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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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Gov. Thomas Gage’s Very Bad Month

Yesterday I broke the news that I’ll be speaking about “The Near-Total Breakdown of Royal Rule in Massachusetts, September 1774” at Worcester’s celebration this Sunday of pre-Revolutionary events in that town.

How bad was that breakdown? At the start of the month, Gen. Thomas Gage had just returned to Boston from Salem, where the government in London had told him to summon the Massachusetts General Court, one of the measures to punish Boston for the Tea Party.

While Gage was there, both the Massachusetts legislature and the local town meeting had defied him. But on 1 September his soldiers took control of the provincial gunpowder and two cannon assigned to the Middlesex County militia. Gage was feeling confident enough that day to issue a call for new legislative elections.

And then things went to hell. By 25 September, Gage was sending this alarm to the Secretary of War, the Viscount Barrington:
I write to your Lordship by a private Ship fearing the Post to New York which must convey my Letters from hence for the Packet not quite safe, tho’ it has not yet been stopped; but People have been so questioned, and impeded on the Road, there is no knowing how soon the Post may be examined, for there seems no Respect for any Thing.

Affairs here are worse that even in the Time of the Stamp-Act, I don’t mean in Boston, for throughout the Country. The New England Provinces, except part of New Hampshire, are I may say in Arms, and the Question is now not whether you shall quell Disturbances in Boston, but whether those Provinces shall be conquered, and I find it is the General Resolution of all the Continent to support the Massachusett’s Bay in their Opposition to the late Acts.

From Appearances no People are more determined for a Civil War, the whole Country from hence to New York armed, training and providing Military Stores. 
At that point, it was clear, Gage could exercise royal authority, including enforcing Parliament’s new Coercive Acts, no farther west than the gates of Boston.

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