Letter to the Earl of Dartmouth
In a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, dated "Portsmouth, 20th
Dec. 1774," Governor Wentworth gives most complete account, and
On Tuesday, the 13th instant in the afternoon, one Paul Revere arrived express with letters from some of the leaders in Boston to Mr. Samuel Cutts, merchant of this town. Reports were soon circulated that the fort at Rhode Island had been dismantled, and the Gunpowder and other stores removed up to Providence, and an Extract of the circular letter directing the seizure of gunpowder was printed in a Boston newspaper of the 12th in consequence, as I have been informed, of the said letters having been communicated to the House of Assembly at Rhode Island. And it was also falsely given out that troops were embarking at Boston to come and take possession of William and Mary Castle in this Harbour. These rumours soon raised an alarm in the town and, although I did not expect that the people would be so audacious as to make any attack of the castle, yet I sent orders to the captain at the Fort to be upon his guard. On Wednesday, the 14th, about 12 o'clock, news was brought to me that a Drum was beating about the town to collect the Populace together in order to go and take away the Gunpowder and dismantle the Fort. Immediately sent the Chief Justice of the Province to warn them from engaging in such an attempt. He went to them, where they were collected in the centre of the town, near the townhouse, explained to them the nature of the offence they proposed to commit, told them it was not short of Rebellion and entreated them to desist from it and disperse. But all to no purpose. They went to the Island ; and being found there by the inhabitants of the towns of Newcastle and Rye, formed in all a body of about four hundred men, and the Castle being in too weak a condition for defence (as I have in former letters explained to your Lordship) they forced their entrance, in spite of Captain Cochran: who defended it as long as he could: but having only the assistance of five men, their numbers overpowered them. After they entered the Fort, they seized upon the Captain, triumphantly gave three Huzzas, and hauled down the King's colours. They then put the captain and men under confinement, broke open the Gunpowder magazine, and carried off about 100 Barrels of Gunpowder, but discharged the captain and men from their confinement before their departure. On Thursday, the 15th, in the morning, a party of men came from the country, accompanied by Mr. (Gen. John) Sullivan, one of the New Hampshire delegates to the congress, to take away the cannon from the fort also. Mr. Sullivan declared that he had taken pains to prevail upon them to return home again and said as there was no certain intelligence of troops being coming to take possession of the Castle, he would still use his utmost endeavors to disperse them. While the town was thus full of men, a committee of them came to me to solicit for pardon or a suspension of prosecution against the persons that took away the Gunpowder. I told them I could not promise them an such thing; but, if they dispersed and restored the Gunpowder, which I earnestly exhorted them to do, I said I hoped His Majesty may be thereby induced to consider it an alleviation of the offence. They parted from me, in all appearance, perfectly disposed to follow the advice I had given them; and, having proceeded directly to the rest of their associates, they all publickly voted, about five o'clock in the afternoon, near the Town House, to return home; which it was thought they would have done, and it also was further expected that the gunpowder would have been restored by the morning. But the people instead of dispersing, went to the castle in the night, headed by Mr. Sullivan, and took away sixteen pieces of cannon, about sixty muskets, and other military stores, and brought them to the out Borders of the Town. On Friday morning, the 16th, Mr. Folsom, the other delegate, came to town that morning, with a great number of armed men, who remained in Town,as a guard till the flow of the tide in the evening when the cannon were sent in Gondolas up the River into the country, and they all dispersed without having done any personal injury to anybody in town. They threatened to return again in order to dismantle the fort entirely, and to carry off or destroy the remaining heavy cannon (about seventy pieces), and also to seize upon the Province Treasury, all of which there was reasonable ground to fear they would do, after what they had already done; but on the Gunpowder's being taken away, I wrote to General Gage and Admiral Graves for assistance to restrain the boisterous temper of the people upon which the admiral ordered the armed ships Canceaux and Scarborough here, and they arrived (the former the 17th and the latter on the 19th) in time to prevent the further dismantling of the Fort. Further on Governor Wentworth says the government has no power to bring the offenders to punishment. No jail would hold them long and no jury would find them guilty; for, by the false alarm that has been raised throughout the country, it is considered by the weak and ignorant, who have the rule in these times, an act of selfpreservation. Again he says: I tried to dissuade them by the civil authority, sheriff, magistrates, etc., and did all I could to get the militia raised, but to no purpose.
From: New England Historical and Genalogical Register, (1869), p. 276.