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The Powder Alarm and Mobilization of the New England Countryside, 1774-1775

<br /> Building to a Revolution: The Powder Alarm and Popular Mobilization of the New England Countryside, 1774-1775<br />

By Patrick Johnston
Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Vol. 37 (1), Spring 2009
Institute for Massachusetts Studies
Westfield State College

Abstract: This article explores a relatively unknown but significant
event that illuminates the growing conflict between Great Britain
and the American colonists. As a result of the Powder Alarm of September,
1774, the New England countryside underwent a popular
mobilization. The aftermath of the Powder Alarm, seven months before
the first battles at Lexington and Concord, heralded the coming
outbreak of hostilities.

The following day, rumors ab
“War! War!” These emotional cries shattered the reserved decorum of
the first Continental Congress meeting at Philadelphia in early September,
1774. The rumor of a possible British attack on Boston put a charge to
the men who had gathered to coordinate a colonial response to recent
Parliamentary actions known as the Intolerable Acts. Delegates from
various colonies quickly assured the New England representatives that
they would support the embattled province. John Adams was convinced
that if the news had “proved true, you would have heard the thunder of an
American Congress.”

The rumor that threatened to embroil the English-American colonies in
civil war emanated from a simple military maneuver undertaken by British
troops stationed in Boston. On September 1, Thomas Gage, acting as Royal
Governor in Massachusetts and Commander in Chief of the American
colonies, sent a detachment of soldiers to secure and remove gun powder
stored in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Conducted in secrecy, the operation
proved to be a success, and by early afternoon all the powder had been
removed to Castle William, securely guarded by the king’s troops.

But the operation circulated throughout
New England and quickly ballooned to epic proportions. Many in the
New England countryside heard that British troops had fired on a group of
Bostonians and killed six. As the day wore on, the rumors were embellished
to include a naval bombardment of the city that virtually leveled the seaport.
One observer noted that “the news flew like lightning…. [In] about five
or six days the Alarm spread thro’ above a Million of People.”2 In New
England alone, an estimated sixty thousand men mobilized, armed, and
marched toward Boston fully intending to engage the English troops in
battle. In the end, the rumor of war was disproved before the two sides

For the remainder of the article please see the reprint from the
Historical Journal of Massachusetts here..

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