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Chapter 36

GAGE'S MILITARY MEASURES--REMOVAL OF GUNPOWDER FROM THE ARSENAL--PUBLIC AGITATION--ALARMS IN THE COUNTRY--CIVIL GOVERNMENT OBSTRUCTED--BELLIGERENT SYMPTOMS--ISRAEL PUTNAM AND GENERAL CHARLES LEE, THEIR CHARACTERS AND STORIES--GENERAL ELECTION--SELF-CONSTITUTED CONGRESS--HANCOCK PRESIDENT-- ADJOURNS TO CONCORD--REMONSTRANCE TO GAGE--HIS PERPLEXITIES--GENERALS ARTEMAS WARD AND SETH POMEROY--COMMITTEE OF SAFETY--COMMITTEE OF SUPPLIES--RESTLESSNESS THROUGHOUT THE LAND--INDEPENDENT COMPANIES IN VIRGINIA--MILITARY TONE AT MOUNT VERNON--WASHINGTON'S MILITARY GUESTS--MAJOR HORATIO GATES--ANECDOTES CONCERNING HIM--GENERAL CHARLES LEE--HIS PECULIARITIES AND DOGS--WASHINGTON AT THE RICHMOND CONVENTION-- WAR SPEECH OF PATRICK HENRY--WASHINGTON'S MILITARY INTENTIONS.


The rumor of the cannonading of Boston, which had thrown such a gloom over the religious ceremonial at the opening of Congress, had been caused by measures of Governor Gage. The public mind, in Boston and its vicinity, had been rendered excessively jealous and sensitive by the landing and encamping of artillery upon the Common, and Welsh Fusiliers on Fort Hill, and by the planting of four large field-pieces on Boston Neck, the only entrance to the town by land. The country people were arming and disciplining themselves in every direction, and collecting and depositing arms and ammunition in places where they would be at hand in case of emergency. Gage, on the other hand, issued orders that the munitions of war in all the public magazines should be brought to Boston. One of these magazines was the arsenal in the north-west part of Charlestown, between Medford and Cambridge. Two companies of the king's troops passed silently in boats up Mystic River in the night; took possession of a large quantity of gunpowder deposited there, and conveyed it to Castle Williams. Intelligence of this sacking of the arsenal flew with lightning speed through the neighborhood. In the morning several thousands of patriots were assembled at Cambridge, weapon in hand, and were with difficulty prevented from marching upon Boston to compel a restitution of the powder. In the confusion and agitation, a rumor stole out into the country that Boston was to be attacked; followed by another that the ships were cannonading the town, and the soldiers shooting down the inhabitants. The whole country was forthwith in arms. Numerous bodies of the Connecticut people had made some marches before the report was contradicted.

[Footnote: Holmes's Annals, ii., 191.--Letter of Gage to Lord Dartmouth.]

To guard against any irruption from the country, Gage encamped the 59th regiment on Boston Neck, and employed the soldiers in intrenching and fortifying it.

In the mean time the belligerent feelings of the inhabitants were encouraged, by learning how the rumor of their being cannonaded had been received in the General Congress, and by assurances from all parts that the cause of Boston would be made the common cause of America. "It is surprising," writes General Gage, "that so many of the other provinces interest themselves so much in this. They have some warm friends in New York, and I learn that the people of Charleston, South Carolina, are as mad as they are here."

[Footnote: Gage to Dartmouth, Sept. 20.]

The commissions were arrived for those civil officers appointed by the crown under the new modifications of the charter: many, however, were afraid to accept of them. Those who did soon resigned, finding it impossible to withstand the odium of the people. The civil government throughout the province became obstructed in all its operations. It was enough for a man to be supposed of the governmental party to incur popular ill-will.

Among other portentous signs, war-hawks began to appear above the horizon. Mrs. Cushing, wife to a member of Congress, writes to her husband, "Two of the greatest military characters of the day are visiting this distressed town. General Charles Lee, who has served in Poland, and Colonel Israel Putnam, whose bravery and character need no description." As these two men will take a prominent part in coming events, we pause to give a word or two concerning them.

Israel Putnam was a soldier of native growth. One of the military productions of the French war; seasoned and proved in frontier campaigning. He had served at Louisburg, Fort Duquesne, and Crown Point; had signalized himself in Indian warfare; been captured by the savages, tied to a stake to be tortured and burnt, and had only been rescued by the interference, at the eleventh hour, of a French partisan of the Indians.

