Minutemen of the Revolutionary War

While the leading patriots were preparing for the Grand Council of deputies in 1774, the people, everywhere, were preparing for impending war. They armed themselves, and practised military tactics almost every day. Men of all stations in life might be found in the ranks for discipline. Deacons of churches were often captains, having more than half of the young men of the congregations with whom they worshipped, as their followers. There was seldom any military organization besides a company, but they were ready to fall into regiments and brigades when called for. Boys imitated their elders, and "trained" with sticks. Blacksmiths were kept busy all of the summer and autumn of 1774, forging swords, guns and bayonets, and other men were compounding gunpowder, and making bullets of lead. When the Congress at Philadelphia had closed late in the autumn, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts voted to enroll twelve thousand of these patriots under the general title of Minute-men--volunteers who would be ready at a minute's warning to take the field with arms in their hands. Rhode Island and Connecticut were invited to do likewise. They did so; and when the time came for armed resistance nearly all New England was disciplined, in a degree, for the struggle. The example was contagious. Other colonies followed, and in Virginia the Minute-men were of special service to the patriot cause at a critical juncture. As the summer of 1774 wore away, Gage found himself greatly perplexed by his peculiar situation. Early in August he received official copies of the several acts of Parliament, which completely subverted the Charter of Massachusetts. Gage was made a ruler irresponsible to the people. He proceeded to form a council of thirty-six members, by a mandamus--a positive command to serve--and most of those so appointed accepted the honor. They soon felt the peltings of the pitiless storm of popular indignation so keenly, that twenty of them resigned, and the remainder sought protection under the troops in Boston. These "Mandamus Councillors," as they were called, were treated with scorn everywhere, and sometimes with personal indignities, mild in form but severe in effect, as in the case of a respected citizen of Plymouth. On the Sunday after he accepted the appointment, as soon as he took his seat in the house of worship, his neighbors and friends all put on their hats and walked out of the house. As they passed his pew, he hid his face by leaning his head over his cane. This public disapproval by those whom he loved, he could not bear, and immediately resigned.

Gage was puzzled more by the forbearance of the people, than by their defiance. Nobody committed any overt acts of treason or sedition that might justify him in using power for administering punishment, and yet the air was full of the spirit of insurrection. He was helpless in a vortex of irritating words and acts that were ominous of evil. There were inflammatory handbills, newspapers, and tongues all around him exciting the people to rebel, but nobody stepped over the confines of law. Several times he was on the point of executing his discretionary orders to arrest Hancock and other leaders, but unoffended law bade him be cautious. Squibs, epigrams, sonnets, parables and dialogues of remarkable pith filled the whig journals, not only in Boston, but elsewhere, in which logic and argument were contained in a nut-shell, as in the following example from a New York newspaper:


"Rudely forced to drink tea, Massachusetts in anger Spills the tea on John Bull--John falls on to bang her; Massachusetts, enraged, calls her neighbors to aid And give Master John a severe bastinade. Now, good men of the law, pray who is in fault, The one who begins or resists the assault?"

Gage saw ominous menaces on every side; and late in the summer he re-established the seat of government in Boston, and prepared to cast up fortifications across the "Neck." His orders for this purpose exasperated the patriots. They saw, in these warlike measures, prophecies of their absolute enslavement. The Boston carpenters, though suffering through compulsory idleness, would not work on the fortifications at any price, and the popular voice applauded their patriotism. At about the same time, Gage, taking counsel of his fears, sent out some troops to seize gunpowder belonging to the province, at Charlestown and Cambridge. The indignation of the people rose to fever-heat because of this act, and a large number of them gathered at Cambridge with the intention of attacking the British troops in Boston, but were persuaded to remain quiet. This was followed, a few days afterward, by a rumor that went over the land, even to the Connecticut River and beyond, that war had begun in Boston; that the British ships there were bombarding the town, and that British troops were murdering the patriotic inhabitants. The tale of horror created a fearful excitement and a cry for vengeance. The Minute-men everywhere, though not organized, seized their arms, and marched in squads for Boston. Within thirty-six hours the whole country, for almost two hundred miles from the New England capital, had heard the dreadful tidings. Young men and old men seized their firelocks, and matrons and maidens buckled on their well-filled knapsacks and sent them away with the blessings of patriotic hearts. The roads were soon swarming with armed men, most of them on foot; but many men on horseback--a strange cavalcade--queer-looking men and queer-looking horses of all colors, ages and condition--some of the latter saddled and bridled, and some without either bit or stirrup. The host were intent upon the salvation of their brethren, and the destruction of the enemy; and they halted not until satisfied that the story was untrue, when the angry tide slowly ebbed. It is believed that the rumor was started by some of the leading patriots, to produce an uprising of the people that should overawe General Gage and his troops. Full thirty thousand men, it was estimated, had started for Boston. It was a lesson for Gage, but he did not heed it.

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