By: Scott RossPublished: September 1, 2022

General Thomas Gage

The next time you're gnashing your teeth about the Second Amendment, you might want to thank one General Thomas Gage, a man whose actions were almost certainly top of mind when the Founding Fathers were drafting the Bill of Rights.

In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the British government doubled down with the passage of what became known as the Intolerable Acts or The Coercive Acts, a suite of four laws meant to make an example of the Massholes and enervate the growing resistance to British rule.

The Boston Act closed the city's port until the locals paid for the tea they had destroyed; the Massachusetts Government Act effectively nullified the province's charter, bringing it back under British rule; enacted the Administration of Justice Act, which General George Washington termed the "Murder Act," as it allowed any Brit accused of a crime to ensure they got a fair trial by having their case tried in court within the British Empire, thus making it almost impossible for the average colonist to bring charges for even the most heinous crimes; and the Quartering Act, which decreed that the Brits could house their troops in any otherwise unoccupied building. You can see where folks might finds these acts intolerable.

In an effort to keep the peace in the face of these wildly unpopular new rules, Gage sent on September 1, 1774, a mass of British troops up the Mystic River, with half splitting off to seize a pair of field guns in Charlestown, the rest going on to the Powder House, in what is now Powder House Square in Somerville, to take all the gunpowder. The guns and powder were then taken back to a British stronghold, thus kicking off The Powder Alarm, with more than 4,000 militia descending on the city, ready to take up arms against a sea of troubles.

The Powder Alarm also involved a perilous game of Operator, as the Brits' already totally bogus actions were embellished, with rumors spreading that they had killed six Bostonians, fired on the city and destroyed the port. Four days later, the First Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia, with word of the seizures reaching the Congress on Day 2.

Things cooled down in Boston once the colonists learned that the Brits had not in fact gone on a killing spree, but Gage was terrified by the swift and powerful response and wrote home for back up.

“if you think ten thousand men sufficient, send twenty," Gage wrote. "If one million is thought enough, give two; you save both blood and treasure in the end.”

They sent 400.


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