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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Saturday, January 17, 2009

House Occupied by “Old Gage”?

Yesterday I described how a Boston 1775 reader asked about a picture of a wooden colonial house identified as Gen. Thomas Gage’s “military headquarters.” But the book with that picture offered no further information.

I did some digging in Google Books and got lucky by finding a similar view in Rambles in Old Boston, by Edward Griffin Porter (1887). That book also offers a description of how Gage had used the Hull Street house on 17 June 1775:

In 1775 this house was occupied by British troops, the Gallop [or Galloupe] family retiring to Saugus. During the Battle of Bunker Hill General Gage made this his staff headquarters,—a convenient place for the purpose, being near his battery yet somewhat under cover of the hill. Mr. William Parkman remembers hearing his grandmother, who lived near by at the time, often speak of this house as having been occupied, on that eventful day, by “old Gage,” as she called him. Several other persons have confirmed the tradition.
Now as to whether there’s stronger evidence for that tradition than a grandmother’s tale and neighborhood memories, I don’t know. It seems possible that people remembered British army officers moving into the empty house sometime during the siege of Boston, or staff officers using it during the battle, without Gage himself setting up an office there. I call that phenomenon “memory creep”—stories edging toward the more famous names and events.

In any event, that book seems to have been the anecdote’s earliest appearance in print. Other authors soon picked up on it. Colored engravings of Province House, which was the governor’s usual headquarters, and the Galloupe house appear side by side in Homes of Our Forefathers in Boston, Old England, and Boston, New England, by Edwin Whitefield (1891).

Edward MacDonald’s little guide to Old Copp's Hill and Burial Ground (1891) added more detail, again without specifying its sources:
The Galloupe House was erected nearly one hundred and sixty years since—in 1724—by a Mr. Clough; it was purchased by a Mr. Benjamin Gallop (afterward called Galloupe) in 1772; he died in 1776, just after the Declaration of Independence. The estate then became the property of his youngest son, Richard, and, at his death, it descended to his youngest daughter, who married Mr. William Marble, a well-known decorator of Boston, and was sold by him in 1877, a short time after the death of his wife, to the present owner.

This house was occupied by British troops in 1775, and was the headquarters of General Gage on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Its timbers were cut in the vicinity.

The Snelling House, now standing on Hull Street, was occupied by British troops, who covered the cellar floor with tombstones taken from the Cemetery; the Snelling House on Salem Street was similarly used, but it has been demolished and replaced by a handsome brick building.
The fact that two Snelling Houses in the North End had the same story attached to them makes me wonder if people got them mixed up.

A final mystery: Histories from the mid-1900s say nothing about the Galloupe house.

TOMORROW: Out of sight, out of mind, out of history.

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