Since the peace, he had returned to agricultural life, and was now a farmer at Pomfret, in Connecticut, where the scars of his wounds and the tales of his exploits rendered him a hero in popular estimation. The war spirit yet burned within him. He was now chairman of a committee of vigilance, and had come to Boston in discharge of his political and semi-belligerent functions.

General Charles Lee was a military man of a different stamp; an Englishman by birth, and a highly cultivated production of European warfare. He was the son of a British officer, Lieutenant-colonel John Lee, of the dragoons, who married the daughter of Sir Henry Bunbury, Bart., and afterwards rose to be a general. Lee was born in 1731, and may almost be said to have been cradled in the army, for he received a commission by the time he was eleven years of age. He had an irregular education; part of the time in England, part on the continent, and must have scrambled his way into knowledge; yet by aptness, diligence and ambition, he had acquired a considerable portion, being a Greek and Latin scholar, and acquainted with modern languages. The art of war was his especial study from his boyhood, and he had early opportunities of practical experience. At the age of twenty-four, he commanded a company of grenadiers in the 44th regiment, and served in the French war in America, where he was brought into military companionship with Sir William Johnson's Mohawk warriors, whom he used to extol for their manly beauty, their dress, their graceful carriage and good breeding. In fact, he rendered himself so much of a favorite among them, that they admitted him to smoke in their councils, and adopted him into the tribe of the Bear, giving him an Indian name, signifying "Boiling Water."

At the battle of Ticonderoga, where Abercrombie was defeated, he was shot through the body, while leading his men against the French breastworks. In the next campaign, he was present at the siege of Fort Niagara, where General Prideaux fell, and where Sir William Johnson, with his British troops and Mohawk warriors, eventually won the fortress. Lee had, probably, an opportunity on this occasion of fighting side by side with some of his adopted brethren of the Bear tribe, as we are told he was much exposed during the engagement with the French and Indians, and that two balls grazed his hair. A military errand, afterwards, took him across Lake Erie, and down the northern branch of the Ohio to Fort Duquesne, and thence by a long march of seven hundred miles to Crown Point, where he joined General Amherst. In 1760, he was among the forces which followed that general from Lake Ontario down the St. Lawrence; and was present at the surrender of Montreal, which completed the conquest of Canada.

In 1762, he bore a colonel's commission, and served under Brigadier-general Burgoyne in Portugal, where he was intrusted with an enterprise against a Spanish post at the old Moorish castle of Villa Velha, on the banks of the Tagus. He forded the river in the night, pushed his way through mountain passes, and at 2 o'clock in the morning, rushed with his grenadiers into the enemy's camp before daylight, where every thing was carried at the point of the bayonet, assisted by a charge of dragoons. The war over, he returned to England, bearing testimonials of bravery and good conduct from his commander-in-chief, the Count de la Lippe, and from the king of Portugal.

[Footnote: Life of Charles Lee, by Jared Sparks. Also, Memoirs of Charles Lee; published in London, 1792.]

Wielding the pen as well as the sword, Lee undertook to write on questions of colonial policy, relative to Pontiac's war, in which he took the opposition side. This lost him the favor of the ministry, and with it all hope of further promotion.

He now determined to offer his services to Poland, supposed to be on the verge of a war. Recommendations from his old commander, the Count de la Lippe, procured him access to some of the continental courts. He was well received by Frederick the Great, and had several conversations with him, chiefly on American affairs. At Warsaw, his military reputation secured him the favor of Poniatowsky, recently elected king of Poland, with the name of Stanislaus Augustus, who admitted him to his table, and made him one of his aides-de-camp. Lee was disappointed in his hope of active service. There was agitation in the country, but the power of the king was not adequate to raise forces sufficient for its suppression. He had few troops, and those not trustworthy; and the town was full of the disaffected. "We have frequent alarms," said Lee, "and the pleasure of sleeping every night with our pistols on our pillows."

By way of relieving his restlessness, Lee, at the suggestion of the king, set off to accompany the Polish ambassador to Constantinople. The latter travelled too slow for him; so he dashed ahead when on the frontiers of Turkey, with an escort of the grand seignior's treasure; came near perishing with cold and hunger among the Bulgarian mountains, and after his arrival at the Turkish capital, ran a risk of being buried under the ruins of his house in an earthquake.

