Blast from the Past: That time Patrick Henry tried to start a revolution but it had already started is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.


In this series, we take a look back at news coverage from the early days of the Historic Triangle. In this story that occurred just after the first battles of the American revolution and well before news could arrive, Virginian revolutionaries were locked in a fierce dispute with the Colonial Governor after he absconded with the town’s entire supply of gunpowder. Patrick Henry was one of the loudest voices calling for violent action against the British if they did not return the gunpowder or pay for it.

Williamsburg, April 22. 1775.

WE his Majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects, the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Common Council, of the city of Williamsburg, in Common Hall assembled, humbly beg leave to represent to your Excellency, that the inhabitants of this city were this morning  exceedingly alarmed by a report that a large quantity of gunpowder was in the preceding night, while they were sleeping in their beds, removed from public magazine in this city, and conveyed, under an escort of marines, on board one of his Majesty’s armed vessels lying at a ferry on the James river.

We beg leave to represent to your Excellency, that as this magazine was erected at the public expense of the colony, and appropriated to the safe keeping of such munition as should be there lodged from time to time, for the protection and security of the country, by arming thereout such of the militia as might be necessary in the cases of invasions and insurrections, they humbly conceive it to be the only proper repository to be retorted to in times of imminent danger.

We further beg leave to inform your Excellency, that, from various reports at present prevailing in different parts of the country, we have too much reason to believe that some wicked and designing persons have instilled the most diabolical notions into the minds of our slaves, and that therefore the utmost attention to our internal security is become the more necessary.

The circumstances of this city, my Lord, we consider as peculiar and critical. The inhabitants, from the situation of the magazine, in the midst of their city, have, for a long tract of time, been exposed to all those dangers which have happened in many countries from explosions, and other accidents. They have, from time to time, thought it was incumbent on them to guard the magazine. For the security they have, for some time past, judged it necessary to keep strong patrols on foot; in their present circumstance, then, to have the chief and necessary means of their defence removed, cannot but be extremely alarming. Considering ourselves as guardians of the city, we therefore humbly desire to be informed by your Excellency, upon what motives, and for what particular purpose, the powder has been carried off in such a manner; and we earnestly entreat your Excellency to order it to be immediately returned to the magazine.

To which his Excellency returned this verbal answer:

That, hearing of an insurrection in a neighbouring county, he had removed the powder from the magazine, where he did not think it secure, to a place of perfect security; and that upon his word and honour, whenever it was wanted on any insurrection, it should be delivered in half an hour; that he had removed it in the night time to prevent any alarm, and that Captain Collins had his express commands for the part he had acted; he was surprised to hear the people were under arms on this occasion, and that he should not think it prudent to put powder into their hands in such a situation.

Source: Virginia Gazette, April 22, 1775, Colonial Williamsburg Newspaper Archive