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Thomas Gage

Thomas Gage

The English general Thomas Gage (1719-1787) was commander in chief of British forces in North America and the last royal governor of Massachusetts.

Born at Firle, Sussex, Thomas Gage was a grandson of the 1st Viscount Gage, an Irish peer. On Jan. 30, 1741, Thomas purchased a lieutenancy in the 1st Northampton Regiment, and he obtained the rank of captain lieutenant when he transferred to Battereau's Foot in May 1742. Receiving his captaincy in 1744, he went to France as an aide to the Duke of Albemarle and participated in the battle of Fortenay. He saw action with Albemarle at Culloden in 1745 and was with the duke 2 years later in the Low Countries. In 1748 Gage purchased a majority in the 55th Regiment and became lieutenant colonel of that unit on March 2, 1751.

In 1754 Gage accompanied his regiment to America, where he distinguished himself in the French and Indian War, receiving a slight wound. In May 1757 he raised a provincial regiment and that same year commanded the light infantry in the strike against Ft. Ticonderoga. As a brigadier general, he led the rear guard of Commander Jeffery Amherst's forces at the capture of Montreal on Sept. 6, 1760, and then served as military governor of Montreal for a short period. In 1761 he was promoted to major general and 2 years later succeeded Amherst as commander in chief of all British forces in North America. During the next 10 years Gage remained in New York and was promoted to lieutenant general. In December 1758 he had married Margaret Kemble, daughter of a member of the Council of New Jersey; they had five daughters and six sons.

Gage went to England in 1773 but returned to America immediately (because of the Boston Tea Party) with a commission as vice admiral and "captain general and governor in chief" of Massachusetts. He arrived in Boston on May 13, 1774, three days after news of England's punitive measures against Massachusetts had arrived. When the General Court convened in October, a number of towns sent delegates to a provincial congress meeting at Concord; thus did the colony develop two separate governments. Deteriorating relations between Britain and the American colonies were evident during the celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, when Gage's effigy was publicly hanged and burned.

On April 14, 1775, Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies, instructed Gage to take action against the colonial rebels. On the night of April 18 Gage sent out the expedition to the towns of Lexington and Concord that precipitated armed hostilities and the siege of Boston. On June 12 Gage issued a proclamation establishing martial law but holding forth amnesty to all rebels except Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Five days later came the Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill.

Gage's actions had received severe criticism in England, and on October 10 he was recalled. He was replaced as commanding general by William Howe. Gage remained in the army. In November 1782 he was made a full general, but participated in no further military activities. He died on April 2, 1787.

Further Reading

The definitive biography of Gage is John R. Alden's sympathetic General Gage in America: Being Principally a History of His Role in the American Revolution (1948). See also John Shy, Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution (1965). □

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Gage, Thomas

Gage, Thomas (1721–1787), British general and royal governor of Massachusetts.In the French and Indian War, Gage demonstrated personal courage on the battlefield, but little talent for command. His real skill was as an administrator, and he fully proved it as the military governor of Montréal from 1761 to 1763. For more than a decade after succeeding Jeffrey Amherst as commander in chief of British North America in 1763, Gage confronted the legacies of the French and Indian War. After suppressing Pontiac's Rebellion, he struggled to keep land‐hungry colonists from new conflicts with the Indians. Following the Stamp Act upheavals, he tried to keep smugglers and other scofflaws from flouting Parliament's authority. Gage's mission soon shifted from protecting American colonists to controlling them. In 1774, Gage, newly appointed governor in chief of Massachusetts, enforced the Coercive Acts by closing the port of Boston and suspending representative government in the colony. In the ensuing crisis, he sent British troops to seize patriot supplies in the battles of Lexington and Concord (19 April 1775), triggering the Revolutionary War. Following the Battle of Bunker Hill (17 June 1775), he was recalled to England and blamed for allowing the American colonies to rebel.

Bibliography

John R. Alden , General Gage in America, 1948.
George Athan Billias , George Washington's Opponents, 1969.

