Millions of young Americans learned that “taxation without representation” sparked the American Revolution. Which is only partly true. One key factor long ignored by historians and educators: British gun control. That’s gradually changing, as scholars revisit the British tyranny that led to the birth of our nation. Alexander Historical Auctions is selling a document that highlights the importance of British efforts to deny rebellious colonists the gunpowder they needed for self-determination. Here’s the lot description:
JOSEPH WARREN PLEADS FOR GUNPOWDER FROM NEW YORK, DAYS BEFORE HIS DEATH AT BUNKER HILL
JOSEPH WARREN (1741-1775) American physician, President of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was killed when the British stormed the redoubt at Breed’s Hill during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Excellent, historic content signed document, 2pp. 4to., Cambridge, June 4, 1775, “To the Hon[ora]ble Congress for the Colony of New York”. Warren, along with ARTEMAS WARD (1727-1800), General of the Massachusetts Army, and MOSES GILL (1734-1800), Chairman of the Committee of Supplies, describe the dire situation faced by the patriots in Boston, and issue a desperate plea to the New York Congress for supplies, in full:
Your noble Exertions in the common Cause, your Zeal for the Maintenance of the Rights of America & the Sympathizing Concern, with which we know you look on our suffering, encourages us to represent to you the distressed State of this Colony. Our Capital is filled with disciplined troops, thoroughly equip’d with every thing necessary to render them formidable. A train of Artillery as compleat as can be conceived of, a full supply of Arms and Ammunition, and an absolute command of the Harbour of Boston, which puts it in their Power to furnish themselves with whatever they shall think convenient by Sea, are such Advantages as must render our Contest with them in every view extremely difficult.
We suffer at present the greatest Inconveniences from a want of a sufficient Quantity of Powder, without this every attempt to defend ourselves or annoy our Enemies must prove abortive; We have taken every step to avail ourselves of this Article, by drawing into our General magazine whatever could be spared from the Respective Towns of this Colony; But the frequent Skirmishes we have had, has greatly diminished our Stock, and we are now under the most alarming Apprehensions; that notwithstanding the Bravery of our Troops, (whom we think we can without boasting declare are ready to incounter every Danger for the preservation of the Rights & Liberties of America) we shall barely for the want of the Means of Defence fall at last a prey to our enemies.
We therefore most earnestly beseech you that you would if possible afford in some Relief in this Respect, by lending or selling to us some part of the Powder in your Colony, we readily conceive the Unwillingness with which you must part with so necessary an Article at this Time, we know you have not the Quantity you would wish to keep for your own use, we apply to you, not because we suppose you have a Surplussage, but because we are in the most distressing Want.
We beg therefore that we may be not be suffered to perish, we have taken such Steps as we have great Reason to hope will in a short Time furnish us sufficiently with Powder, and if we can be assisted untill that arrives, we doubt not but that we shall be able to baffle the designs of our Enemies, and be greatly instroumental in preserving the Rights and Liberties of all America.
We must request that whatever aid you shall find it in your Power to give us may be in the most secret Manner, as a knowledge of our Deficiency in the Article of Powder, before we are supplied might be attended with the most fatal consequences.
The three patriots sign boldly at the conclusion, after which the writer adds the post script: “We beg what Powder you can possibly spare may be immediately conveyed to us by Land in the Way least liable to be suspected by any Persons who may correspond with the Enemy.”
It is unknown whether New York was able to provide these badly-needed supplies to their Massachusetts brethren, but it is doubtful: New Yorkers were already heavily involved in the raiding of armories and the seizure of the local government.
On June 17, only thirteen days after this letter was written, Joseph Warren reported to the militia assembling at Bunker’s Hill under Gen. Israel Putnam, and asked where the heaviest fighting would be. Putnam directed him to nearby Breed’s Hill. Despite being commissioned a major general by the Provincial Congress, Warren chose to fight as a private soldier, deferring to officers with more experience in war.
As the British stormed the redoubt at Breed’s Hill, Warren was reported to have repeatedly exclaimed: “These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”
Warren and his fellow soldiers fought desperately until their powder and ammunition ran out, repelling two British assaults on the hill before being overcome by a third. Warren was killed by a musket ball to the head, after which his body was stripped, bayoneted, spit upon, and decapitated, before finally being buried in a shallow ditch. Warren’s death was seen as a galvanizing act of martyrdom for the American cause.
The letter bears some chipping along the left edge, affecting a few letters of the text on the verso. It also bears two archival tape repairs on the verso, not affecting any text. The original docketed integral leaf is detached but present. In all, this exemplary document provides a vivid and striking testimony of one of the most dire moments in the birth of our nation, and serves as a striking monument to one of her most dedicated defenders.
Estimate $ 75,000-100,000