress at Philadelphia. I hope Government [i.e., in London] will think they have Sufficient Reason to put some Check upon them. and Support the few Officers of Government.
Bruere also had a personal reason to be anxious about the new war: his two eldest sons were in Boston, “with the Army.” He had tried to charter a ship “to go to Boston to enquire after the fate of my two Sons, very promising Youths,” but no owners would cooperate.

The governor’s paternal anxiety made me think these “Youths” were teenagers. However, a little more digging showed they were both army veterans in their thirties. Every time Bruere mentioned them to Dartmouth, he called them “promising Youths,” and I begin to suspect he was trying to secure them good royal appointments—if they survived.

TOMORROW: How to steal gunpowder in Bermuda.

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