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, November 21, 2015

Lt. Gov. Colden’s Unsafe Situation

As November 1765 began, New York acting governor Cadwallader Colden was holed up in Manhattan’s Fort George (on the far left of the map above) with a contingent of the king’s military forces and the stamped paper for three colonies. Outside was a crowd of thousands of men convinced that the Stamp Act was tyrannical and determined to keep it from taking effect.

Maj. Thomas James commanded some men from the Royal Artillery inside the fort. That, and his contemptuous remarks, had caused the crowd to tear apart the mansion he was renting in town on the night of 1 November. 

Capt. Archibald Kennedy had sent “Lieutenant Owen & twenty four Marines” to the fort to support Colden. However, he added, “by doing this I leave the Ships without Marines, & as most of our men are imprest there is a great risque of their deserting.” But he declined to take charge of the stamps, lest the crown attack his home and property.

Colden asked the military engineers how they would strengthen Fort George. On 2 November, Capts. Harry Gordon (d. 1787), Thomas Sowers, and John Montresor delivered their report:
The most necessary & Expeditious way of putting this Fort in an immediate posture of defence.

A Number of Barrells Boxes or such Instruments as will contain a sufficient quantity of earth to make them Musquet proof to be put on the Salient Angles of the Bastions to form a Lodgement for 12 Men each, filld with earth 4 ft. 6 in. high. The Earth for filling them to be taken from the inside of the parapet leaving only a Banquet inside of the Barrells Boxes &c. A piece of artillery behind those lodgements towards the shoulders of the Bastions.

Two Pieces of light artillery covered with their mantelets &c. to be mounted on each Flank & the shoulders rais’d to cover them.

A Howitzer to be mounted on each Curtin towards the Town

The Crows feet to be scetterd to the Gate, Sorties and other practicable Avenues to the Fort.

All the Remainder of the Chevaux des frises to be fix’d and ready to plant along the places where the parapet remains en harbet and to be steadied by some Earth thrown against them

A Lodgment of Mattresses or Bedding or any thing proper to make a Covering a top of the large House for a Serjeant & 12 good men who have been practised to firing.

One hundred hand Grenades to be lodg’d at each Curtin & forty near each small lodgment on the Points of the Bastions to be loaded & ready to be lighted & thrown.

The Gate to be Barricaded within at Night as fast as possible & two pieces of large artillery to be planted against it, & two light pieces at some distance behind the Chevaux des frises.

The several Fronts of the Fort to be disencumbered from the Buildings &c

’Twould be necessary for the defence of the Fort if Capt. Kennedy’s House was taken possession of as it commands two Fronts the most accessible of the Fort.

Proper Instruments & Workmen for the defence should be immediately provided and a sufficient number of Men at least three hundred.

Notwithstanding the above Improvements for the defence of the place, its still under great inconveniences arising principally from the want of proper cover within, & being commanded by the Circumjacent Buildings.
In other words, even with at least 300 men, plenty of weapons, Kennedy’s full cooperation, and a lot of hard work, Fort George would still be vulnerable. It had been built to protect the city from attack by sea, not to withstand a siege by land. And was there time to do all those things anyway?

The next morning, a paper was found inside an oyster shell at the gate of Fort George, addressed to Colden himself:

As one who is an enemy to Mischief of all kinds, & a Well wisher to you & your Family, I give you this Notice that Evil is determined against you & your Adherents & will in all human Probability take Effect, unless Speedily prevented by your public Declaration upon Oath, That you will never, in any Manner, countenance, or assist, in the Execution of the Stamp Act, or anything belonging to it; and also, that you will, to the utmost of your Power, endeavour to get it repealed in England, and meanwhile prevent its taking Effect here. Your Life may depend upon the Notice you take of this Advice.


P.S. I well know the Guides of the People would only shew you that they may dare also; but don't incense them, for God’s Sake, by an unpolitical Contempt! You are not safe at Flushing.
Flushing was where Colden had his country estate. He was probably wishing he were there.

TOMORROW: Reaching a compromise. 

1 comment:

Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

I know that 18th-century Britain was pretty prone to civil disturbances, but when you read the recommendations for ensuring that Fort George could fend off the very subjects it was built to protect, it's hard not to conclude that London had irretrievably lost control of the colonies as early as 1765!

On the other hand, I think that question has to be posed whether the Stamp Act's opponents crossed the line in their opposition into a kind of violence we would be hard pressed to countenance today...