Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Margaret Kemble Gage - Was She Warren's Agent?

 Before moving on from William Dawes Jr and Warren's use of couriers to warn of the British march into the countryside to seize the military stores at Concord, I think I should make a couple of comments on the role of Margaret Kemble Gage, General Gage's wife, and whether she was, in fact, the high placed informant upon whom Warren relied on to confirm the fact that the British were indeed moving out to Concord on the night of April 18-19, 1775. In the absence of any documentation or personal accounts, we can only speculate as to whether she was Warren's informant; any evidence is circumstantial and deductive. The historical consensus, it seems, is that she was.
Margaret Kemble Gage by John Singleton Copley.

   David Hackett Fisher's Paul Revere's Ride provides an excellent account of the events leading up to Dr Joseph Warren's dispatch of the couriers and provides an excellent summary and discussion of the evidence leading many to suspect Mrs Gage as Warren's highly placed informant.* Several things about the sequence of events that afternoon and the evidence have always troubled me.
    On the afternoon of April 18th, 1775, Boston was awash with indications that the British were about to undertake something major. British military expeditions into the countryside to seize military stores had been undertaken before and so it was anticipated that one would be undertaken again. General Gage's orders were to capture the stores at Concord. At no time did he give any orders to arrest any Patriot leaders especially Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The reasons for that are well detailed by Fisher. 
   When Dr Warren received reports of the British preparations to march, he allegedly contacted an informant with access to the highest levels of the British command. Only he knew who that source was and he carried that secret to his grave. Allegedly, that person informed Warren that Gage's plan was both to seize Samuel Adams and John Hancock at Lexington and to seize the stores at Concord. If Mrs Gage was that informant, she surely got it wrong. If she was the General's confidant, she surely knew that General Gage believed that seizing any of the "rebel" leaders was a futile and, ultimately, self-defeating act. So, why would she include arresting Adams and Hancock in her report? She was intelligent enough to see the difficulties both objectives presented.
  Further, it has always bothered me as to just how Warren communicated with Mrs Gage on such short notice; and the evidence seems to indicate that Warren initiated contact with the source, not vice versa. Would he risk sending a messenger with a note or verbal message either asking for information or requesting to meet with him? (I doubt he used a dead drop.) Wouldn't that then compromise his relationship with Mrs Gage to someone else, even if Warren trusted that person implicitly? Would Warren risk attempting to contact Mrs Gage at a British HQ that was manned with officers and soldiers who would have been on high alert for any suspicious characters, especially townsmen? It just doesn't make much sense to me. Warren was one of the best known men in Boston and his appearance on the streets, especially near Gage's headquarters certainly would have been noticed. Could it be that Warren had another source who he contacted but provided him with imperfect intelligence? 
   That General Gage came to suspect his wife and determined to send her off to London that very day is without doubt. But that decision was based on the information he received from Lord Percy that day that the operation had been compromised. Percy learned of this when he approached a gathering of eight or ten men on Boston Common and inquired as to what they were discussing. He was shocked to learn that they knew of the forthcoming march to Concord and reported the details of that conversation to Gage. Most importantly, no mention was made of the plan to seize Adams and Hancock. It was at that point that Gage apparently decided that his wife could not be trusted and was leaking information to the Patriots. His relationship with his wife was shattered, irretrievably.
  Was Margaret Kemble Gage a source for Dr Warren? Perhaps. But did she that fateful day inform him of the British movements planned for that night? I need a lot more evidence to convince me that she was. Unfortunately, until such time as Dan Brown uncovers some hidden code in the Copley portrait, we shall never know.
   One last comment. Is not that Copley portrait of Margaret Kemble Gage magnificent?

 * I should point out that one must read the footnotes simultaneously with the narrative when reading Fisher.


  1. Warren needed no spy to deduce the obvious: remember the anecdote of the Bostonians coming up to Lord Percy and telling him the British would miss there aim? (What aim? The stocks at Concord of course... then Percy runs off to inform Gage...) Even the peasants knew what was amiss. Warren was a smart guy, he needed no secret informant.

  2. Indeed it is a magnificent portrait. Copley himself remarked that it was "the best lady's portrait I ever drew".

    I think it's very risque for an 18th century portrait- I like to think that it reflects her bold confidence for a woman of her time.

    PS- I do still follow your blog, and hope you do plan to continue some day!

  3. I don't think she betrayed him. If the marriage was irretrievably broken by her alleged deed, why did they go on to have another child, conceived after April 19, 1775, and born in England over nine months later? I think he sent her back, because Boston was now a dangerous place for her to be.

    1. While it is true that he sent her back because Boston was too dangerous, other sources confirm that she was not officially convicted of committing the crime of betrayal, hence William Gage sent her back unknowing of the truth that she was spying for the patriots.