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, November 05, 2012

“Powder Alarm” Talk in Sudbury Tonight

On the morning of 1 Sept 1774, the Boston merchant John Andrews wrote this in a letter to a relative in Philadelphia:

Yesterday in the afternoon two hundred and eighty men were draughted from the severall regiments in the common, furnish’d with a day’s provision each, to be in readiness to march early in the morning.

Various were the conjectures respecting their destination, but this morning the mystery is unravell’d, for a sufficient number of boats from the Men of War and transports took ’em on board between 4 and 5 o’clock this morning, and proceeding up Mistick river landed them at the back of Bob Temple’s house, from whence they proceeded to the magazine (situated between that town [Charlestown] and Cambridge [now in Somerville and shown here]) conducted by judge Oliver, Sheriff Phips, and Joseph Goldthwait, and are now at this time (8 o’clock) taking away the powder from thence, being near three hundred barrells, belonging to the Province, which they are lodging in Temple’s barn, for conveniency to be transported to the Castle, I suppose.
Andrews was reporting what he’d heard inside Boston, which shows how quickly people were bringing in this news.

Which is not to say those reports were accurate. Andrews’s reference to “judge Oliver” probably meant Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, a Cambridge Loyalist, magistrate, and militia officer. But Oliver’s detailed accounts of what followed say nothing about helping the royal troops collected the gunpowder in that early morning. (The reference could also be to Chief Justice Peter Oliver, but he didn’t live nearby.)

In contrast, Sheriff David Phips (1724-1811) acknowledged helping those British soldiers on their mission, pointing out that he was following the governor’s orders. Joseph Goldthwait (1730-1779) was a former provincial officer appointed commissary to the royal troops in 1768 and barrack master during the siege.

Gen. Thomas Gage’s move to take control of the provincial gunpowder supply, along with two cannon assigned to the Middlesex County militia, set off the reaction known as the “Powder Alarm.” I’ll speak about that important event tonight at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, at the invitation of the Sudbury Minutemen. I’ll light up my slides a little after 8:00 P.M.

I also wrote about the “Powder Alarm” and its newspaper coverage in Reporting the Revolutionary War, the new illustrated book assembled by Todd Andrlik of Rag Linen. Barnes & Noble is selling a special limited edition of that book that comes with reproductions of four front pages of American newspapers published during the war.


joanq said...

Would love to know where Bob Temple's house was.

G. Lovely said...

I've found several references to Capt. Robert Temple owning the former Winthop prperty called "Ten Hills Farm", on the river bank just north of where Assembly Square is today. See here:


J. L. Bell said...

There’s a book about Ten Hill Farm by Catherine Manegold. Originally it was a grant to the Winthrops, and by the 1770s part was owned by Isaac Royall, part by Robert Temple, and perhaps parts by others.

Robert Temple’s seat appears on the Mystic River in Henry Pelham’s map of the siege of Boston, available through the Library of Congress’s American Memory website.

Charles Bahne said...

I suspect this would be near the present site of Temple Street in Somerville.