On the morning of 1 Sept 1774, the Boston merchant John Andrews wrote this in a letter to a relative in Philadelphia:
Yesterday in the afternoon two hundred and eighty men were draughted from the severall regiments in the common, furnish’d with a day’s provision each, to be in readiness to march early in the morning.Andrews was reporting what he’d heard inside Boston, which shows how quickly people were bringing in this news.
Various were the conjectures respecting their destination, but this morning the mystery is unravell’d, for a sufficient number of boats from the Men of War and transports took ’em on board between 4 and 5 o’clock this morning, and proceeding up Mistick river landed them at the back of Bob Temple’s house, from whence they proceeded to the magazine (situated between that town [Charlestown] and Cambridge [now in Somerville and shown here]) conducted by judge Oliver, Sheriff Phips, and Joseph Goldthwait, and are now at this time (8 o’clock) taking away the powder from thence, being near three hundred barrells, belonging to the Province, which they are lodging in Temple’s barn, for conveniency to be transported to the Castle, I suppose.
Which is not to say those reports were accurate. Andrews’s reference to “judge Oliver” probably meant Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, a Cambridge Loyalist, magistrate, and militia officer. But Oliver’s detailed accounts of what followed say nothing about helping the royal troops collected the gunpowder in that early morning. (The reference could also be to Chief Justice Peter Oliver, but he didn’t live nearby.)
In contrast, Sheriff David Phips (1724-1811) acknowledged helping those British soldiers on their mission, pointing out that he was following the governor’s orders. Joseph Goldthwait (1730-1779) was a former provincial officer appointed commissary to the royal troops in 1768 and barrack master during the siege.
Gen. Thomas Gage’s move to take control of the provincial gunpowder supply, along with two cannon assigned to the Middlesex County militia, set off the reaction known as the “Powder Alarm.” I’ll speak about that important event tonight at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, at the invitation of the Sudbury Minutemen. I’ll light up my slides a little after 8:00 P.M.
I also wrote about the “Powder Alarm” and its newspaper coverage in Reporting the Revolutionary War, the new illustrated book assembled by Todd Andrlik of Rag Linen. Barnes & Noble is selling a special limited edition of that book that comes with reproductions of four front pages of American newspapers published during the war.