The Castle held arms, ammunition and supplies provided by both the province and the Crown. On hand were scores of artillery pieces of various size. Some were on small-wheeled naval carriages which rolled on platforms, poised to defend the Piscataqua. Others were ready for quick deployment on mobile field carriages.
Many were in storage, available for use by British forces on land or at sea. Despite its shortcomings as a fortification, the British military considered the Castle one of the few seaboard defenses of any consequence north of New York. In May of , the increasingly liberty-minded Assembly approved funding for only three soldiers and one officer at Fort William and Mary.
The point of such a committee was to communicate with other colonies so as to present a unified response to British policies. The Assembly then grudgingly authorized a garrison at the Castle consisting of five enlisted men and one officer. During the adjournment, however, the colony was asked to send delegates to an extralegal Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Rather than run the risk that the Assembly might do so, Wentworth dissolved the House. Discontent was mounting in New Hampshire.
In June, Portsmouth patriots stopped the ship Grosvenor from disposing of her cargo of tea in the colony. In early September, they stopped the Fox from doing the same. In , General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts, became increasingly afraid that unrest and the profusion of arms in his colony would soon lead to bloodshed. In the early morning hours of September 1, , he dispatched about redcoats from Boston into the surrounding countryside. Their mission was to quietly retrieve a supply of Massachusetts gunpowder from the magazine at Charlestown now Somerville , MA and confiscate two small cannon recently acquired by the militia at Cambridge.
The operation occurred without incident but when the people of Massachusetts learned that Gage had placed their munitions under the control of the regular Army, they exploded in anger. Wild rumors of marauding redcoats and Royal Navy bombardments spread.
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By the second of September, thousands of men under arms were in Cambridge and thousands more were marching in from outlying areas. Gage was appalled by the beast that he had awoken and made matters worse by fortifying the approaches to Boston, where his Army was stationed. Since the Royal Navy had recently begun enforcing the Boston Port Act, it appeared to many Americans that Britain was preparing to go to war against Massachusetts. The colony resolved never again to be caught off guard. By the end of , Portsmouth boasted a profusion of patriot committees.
In December of , on the very afternoon of the Boston Tea Party, the town established a local committee of correspondence.
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Among its five members were Cutts and merchant John Langdon, a liberty-minded former sea captain and opponent of the Wentworth administration. As winter approached, Governor Wentworth expressed fear that disturbances in Massachusetts would provoke additional unrest in New Hampshire. Salem also forwarded a letter to Portsmouth, addressed to John Langdon.
The implication seemed clear: Gage was again preparing to go after supplies of colonial gunpowder. By the time Langdon received the messages from Marblehead and Salem, somewhat different intelligence was circulating in Boston. The message, signed by Boston Town Clerk William Cooper, presumably on behalf of the Committee, in part advised that the British administration had forwarded a letter to each royal governor in America. At least one ship of the Royal Navy was indeed preparing to head for the Piscataqua, although not necessarily on the mission that the Sons of Liberty surmised.
Gaspee and Halifax were to cruise a portion of the Maine coast and Lively was headed to Salem in order to guard against the smuggling of arms and ammunition prohibited by the Order in Council. Canceaux was headed to the Piscataqua to do the same.
It is said the American commerce is to be interdicted. Revere arrived in Portsmouth at about PM on the cold, snowy afternoon of Tuesday December 13, and attempted to locate Samuel Cutts. By chance, he encountered a man whom he had known in Boston, the aptly named William Torrey, on the Portsmouth Parade now Market Square and asked where Cutts could be found. Cutts happened to be passing by at the time and Torrey pointed him out. After Revere left the tavern, Torrey, curious about what word the messenger brought from Boston, confronted him.
The communication was not particularly secret. Cutts attempted to convene the local committee of correspondence, probably by calling for an emergency meeting of the Committee of It proved impossible to gather a quorum and those who did show up could not agree on a course of action. Word of potential trouble spread through Portsmouth on the night of the 13 th and either Torrey who later provided a deposition about his conversation with Revere to the Governor or another loyalist sympathizer alerted Wentworth.
It would have been difficult for Cochran to engage additional men in the little, patriotic town of New Castle late on a cold, snowy night in December.
The Captain kept a close watch throughout the night of December 13, but it is unclear whether he also added men to his regular contingent at this time  As things turned out, a few more men would have made little difference. John Langdon Rallies Portsmouth. Atkinson demanded to know the purpose of the gathering. When no one answered, he announced that he believed that they planned to descend on the Castle and warned that:.
In fact, Langdon — who would later become a governor of New Hampshire and the first President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate - publicly ridiculed the old Chief Justice before embarking with some of the crowd for New Castle, two miles down the Piscataqua. As the little flotilla made its way downriver, it was joined by boats filled with men from both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Maine sides of the Piscataqua.
He called for his barge, but neither his own bargemen nor temporary workers could be convinced to take on the job of transporting him. Efforts to disperse the crowds were fruitless. The Governor ordered Councilor Atkinson, who in addition to his other duties was major general of the provincial militia and colonel of its first regiment, to immediately call out the Portsmouth troops.
An officer was instructed to put those troops at the ready but he might have saved himself the trouble. The Foiled New Castle Plot. As Langdon was rallying his men in Portsmouth, New Castle operatives were tasked with infiltrating the fort by trickery.
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Once inside, the plan was to abduct or detain Cochran and his five men. The Portsmouth men could then simply load the booty onto gundalows and haul it away to safety. If even that failed, there would certainly be enough men on hand to storm the little fort. Some time between AM and noon, two New Castle men, Stephen Batson and Henry Langmead, visited Captain Cochran at his post, professing to be concerned with a small matter of business. Cochran asked his visitors, as a group, what brought them there and was told by Bell that they merely had some leisure time and chose to pay a social call.
The Captain decided to get to the bottom of the matter by questioning the visitors separately. There were now 9 visitors inside the walls of Fort William and Mary; three more than the number of men on duty. The band of soldiers loaded cannon and muskets, fixed bayonets to their small arms and hastily made other defensive preparations. It is questionable whether either Locke or Bell ultimately proved to be reliable defenders.
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At about PM, a group of 10 or 12 men, organized in ranks and under the apparent command of sea captain William Wolcott, approached the sentry. Cochran asked their business and Wolcott answered that they simply wished to come in. Cochran refused to admit such a large number at once, but stated that if Wolcott had anything to say to him, he was ready to talk.
AMERICAN PRISONERS OF THE REVOLUTION
The New Castle plot had failed. For a short time, the men stood in the cold wind-blown snow discussing their options. Other men congregated on every side of the fort, some loudly and repeatedly demanding surrender and threatening to put the soldiers of the garrison to death. In the tense atmosphere of late , the men at Fort Point could hardly have failed to realize that their actions had the potential to ignite wider American hostilities.