Forgotten Connections and Divided Loyalties

We would very much like to welcome a new guest to our blog, Avellina Balestri (alias Rosaria Marie), she is a Catholic freelance writer who resides in the scenic and historic Penn-Mar borderlands. She is a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King (www.thefellowshipoftheking.net), an online magazine dedicated to merging spirituality and creativity. She is a long-time Britophile and historical enthusiast, taking a special interest in the Age of Horse and Musket. She hopes that her writings help to put a human face to history, keeping alive the unique legacies of those who have gone before us. For more information on her writings, visit Avellina’s Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/avellinambalestri

We will now hand you over to Avellina:

The ‘rebels’ and ‘redcoats’ of the American Revolution are often portrayed as having been completely disassociated. However, the colonial relationship with the mother country linked many through ties of blood and affection. The following illustrates some of these forgotten connections.

Mrs. Thomas Gage, 1771. John Singleton Copley, 1738-1815. Courtesy of Timken Museum
Mrs. Thomas Gage, 1771. John Singleton Copley, 1738-1815.
Courtesy of Timken Museum

In 1757, Margaret Kemble of New Jersey was introduced to British Colonel Thomas Gage who was serving in America during The French and Indian War. He was attracted by her beauty and intellect, and she by his gentle manner. After their courtship, they were married and began to raise a family.

Appointed royal governor of New York in 1763, he and his wife hosted lavish galas at their mansion. Colonel George Washington, a fellow veteran from Virginia, was their frequent guest. But dark clouds looming on the horizon would put friendships to the test.

After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, General Gage was sent to Massachusetts to quell the upheaval. There he was visited by another colonial comrade, Major Israel Putnam, who Gage invited to rejoin the British service. The offer was courteously declined.

Margaret began to feel emotionally torn about her husband’s role in opposition to her fellow Americans. Quoting Shakespeare in a letter to a friend, she wrote: “Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayst win…Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose…”

 Taking for granted her allegiance to the king, he failed to assess how divided her loyalties were and continued to confide in her, personally and militarily.

B1977.14.45
B1977.14.45

On April 18, 1775, the general ordered rebel ammunition seized, but Paul Revere roused the minute men with the cry “The regulars are coming!” Both sides would make their stand at Lexington.

Major John Pitcairn, who was quartered next door to Revere and known to socialize with prominent patriots, was the leader of the British advance guard. Now, all conviviality aside, he confronted the militia with a stern countenance and threatened, “Disperse, ye rebels, or you’re all dead men!”

Then a succession of shots rang out, sparking the inevitable conflict. Later that day, snipers ambushed the redcoats and wounded Pitcairn, who was thrown from his horse as his men retreated in chaos. His mount and prized pistols in his saddlebag were captured.

Reports informed Gage of the bloodshed and that the high ground had been taken by a new rebel general, none other than his old friend, Israel Putnam. But there was worse to come. Circumstantial evidence indicated that Margaret had divulged British troop movements to the Patriots and was, at heart, a ‘Daughter of Liberty.’ Although unprepared for a coordinated attack, the distraught general impulsively commanded Breeds Hill to be taken by storm on June 17, 1775.

Dug in to face the onslaught, Putnam rallied his men. Armed with Pitcairn’s silver pistols, taken as trophies of war, the rugged New Englander gave the famous order: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes! Shoot for the reddest coats!”

The first and second British assaults were repulsed with horrendous casualties. In a twist of  irony, the third and final charge was spear-headed by Major Pitcairn, brandishing his sword and shouting in his Scottish burr, “Now, for the glory of the marines!”

He was struck by a barrage of bullets and collapsed into the arms of his lieutenant son, dying a casualty of Gage’s folly. He was buried at Old North Church where the signal lanterns had been hung. Paul Revere would later be interred nearby him, neighbors in life and death.

John_Pitcairn

His ranks decimated and Boston surrounded, a despairing Gage took to drink and exclaimed bitterly: “I wish this cursed place would burn.”

General George Washington, the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, strongly protested the ill treatment of American prisoners-of-war. But Gage refused to recognize his military authority and right to negotiate. Washington’s response to his long-time acquaintance was forthright: “Sir, having been chosen by a free people in the cause of liberty, I can claim the most worthy authority.”

As starvation gripped the besieged city, General Putnam, in a gesture of mercy towards Gage’s large family, sent a cut of beef to alleviate their hunger. A ray of light had penetrated the darkness of war.

Recalled to England, Gage was stripped of his titles and disgraced. Margaret would never see her beloved homeland again. Nevertheless, through love, forgiveness, and mutual devotion to their eleven children, they weathered the storm of divided loyalties.

The Gages, Washington, Putnam, Revere, and Pitcairn were all vital threads woven through the tapestry of the American Revolution. As we remember their forgotten connections and pray for their immortal souls, we can learn a deeper sense of compassion for what both sides endured, as well as an appreciation for their nobility of spirit. Inspired by the Christian principles of our ancestors, we must strive to be the patriots of today by upholding their legacy of courage, perseverance, and reconciliation.

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