Late in the same year (1766), he was again in England, an applicant for military appointment, bearing a letter from king Stanislaus to king George. His meddling pen is supposed again to have marred his fortunes, having indulged in sarcastic comments on the military character of General Townshend and Lord George Sackville. "I am not at all surprised," said a friend to him, "that you find the door shut against you by a person who has such unbounded credit, as you have ever too freely indulged in a liberty of declaiming, which many invidious persons have not failed to inform him of. The principle on which you thus freely speak your mind, is honest and patriotic, but not politic."

The disappointments which Lee met with during a residence of two years in England, and a protracted attendance on people in power, rankled in his bosom, and embittered his subsequent resentment against the king and his ministers.

In 1768, he was again on his way to Poland, with the design of performing a campaign in the Russian service. "I flatter myself," said he, "that a little more practice will make me a good soldier. If not, it will serve to talk over my kitchen fire in my old age, which will soon come upon us all."

He now looked forward to spirited service. "I am to have a command of Cossacks and Wallacks," writes he, "a kind of people I have a good opinion of. I am determined not to serve in the line. One might as well be a churchwarden."

The friendship of king Stanislaus continued. "He treats me more like a brother than a patron," said Lee. In 1769, the latter was raised to the rank of major-general in the Polish army, and left Warsaw to join the Russian force, which was crossing the Dniester and advancing into Moldavia. He arrived in time to take part in a severe action between the Russians and Turks, in which the Cossacks and hussars were terribly cut up by the Turkish cavalry, in a ravine near the city of Chotzim. It was a long and doubtful conflict, with various changes; but the rumored approach of the grand vizier, with a hundred and seventy thousand men, compelled the Russians to abandon the enterprise and recross the Dniester.

Lee never returned to Poland, though he ever retained a devoted attachment to Stanislaus. He for some time led a restless life about Europe--visiting Italy, Sicily, Malta, and the south of Spain; troubled with attacks of rheumatism, gout, and the effects of a "Hungarian fever." He had become more and more cynical and irascible, and had more than one "affair of honor," in one of which he killed his antagonist. His splenetic feelings, as well as his political sentiments, were occasionally vented in severe attacks upon the ministry, full of irony and sarcasm. They appeared in the public journals, and gained him such reputation, that even the papers of Junius were by some attributed to him.

In the questions which had risen between England and her colonies, he had strongly advocated the cause of the latter; and it was the feelings thus excited, and the recollections, perhaps, of his early campaigns, that had recently brought him to America. Here he had arrived in the latter part of 1773, had visited various parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, taking an active part in the political agitations of the country. His caustic attacks upon the ministry; his conversational powers and his poignant sallies, had gained him great reputation; but his military renown rendered him especially interesting at the present juncture. A general, who had served in the famous campaigns of Europe, commanded Cossacks, fought with Turks, talked with Frederick the Great, and been aide-de-camp to the king of Poland, was a prodigious acquisition to the patriot cause! On the other hand, his visit to Boston was looked upon with uneasiness by the British officers, who knew his adventurous character. It was surmised that he was exciting a spirit of revolt, with a view to putting himself at its head. These suspicions found their way into the London papers, and alarmed the British cabinet. "Have an attention to his conduct," writes Lord Dartmouth to Gage, "and take every legal method to prevent his effecting any of those dangerous purposes he is said to have in view."

Lee, when subsequently informed of these suspicions, scoffed at them in a letter to his friend, Edmund Burke, and declared that he had not the "temerity and vanity" to aspire to the aims imputed to him.

"To think myself qualified for the most important charge that ever was committed to mortal man," writes he, "is the last stage of presumption; nor do I think the Americans would, or ought to confide in a man, let his qualifications be ever so great, who has no property among them. It is true, I most devoutly wish them success in the glorious struggle; that I have expressed my wishes both in writing and viva voce, but my errand to Boston was mere curiosity to see a people in so singular circumstances; and I had likewise an ambition to be acquainted with some of their leading men; with them only I associated during my stay in Boston. Our ingenious gentlemen in the camp, therefore, very naturally concluded my design was to put myself at their head."

