Before this fatal day, Gage had been devoted to his beautiful and caring wife. But after the Regulars returned from Concord, he ordered her away from him. Margaret was packed aboard a ship called Charming Nancy and sent to Britain, while the General remained in America for another long and painful year.That estrangement, the book states, is a major part of the “circumstantial evidence [which] strongly suggests” that Margaret Gage leaked word to Dr. Joseph Warren about the march to Concord.
It’s a dramatic theory: Margaret torn between two loyalties, the general betrayed by his closest companion, even the possibility of an extramarital affair between the military wife and the widowed physician. Later authors have seized on the idea as fact, tossing aside the little doubt that Fischer preserved. Old North Church even developed a lesson plan about Margaret Gage’s dilemma.
I thought the theory was very intriguing when I first read Paul Revere’s Ride. After studying the book’s argument more intently, however, I think it overstates the case, misstating some evidence and tilting the rest in favor of that thesis.
For example, the book states, “In 1775, she [Margaret Gage] told a gentleman that ‘she hoped her husband would never be the instrument of sacrificing the lives of her countrymen.’” That quote comes from former governor Thomas Hutchinson’s diary for 27 July 1775, when he was in London:
Mr Keene called: complains of Gage: says his lady has said she hoped her husband would never be the instrument of sacrificing the lives of her countrymen. I doubted it. He said he did not, but did not chuse to be quoted for it.Keene was a member of Parliament in London; he couldn’t have had any contact with Margaret Gage in 1775, and was passing on secondhand information at best. Fischer doesn’t mention Hutchinson’s doubt.
Paul Revere’s Ride states, “The well-informed Roxbury clergyman William Gordon wrote that Dr. Warren’s spy was ‘a daughter of liberty unequally yoked in the point of politics.’” Actually, as I discussed back here, that was Gordon’s description of a woman who told Samuel Adams about the British plans “a few days” before 18 April.
Page 95 quotes the diary of the Rev. Jeremy Belknap about Warren consulting “the person who had been retained, and got intelligence of their whole design.” However, a footnote on page 387 dismisses a detail from that same diary entry which points away from Margaret Gage, arguing that Belknap’s information “was merely a rumor he heard in the American camp six months later.”
It’s true that Charles Stedman’s 1794 history of the war describes how Col. Percy warned Gage that he’d heard Bostonians discussing the goal of the march (“the cannon at Concord”), and how “The general said that his confidence had been betrayed, for that he had communicated his design to one person only besides his lordship.”
It’s also true that Maj. James Wemyss later criticized his commander this way:
Lient.-General Gage, a commander-in-chief of moderate abilities, but altogether deficient in military knowledge. Timid and undecided in every emergency, he was very unfit to command, at a time of resistance and approaching rebellion to the mother country. He was governed by his wife, a handsome American; her brothers and relatives held all the staff appointments in the army, and were with less abilities, as weak characters as himself.But I haven’t read any British officers accusing Margaret Gage of choosing America over Britain, as opposed to hoping there wouldn’t be bloodshed. And if Gen. Gage had told his top-secret plans only to his wife, that means he hadn’t told his confidential secretary, Samuel Kemble; his intelligence manager, Maj. Stephen Kemble; his second-in-command, Gen. Frederick Haldimand; or any other military or political colleagues—rather extraordinary for an eighteenth-century gentleman.
Margaret Gage may well have felt torn between supporting her husband’s military mission and wishing to spare the country where she had grown up. However, unlike the character from Shakespeare she quoted after the Battle of Bunker Hill, she wasn’t torn between her family of birth and her husband—they were on the same side. Indeed, we might wonder why historians suspect Margaret Gage’s loyalties but not those of her two brothers on Gage’s staff, who were in the same situation as she.
Finally, there’s the evidence of the Gages’ marriage.
TOMORROW: “he ordered her away from him”?