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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Monday, December 14, 2009

“In the Service of Charles Duke of Bolton”

In 1911, the Massachusetts Historical Society republished a letter that had appeared in the London Chronicle on 3 Aug 1779, adding evidence that it was written by Israel Mauduit (1708-1787). Mauduit was an English merchant who in the 1760s became the London agent, or lobbyist, for the province of Massachusetts. He wrote pamphlets supporting the American cause and New England’s dissenting church.

After the Revolutionary War began, Mauduit published essays in support of American independence—an unusual stance for an Englishman. He also wrote criticism of the London government and its generals, and the 1779 letter was part of that campaign.

Mauduit disparaged Gen. John Burgoyne by writing about the mediocrity of his opponent at Saratoga, Gen. Horatio Gates, as follows:

And yet Mr. Gates, when he lived with his father in the service of Charles Duke of Bolton, was never thought to possess an understanding superior to other men; and the letters of some of the most sensible and best informed men among the rebels show, that they thought him scarce equal to the command.
A man who had been “in service” and considered “scarce equal to the command” had nonetheless taken a British army prisoner.

The third Duke of Bolton was Charles Powlett or Paulet (1685-1754), shown above. An official record links him to an important appointment of Gates’s father Robert within the Customs service: the minutes of a Treasury Department meeting on 21 Aug 1741 say:
Robert Gates, a waterman to the coastwaiters, London port, at the recommendation of the Duke of Bolton, is to succeed Mr. Horrex (preferred to be an inspector of the river) as surveyor of Greenwich. William Brooker to succeed Gates.
The duke was also head of the regiment that young Horatio Gates joined as a lieutenant in 1745. So far as I know, there’s no positive evidence that Bolton was behind the commission that Gates’s older half-brother received around the same time, but he’s the family’s most likely patron.

Was he also Horatio Gates’s father? There’s nothing to link the Duke of Bolton to the Duke of Leeds’s housekeeper in 1727, when Gates was likely born. In fact, around that time Bolton was leaving his wife and embarking on a long affair with the young actress Lavinia Fenton.

In December 1741, those same Treasury records show, the duke asked the Treasury to allow two of his sons by Fenton—“Charles and Piercy Pawlett”—“For a re-grant on surrender of the office of bailiff of Burley in New Forest, co. Southampton.” Unable to legitimize them, Bolton may have instead sought offices to provide them with income.

Two wrinkles here:
  • The published Treasury Office records refer to the sons’ mother as “Lavinia Beswick.” Scandalmongers claimed that Lavinia Fenton was actually the daughter of a naval lieutenant named Beswick. Which name really appeared in the duke’s petition?
  • The couple had a third son named Horatio Armand Powlett—yet another Horatio in this story!
In 1751, the duke’s wife died, and he and Fenton married at last in Aachen, Germany. By then the Gates family was fairly comfortably established.

COMING UP: So what does the Duke of Bolton’s family situation tell us about Gen. Horatio Gates?

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