Jon T. Coleman

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Gage, Thomas (English general in North America)

Thomas Gage, 1721–87, English general in North America. He came to America (1754) with Gen. Edward Braddock and took part in the ill-fated expedition against Fort Duquesne (1755). Later in the last of the French and Indian Wars he served under James Abercromby and Jeffery Amherst. Gage was appointed (1760) governor at Montreal and later succeeded Amherst (1763) as commander in chief of British forces in North America. He thus had a highly significant post in the years when trouble between the colonists and the British government grew, and the British soldiers were receiving the brunt of the colonists' resentment. In the critical year of 1774, Gage was chosen to succeed Thomas Hutchinson as governor of Massachusetts, where affairs were most serious. He tried to put down the dissident forces in the colony and to enforce the Intolerable Acts. He ordered the arrest of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. In Apr., 1775, he sent soldiers to seize military stores at Concord, and the colonial militia resisted; the battles of Lexington and Concord on Apr. 19 began the American Revolution. In Oct., 1775, he resigned and was succeeded by Gen. William Howe as commander in chief in the colonies, and by General Guy Carleton as commander in Canada.

See biography by J. Alden (1948); study by A. French (1932, repr. 1968).

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Gage, Thomas (English traveler)

Thomas Gage, d. 1656, English traveler. He went (1612) to Spain to study and became a Dominican. He lived and traveled among the Native populations of Central America from 1625 to 1637, when he returned to Europe. Renouncing Roman Catholicism, he went to England in 1641 and became an Anglican clergyman. In 1654 he went as chaplain with an expedition to the West Indies and died in Jamaica. His chief work is English-American: His Travail by Sea and Land; or, A New Survey of the West Indies (1648), an account of the wealth and defenseless condition of the Spanish possessions in America.

See his Travels in the New World (ed. by E. J. Thompson, 1985); study by N. Newton (1969).

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Gage, Thomas

GAGE, THOMAS

Missionary, apostate, and traveler; b. England, 1602 or 1603; d. Jamaica, 1656. Thomas, member of an old English Catholic family, joined the Dominican Order in Spain and went to Mexico in 1625. He spent 11 years in Guatemala, first in the capital, later as priest among the Pokoman Maya. He traveled overland to Panama and returned to England in 1637. Five years later he apostatized, joined the Puritans, and became violently anti-Catholic. Largely on his evidence three priests, including one who had been a schoolmate at St. Omer's, were executed, but he did testify so as to save the life of his former superior, Thomas middleton, OP, provincial of the small band of English Dominicans. In 1648 Gage published The English-American, his Travail By Sea and Land or a New Survey of the West Indias, an account of his travels and observations in Spanish America. This contained much anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish propaganda inserted to win support for an English invasion of the Spanish Main, but shorn of those features, it was a detailed, accurate, and fascinating picture by a first-class observer of that strange world forbidden to Englishmen, as the many editions and translations attest. The book helped establish the unhappy "Black Legend." By exaggerating the weakness and corruption of Spanish rule and the supposed readiness of native peoples to revolt, Gage was partly, perhaps largely, instrumental in persuading Oliver Cromwell to attack the Spanish Main. Gage accompanied the expedition as chaplain and adviser and acted as interpreter in the negotiations for the surrender of Jamaica.

Bibliography: t. gage, Travels in the New World, ed. j. e. s. thompson (Norman, OK 1958).

[j. e. s. thompson]

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Gage, Thomas

Thomas Gage

Born c. 1721
Firle, England
Died April 2, 1787
Portland, England

Governor of Massachusetts, military leader

Thomas Gage was the top British official in America at a time when the British were not popular. On the eve of the American Revolution, Gage was told by his superiors in England to make the colonists see reason and, if they would not, to put them down with the might of the British army. Gage kept the peace for as long as he could, finally giving the orders that led to the confrontation at Concord, Massachusetts, and the start of the American Revolution.

