During the years leading up to the Powder Alarm, events like the Coercive Acts being enacted, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party and the seizure of John Hancock’s sloop “Liberty” had made it pointedly clear that rebellion was nearly imminent. If Parliament did not begin negotiating with Bostonians and lightening their presence in the town, the situation would become more violent. Both the British and the colonists were aware of this in some way. However, most British officials were of the mind that strengthening the military presence in and around Boston was a viable solution. They believed that shows of power would convince rebellious residents that they could not win.
Rebels did not seem to mind the risk. They formed an illegal governing body known as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Part of the congress’ mission was to raise money, supplies and men for the local militias. Readying the militias and keeping all units informed involved clandestine meetings, intricate and dangerous message delivery systems and bravery. Many of the patriots in the Massachusetts Bay Colony whose names are so familiar to us today ran the risk of being hanged for treason if their plans were discovered. The successful organization of the militia was proven on September 1, 1774, when they issued a powder alarm.
General Thomas Gage was in charge of the redcoats in Massachusetts. He kept in touch with his superiors in Parliament about the escalating situation in Boston. He believed that the colony was planning a rebellion. Parliament and King George III eventually agreed with him and allowed him to take action against the militia.
The local militias had stores of gunpowder throughout the colony. This, in itself, was not illegal, nor was the forming of militia. It was its intended purpose that rankled with the General. One such store of gunpowder was kept in Charlestown. On September 1, 1774, General Thomas Gage ordered 260 regulars to go to the storehouse and remove 250 barrels of gunpowder. This caused some rebels to believe that they British were preparing to attack. They issued the powder alarm.
Thousands of men responded to the powder alarm, proving that the militia was mobile becoming prepared. General Gage readied Boston for an attack that never came. The situation did not reach breaking point that day. However, rebel leaders decided to make their warning system more efficient and prepared more messenger riders like Paul Revere for emergencies such as the Powder Alarm. This came in handy seven months later when the militias were summoned to Lexington and Concord to drive the British back to Boston in the first battle of the American Revolution.
Lexington and Concord, retrieved 10/1/10, masshist.org/revolution/lexington.php