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.

Follow by Email


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Searching for Mr. Molineux’s Cannon

Last month I wrote about William Molineux obtaining eight cannon for the Massachusetts resistance in the last weeks before he died on 22 Oct 1774.

When I did, Joel Bohy of Bruneau & Co. and Antiques Roadshow, a truly dedicated local and living historian, sent me a letter from the Massachusetts state archives showing what happened to those guns.

Dated 3 Feb 1775, this letter was addressed to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of supply by four men from four different towns. It began:
We the Subscribers beg leave to Inform the Gentlemen of the Committe of Supply, that there was eight peices of Cannon Sent to Watertown last Fall & Committed to the care of ye Selectmen of Said town and Some time after they were informed they were under the Direction of the late Mr. Molinux,…
How Molineux and his Sons of Liberty got those guns past the army sentries on the Neck we still don’t know, but here’s confirmation they were in the hands of the Patriots by the fall of 1774.

Indeed, people had started talking about cannon in Watertown soon after the “Powder Alarm” on 2 September and the people of Charlestown removing the cannon from their shore battery five days later.

On 13 September, Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton wrote to a friend about the Patriots’ military preparations: “The people for their part are all arming, melting their lead into bullets, and draging Cannon into the Country.” From the timing that appears to refer to the Charlestown guns. In a postwar memoir Hulton wrote about how people had “secretly removed several Cannon from Boston, and dragged them into the Country beyond Watertown.” I suspect that when Hulton looked back he conglomerated several instances of cannon movement in the fall of 1774, but it’s notable that he remembered Watertown as a transport point.

Patriots expected the royal military to respond. On Sunday, 18 September, soldiers of the 38th Regiment of Foot turned out for inspection with knapsacks, suggesting they would be away from their barracks for midday dinner. Those men were actually ordered out to help built fortifications as Gen. Thomas Gage strengthened the town’s defenses. But the Boston merchant John Andrews described the local reaction in a letter:
[That] manoeuvre rais’d a suspicion in some people’s minds (who were more credulous than wise) that they were going to Watertown after the cannon: which, by being often told, came to be believ’d, and the committee here sent to inform their brethren of Charlestown, which broke up their morning service and induc’d them to proceed to Cambridge, and from thence to Watertown, alarming all as they went, to be prepar’d and ready to act upon the defensive, if attack’d.
Andrews’s phrasing suggests he’d been told there actually were cannon in Watertown, but even if he was just repeating “a suspicion in some people’s minds,” that was a good guess. Because by early October 1774, Molineux’s cannon were there, and the townspeople had to decide what to do with them.

TOMORROW: Mounting costs.

No comments: