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, June 19, 2022

“Admiral Graves foresaw a great likelihood…”

The Road to Concord describes the Boston militia artillery company’s theft of their own cannon in September 1774, and how Gen. Thomas Gage reacted to that.

Robert Beatson’s Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, published in 1804, includes a passage describing how Gage’s counterpart in the Royal Navy, Adm. Samuel Graves, reacted to events in and around Boston that month.

This recounting of events was very characteristic of Graves’s own reports home:
The rebellious designs of the people became every day more evident, and a mob attempted to remove some pieces of cannon during the night from Boston; and actually carried some from Charlestown [on 7 September], which place may be regarded as a suburb of that town. The disaffected gave out at the same time, that their intention was to fortify a camp in the country; and soon after, the boats of the Lively and Preston seized a flat-boat belonging to the Americans [on 20 September], with six very good guns, six pounders, which they were carrying up Charlestown river, and were supposed to be destined for the same service.

From the disposition of the people, Admiral Graves foresaw a great likelihood, that there would soon be a want of artificers to work for Government, although Boston abounded with shipwrights, sailmakers, caulkers, &c. He therefore wrote, in the most pressing terms, to Captain [James] Ayscough of his Majesty’s sloop the Swan, then at New York, but under orders to return to Boston, to procure such work-people as might be necessary to keep the ships under his command in proper repair, lest those at Boston should refuse their assistance. This precaution eventually proved of great service; for after the skirmish at Lexington, none of the Americans durst work for the King, either in the navy or army departments, but at the hazard of their lives.
In sum:
  • The Bostonians were a criminal mob deteremined on rebellion.
  • By implication, Gen. Gage and the army couldn’t handle that problem.
  • In contrast, Adm. Graves was far-sighted and realistic, and more people should have listened to him. 
As I said, characteristic.

This passage also strongly suggests that Gage never informed the admiral about the disappearance of the militia field-pieces. Otherwise, the admiral would surely have mentioned that embarrassing fact in London, as another thing that was by no means his fault.

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