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The First Overt Act of the Revolution?

There is no question that previous to Dec. 14, 1774, bodies of
men had destroyed private property owing to their disapproval of
British methods, and in a few cases had even assaulted the royal
power. But the capture of Fort William and Mary was the first
organized fight of the Revolutionary War, and on Dec. 14, 1774,
the first gun of that war was fired.

It is true that on Dec. 5,
1774, the assembly of Rhode Island ordered the powder and shot in
Fort George to be removed to a place of safety, and it is further
true that it was done with the same intent and purpose, and
undoubtedly influenced the subsequent action at Portsmouth. It
was accomplished without opposition and was simply the
confiscation of stores already in their possession. The taking
of the schooner Gaspee, eight guns, commanded by Lieutenant
Duddington, at Gaspee Point, R.I., on June 9, 17721 has been held
to be the first assault against the crown, but erroneously, for
it in nowise differs in principle from the act of firing upon the
schooner St. John in July, 1764;2 the seizure of the Maidstone’s
boat at Newport3 in May, 1765, or the scuttling of the British
armed sloop Liberty at Newport, in 1769.4 All were directed
against the vessels of the British navy carrying the king’s
colors, but they were directed against the particular vessel that
suffered on account of real injuries to the participants or to
the community, and not from any uprising against the general
authority of Great Britain. Arnold states in his account of the
destruction of the Gaspee that “Lieut. Duddington, the commander,
had practiced every arrogance upon vessels in the bay, detaining
them often without a colorable pretext, stopping even market
boats, and in some cases plundering people on shore.”

The “Battle of Alamatice,” in North Carolina, on May 16,
1771, was entirely of a local nature, and was fought between a
band of so-called “regulators” and volunteer militia of their own
province. Also, according to Hildreth (History of U.S., Vol.
II, p. 570), the regulators themselves became staunch supporters
of the royal authority. The three and one half years intervening
between this affair and that of William and Mary is sufficient in
itself to separate it from the Revolutionary period.

The opinion of Rev. Alonzo H. Quint, D.D., in regard to the
capture of Fort William and Mary, is often well quoted in the
words:

“The daring character of this assault cannot be
overestimated. It was an organized investment of a royal
fortress, where the king’s flag was flying, and where the king’s
garrison met them with muskets and artillery. It was four months
before Lexington, and Lexington was resistance to attack, while
this was a deliberate assault. When the king heard of this
capture it so embittered him that all hope of concessions was at
an end. It made war inevitable.”

Footnotes

  1. Arnold’s History of Rhode Island, p. 309.
  2. Ibid, p. 252.
  3. Ibid, p. 255.
  4. Ibid, p. 297.