Thomas Gage was born at his family's estate, called High Meadow, in Firle, England, about 1721. He was the second son of Benedicta Hall and Thomas Gage, a member of Parliament's House of Lords (like the U.S. Senate) who also held the aristocratic titles of Viscount Gage of Castle Island and Baron Gage of Castlebar. These titles were passed from father to eldest son and, in the case of the Gages, were attached to property in Ireland. Thomas's older brother, William, succeeded to the titles and proved helpful in launching his brother's military career.

In 1728 Thomas and William Gage entered the Westminster School, which Thomas was to attend for eight years. The school was for the sons of the wealthy and noblemen. While at school the Gage brothers met many young men who would later prove influential in setting and carrying out British political policy toward the American colonies.

Sees army service in European wars

After school, at about the age of sixteen, Thomas Gage entered the army, which was considered a suitable profession for a younger son of an aristocratic family. Gage's first commission (military rank) was that of ensign, a low-ranking officer. It was a fine time for a young man interested in promotion to be in the army, because Great Britain would be almost constantly at war with one nation or another for the next seventy-five years. Gage became a lieutenant in 1741 and a captain in 1743, serving in an Irish regiment. (Ireland was part of Great Britain.)

Gage served first in Great Britain's wars with her European neighbors. In 1745 he fought in Belgium in the War of Austrian Succession. In April 1746 Gage fought at Culloden Moor in Scotland, where the last of the exiled Stuart kings of England was defeated with his Scottish allies (see Flora MacDonald entry). Gage returned to Belgium (then called Flanders) and Holland in 1747 and spent the next two years there, as Great Britain continued to fight with her European enemies. He rose in the ranks, becoming first the major in 1748 and then the lieutenant colonel of the 44th Regiment (a fighting unit of about 1,000 men) in 1751.

Fights in French and Indian War in America

These European squabbles over territory and the rule of the seas eventually spilled over into their colonial possessions, including America and Canada. For years, Great Britain had challenged France for the control of Canada, a conflict that erupted into the French and Indian War (1754–63). In 1754 Gage and the 44th Regiment were shipped to America as part of General Edward Braddock's expedition (military mission). Their first clash with the French and their Indian allies was in 1755 in western Pennsylvania. The British lost the battle. Gage, slightly wounded, managed to direct his soldiers to carry the wounded Braddock to safety, but the general soon died. During the retreat, Gage befriended a young colonial officer whose Virginia militia (citizen soldiers) unit was reinforcing the British army. This young American was George Washington (1732–1799; see entry).

During August and September 1756 Gage served as second in command during the unsuccessful British push into the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York and in an expedition to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Marries an American girl

At this point in his life Gage is described as a serious young man but a good companion and conversationalist. Unlike many other British officers, Gage did not pursue women, gamble, or drink to excess. Instead, he focused his energies on having the best regiment. He trained his men well, and kept their appearance orderly and smart. Gage was a good administrator (manager) but less inspired on the battlefield. He is described as a cautious commander, earning the names "Timid Tommy" and "The Old Woman" from his troops. In time, it would become clear that his real talent lay in running the territories gained for Great Britain by her armies. Friends described Gage as having a strong sense of fair play. Kinder nicknames bestowed on Gage include "Quiet Tommy," "Honest Tom," and the "Mild General."

In 1757 Gage was given permission to create a special unit of American troops who would be trained as a lightly armed regiment. While recruiting for this 80th Regiment late in 1757, Gage met a beautiful young American girl named Margaret Kemble. She was the daughter of Peter Kemble, a landowner and merchant who lived in the town of Mount Kemble, New Jersey. The Kemble family was of French, Greek, Dutch, and English ancestry. For the next year Gage courted Margaret Kemble through visits and letters.

On December 7, 1758, Gage married his American sweetheart in an Anglican (Church of England) ceremony at her home in Mount Kemble. Gage's new brother-in-law, Stephen, was an ensign in Gage's regiment. Acquaintances of hers described Margaret Kemble Gage as very proud, and conscious of her husband's place in the English aristocracy.