To resume the course of events at Boston. Gage on the 1st of September, before this popular agitation, had issued writs for an election of an assembly to meet at Salem in October; seeing, however, the irritated state of the public mind, he now countermanded the same by proclamation. The people, disregarding the countermand, carried the election, and ninety of the new members thus elected met at the appointed time. They waited a whole day for the governor to attend, administer the oaths, and open the session; but as he did not make his appearance, they voted themselves a provincial Congress, and chose for president of it John Hancock,--a man of great wealth, popular, and somewhat showy talents, and ardent patriotism; and eminent from his social position.

This self-constituted body adjourned to Concord, about twenty miles from Boston; quietly assumed supreme authority, and issued a remonstrance to the governor, virtually calling him to account for his military operations in fortifying Boston Neck, and collecting warlike stores about him, thereby alarming the fears of the whole province, and menacing the lives and property of the Bostonians.

General Gage, overlooking the irregularity of its organization, entered into explanations with the Assembly, but failed to give satisfaction. As winter approached, he found his situation more and more critical. Boston was the only place in Massachusetts that now contained British forces, and it had become the refuge of all the "tories" of the province; that is to say, of all those devoted to the British government. There was animosity between them and the principal inhabitants, among whom revolutionary principles prevailed. The town itself, almost insulated by nature, and surrounded by a hostile country, was like a place besieged.

The provincial Congress conducted its affairs with the order and system so formidable to General Gage. Having adopted a plan for organizing the militia, it had nominated general officers, two of whom, Artemas Ward and Seth Pomeroy, had accepted.

The executive powers were vested in a committee of safety. This was to determine when the services of the militia were necessary; was to call them forth,--to nominate their officers to the Congress,--to commission them, and direct the operations of the army. Another committee was appointed to furnish supplies to the forces when called out; hence, named the Committee of Supplies.

Under such auspices, the militia went on arming and disciplining itself in every direction. They associated themselves in large bodies, and engaged, verbally or by writing, to assemble in arms at the shortest notice for the common defence, subject to the orders of the committee of safety.

Arrangements had been made for keeping up an active correspondence between different parts of the country, and spreading an alarm in case of any threatening danger. Under the direction of the committees just mentioned, large quantities of military stores had been collected and deposited at Concord and Worcester.

This semi-belligerent state of affairs in Massachusetts produced a general restlessness throughout the land. The weakhearted apprehended coming troubles; the resolute prepared to brave them. Military measures, hitherto confined to New England, extended to the middle and southern provinces, and the roll of the drum resounded through the villages.

Virginia was among the first to buckle on its armor. It had long been a custom among its inhabitants to form themselves into independent companies, equipped at their own expense, having their own peculiar uniform, and electing their own officers, though holding themselves subject to militia law. They had hitherto been self-disciplined; but now they continually resorted to Washington for instruction and advice; considering him the highest authority on military affairs. He was frequently called from home, therefore, in the course of the winter and spring, to different parts of the country to review independent companies; all of which were anxious to put themselves under his command as field-officer.

Mount Vernon, therefore, again assumed a military tone as in former days, when he took his first lessons there in the art of war. He had his old campaigning associates with him occasionally, Dr. Craik and Captain Hugh Mercer, to talk of past scenes and discuss the possibility of future service. Mercer was already bestirring himself in disciplining the militia about Fredericksburg, where he resided.

Two occasional and important guests at Mount Vernon, in this momentous crisis, were General Charles Lee, of whom we have just spoken, and Major Horatio Gates. As the latter is destined to occupy an important page in this memoir, we will give a few particulars concerning him. He was an Englishman by birth, the son of a captain in the British army. Horace Walpole, whose Christian name he bore, speaks of him in one of his letters as his godson, though some have insinuated that he stood in filial relationship of a less sanctified character. He had received a liberal education, and, when but twenty-one years of age, had served as a volunteer under General Edward Cornwallis, Governor of Halifax. He was afterwards captain of a New York independent company, with which, it may be remembered, he marched in the campaign of Braddock, in which he was severely wounded. For two or three subsequent years he was with his company in the western part of the province of New York, receiving the appointment of brigade major. He accompanied General Monckton as aide-de-camp to the West Indies, and gained credit at the capture of Martinico. Being despatched to London with tidings of the victory, he was rewarded by the appointment of major to a regiment of foot; and afterwards, as a special mark of royal favor, a majority in the Royal Americans. His promotion did not equal his expectations and fancied deserts. He was married, and wanted something more lucrative; so he sold out on half-pay and became an applicant for some profitable post under government, which he hoped to obtain through the influence of General Monckton and some friends in the aristocracy. Thus several years were passed, partly with his family in retirement, partly in London, paying court to patrons and men in power, until, finding there was no likelihood of success, and having sold his commission and half-pay, he emigrated to Virginia in 1772, a disappointed man; purchased an estate in Berkeley County, beyond the Blue Ridge; espoused the popular cause, and renewed his old campaigning acquaintance with Washington.

