William Brattle

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William Brattle

Death: Died in Halifax, Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, Canada
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Son of William Brattle

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About William Brattle

Photo: The Old Powder House in Somerville, Massachusetts, as it stood in 1935, atop the hill at Nathan Tufts Park overlooking Powder House Square


At the outset of the American Revolution, William Brattle, the leader of the provincial militia and an appointee of the governor, controlled one locked storehouse near Boston, in what was then part of Charlestown, now Powder House Square in Somerville. Brattle, who had not obviously sided with either Loyalists or Patriots, notified Governor Gage in a letter dated August 27, 1774 that the provincial ("King's") powder was the only supply remaining in that storehouse, as the towns had removed all of theirs. Gage decided that this powder had to be brought to Boston for safekeeping.


On August 31, Gage sent Middlesex County sheriff David Phips to Brattle with orders to remove the provincial powder; Brattle turned the key to the powderhouse over to Phips. Gage also gave orders to ready a force of troops for action the next day, something that did not go unnoticed by the local population. At some point that day, General Gage, whether by his intent, accident, or theft by a messenger, lost possession of William Brattle's letter; the widely held story is that it was dropped. News of its content spread rapidly, and many considered it to be a warning to Gage to remove the provincial powder before Patriots could seize it.

Early in the morning of September 1, a force of roughly 260 British regulars from the 4th Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Maddison, were rowed in secrecy up the Mystic River from Boston to a landing point near Winter Hill in modern-day Somerville. From there they marched about a mile to the Powder House, a gunpowder magazine that held the largest supply of gunpowder in Massachusetts. Phips gave the King's Troops the keys to the building, and after sunrise they removed all of the gunpowder. Most of the regulars then returned to Boston the way they had come, but a small contingent marched to Cambridge, removed two field pieces, and took them to Boston by foot over the Great Bridge and up Boston Neck. The field pieces and powder were then taken from Boston to the British stronghold on Castle Island, then known as Castle William (renamed Fort Independence in 1779).

Response to the raid

Rumors flew throughout the day across the countryside about the British troop movements. The regulars were marching; provincial powder had been seized; war was at hand; people had been killed; Boston was being bombarded by His Majesty's warships. The alarm spread as far as Connecticut. From all over the region, people took up arms and began streaming toward Boston. One traveler in Shrewsbury reported that in the space of 15 minutes, 50 men had gathered, equipped themselves, sent out messengers to surrounding towns, and left for Boston. On the 2nd, several thousand men bent on violence gathered in Cambridge, where they forced several notable Loyalists, including William Brattle, to flee to Boston and the protection of the military. Sheriff Phips was forced, in writing, to dissociate himself from any and all government actions. Eventually facts caught up with the rumors, and militia units (some of which were still heading toward Boston) returned home.

Also on the 2nd, Boston newspapers published a letter from William Brattle in which he protested that he had not warned Gage to remove the powder; Gage had requested from him an accounting of the storehouse's contents, and he had complied. The content of his letter to Gage would be published on the 5th. Brattle remained on Castle Island through the siege of Boston, leaving when the British evacuated the city in March 1776. He died in Halifax, Nova Scotia in October 1776 at the age of 70.

Full story of the the "Powder Alarm" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powder_Alarm

William Brattle House http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brattle_House

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William Brattle's Timeline

October 1776
Age 70
Halifax, Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, Canada