Americans who are worried about gun confiscation have good cause to be concerned. Even before we were a nation, gun confiscation was attempted. In fact, one factor that lead to the Revolutionary War was confiscation of firearms.
Early in 1774, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Act, which was intended to keep the American colonies dependent on Britain. These included the prohibition of town meetings and created a new court system in the colonies. This new court system did not allow Americans accused of crimes to be tried in the colonies. They were to be transported to Britain for trial, which meant that they would never see America again. These prohibitions angered the Americans, and that anger grew throughout New England.
Later in 1774, General Thomas Gage was ordered to be commander in chief of the British Regular army and governor of Massachusetts. One of his first acts was to prohibit town meetings. This was met with resistance, which the Regular Army was unsure how to respond to. Gage, however, decided that he needed to remove from the colonists the means to violent resistance. In his mind, he was trying to prevent a war by taking from the colonists arms and gun powder.
On September 1, 1774, Gage sent forces to take the gunpowder from the largest storehouse in New England, six miles from Boston. American colonists had become worried about this possibility, so they quietly removed privately owned powder from the storehouse, leaving only the Crown’s powder. Gage’s men removed 250 half-barrels of gunpowder, which pleased him greatly. The American colonists, however, were not pleased—they were angered. They believed that the Regulars had stolen the Province’s powder, and it sent the people into a near-panic. Men armed themselves and prepared for war. Over 4,000 men gathered at Cambridge, surrounding the house of the man who had given the Regulars the key to the powder house. The colonists had begun to think how to resist the Regulars, while the governor was thinking that he would be successful in removing means to resist, preventing war.
Gage, in response to the anger, ordered the town of Boston to be closed, with heavy cannon placed to prevent “country people” from storming the town. Private weapons were ordered to be surrendered, and merchants were forced to sell powder to the Crown. Gage also asked for 20,000 more troops to be stationed in the Boston area.
In December 1774, Gage once again tried to seize munitions that were already on American soil. He also prohibited the importation of new powder and firearms from England. The target for his next raid was Fort William and Mary, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Paul Revere made a wild, dangerous ride on horseback through mud, slush and snow to reach the town before the Regulars arrived by ship. Based on reports from Paul Revere, 400 men assembled to take the fort. The fort was manned by 6 British Regulars, who attempted to resist, but were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The fort was lost to the Crown, and the powder stored there was taken by the colonists to the interior of the country. Soon, many towns had begun to move cannon and munitions to the interior, where the Crown was not likely to find them.
In February, 1775, Gage’s next target was the town of Salem, Massachusetts. The townspeople had acquired ship’s cannons, which they were converting to use on land, and they had managed to import 8 brass guns. Gage wanted the cannons. He chose a Sunday afternoon, when the townspeople would be at church to confiscate their munitions. As the Regulars advanced, their presence was made known, the townspeople were alerted, and men poured out of their meetinghouses. The men armed themselves and faced the Regulars. The Salem militia was at the head of the British Column, and the Marblehead militia was at the rear. The Colonists were ready for a fight, and it would have become one if not for the actions of a pastor who arranged a compromise. The Regulars could advance to the forge where the cannons were reported to be, and if none were found, they were to leave. The cannons had been removed before the troops had arrived, so the British found nothing, and went back to their ships empty-handed.
Gage was not finished. His most famous powder alarm was on the morning of April 19, 1775. That was the final straw, and it sparked a long war which lead to our independence.
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