On the 14th of December, 1773, the crisis which had been foreseen for weeks was rapidly approaching. The tea ships were at hand, and it had been resolved by the North End caucus on October 23 that its members would "oppose at peril of life and fortune the vending of any tea that might be imported by the East India Company.
Great public excitement attended the arrival of the vessels with the consignments of tea, and meetings called by the patriot leaders to see what should be done were the order of the day. At one of these a song was composed and at once became very popular. One of its verses ran:
Our Warren's there and bold Revere
With hands to do and words to cheer,
For liberty and laws;
Our country's "braves" and firm defenders
Shall ne'r be left by true Nor
Then rally, boys, and hasten on
To meet our chiefs at the Green Dragon.
The meeting of the 14th of December, to which the citizens had been summoned by the posting of handbills, was adjourned to the 16th without any definite action having been taken. But on that day the Old South meeting-house was thronged and the people were determined. There was much speech-making, something of which Bostonians are excessively fond to this day, and, at half-past four in the afternoon, it was voted amid great enthusiasm, that the teat should not be landed. What subsequently transpired was thus graphically reported in the columns of the Massachusetts Gazette:
"just before the dissolution, a number of brave and resolute men, dressed in the Indian manner, approached near the door of the assembly, and gave a war whoop, which rang through the house, and was answered by some in the galleries, but silence was commanded, and a peaceable deportment enjoined until the dissolution.
"The Indians, as they were then called, repaired to the wharf, where the ships lay that had the tea on board, and were followed by hundreds of people, to see the event of the transactions of those who made so grotesque an appearance. The Indians immediately repaired on board Capt. Hall's ship, where they hoisted out the chests of tea, and when on deck stove them and emptied the tea overboard.
"Having cleared this ship, they proceeded to Capt. Bruce's, and then to Capt. Coffin's brig. They applied themselves so dexterously to the destruction of this commodity, that in the space of three hours they broke up three hundred and forty-two chests, which was the whole number in these vessels, and discharged their contents into the dock. When the tide rose, it floated the broken chests and the tea insomuch that the surface of the water was filled therewith a considerable way from the south part of the town to Dorchester Neck, and lodged on the shores.
"There was the greatest care taken to prevent the tea being purloined by the populace; one or two being detected in endeavoring to pocket a small quantity were stripped of their acquisitions and very roughly handled. It is worthy of remark that although a considerable quantity of goods were still remaining on board the vessel no injury was sustained. Such attention to private property was observed that a small padlock belonging to the captain of one of the ships being broke, another was procured and sent to him.
"The town was very quiet during the whole evening and the night following. Those who were from the country went home with a merry heart, and the next day joy appeared in almost every countenance, some on account of the destruction of the teas, others on account of the quietness with which it was effected. One of the Monday's papers says that the masters and owners are well pleased that their ships are thus cleared."
Revere was one of the chief actors in this tumultuous affair, and the next day, when the Committee of Correspondence met and resolved to send an account of the event to the patriots in New York and Philadelphia, he was the man chosen to carry the message. The letter which he took was addressed to the "Sons of Liberty."
It may well be imagined that Revere supplemented this brief description of the Boston Tea Party with a more detailed narrative. The news he brought soon spread among the New Yorkers, and they gathered in the public places in great numbers. Needless to record, the crowd was in high spirits, and one and all declared that the ships with tea on board, which were known at that time to be nearing New York, must be sent back or the tea destroyed. They proclaimed their enthusiastic approval of what the Bostonians had done and sent the exciting news on to Philadelphia.
Revere then returned home, and when he announced that Governor Tryon had declared that the tea ships bound for New York would surely be turned back, all the bells in Boston were rung. Revere made this trip in eleven days, arriving in Boston on the 27th of December. The next days he was appointed one of the "watch" of twenty-five placed over Captain Hull's vessel and cargo by the level-headed patriot leaders to prevent any of the headstrong among the populace from doing unwarranted damage.