The Gages had a very happy marriage, one blessed with eleven children. Their first child, their son Henry, was born in 1761 while the Gages were posted to Montreal. When they were old enough Henry and his brother William attended Westminster, their father's old school in England, while their sister Maria Theresa attended a boarding school for girls. Among the Gages' six sons and five daughters were John, Louisa Elizabeth, and Harriet. Their daughter, Charlotte Margaret, was the only Gage child to be born in England rather than in America.

Serves in conquest of Canada

In 1758 Gage served as a colonel under Lord Abercrombie, head of the British army, in the attempt to capture the French-held fort at Ticonderoga, New York. He was slightly wounded in this action. In early 1759 Gage and his wife, Lady Gage, moved to Albany to be near the new commander-in-chief, Lord Amherst. As the British pushed to win Canada from the French, Gage was given command of a unit and told to take Fort La Galette on Lake Ontario on the way to taking the key city of Montreal. Gage got as far as Niagara and stopped because he thought he had too few men and supplies to complete his mission. Amherst was furious at Gage's decision but eventually their quarrel was made up. Amherst then drew upon Gage's military leadership when the British army took Quebec from the French in 1759.

In 1760 Gage served as a brigadier general under Lord Amherst, who was in charge when the French surrendered their vast Canadian empire to the English. Later that same year, Gage was named governor of Montreal, a city of 25,000 civilians. As governor, Gage proved capable of dealing with the many groups represented in Montreal, including the French Catholics, the Indians, the British military, and British civilians.

Gage was promoted to major general in 1761, given a regiment to command in 1762 and, in 1763, Gage succeeded Lord Amherst as commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America. Gage made his headquarters in New York City. He remained commander-in-chief for almost ten years, until 1772. Gage's responsibilities included overseeing the fifty British forts that protected the Canadian and American colonists from Newfoundland to Florida on the Atlantic seaboard, and from the island of Bermuda to the Mississippi River in the south.

These were turbulent years, as Britain passed law after law, and the colonists became more and more upset. Often these laws were passed on the recommendation of the British officers serving in America, officers like Thomas Gage. Many historians credit Gage with recommending the law that led to the closing of the port of Boston after the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the Quartering Act, which allowed the British army to house their soldiers in civilian homes in Boston. As time went by he was losing sympathy with the Americans, as the colonists resorted to violence to make their point about wanting the power to rule themselves.

Named Governor of Massachusetts

In 1773, after seventeen years of service in America, Gage requested permission to return to England on family business. In June he and his wife and three of their children sailed to England. While in England Lady Gage was presented at court (introduced to the king and queen). Both the Gages found they liked London society life. But their visit was cut short in April 1774 when Gage was named Governor of Massachusetts and given orders to return to America.

It was hoped that Gage, with his knowledge of the American people and their politics, could calm the rebellious colonists. The politicians in Parliament gave Gage orders to end the rebellion without giving in to too many of the colonists' demands.

Gage returned to America in May 1774 as Governor in Chief and Captain-General of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, with headquarters in Boston. The next year he was made commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America. As Great Britain's military leader in the colonies, part of his job was to put down the rebellion brewing in the American colonies before the conflict erupted into a full-blown war. Since Boston was a rallying place for the rebels, Gage was to rule this key American city with a firm hand.

The American colonies in 1774 were simmering on the verge of outright rebellion against English rule. Gage, who for the most part still liked the American colonists, tried to cool tempers. He tried to lessen the importance of Boston by declaring Salem the capital of the Massachusetts colony, and spent the summer of 1774 there. He met with colonial leaders and tried to work out compromises to their grievances. All the time, Gage was receiving messages from England to take a harsher line with the Americans. It was a careful political balancing act for Gage.

Events lead up to Lexington and Concord

In response to England's orders, Gage tried to nip the American rebellion in its infancy. He knew that without weapons and leaders, the rebellion would falter. One of Gage's tactics was to seek out and seize the rebels' ammunition and weapons. Early in 1775 he sent British units to uncover rebel supplies in Jamaica Plains, Marshfield, and Salem, towns outside of Boston. Next he received word that the rebels had a stockpile of weapons at Concord, a town about twenty miles west of Boston. Gage planned to send a unit of seven hundred British soldiers to seize the weapons and to arrest two of the American rebel leaders, John Hancock and Samuel Adams (see entries). Gage had heard that Hancock and Adams were hiding in or around Concord.

