By 1774, the colonists were not only resisting but actively planning for the inevitable. Because the crown banned public meetings and militias the colonists set up “Committees of Correspondence”. Paul Revere became the chief messenger and director of communications between the various groups spread throughout the colonies. He often made long dangerous rides carrying dispatches from the leaders in Boston to New York, Philadelphia and the other colonies.
Banning the militias only heightened their activities. What was for years a rag tag group of farmers and shop keepers were now
openly arming and training out in the towns and villages. Colonies had also formed provisional governments and holding meetings in open defiance of the law. John Hancock was the president of Massachusetts colonial congress and worked side by side with his chief mentor and aide Sam Adams.
General Gage of course knew all of this. Most of the people in the colonies were not for a revolution. Many did not support the movement and were loyal to the king. As loyalists they felt obligated to keep the Gage’s forces apprised of what was going on out in the countryside. Even many of leaders of the resistance were not openly for revolution but belonged to stand up for their rights as free Englishmen thinking that the crown would eventually come to their senses.
In February of 1775, Gen. Gage received information of more stock piling of weapons in Salem, Massachusetts. With good intelligence at hand he sent a ship load of soldiers to Salem. The orders were to arrive early Sunday morning, stand off until daybreak and then make their way to town while everyone was still sleeping or at church. The prize was a local forge where they had information that ship’s cannons were being converted to field pieces.
The troops came ashore and quietly made their way to town only to be observed by a local. He ran back to the village and raised the alarm. The villagers turned out led by the local minister. When the regulars (what they were called by the locals) reached town they were greeted by a raised draw bridge and a angry crowd on the other side. The officer in charge demanded the bridge be lowered while the minister engaged him in conversation and negotiation. Upon reaching and agreement the bridge was lowered and the troops were allowed to pass. Reaching the foundry the soldiers found it had been stripped clean while the minister stalled them at the bridge. They returned to Boston empty handed, angry and embarrassed.
In March of 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren, a prominent Boston physician and head of the intelligence gathering operation in Boston gave a rousing oration on the 5 year anniversary of the Boston Massacre. In attendance at the church that day were numerous British officers who hissed and booed so loudly that they were run out into the street. Troops were summoned to quell the near riot.
By now, Revere, Warren and the mechanics were patrolling the streets every night looking for any signs of mobilization. In early April Warren received letters off a packet ship from England that another raid was imminent. Reports started coming in that British officers in plain clothes were seen out surveying the roads west of Boston and watching militia units. They were identified in the taverns and way stations by the fact they were carrying pistols under their cloaks. No one carried pistols but army officers.
The concern became so great that during the second week of April Paul Revere rode the 18 miles west to Concord to warn John Hancock, Sam Adams and Dr. Benjamin Church. Church, another Boston physician, was head of the security committee. He and the others were in Concord conducting meetings of the provisional congress.
Back in Boston, orders for Gen. Gage had arrived on the same ship from which Dr. Warren received his letters. Gages’ orders were clear. He was to make all efforts to quash the insurrection and arrest the leaders, particularly Hancock, Adams and Revere. Gage had his own intelligence organization in place. He knew of the meeting in Concord. He also knew that large stores of military goods were in Concord and he exactly who had them and where they were. He knew the strength and size of the militia units along the way. He knew the conditions of the roads. He also knew that his army was being closely watched.
Gen. Thomas Gage had up to this point been roundly criticized in London for not cracking down on the rebels earlier or more harshly. Some of his junior officers referred to him behind his back as “Old Lady Gage” for not rounding up and hanging the leaders. He chose however to use a softer hand knowing that harsh treatment would only further inflame the passions of the colonists.
His actions were also tempered by the fact that he had lived in the colonies since the 1740s and because his wife, Margaret Kimble Gage was the American born daughter of rich family in New Jersey. She was heiress to the family fortune. She and Gage held large estates in New York and large plantations in the West Indies. He loved his wife and had a lot to lose if a revolution started.
Margaret was the top rung of society being married to the most powerful man in north America. She was sometimes called the Queen of America but she was sympathetic to the cause of liberty.
Gen. Gage formulated his plan. On April 18th, under cover of darkness, he would send a column of troops under the command of Col.
Francis Smith. Their sealed orders, only opened after they left Boston, would be to go to Concord and confiscate or destroy all military stores hidden there. They were to arrest Hancock and Adams and any other rebel leader they ran across and return to Boston by noon of the next day. Hours before their departure, Gage would send out 20 officers in advance to spread out along the roads to pick up any messengers coming out of Boston.
In order to keep the plan a secret, he would tell only three people. They were Col. Smith who would lead the brigade of 700 men, his second in command, Gen. Hugh Earl Percy, and his wife Margaret.
On April 18th, Revere and Dr. Warren were kept busy by reports of a mobilization. Boats were being lowered from all the war ships in the harbors. Army officers were telling stable boys to get their horses ready. Troops had been confined to quarters or being called back into garrison. As the day wore on and the soldiers retreated back into their quarters Boston became quiet. Tension hung in the air. Something was up and everybody knew it.
By evening, troops were being moved to the south end of Boston near the back bay. It was still unknown which direction the army would move. Would they take the short route by boat across the Charles river or would they march out by the long road?
In those days, Boston was only connected to land by a narrow strip of land called Boston Neck. The road in and out was controlled by a gate. If the army marched south they would have to swing south around the Back Bay then back up to Cambridge to get to the road west to
Concord. If they took the shorter route across the river they would essentially land in a swamp and make their way west to pick up the road from Charlestown to Cambridge. The water route was shorter but would take more logistics to move 700 men across.
Learning of the troop movements Dr. Warren called upon his one intelligence source high up in Gen. Gage’s command. He was able to get details of the plans of the column.
Immediately Warren called on Revere and another man named William Dawes. Their plan was put into place. Revere would cross by boat to Charlestown and proceed west to put out the alarm. Dawes would try to get out the south end of Boston and spread the word as well with the idea the one of the two of them might get through. The penalty if caught was likely the hangman’s noose.
With the troops still massing at the south end, it was still unknown which way they would go. Another part of Revere’s and Warren’s communication plan was implemented. As soon as troops started moving observers would spread the word to a pair of men in the north end. Those men, vicars in the North Church would then post lanterns in the steeple. One light if the troops went out Boston neck and two lanterns if they went across the bay in boats.
Paul Revere made his way to the water’s edge on the north side of Boston. He was met by two men who began rowing him across the bay. The moon was full and laying in its mooring out in the bay directly in their path was the British ship of the line, HMS Somerset.