A short time after the grand destruction of tea in Boston harbor, word was received of another consignment intended for New England consumption, and members of the resolute band that had destroyed the first shipments disposed of the second lot in the same fashion. This episode was alluded to in a letter which Revere wrote March 28 to his friend John Lamb in New York:
"You have no doubt heard the particulars, relating to the last twenty-eight chests of tea; it was disposed of in the same manner, as I informed you of the other, and should five hundred more arrive, it would go in the same way. Yesterday a vessel arrived from Antigua, the captain says your tea vessel was to sail three days after him, so by the next post I shall expect to hear a good account of it."
The famous Boston port bill, intended to operate as a boycott against the port of Boston, received the royal signature and became law March 31, 1774. It was printed in the Boston newspapers of the 10th of May, and went into effect June 1.
Formal action was taken at a town meeting at which Samuel Adams presided as moderator. It was agreed to send this appeal, prepared by Adams, to the sister colonies:
"The people receive the edit with indignation. It is expected by their enemies, and feared by some of their friends, that this town singly will not be able to support the cause under so severe a trial. As the very being of every colony, considered as a free people, depends upon the event, a thought so dishonorable to our brethren cannot be entertained as that this town will be left to struggle alone."
A committee was chosen to go to several towns. Revere was chosen to go express to York and Philadelphia. "My worthy friend Revere," writes Dr. Thomas Young, a prominent Boston Son of Liberty, to John Lamb of New York, "again revisits you. No man of his rank and opportunities in life deserves better of the community. Steady, vigorous, sensible and persevering."
Revere set out on the 14th, and reached New York a few days later, delivering his message to the Committee of Fifty-One. On the 20th he arrived at Philadelphia; and that very night the citizens held a mass meeting, at which the "execrable Port Bill" was denounced, and a vote passed not merely conveying sympathy to the Boston patriots but making the latter's cause their own.
Revere's return from this trip was duly recorded in the news of the day. In the Essex Gazette of May 30, 1774, appears this item:
"On Saturday last Mr. Revere returned from Philadelphia, having been sent express to the Southern Colonies, with intelligence of the late rash, impolitic and vindictive measures of the British Parliament, who, by the execrable Port Bill, have held out to us a most incontestable argument why we ought to submit to their jurisdiction."
The New York Sons of Liberty appear to have taken action in sympathy with their Boston brethren without waiting for the appeal which Revere brought, since resolutions were passed by them, and a letter dated May 14, the day Revere left Boston, was prepared, exhorting the Boston patriots to stand firm. These were dispatched to Boston by John Ludlow. Benson J. Lossing, whose fondness for romance is one of his defects as a historian, wrote a very pretty imaginative account of a meeting between Revere and Ludlow.
"Ludlow," says Lossing, "rode swiftly with them [the New York resolutions] on a black horse toward the New England capital. He told their import as he coursed through Connecticut and Rhode island. Near Providence, on the edge of a wood that was just receiving its summer foliage, by a cool spring he met Paul Revere, riding express on a gray horse, bearing to New York and Philadelphia assurances of the faith and firmness of the Bostonians, and to invoke sympathy and co-operation.
Revere also carried a large number of printed copies of the act made somber by heavy black lines, and garnished with the picture of a crown, a skull and cross-bones, undoubtedly by Revere himself. These he scattered through the villages on his way, where they were carried about the streets with the cry of 'Barbarous, cruel, bloody and inhuman murder!" Revere and Ludlow took a hasty lunch together at the spring, and then pressed forward on their holy mission."
Revere's next ride after the Port Bill excitement had subsided was on the 11th of September, when Joseph Warren chose him to carry copies of the famous Suffolk Resolves, with a letter of Warren's, to the Massachusetts delegates in attendance on the Continental Congress then in session at Philadelphia. He arrived six days later, on the 17th, and on the same day the resolves were read in Congress.
Congress promptly passed resolutions condemning the acts of the British Parliament which had called forth the Suffolk Resolves, thereby placing its official endorsement upon the latter, and Revere was able to bring the interesting news of this important action back to Boston.