Word of Gage's plans leaked to the Americans. Two messengers, Paul Revere see entry and William Dawes, rode through the countryside to alert the militia to assemble at Lexington, a small town on the way to Concord. There the American militia would try to stop the British advance.

In fact, the British broke through the American resistance at Lexington and pushed on the remaining six miles into Concord. There they began seizing cannons, muskets, and ammunition belonging to the colonial militia. As the British marched out of Concord, they were met by 150 Massachusetts militia men. The British were routed (driven off) and the supplies were recaptured. The Americans pushed the British all the way back into Boston, a twenty-mile march. The British had sustained a humiliating defeat.

British army trapped in Boston

Gage and his officers were surprised at the success of the American resistance. They still believed, however, that the British army was the best in the world and that the rebels would soon surrender. On June 12, 1775, Gage offered amnesty (pardon) for any rebel who took part in the action at Lexington or Concord. He excepted John Hancock and Samuel Adams from the amnesty, concerned at their ability to rouse the people to armed resistance.

On the night of June 16, the Americans sent troops onto two hills surrounding the city. When informed of the American move on the morning of June 17, Gage personally gave the order for the British forces to attack the American position on Breed's Hill. The action would soon include neighboring Bunker Hill, which gave its name to the first major conflict of the Revolutionary War. Gage then turned over command of the battle to General Sir William Howe see entry, who had recently arrived from England. Gage, in his position as governor, wanted to concentrate on activity in the city. The British won the battle but at a heavy cost. Almost half their soldiers and officers were killed or wounded.

Relieved of American command

The government in England was appalled when Gage reported on the defeat at Lexington and then the siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill. In September 1775 they recalled Gage for a personal explanation of these events. Gage turned over military command to Howe in October 1775 and sailed for England.

In April 1776 Gage learned both that he had been relieved of his American command and that Howe had succeeded him as commander-in-chief there. Gage had lost his job and his pay. Five years later, in 1781, Gage was reappointed to the staff of his former commander, Lord Amherst. His assignment was to help the people of the county of Kent prepare against an invasion by England's old enemy, France. In 1782 Gage was named a full general. Gage did not live long to enjoy his final promotion. He died on April 2, 1787, at his home in Portland after a long and painful illness. Lady Gage survived her husband by thirty-seven years but never remarried.

For More Information

Armstrong, Jennifer. Ann of the Wild Rose Inn. New York: Bantam, 1994.

Boatner, Mark M., III.. "Gage, Thomas" in Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994, pp. 405-09.

Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1943.

Hawkins, Vincent B. "Gage, Thomas" in The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1992, p. 270.

Rinaldi, Ann. The Secret of Sarah Revere. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Sanborn, Paul J. "Gage, Thomas" in The American Revolution, 1775–1783: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Edited by Richard L. Blanco. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993, pp. 605-10.

Speare, Elizabeth George. Calico Captive. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1957.

Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske. "Gage, Thomas" in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2. New York: D. Appleton, 1888, pp. 569-70.

The Gage Family and English Politics

By the time Thomas Gage, the last royal governor of Massachusetts, was born, his family was well established in the aristocracy (ruling class). But this was not always the case. In fact, it could be said that Gage's ancestors had a genius for picking the wrong side of any political or military fight.

Gage was the descendant of a French nobleman named di Gaugi who had come to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, who would rule as King William I. Eventually, di Gaugi became the more English sounding "Gage." Thus far, life was good for the Gages. Then, in 1215, the Gages sided with King John, the English king who was eventually forced to give up some of his decision-making power to his nobles in a document called the Magna Carta.

In 1534 King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church to form the Protestant Church of England. Nobles in the know quickly followed suit, becoming Protestants. Not the Gages. They supported Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary), Henry's daughter and successor, who tried to reinstate Catholicism by force as the English state religion. For 150 years the Gages continued to practice Catholicism. It was a decision that cost them much loss of favor at many royal courts.

