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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Sunday, April 24, 2016

An Attack on St. George’s Day?

On 24 Apr 1775, many British army officers planned to celebrate St. George’s Day, honoring the patron saint of England. St. George’s Day is actually 23 April, but that date fell on a Sunday that year—and that day of the week was presumably not proper for the officers’ form of celebration.

In his diary entry for 5 May, Lt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment wrote:
A most shocking piece of Villany was discover’d about the time of our affairs with the Rebels; it was a scheme to cut off all the Officers of the Garrison. Upon the 24th, the day we were to keep St. Georges day, the Rebels were to make a feint Attack in the night upon the Lines: a number of Men were to be posted at the Lodgings of all the Officers, and upon the Alarm Guns firing they were to put the Officers to death as they were coming out of their houses to go to their Barracks.

What a set of Villains must they be to think of such a thing! But there is nothing be it ever so bad that these people will stick at to gain their ends. Upon the G——l finding this out He order’d all the Officers to lay at their Barracks, where those who are not encamped will continue.
Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton recorded other rumors about the St. George‘s Day dinner or a ball that Earl Percy had planned for two days later. Supposedly locals planned to kill the officers when they returned to their rented quarters “in liquor” after one of those events, or perhaps to blow up the gathering.

Hulton also wrote about fears that “upwards of four thousand men” in Boston would rise up against the royal government. There weren’t actually that many men of military age in the town population.

Like Lt. Barker, Commissioner Hulton said Gen. Thomas Gage’s orders for the officers to sleep in the barracks prevented the planned massacre. And the outbreak of war canceled the officers’ entertainment, anyway. Col. Percy was in no mood for a ball.

Now in all the reading I’ve done, I’ve never come across evidence that provincials planned such an attack, or even kept track of when St. George’s Day was.

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