In October Revere was again sent to Philadelphia. The Continental Congress was still in session there. The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts was also in session and anxious to know what was transpiring at Philadelphia. Samuel Adams was one of the Massachusetts representatives to the Continental Congress, and on this occasion Revere carried letters to him from Warren and, no doubt, to others in the Quaker city from friends in Boston.
In the following December Revere made the last trip on horseback as an official messenger of which we have a record, before that fateful ride of which Longfellow sang and which brought him fame. This December day, while not so long as the trips to Philadelphia, had an element of risk and adventure similar to that of the 18th of April, 1775, and was of hardly less importance to the patriot cause.
By an act of British authority the colonies had been prohibited the further importation of gunpowder and military stores. An expedition was arranged for the relief of Fort William and Mary at Portsmouth, which was rightly to be believed to be in danger of attack by the provincials. But the ever vigilant Sons of Liberty in Boston learned of the reinforcements intended for the fort, and quickly planned to notify the "Sons" at Portsmouth. Revere, of course, was the one selected to carry the information.
On the afternoon of December 13 Revere rode up to the house of General Sullivan in the little town of Durham with his warning news, and, after baiting his nearly exhausted horse, rode on to Portsmouth.
In a letter to Lord Dartmouth, the British governor, Sir John Wentworth described the raid of the fort:
"News was brought to me that a Drum was beating about the town to collect the populace together in order to take away the gunpowder and dismantle the Fort. The Chief Justice of the Province went to 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 intreated them to desist from it and disperse.
"But all to no purpose. They went to the Island; and being joined there by the inhabitants of the towns of Newcastle and Rye, formed in all a body of about four hundred men, and forced an entrance in spite of Captain Cochran."
Captain Cochran, in his report, wrote:
"I told them on their peril not to enter. They replied they would. I immediately ordered three four-pounders to be fired on them, and then the small-arms, and before we could be ready to fire again we were stormed on all quarters. They secured me and my men, and kept us prisoners for about an hour and a half, during which time they broke open the powder-house and took all the powder away except one barrel."
There is hardly any doubt that this affair, which happened four months before the fight at Lexington and more than two months before the episode of the Salem North Bridge, constituted the first act of force of a military nature committed by the colonists against the authority of the mother country. Moreover, it is clear that on this occasion the colonists were the aggressors.
It may be questioned whether the patriots at this early date seriously contemplated war as an inevitable consequence of the drift of events. But if they were already anticipating that dread alternative as impossible of avoidance they could not have acted with greater prescience in sending Revere to Portsmouth to stir up the New Hampshire patriots to make the attack on Fort William and Mary.
The whole object of that attack was not, primarily, to offer insult to the King, but to secure means of defence against the time when they might be needed.
In the light of subsequent events the Portsmouth raid was fully justified. There was a fearful lack of ammunition in the Continental army during the siege of Boston following the outbreak of the war.
When, in the crisis of the battle of Bunker Hill, Prescott ordered the retreat, his soldiers had but a single round of ammunition. Stark, however, opened up a fierce fire on the advancing Welsh Fusileers, which prevented the retreat being cut off and probably saved both his and Prescott's men from being annihilated or captured. "An ample supply of powder arrived in the nick of time," says Amory in his Military Services of General Sullivan.
The gunpowder which saved Bunker Hill from being an utter rout for the Provincial soldiery was thus, upon the evidence before us, the same that was carried away from Fort William and Mary six months previous. To claim for Paul Revere the credit for preventing complete disaster at Bunker Hill would be a somewhat exaggerated view, no doubt. But it was Revere, as the agent of the Boston patriots, who warned the men of New Hampshire that it behooved them to act quickly if they would obtain possession of the store of gunpowder in the fort in Portsmouth harbor.
We have it on authority of historian Jeremy Belknap writing in 1791 that the affair was transacted "in the most fortunate point of time--- just before the arrival of the Scarborough frigate, and Cansean sloop, with several companies of soldiers, who took possession of the fort, and of the heavy cannon which had not been removed."
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