Then the Gages supported King Charles I, who eventually lost his head to start the English civil war in 1649. They then threw their support behind James II, who was forced to abdicate (step aside) in favor of his daughter, Mary, and her Protestant husband, William of Orange, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

The Gages only returned to royal favor in 1715, when Thomas Gage's father, also named Thomas Gage, converted to the Anglican church. The elder Gage was rewarded with an Irish aristocratic title, and eventually an English one. Thus Gage's family was finally in a position to support him politically and socially when he grew to manhood.

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Gage, Thomas

Gage, Thomas

GAGE, THOMAS. (1719 or 1720–1787). British general and colonial governor. The second son of an Irish peer and Sussex gentleman, Thomas Gage was born late in 1719 or early in 1720, probably in Wye, Gloucestershire. Although the family had long been Roman Catholic, his father had converted to Anglicanism in 1715 (which allowed him to become member of Parliament for Tewkesbury in 1721) and his sons were brought up in that faith. Lord Hervey described young Thomas's father as "a petulant, silly, busy, meddling, profligate fellow," while Lord Wharton promised to pay his debts "when Lady Gage grows chaste." With such parents Thomas did well to develop a character noted for honesty, generosity, and decency.

From 1728 to 1736 he was at Westminster School, where he became acquainted with Francis Bernard, John Burgoyne, William Legge (Lord Dartmouth), George and Richard Howe, and George Sackville, later Lord George Germain. In 1741 he obtained a lieutenancy in the Forty-eighth Foot (Cholmondeley's) and by 1743 was a captain. He was aide-de-camp to William Anne Keppel, Lord Albemarle, at Fontenoy in 1745 and fought at Culloden in 1746 before returning to the Netherlands for the campaigns of 1747 and 1748. After the War of the Austrian Succession ended, having purchased the rank of major in 1748, he served in Ireland with the Fifty-fifth Foot (soon renumbered the Forty-fourth) and became its lieutenant colonel on 2 March 1751.

In late 1754 the Forty-fourth was ordered to America as part of Edward Braddock's expedition against Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio River. Braddock's soldiers were unused to forest warfare, he had few native scouts and he was short of time. Nevertheless he took effective measures to screen his front and flanks, and Gage, in charge of the advance guard, was careful and systematic. Yet Gage's one slip was fatal: his failure on 9 July 1755 to secure a commanding hillock led to the humiliating defeat at the Monongahela River. Braddock and Gage's colonel, Peter Hackett, were killed, and Gage, who displayed great courage, stubbornness, and coolness under fire, was slightly wounded. Gage took command of the regiment when Hackett fell, but afterward was not allowed to succeed to the colonelcy. He was second in command of an unsuccessful expedition to the Mohawk River in 1756 and in 1757 served with Lord Loudoun's abortive attempt on Louisburg.

Braddock's defeat had demonstrated the need for infantry properly trained in light infantry tactics, and in this need Gage saw his chance to achieve his long-coveted colonelcy. In December 1757 he was allowed to form a light infantry regiment, the Eightieth Foot, the first specifically light infantry battalion in the British army. Although even John Forbes, who commanded the successful 1758 expedition to capture Fort Duquesne, thought it a "most flagrant jobb," designed more to advance Gage's career than the army's efficiency, this was a mould-breaking move. From the first the Eightieth was intended to provide a better-disciplined and more reliable alternative to North American rangers; at least five of the Eightieth's first ensigns had learned their business under Robert Rogers. Woodland-trained infantry rapidly became a major arm of the British army in North America.

Unfortunately for Gage, his new command did not produce the expected opportunities for distinction. He was wounded again at Ticonderoga in 1758 while leading James Abercromby's advance guard. The following year, promoted brigadier general, he was sent to replace brigadier general John Prideaux in command of the British forces on Lake Ontario. Ordered to advance down the St. Lawrence toward Montreal, and so relieve the pressure on James Wolfe at Quebec, Gage decided that the French forces in his path were too strong for him to challenge. Jeffery Amherst was displeased, and in the final advance on Montreal Gage found himself in charge of the rearguard. Gage, however, was unlucky rather than incompetent: he was a popular officer and widely regarded as able, conscientious, and brave.

