Thomas Gage, Paul Revere, and the Powder Alarms
A check anywhere wou'd be fatal, and the first stroke will decide a great deal."
-- Thomas Gage, Sept. 2, 17741
EARLY IN THE MORNING of September 1, 1774, General Gage set his plan in motion. His first step was to seize the largest stock of gunpowder in New England. It was stored in a magazine called the Provincial Powder House, high on a remote hill, six miles northwest of Boston. Many towns kept their munitions there, as did the Province of Massachusetts itself.
During the summer of 1774, the towns had quietly withdrawn their supplies from the Powder House, leaving only the provincial reserve. Loyalists called this supply the King's powder. Most people in Massachusetts believed that it belonged to them.
General Gage was told of the withdrawals by William Brattle, a much-hated Cambridge Tory. The British commander resolved to remove the remaining gunpowder before it disappeared into the countryside. As governor of Massachusetts he had the authority to take that step. He kept carefully within the letter of the law. 2
The mission was planned in high secrecy. To lead it, Gage selected one of his most able officers, Lieutenant-Colonel George Maddison, commander of the 4th (King's Own) Foot. Maddison was given 260 picked men, "draughted from the several regiments" in the garrison. For quick surprise and ease of transport, Gage availed himself of the Royal Navy's command of coastal waters, and decided to strike suddenly from the sea, using longboats borrowed from ships in Boston harbor.