Perhaps through spies or just the keen attention of Loyalists, the British learned of the build-up of guns and ammunition in the village of Concord, Massachusetts in early 1775. The British knew that such an arsenal would be essential to the rebel militias in their opposition to the King. It should come as no surprise that the British would want to take the weapons.
At that time, the British troops were stationed in Boston, a city confined to two peninsulas – islands, almost – into Boston Harbor. The “islands” were Boston and Charlestown and each was connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land.
The village of Concord was 17 miles west of Boston, along a well-traveled road. Located between Boston and Concord was the village of Lexington. Both Concord and Lexington were well known for their rebellious townspeople.
The British decided to send troops to Concord to find and take the rebels’ arsenal. General Thomas Gage was the overall commander of the British troops in Boston. He had received secret orders from London to disarm the rebels. He planned to do it using small regiments that struck quickly and without warning.
Unbeknownst to Gage, his orders from London had been found out before he received them. Word got back to the rebels in Concord and on April 8 they began to move the arsenal to other towns. Knowing that Loyalists and spies were about, the rebels completed the move under cover of darkness over several nights.
Meanwhile, General Gage was overseeing the preparation of his troops for the secret mission to Concord. He had chosen April 19 as the date and 700 of his troops were selected to go.
The night before the British left Boston, Dr. Joseph Warren, an active supporter of the rebel cause, told Paul Revere, the planner of the rebel resistance, that the British would be leaving Boston by boat early the next morning. Revere told the janitor of the Old North Church to climb into the steeple and hold up two lanterns to signal the British intentions. Then, Revere and William Dawes rode by different routes to Lexington and Concord to be sure the townspeople were warned – the British were coming.
The British landed in the early morning, marched to Lexington, confronted the Lexington militia, and fired the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” – said to be the first shot of the Revolutionary War. When the smoke had cleared, eight colonial militiamen were dead and several wounded. The British suffered one minor wound. Some say that the militiamen were unarmed, but the scene was reported to have been mass confusion in any event.
The British then quick-marched to Concord where they searched the village and found… nothing. By this time, the rebel militias had them nearly surrounded and the battle began. Out-maneuvered and without cover, the British were forced into retreat on the road back to Boston. What remained of the British troops made it across the land bridges to temporary safety, but the militias used this as an opportunity to set up a siege and two months later the British finally abandoned Boston, by ship.
So, how did Dr. Warren find out that the British were coming on April 19? Who spilled the beans? While there is some disagreement among historians as to who it was, there is evidence to suggest that it was General Gage’s wife!
Margaret Gage was not British. She was the daughter of a wealthy New Jersey businessman and granddaughter of the New York City Mayor and she did not consider herself a Loyalist. Margaret had long-held beliefs in the righteousness of the rebel cause. She had a close friendship with Dr. Warren and some speculate that she learned of the plan from her husband and passed the word to Dr. Warren.
While there isn’t much documentary evidence that it was Margaret and some that it wasn’t, there is one other clue that she was the one. Just two months after the Battle of Concord, General Gage put Margaret on a ship back to England. On the other hand, when he was relieved of command in September, he returned to England, rejoined Margaret and they lived out their years together.
You be the judge.