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, February 11, 2021

Mounting Expenses for Four Towns

This posting continues the analysis of a 3 Feb 1775 letter that I started quoting yesterday, from men in four different towns to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety.

Yesterday’s extract shows the letter was about eight cannon purchased by William Molineux in Boston in the fall of 1774. Somehow the Patriots got those guns out to Watertown. And then…
…and after Some time Information was given yt it was desired that Watertown & the Neighboring Towns would mount them & git them Ready for emediate Service which is now Nearly Compleated (Viz, two by Watertown, two by Concord two by Lexington, & two by Weston[)],…
The Patriots weren’t just spreading those cannon around to make them harder for the British army to confiscate them. They were also spreading around the heavy expense of mounting and equipping those guns so they could be used in battle.

Artillery pieces themselves were big metal tubes, with a wide hole at one end and a very narrow hole near the other. On board ships and in shore batteries and fortifications, they were mounted on heavy, solid, small-wheeled carriages, and most if not all of those had been left behind.

To become ”field-pieces” suitable for a moving army, those cannon needed to be mounted on large-wheeled carriages that were both strong and maneuverable. Gun crews also needed rammers, swabs, worms, and other tools for loading and maintaining those guns. To “git them Ready for emediate Service” would require the best work of wheelwrights, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other craftsmen.

On 17 October, the Watertown town meeting considered the challenge:
Then the Question was put whether the town will mount & Equip two pieces of Cannon now lodged in the Town at their own Charge and it past in the affeirmative.—

Then it was Voted to Choose three persons a Committe to git Said work don
The cost “to git Said work don” became an issue. The selectmen called another town meeting on 21 November to consider how “to Grant money to pay for the two Carriages to the two pieces of Cannon that were ordered to be procured at the Expence of the town.” The men of Watertown voted to allocate £20 for those carriages, and only £15 for their schools.

Concord followed a similar course, as its town records (transcript now online) show. On 15 October the selectmen called a meeting with the top item being: “To See if the Town will Mount the Cannon brout into this Town by the Committee of Correspondance, and also Provide ammunition for Said Cannon agreeable to the Request of Said Committee.”

That meeting took place on 24 October, and the townspeople agreed that “the Selectmen take the Care that the Cannon brought into this Town by the Committee of Correspondance be Mounted at the Expence of the Town and that there be provided one hundred pound weight of Cannon Ball 4 pound Each Ball, and two hundred weight of Grape Shot, and Seven half Barrels of powder.” How was Concord to pay for all that? From tax revenues collected by the town constables but not yet forwarded to the provincial treasurer, Harrison Gray.

Lexington held its vote early the next month, as Alexander Cain has recounted:
On November 3, 1774, the town selectmen relented and announced the issue would be addressed at the next town meeting. Specifically, “Upon a request of a numbre of Inhabitants to see if the Town will fetch two small pieces of cannon from Watertown, offered by said Town for the use of the Company in this Towne.”

A week later, the town approved the purchase of two guns. “Voted. . . to bring the two pieces of Cannon (mentioned in the warrant) from Watertown & mount them, at the at the Town charge.”

After approving the purchase of two cannons, in true Yankee fashion, the residents voted to create a committee to explore the cheapest methods of mounting of the guns on carriages and building of ammunition boxes. “That a Comtee of three persons go to Watertown & see what the cost of mounting sd pieces will be & whether the carriages cannot be made by work men in this town”
Lexington men didn’t go to Watertown and actually pick up those guns until after 28 November, though.

Weston’s published town records recorded only one meeting in all of 1774, on 13 January. With militia colonel Elisha Jones in the chair, the town voted “by a very great majority” to reject the idea of forming a committee of correspondence. And yet, by the end of the year, Jones had fled into Boston as a Loyalist and the man who had made that proposal was overseeing two cannon at the expense of the town.

TOMORROW: The signatories.

(The picture above shows the Watertown meetinghouse, site of town meetings.)

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