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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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cannon Spiked in the North Battery

The night of 14-15 Sept 1774 was a very busy one in the “arms race” that I detail in The Road to Concord.

That was the competition between the New England Patriots and the British military to control all the artillery-pieces in the region as the political conflict moved toward war.

If you couldn’t seize guns for your side, you could at least make sure the other side couldn’t use them.

As I said yesterday, a bunch of cannon sat in the  battery that jutted out from Boston’s North End, as shown in this prewar engraving that Paul Revere made for Maj. John Ruddock’s militia company. After Ruddock’s death in 1772 Nathaniel Barber, another strong Whig, became the battery commander.

On 15 September, the merchant John Andrews described in a letter what had happened at the North Battery the night before:
what engrosses the attention of the public this morning is the mighty feat perform’d by the General [Thomas Gage] last night, having order’d two ships near the North battery, with a spring upon their cables, ready for an engagement, while a number of Soldiers were spiking up all the guns: in which measure he has anticipated the intentions of a number of ye. inhabitants, who have had it some time in contemplation to remove, or treat them in ye. same manner least they might be made use of to fortifie the Neck: though am told they had such a tremor upon their spirits while about it, as to do them very ineffectually. . . .

But what occasions some small diversions is, that a captain of an arm’d schooner and the lieutenant of the Preston went between ten and eleven o’clock p.m. to inquire for ye. keys, to see if the business was done properly, when a woman waited upon ’em, unlock’d the door and let ’em in, and watching their motions, she observ’d when they had got far enough forward, and came out hastily and lock’d the doors upon ’em,—where they remain’d a long while, calling to the ships to take ’em off (in view of a vast concourse of people on the shore, enjoying the jest), as they could not scale the walls without a ladder, nor indeed could they get off by water, as the tide was low and they must have dropped above twenty feet from ye. port holes into a boat.
John Rowe, though more supportive of the Crown than Andrews, called this a “Ridiculous Maneuvre.”

Andrews wrote of the North Battery’s spiked cannon, “One man, who had been to view ’em, told me he would engage to reinstate ’em all, in the course of a day.” The Boston Post-Boy also reported the cannon were “cleared again the next Day without much Difficulty.”

But that wasn‘t all that had happened that night.

TOMORROW: The island and the gunhouse.

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