Promoted major general in 1761, he was the military governor of Montreal from 1760 until 1763. Here he proved himself as an administrator, becoming popular for his sensitive dealings with the French inhabitants and British settlers, while keeping his soldiery under strict control. When the outbreak of Pontiac's War discredited Amherst's Indian policy and sent him home in disgrace, Gage became the acting British commander in chief throughout North America. He took up his new duties in New York on 16 November and in November 1764 his tenure was confirmed.

In many ways he was an excellent choice. His attitude to Indians was ambivalent rather than (as in Amherst's case) contemptuous. It is true that on the ground his frontier policy was curiously passive, allowing provincial and local interests to nibble away at the principle of a fixed boundary line and a regulated adequate supply of trade goods; yet he never forgot the lessons of Pontiac's War, and much of his correspondence concerned questions of Indian policy. He was honest and tactful with colonists and managed his army effectively. Through his marriage in 1758 to Margaret Kemble of Brunswick, New Jersey, he had access to an important, if limited, circle of American contacts. More clearly than anyone else, he recognized the deteriorating, possibly hopeless, political situation in America. He also saw the utter inadequacy of the small garrisons he was able to put into New York and Philadelphia to deal with revolt; even the withdrawal from all but three of the western posts in 1768, and the garrisoning of Boston, would make little difference. On the other hand, he was curiously reticent about his insights in his official correspondence, although his private letters to his friend Lord Barrington, the secretary at war, reveal a deep disquiet. Though privately angry at American affronts to royal authority from 1765 onward, his principal aim was to stay out of the conflict.

He let his habitual caution drop after he went home on leave in 1773. In February 1774 George III consulted him about the proper response to the Boston Tea Party. The king understood him to recommend resolute action, though later Gage claimed he had been misunderstood. Perhaps he was misled by ministerial promises of adequate troops. Whatever really happened, Gage soon found himself with the governorship of Massachusetts and orders to enforce the Coercive Acts. In fact he quickly discovered that his writ did not run farther than Boston itself and that in the countryside thousands of militia were preparing to resist. Now at last he informed the home government that military action was out of the question, only to be over-ruled. On 14 April he received an unequivocal order from Dartmouth, the colonial secretary, to seize the principal leaders of the rebellion.

Gage knew perfectly well that any such attempt outside Boston was beyond his powers, but he could not completely ignore his instructions. However, a swift strike against a strictly limited military objective might succeed and even satisfy London. He chose as his target Concord, a town only twenty miles away, where the militia were known to be collecting arms and stores. At the same time he wanted to keep most of his soldiers in reserve in Boston. He employed sixteen companies of grenadiers and light infantry—probably enough for safety but only a small proportion of his total force—and equipped them lightly for rapid movement. He tried (unsuccessfully) to keep the movement secret and gave the command to an officer unlikely to do anything rash. The expedition got under way at dusk on 18 April, but its purpose had already leaked out, perhaps betrayed by Gage's own wife. Next day Gage's forces skirmished with local militia at Lexington and marched on to Concord to destroy the stores. After a sharp battle with militia the column marched back, harassed all the way and suffering 30 percent casualties, until it met a relief column led by Lord Percy. No significant American leaders had been taken, and the long-feared general revolt was now a reality. By 19 April Gage found himself besieged in Boston.

