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, September 25, 2016

“All the Province Stores Sent to Col James Barretts”

Sometime in the early spring of 1775, James Barrett of Concord, a Massachusetts Provincial Congress delegate and militia colonel, wrote down “An account of all the Province Stores Sent to Col James Barretts of Concord Partly in His Own Costody & Partly Elsewhere all under his Care.” That undated document is now at the American Antiquarian Society.

The top of the list begins with the most valuable, dangerous, and risky-to-be-caught-with items:
Two peices of Cannon Brought From Watertown to ye Town
Eight Peices of Cannon Brought to ye Town by Mr Harrington
Four Peices of Brass Cannon & Two Mortar from Col Robertsons
That last name should be Lemuel Robinson, proprietor of the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. Massachusetts Committee of Safety records confirm that Robinson had those four brass cannon and two mortars in his custody early in 1775.

Barrett was thus in possession of sixteen pieces of artillery, on top of the handful of cannon that Concord itself had bought and mounted. Such weaponry had no use other than warfare, and there was no other foe on the horizon but the royal government.

Barrett’s account also listed a great many other military supplies, including musket cartridges, musket balls, flints, gunpowder, entrenching tools, medical chests, tents and tent poles, dishes and spoons, and “Four Barrels of Oatmeal containing 20 Bushels.” He was helping to equip an army.

Barrett clearly didn’t expect this account to fall into the hands of royal agents since he listed the names of men who had sent him those illegal supplies, including:
  • Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead (“thirtyfive half barrels of powder,” tents).
  • Moses Gill of Princeton (tents, “axes & pick axes & hatchetts”).
  • David Cheever of Charlestown (“Two Barrels of Musquit ball containing 2100 weight,” another “2900 of ball,” another “2000,” &c.).
All those gentlemen were members of the congress’s Committee on Supplies.

Barrett also kept notes of where he was storing different supplies: at the homes of his son James, Ethan Jones, Joshua Bonds, Willoughby Prescott, Abijah Brown, Thomas Hubbard, Ephraim Potter, James Chandler, Joseph Hosmer, Jonas Heywood, and so on. Again, Barrett seems to have felt that information was secure, almost twenty miles from Boston.

But Crown agents found out about those military supplies in March 1775. They gave Gen. Thomas Gage detailed information about where things were in Concord, including those four brass cannon. And on 19 April three companies of the king’s soldiers arrived at Barrett’s farm.

How all that came about, what happened next, and what mysteries remain will be the topics of my talk this Thursday, 29 September, at Minute Man National Historical Park: “Cannons in Concord, and Why the Regulars Came Looking.” That event will start at the park’s Lexington/Lincoln visitor center at 7:00 P.M., and I’ll be happy to sign copies of The Road to Concord afterward.


G. Lovely said...

Alas, I can't make the lecture on Thursday, but did want you to know I just finished, and greatly enjoyed "The Road to Concord". A lot of new details that further enhance my knowledge of and travels around the city. Thank you for your work, and someday I'll have to get you to sign my Kindle.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for your comment! (And for all your comments.)