American Revolution Began in New Hampshire
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
Page 1 of 3
For Portsmouth historians there remains one cavernous gap in the story of the American Revolution. Textbooks continue to assert and people continue to believe that the war began in Massachusetts with the Battle at Lexington and Concord in 1775. I protest. In the tradition of local historians before me, I contend that the first shots of the War for Independence were fired four months earlier at New Castle, NH on December 14, 1774. (Continued below)
UPDATE: Two new books on the Portsmouth Powder Alarm
The raid lasted only a few tense minutes, and no one was killed in the fracas, but the battle for public attention drags on an on.
Local writer Nancy Grossman updated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous old poem a few years ago. The corrected version begins like this:
LISTEN now, children, and you shall hear
Of the daylight ride of Paul Revere,
The thirteenth December, of Seventy-Four;
Hardly a student of Portsmouth lore
Remembers that famous day and year ...
SEE PHOTOS OF RAID by Ralph Morang
How it went down
In short, Paul Revere rode into town from Boston with dreadful news. The British were coming, he said, to guard the guns and gunpowder stored at the dilapidated FortWilliam and Mary near the wooden lighthouse recently built by New Hampshire royal governor John Wentworth. Wentworth was a local boy whose father Mark (his house still stands near Nancy Grossman’s house in the South End) was possibly the wealthiest man in the state. Wentworth’s uncle Benning had been Royal Governor and Surveyor of the King’s Forest before John. But the New England colonists had been quarrelsome lately, and according to Paul Revere, the government planned to ban the import of munitions to the Colonies in order to quash the insurgency.
The Committee of Safety met immediately with Paul Revere on Tuesday night, perhaps in a local tavern, or some say in the wooden structure next to the NorthChurch in Market Square. That building was razed a few years back to make way for the commercial complex at 18 Congress Street. Revere possibly met with Samuel Cutts and his committee roughly where Popovers stands today. The next morning, following the sounds of fife and drum, 400 local citizens made their way to New CastleIsland and confronted the men guarding the fort, now an historic ruin next to the preserved Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.
Captain John Cochran, who was guarding the fort with only “five effective men,” later reported to Gov. Wentworth that he ordered the mob not to enter the fort “on their peril.” But they would not disburse, Cochran says, and he was forced to fire. I often call these “the shots NOT heard round the world.” It has been suggested, based on the lack of bloodshed, that Cochran’s men simply fired warning shots in the air. The Captain offered this account of the historic moment:
“I immediately ordered three four pounders to be fired on them, and then the small arms; and, before we could be ready to fire again, we were stormed on all quarters, and they immediately secured both me and my men, and kept us prisoners about one hour and a half, during which time they broke open the powder-house, and took all the powder away, except one barrel; and having put it into boats and sent it off, they released me from confinement.”
CONTINUE Raid on William & Mary
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