On 25 May three major generals—William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne—arrived with reinforcements, which brought Gage's force to 6,500 men. This, however, was little more than a third of the force assembled outside the city. All Gage could do was to couple his declaration of martial law—again, in obedience to orders—with a last-ditch effort at conciliation. His proclamation, drawn up for him in extravagant language by the literary Burgoyne, offered a royal pardon to all who would lay down their arms, Samuel Adams and John Hancock excepted. When this failed Gage planned to seize Dorchester Heights, from which point artillery could command the outer harbor, making the city untenable to a garrison dependent on seaborne supplies and succor. However, he was forestalled. On 13 June, five days before the operation was to begin, the Americans learned of the British plan, and on the night of 16-17 June they moved to fortify the Charlestown peninsula on the other side of the harbor. The position was too far away to threaten the main anchorage, and in retrospect Gage might have been better off ignoring it and occupying Dorchester Heights as planned.

At the time, however, the Americans' move seemed to demand a response. Perhaps, too, Gage sensed from the arrival of the three major generals that the ministry meant to replace him: he needed to demonstrate speed and aggression and to score a dramatic success. Gage and his subordinate generals considered a landing on Charlestown Neck, behind the enemy position, but rejected it because of the state of the tides. That, combined with Gage's limited knowledge of his opponents' dispositions and powers of resistance, dictated a landing by Howe and 2,500 men at undefended Moulton's Point. From there Howe could combine a frontal attack with an envelopment between Breed's Hill and the Mystic River. Neither Gage nor Howe could have known that the ragged Americans, once behind their field fortifications on the hilltops, would fight with as much determination as they did. It cost the regulars three assaults and well over 1,000 casualties before they carried the American works. Between the losses and the need to garrison the captured hills, Dorchester Heights were effectively forgotten until March, when their occupation by George Washington forced Howe to evacuate the city.

Gage, being the man on the spot, was about to suffer for the truth of his own predictions. At the very time he was attacking Bunker Hill, Germain was beginning the process of dislodging him for showing insufficient energy and enthusiasm. On 25 September he was ordered home, although he was not formally deprived of the post of commander in chief until 18 April 1776. He handed over to William Howe on 10 October 1775 and arrived in London on 14 November. Thereafter he was punished by neglect. Although he remained the official governor of Massachusetts and kept his military rank, his income was sharply reduced. He was finally appointed to Amherst's staff in April 1781 and briefly given the task of organizing the Kent militia to resist French invasion. Only the fall of the North ministry allowed his promotion to full general on 20 November 1782. By then his health was in serious decline, and he died at his home at Portland Place, London, on 2 April 1787. He was buried at Firle Place, Sussex, the family home.

Gage has never quite shaken off his reputation as the slow, blundering commander in chief responsible for the military humiliations of 1775. The truth, of course, is that the North ministry consistently failed to recognize the scale of the American rebellion, and saw Massachusetts as the heart of the trouble whereas in fact resistance infected every colony from Georgia to New Hampshire. Within Massachusetts, the trouble appeared to be primarily in Boston, not throughout the countryside. Consequently, the North administration ignored Gage's pleas to the contrary, gave him far too few troops, and ordered him to do too much with them. Gage must be partly to blame for not speaking up clearly and persistently long before 1774. Although he may have relied too much on a small, unrepresentative, lofty circle of American contacts—mainly his wife's wider family who, unlike that good lady, had little sympathy for the rebellion—he was well aware of the dangers. It is true that he did not keep up early friendly contacts with men such as Benjamin Franklin and Washington, whom he met on Braddock's expedition, but given the length of time concerned and the subsequent lack of contact, a cooling was perhaps inevitable. In any case, his principal task was military, not political, and the fundamental error was not his. Although he had little or no opportunity to prove himself a brilliant field commander, his military decisions in 1775 were fundamentally sound, with the sole and serious exception of the failure to occupy Dorchester Heights. From first to last Gage was the unluckiest of officers.

SEE ALSO Amherst, Jeffery (1717–1797); Braddock, Edward; Bunker Hill, Massachusetts; Burgoyne, John; Clinton, Henry; Dartmouth, William Legge, second earl of; Dorchester Heights, Massachusetts; Germain, George Sackville; Howe, Richard; Howe, William; Pontiac's War; Ticonderoga, New York (1755–1759).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brumwell, Stephen. Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755–1763. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere's Ride. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Shy, John. Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965.

                        revised by John Oliphant

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