Home > Great on the Williamsburg Gunpowder Incident in a Williamsburg newspaper... John Hancock's house is attacked...
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Great on the Williamsburg Gunpowder Incident in a Williamsburg newspaper... John Hancock's house is attacked...



Item # 655675

April 21, 1775

VIRGINIA GAZETTE, Williamsburg, April 21, 1775  This newspaper was published by Alexander Purdie, a distinction to be made since there were three newspapers of this title printed in Williamsburg during the early period of the Revolutionary War. A very rare opportunity for a scarce title from colonial Virginia.
Certainly the most notable content is a terrific report on the historic Gunpowder Incident which is found in the four page "Supplement" attached to the issue.
The Gunpowder Incident was a conflict early in the Revolutionary War between Lord Dunmore, the governor of  Virginia, and militia led by Patrick Henry. On April 20, one day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord (and well before news of that event reached Virginia), Lord Dunmore ordered the removal of the gunpowder from the magazine in Williamsburg to a Royal Navy ship. This action sparked local unrest, and militia companies began mustering throughout the colony. Patrick Henry led a small militia toward Williamsburg to force return of the gunpowder to the colony's control. The matter was resolved without conflict when a payment of £330 was made to Patrick Henry. Dunmore, fearing for his personal safety, later retreated to a naval vessel, ending royal control of the colony.
The report in this issue includes: "This morning, between 3 and 4 o'clock, all the gunpowder in the magazine, to the amount, as we hear, of about 20 barrels, was carried off in his Excellency the Governour's waggon, escorted by a detachment of marines...and lodged on board that vessel. As soon as the news of this manoeuvre took wind, the whole city was alarmed & much exasperated; and numbers got themselves in readiness to repair to the palace to demand from the Governour a restoration of what they so justly supposed as deposited in this magazine for the country's defence...". But there is then mention that they opted to to address the governor in a more dignified way. Included on page 4 of the Supplement is the letter to the governor noting in part: "We his majesty's...loyal subjects...were this morning exceedingly alarmed by a report that a large quantity of gunpowder was, in the preceding night, while they were sleeping in their beds, removed from the public magazine in this city & conveyed under an escort of marines on board one of his majesty's armed vessels lying at a ferry on James River...that as this magazine was erected at the public expence of this colony...for the protection & security of the country..." with  much more, and then ending with: "...we therefore humbly desire to be informed by your excellency upon what motives, and for what particular purpose the powder has been carried off in such a manner, and we earnestly entreat your excellency to order it to be immediately returned to the magazine."
This is followed by: "To which address his Excellency returned this verbal answer." which notes that the governor though that the gunpowder stored in the magazine was not sufficiently secure, and that it was removed: "...in the night time to prevent any alarm...He was surprised to hear the people were under arms on this occasion, and that he should not think it prudent to put powder into their hands in such a situation."
Keep in mind that this event happened on April 20, the day prior to the day of this newspaper. It is notable that the Gunpowder Incident happened in this town, so reports of it had considerably less press attention outside of the colony of Virginia.
But there is other good content in this issue as well. The entire front page is the continuation of "An Appeal" which reflects, in part, upon the situation in America in relation to the history of Ireland. One bit has: "...because it is impossible to find a case more exactly similar to that of America. They were both conquered countries, peopled by English subjects...". It continues on page 2 where is found: "...a more decisive proof of this that the people of America have always chosen representatives of their own...I apprehend, most undeniable, that either Parliament has no right to impose taxes upon the people of Ireland and America, or they have the sole right, for nothing can be so absurd as to suppose a people subject to two taxing powers not communicating with each other..." and more.
Another item from Williamsburg notes: "...met at the court house to choose a delegate...for one year, when the Hon. Peyton Randolph was unanimously elected...who sets off next Saturday se'night, for Philadelphia to preside at the General Congress." Another lengthy letter reflects upon the current situation between the colonies and England with specific mention of  the Second Virginia Convention.
The entire front page & a bit of page 2 of the Supplement are taken up with the specific details of creating a militia for the colony of Virginia, recommended (by Patrick Henry) at the recent Second Virginia Convention. It has much detail and addresses such as "What persons shall be enlisted", and "Persons exempted from personal attendance" "How the militia shall be armed" "Mulattoes, etc. not to bear arms" mentioning: "Free mulattoes, Negroes, or Indians, as are or shall be listed, shall appear without arms; and may be employed as drummers, trumpeters, or pioneers...". There are many, many other details noted, too much to list here.
Page 3 of the Supplement has a report from "Provincial Congress, Concord, March 24, 1775" which begins: "Whereas it  is indispensably necessary for the safety of a free people & the preservation of their liberties, that they at all times keep themselves in a state of actual defence against every invasion or depredation..." with more on the need for Massachusetts to defend its rights (see), signed in type: John Hancock.
A letter from Boston on the tensions there with the British: "Since the army have found that the season is past for nature's forming a bridge from hence, they become abusive and insulting. They are now finishing their fortifications on the Neck...an account of the manoeuvres of our adversaries...were greatly disturbed by a party of officers and soldiers...When the people were assembling they brought two markee tents...then sent for three drums and three fifes, and kept them beating and playing yankey doodle till service was over...Col. Hancock's elegant seat, situated  near the Common, was attacked by a number of officers who with their swords cut & hacked the fence before his house  in a most  scandalous manner..." with more on the destruction of John Hancock's house (great to have period mention of Yankee Doodle).
Then further on: "...On the  19th Col. Hancock was again much insulted by a number of  inferior officers & privates, who entered his enclosures & refused to retire after his requesting them so to do, telling him that his  house, stables, etc. would soon be theirs & then they would do as they pleased..." with more.
The four page regular issue plus the four page Supplement for a total of 8 pages. Very handsome engraving in the masthead, never-trimmed margins, an archival mend on the back page of the Supplement is in the letter to Gov. Dunmore but causes no loss of readability (see). Very nice condition.

Item from Catalog 284 (released for July, 2019)...

Category: American

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