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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Monday, September 03, 2007

Sites of the Powder Alarm

For the last two days I’ve written about the events of early September 1774 that have become known in history as “the Powder Alarm.” This militia uprising came in response to the British army’s seizure of militia gunpowder and ordnance on the 1st of September. The biggest confrontations came in Cambridge on the 2d as thousands of men intimidated royal officials into resigning.

Yet even as the men of Middlesex County returned to their homes, the rumors that had prompted them to march continued to spread outward, alarming more militia companies. In Massachusetts, this mobilization occurred all the way west to Hampshire County. In Connecticut, Israel Putnam heard the news and sent alerts to his fellow militia officers. In all, up to twenty thousand armed men were probably on the march for at least a while during this alarm. (The British army strength in Boston was then about three thousand.)

Last month I led two walking tours along Brattle Street and Elmwood Street in Cambridge, past several important Powder Alarm sites: Cambridge common and the homes of militia general William Brattle, Attorney General Jonathan Sewall, Council member Joseph Lee, and Lieutenant Governor Thomas Oliver, as well as the Loyalist Vassall family. It was a good fun, especially the day the temperature wasn’t in the 90s, and I’ll probably do something like that again next year.

Below is a photograph by Boston 1775 reader Robert Mitchell showing our group stopped outside Lee’s house, now the headquarters of the Cambridge Historical Society. (Take a virtual tour of that house here.)

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