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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Friday, April 07, 2017

Cannon Moved from Salem to Concord

In early March 1775, soon after “Leslie’s Retreat” in Salem, Gen. Thomas Gage started to receive solid information about the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s effort to build a military force out in rural Massachusetts.

An anonymous informant who sometimes wrote in French for added security sent Gage multiple messages on 8 and 9 March. Those messages offered details about where cannon and other military supplies were hidden in Concord.

What’s more, that spy hinted that much of that ordnance came from Salem, and were thus probably the same guns that Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie had been blocked from seizing there.

The informant wrote:
Eight more pieces of Iron Ordnance were this day (Le 8 de Mois de Mars) convey’d to Concord from L[eicester?] (where they had been deposited a few days preceeding their Last removal;[)]—Two of the Eight appeard to be Smaller than the rest & about three or four pounders—These last mentioned were met at a small distance from C[oncord] in three Carts there were no appurtenances, but it was said that carriages were made or making at Salem & soon to follow.—

It is conjectured & reported that a Large quantity of Cartridges are now preparing at Ch[arlestow]n; of Different Sizes, & numbered in order to distribute & distinguish properly.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was consolidating guns, carriages, and gunpowder cartridges in Concord, prepping those artillery pieces for battle. Gage knew similar work was under way in Worcester. In addition, several towns were forming artillery companies on their own.

The same informant out in Concord told Gage that there were:
Four brass Cannon, & Two Cohorns or Mortars (so call’d by the Peasantry) Conceal’d at Mr: B, (Lately chose or appointed Minute Colo.) Suppos’d to be deposited in his Cellar.
“Mr: B” was James Barrett, colonel in the Middlesex County militia. (His house appears above.) Documents from both sides of the conflict indicate that Barrett was in contact with David Mason, the man who had collected the cannon at Salem. They were both working for the Provincial Congress.

Gage must have been struck by the mention of “Four brass Cannon.” Brass (or bronze) cannon were rare in Massachusetts—most were secure in the hands of the British military. But four small brass guns had disappeared from Boston’s militia gunhouses the previous September. And Gage wanted them back. For the next month, he focused his intelligence efforts on finding out more about those cannon in Concord.

2 comments:

Jim Padian said...

Informat: Doctor Church. Why not state it?

J. L. Bell said...

Because this particular information didn’t come from Dr. Church. It came from an unknown person out in Concord. Church was providing Gage with information at the same time, usually based on Committee of Safety conversations rather than observations on the ground.