I’m getting back to Gen. Horatio Gates’s foggy family history, starting with his father’s relationship to the British Customs service.
In The Generals of Saratoga, Max M. Mintz reports that in 1724 Robert Gates was caught rowing “nine hogsheads of French wine” to shore. He blamed the importer, but the court came down hard on him anyway, with a fine of £104.5s.
That was a huge amount for a Thames waterman, and Gates still hadn’t paid the fine five years later. On 20 Feb 1729 the Commissioners of the Customs reported on a petition he had submitted, and on 29 April the Treasury communicated
To the Attorney General for the entry of a non-prosecution to an information against Robert Gates, husbandman, for being concerned in running goods.In other words, the authorities forgave him.
Not only that, but on 10 July the Customs office appointed Gates as a tidesman, a low-level official responsible for searching and guarding ships.
I found those last two items on British History Online, one of the resources I list on the left here. But, I have to admit that I didn’t think to search that database until I’d stumbled into a reference through Google.
At one point Mintz’s Generals of Saratoga refers to Robert Gates’s wife with the surname of her first husband: “Dorothy Reeves.” I’d already read that she had an older son named Peregrine, so I did a Google search for “Peregrine Reeves.”
And what I found through British History Online was that on 9 Dec 1729 the Customs service appointed Peregrine Reeves a waterman in the London port—an even lower but still steady government position, coming within months of his stepfather’s hiring.
Earlier I wrote, based on a statement in Paul David Nelson’s biography of Gates, that Peregrine Reeves received an army commission in the 1740s. I haven’t found any record of that, and such commissions were widely reported in Britain. So I now wonder if Nelson read a reference to Reeves’s Customs commission in a family letter and misinterpreted it.
Jobs with the Customs service brought steady salaries, insulated from the ups and downs of the market, for as long as one was physically able to do the work. There was a lot of unemployment in Georgian London, so those positions were desirable. That one family secured two jobs within a year suggest that someone with influence had started pulling strings for them.
The Treasury records offer a few more glimpses of Robert Gates through the years. In November 1740 he asked to be “removed from being a boatmen in London port to be a waterman in the searcher's boat at Windsor.” In June 1738, the department granted him a leave of absence as “one of the watermen in London port.”
Finally, on 21 Aug 1741, as I reported before, the Treasury decided:
Robert Gates, a waterman to the coastwaiters, London port, at the recommendation of the Duke of Bolton, is to succeed Mr. Horrex (preferred to be an inspector of the river) as surveyor of Greenwich. William Brooker to succeed Gates.The Surveyor’s job paid £60 per year, plus a percentage of the value of seized contraband. Robert Gates was thus in a position to help his son Horatio become an officer and a gentleman.
Before moving on to how the Duke of Bolton appears to factor in all this, I’ll note a curious entry in the Treasury records for 2 Feb 1734:
Thos. Gates, waterman, London, to be surveyor of Greenwich, loco [i.e., in place of] Thos. Dorrell, deceased.Was “Thos. Gates” an error for “Robert Gates,” being pushed for a higher position seven years before he actually got it? Other sources show that William Smith was the Surveyor at Greenwich from 1725 through his death in 1736, so who was the late “Thos. Dorrell”? I can’t find those names anywhere else in the records, so basically I can’t explain that entry at all.
TOMORROW: Dukes and Gateses.
(Photo of the Royal Naval College in Greenwich above by RachelH_, via Flickr. Greenwich is probably my favorite neighborhood—or favourite neighbourhood—of London.)