Letter to the Earl of Dartmouth

A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, dated "Portsmouth, 20th Dec. 1774," from Governor Wentworth:

     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.