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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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Gen. Gage’s “disappointment at Charlestown”

Yesterday I quoted merchant John Andrews’s description of the removal of cannon from Charlestown’s shore battery on 7 Sept 1774.

As Andrews wrote in a letter dated 12 September, Gen. Thomas Gage didn’t just shrug off the disappearance of those guns:
He is by no means satisfied with his disappointment at Charlestown, as he sent a number of officers and soldiers over there yesterday; who were employ’d, in service time in particular [i.e., during religious services], in traversing the streets and by—ways, and tampering with the children, to get out of them where the cannon were hid. . . .

The [Suffolk] County Committee waited upon the Governor this forenoon…when he express’d himself nearly as follows:— [“]Good God! Gentlemen, make yourselves easy, and I’ll be so. You have done all in your power to convince the world and me that you will not submit to the [Coercive] Acts, and I’ll make representations home accordingly, for which I will embrace the earliest opportunity. You must be sensible it is as much for my benefit as yours’, not to take any measures that may prevent the country from bringing in their provisions, and in return should be glad to be answer’d in some questions I may ask, vizt.—What is the reason that the cannon were remov'd from Charlestown?”
That question also appeared in Gage’s written reply to the committee.

The Suffolk County delegates, led by Dr. Joseph Warren, told the governor that they would respond to that and other queries in writing. The next day they delivered their reply, longer than their original address and Gage’s response put together. And yet they never answered his question about what the people of Charlestown meant to do with their battery’s cannon.

On 13 September, Andrews passed along another rumor:
Am just inform’d that the officers prevail’d on a negro at Charlestown to inform ’em where the cannon were lodg’d; which being known there, they mustered about three thousand, and with teems carried ’em about ten or a dozen miles further up. Several among ’em were eight and forty pounders, which weigh’d between two and three ton apiece.
Massachusetts political leaders shared a fear of being betrayed by black people, enslaved or free—who at the time had little reason to support them. I’m not convinced that a man of African ancestry actually told British officers where to find the cannon. Locals may simply have feared that one would.

In addition, I’ve come to suspect that Andrews doubled or tripled a lot of the numbers in his letters, especially when it came to weights. As of November 1770, Capt. John Montresor of the Royal Artillery had reported, the Charlestown battery contained five eighteen-pounder cannon, not forty-eight-pounders. Much bigger than the brass guns of the Boston train (two- and three-pounders), but not huge.

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