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, March 26, 2016

The Gunpowder and William Gamage

In my talk on Thursday, I related the Powder Alarm of 2 Sept 1774 from the point of view of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver.

He was in Boston when that town’s radical leaders arrived out at the gathering of thousands of Middlesex County militiamen on Cambridge common. Therefore, Oliver didn’t hear, and I didn’t get to describe, how those gentlemen tried to take control of the situation.

The Boston committee was anxious to prevent the crowd from becoming violent about how Gov. Thomas Gage’s regulars had removed gunpowder from the storage house in Charlestown. So William Cooper, Boston’s town clerk, told the assembled men that the powder was so old and caked that it hadn’t been any use anyway. William Molineux repeated that message.

Of course, those gentlemen had no connection to the Middlesex County militia regiment and its supplies. They were politicians saying what they wished were true and hoping no one in the crowd would call them on it.

In the 5 September Boston Gazette, however, this letter appeared:
As it is publickly reported that the Powder which was taken out of the Powder-House at Charlestown last Thursday Morning is a consolidated Body, and of no Consequence—I think it my Duty, (as I have for a Number of Years had the Care of it as to sunning and turning it,) to declare, that it appeared to me to be as good and free from Dampness, or any Damage, as any could be. The last Time I sunned it, was last June.

Wm Gamage.

William Angier, Stephen Palmer, James Read, Samuel Gamage, the Names of those who assisted the last Time it was aired, are ready to testify to the above-written.

Cambridge, September 3, 1774.
The Gazette didn’t report who had “publickly reported” that falsehood about the powder. Printers Edes and Gill were, after all, on the same political side as Cooper and Molineux. But Gamage and his friends clearly wanted to restore his own reputation for diligent care of the public powder.

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