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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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Horatio Gates Became an Officer and a Gentleman

Yesterday I mentioned Max M. Mintz’s The Generals of Saratoga, published in 1990. It traces the careers of both Gen. John Burgoyne and Gen. Horatio Gates, and in doing so offers the latest and most comprehensive work about Gates’s muddled ancestry.

Mintz’s notes mention unpublished parish registers, Treasury and War Office records, and a letter Gates received after the Revolution from a second cousin on his mother’s side, discussing their family. (He apparently never replied.) I haven’t seen any of that stuff, but I have looked at some of the published material Mintz cites.

Sometimes his conclusions strike me as going a little beyond what those sources say. For instance, the book says that Gates’s mother was born Dorothy Hubbock, daughter of John Hubbock. Perhaps those names appear in the letter or another unpublished source. But the cited source that I could check—Six North Country Diaries (Second Series)—contains information about two men named John Hubbock, their work as successive postmasters at Durham, and their children. But it doesn’t list either one having a child named Dorothy or Dorothea. So what’s solid and what’s an informed guess?

Mintz suggests that Dorothy Reeves (her first married name) met Robert Gates when he delivered groceries to an estate in Wimbledon owned by the Duke of Leeds, where she was housekeeper. And that she was still employed there when she gave birth to Horatio, explaining why he was born in the nearby town of Old Malden (which people later misspelled as “Maldon”).

However, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Wimbledon, Surrey, by William Abraham Bartlett, says that while a future Duke of Leeds bought an estate in that town in the late 1600s, his heirs sold it in 1717, a decade before Horatio was born.

Despite holes like that, I still find Mintz’s recreation of events convincing, with the exception of one point I’ll discuss tomorrow. We can’t be sure that the following account of the Gates family is accurate, but it seems like the most likely scenario of any published so far. The parts in boldface appear well documented, the rest—so far as I’ve seen—informed surmise.

Dorothy Hubbock came from a solid yeoman family. There were clergymen among her ancestors and cousins, and she learned to read and write. Dorothy married a man named Reeves and had a child they named Peregrine after her employer, the second Duke of Leeds. By the late 1720s Dorothy Reeves was that duke’s housekeeper, and a widow.

Robert Gates was a waterman who sold food to the estates along the Thames; that was why he was later identified as a “respectable victualler in Kensington.” At times, Gates did other, less legal work, which is how in 1724 he got arrested and fined by the Customs service.

Around 1727, Dorothy and Robert got married and had a child: Horatio. His mother used her friendship with a fellow servant to have Catherine, Lady Walpole’s young son be the baby’s godfather. In 1729, the Duke of Leeds died, prompting a change in the household management. At the same time, the third Duke of Bolton was setting up house with his new love, the actress Lavinia Fenton, and needed a good housekeeper. So he hired Dorothy Gates.

To ensure her services, the duke provided for her family as well. He pulled some strings at the Treasury, and the Customs office dropped Robert Gates’s smuggling case in 1729, and even hired him and his stepson. In turn, Gates and Peregrine Reeves did services for Bolton. When the duke fell out of favor at court for political reasons in 1733, he valued loyalty from his household staff all the more.

Young Horatio Gates grew up in Greenwich, at least at first in the duke’s house—hence Israel Mauduit’s statement that he “lived with his father in the service of Charles Duke of Bolton.” Greenwich had three comprehensive schools, and Horatio attended the “Green Coat” school for sons of watermen, fishermen, and mariners.

Between that education, his exposure to the Bolton household, and his natural intelligence and ambition, Gates gained the skills of a gentleman. He could write, speak French, make allusions to the classics, and so on. Most important for his career, Horatio also learned the art of putting superior gentlemen at ease.

In 1740, the Duke of Bolton squeezed back into favor, and started getting some lucrative sinecures again. The next year, the Treasury made Robert Gates the Customs Surveyor at Greenwich, explicitly on the duke’s recommendation. This post had an annual salary of £60, plus a portion of seized goods. The Gates family accumulated enough money to buy their own house in Greenwich.

During the Highland uprising of 1745, Bolton offered to raise an infantry regiment. Since this was a new regiment, it fell outside the usual system in the British army of officers selling their commissions to men who wanted those ranks. Here was an opportunity for a young man with no fortune but good connections.

Mintz reports the end of this tale:

Horatio was commissioned an ensign in Colonel Thomas Bligh’s Twentieth Regiment of Foot. This was to give him the entry rank from which he was then promoted to Bolton’s own regiment. On October 14, 1745, the clerk in the War Office wrote down, “Horatio Gates, Gentleman to be Lieutenant,” the fifteenth entry on the roster of Bolton’s officers. Astoundingly, the sixteenth name was “John Burgoyne”…
Thus, in his late teens Horatio Gates, son of a “common victualler” and a housekeeper, became an officer and a gentleman.

TOMORROW: Where did those whispers about Gates’s parentage begin?


Anonymous said...

I'm following up my earlier comment giving authoritative information about Horatio Gates's timeline: I'm looking at the digitalized image of the ledger page showing his christening, 30 April 1728 (same in O.S. and N.S.): "Horatio, s of Rt Gates." How old HG was when christened, is not clear from this record.

The Ancestry transcription provides location information: St Nicholas Parish, Deptford, Kent, Greenwich. However, in contrast to most other entries on the page, Rt Gates has no location or occupation information following his name as father. Other entries include a shorthand location identification, such as "Lower Street," and sometimes an occupation for the father. Example, from a few lines below HG: "John S of Jno Chant Waterman Lower Street"

The NORTH COUNTRY DIARIES is a great source, thanks for bringing it to light. Checking out the brief section on John Hubbock SR and JR, postmasters in Durham, I see first and foremost that the various Hubbock births, baptisms and burials mentioned there occurred in THE SAME PARISH where HG was christened, i.e. St Nicholas Parish, Deptford, etc.

The location also fits with information from Horatio (call-me-Horace) Walpole on the timeline and scenario for his being HG's godfather: Walpole was at Bexley in Kent for most of the early 1720s, and went to Eton in April of 1727, where his tutor was Henry Bland, of DURHAM.

As you say, there's no mention in NORTH COUNTRY DIARIES of Dorothy or Dorothea Hubbock, although I see in this work and elsewhere that DORITY was the most common variation.

This source states that John Hubbock JR was listed as a vintner in 1687 St Nicholas' Registers. The REEVE(s) clan also included a Thomas Reeve (Rive, Reave, etc.), vintner.

I would say that HG's mother was born in the mid-1680s, in this same vicinity of Greenwich. She married Thomas Reeve, shipwright, circa 1710. They had Peregrine Reeve(s), who was baptized 23 March 1712 OS/1713 NS, in St Alfege, Greenwich.

There are numerous GATES and REEVE(s) in Deptford, Kent: Jane, widow and pensioner buried 4 Jan 1713/14; Ursula, widow, pensioner, buried Jan 1715/16. Earlier in this location: Thomas Gates buried a wife and child in 1665, victims of the Plague.

Finally (for now), it seems that over the decades and centuries the original English connotations of "housekeeper," as in "housekeeper for the second Duke of Leeds," have been lost. The term has long been given an American inflection, "housekeeper," as in "servant."

Eileen Scully, Bennington College, VT

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks again for the new information. Since Horatio Gates’s christening was in April 1728, that means Horace Walpole was exaggerating a little bit when he said he was godfather "though I believe not then ten years old myself.” But only by a year or two.