He was now about forty-six years of age, of a florid complexion and goodly presence, though a little inclined to corpulency; social, insinuating, and somewhat specious in his manners, with a strong degree of self-approbation. A long course of solicitation; haunting public offices and antechambers, and "knocking about town," had taught him, it was said, how to wheedle and flatter, and accommodate himself to the humors of others, so as to be the boon companion of gentlemen, and "hail fellow well met" with the vulgar.

Lee, who was an old friend and former associate in arms, had recently been induced by him to purchase an estate in his neighborhood in Berkeley County, with a view to making it his abode, having a moderate competency, a claim to land on the Ohio, and the half-pay of a British colonel. Both of these officers, disappointed in the British service, looked forward probably to greater success in the patriot cause.

Lee had been at Philadelphia since his visit to Boston, and had made himself acquainted with the leading members of Congress during the session. He was evidently cultivating an intimacy with every one likely to have influence in the approaching struggle.

To Washington, the visits of these gentlemen were extremely welcome at this juncture, from their military knowledge and experience, especially as much of it had been acquired in America, in the same kind of warfare, if not the very same campaigns in which he himself had mingled. Both were interested in the popular cause. Lee was full of plans for the organization and disciplining of the militia, and occasionally accompanied Washington in his attendance on provincial reviews. He was subsequently very efficient at Annapolis in promoting and superintending the organization of the Maryland militia.

It is doubtful whether the visits of Lee were as interesting to Mrs. Washington as to the general. He was whimsical, eccentric, and at times almost rude; negligent also, and slovenly in person and attire; for though he had occasionally associated with kings and princes, he had also campaigned with Mohawks and Cossacks, and seems to have relished their "good breeding." What was still more annoying in a well regulated mansion, he was always followed by a legion of dogs, which shared his affections with his horses, and took their seats by him when at table. "I must have some object to embrace," said he misanthropically. "When I can be convinced that men are as worthy objects as dogs, I shall transfer my benevolence, and become as staunch a philanthropist as the canting Addison affected to be."

[Footnote: Lee to Adams. Life and Works of Adams, ii., 414.]

In his passion for horses and dogs, Washington, to a certain degree, could sympathize with him, and had noble specimens of both in his stable and kennel, which Lee doubtless inspected with a learned eye. During the season in question, Washington, according to his diary, was occasionally in the saddle at an early hour following the fox-hounds. It was the last time for many a year that he was to gallop about his beloved hunting-grounds of Mount Vernon and Belvoir.

In the month of March the second Virginia convention was held at Richmond. Washington attended as delegate from Fairfax County. In this assembly, Patrick Henry, with his usual ardor and eloquence, advocated measures for embodying, arming and disciplining a militia force, and providing for the defence of the colony. "It is useless," said he, "to address further petitions to government, or to await the effect of those already addressed to the throne. The time for supplication is past; the time for action is at hand. We must fight, Mr. Speaker," exclaimed he emphatically; "I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of Hosts, is all that is left us!"

Washington joined him in the conviction, and was one of a committee that reported a plan for carrying those measures into effect. He was not an impulsive man to raise the battle cry, but the executive man to marshal the troops into the field, and carry on the war.

His brother, John Augustine, was raising and disciplining an independent company; Washington offered to accept the command of it, should occasion require it to be drawn out. He did the same with respect to an independent company at Richmond. "It is my full intention, if needful," writes he to his brother, "to devote my life and fortune to the cause."

[Footnote: Letter to John Augustine. Sparks, ii., 405.]


Washington Irving