Married to Her Father’s Foe

Margaret Kemble Gage by John Singleton Copley

How did Margaret Kemble Gage do it, if she did it at all?

The story of her perceived deception leaves me wondering about details that I hadn’t considered regarding the history that the state of my residence (MA) commemorates today with a civic holiday — Patriot’s Day. Patriot’s Day exists to remember and honor those who lived and died during the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, the Battles of Lexington and Concord. As part of the remembrance, re-enactments of the first battles are held at Lexington Green in Lexington, Massachusetts and the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. The re-enactors retrace the rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes, calling out warnings that the British are coming.

According to several sources, General Thomas Gage, commander of the British forces in North America, received orders to raid the countryside to seize weapons being stockpiled by the “rebel” Patriots. The army had already been humiliated by the failure to subdue mobs of angry, armed colonists during recent, similar missions at Portsmouth, NH and Salem, MA, so to succeed in this new mission, Gage’s most important weapon was secrecy. Therefore, up until the last possible minute, he refrained from telling anybody but his wife about his plans to attack.

Margaret, Gage’s wife, was American-born to a family with a long-standing history of supporting the King and holding prominent positions in the Royal government. She met Thomas in the colonies but after they married they moved back to England. It wasn’t until Gage was appointed Royal Governor of Massachusetts that they returned to Boston in 1774. While Margaret and Thomas were away, the colonist feeling toward the King and Parliament became highly antagonistic. People in her family were choosing sides. Her father, it seemed, had joined the colonists’ side. Tensions were high.

When Gage’s forces went out, it became clear that the rebels had been forewarned of their coming. A sophisticated alarm system was in place as well as hundreds of organized militia. Many, including Gage, appeared to believe that Margaret was guilty of betraying her husband’s secret plan. Word was that Margaret had informed Joseph Warren that her husband’s troops planned to raid armories at Lexington and Concord. This information led to Paul Revere’s famous Midnight Ride.

What I’m trying to imagine is how Margaret Gage was able to pass the information on to Joseph Warren. They were both public figures, clearly representing opposite sides. If they were seen together, and Warren warned the rebels, those in power would have been able to pinpoint Margaret as the informant and she would have been severely punished for being a traitor to the cause. But, even though Thomas appeared to have known it was his wife, her only punishment was that he sent her back to England before the war began in earnest.

So did Margaret slip out of the house in the middle of the night to meet Gage, perhaps in a grove of trees at the Public Garden? If she’d served as an informant before, did they have an arranged spot where he would leave her missives asking for information and she would leave him missives answering him? Was it possible that they had a prior (or present) relationship that nobody knew about?

It’s unlikely that Joseph Warren or Margaret Gage would have used a messenger to communicate. Too risky. But wouldn’t any of the scenarios above have been risky to the point of their unlikeliness. It could be that Warren’s source was somebody who overheard Margaret and Thomas discuss the secret plan. It could be that Margaret wasn’t guilty at all.

I wonder about how it would feel to be in her position: married to the Commander of the British forces yet the daughter of a Patriot. She must have been torn between loyalties and even if she felt certain that the Patriots should be warned, would it have been difficult to take the risky road of betrayal?

I’m not sure we’ll ever know. Joseph Warren never revealed his informant. Margaret Gage never admitted to the act.

When we learn history, we often learn it in a sweeping way. The story is the event, what led up to it and the fallout. I wish we were taught in school more about the intricacies of what happened before, during and after. Of course, there was no time for that.

I guess that’s what reading books — non-fiction AND fiction — is for.


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7 thoughts on “Married to Her Father’s Foe

    1. Askimet thought you were spam. I love those stories about the people that impact historical events. Thanks for coming by.

  1. Intriguing and mysterious. You’ve asked some good questions, the same ones I am wondering about. I, too, wish history is taught in a far different way, through stories like you wrote about here. It becomes much more relatable and tangible that way.

    1. History is stories. I love that we can learn some of those stories through books and even at times through movies. I DO wish it were made more palatable to kids, though, since the stories of our past are about people not that different from us, at least inside. So do you think Margaret did it?

  2. Lovely painting of Margaret Gage. Regarding the way history is taught, pity. We all love a good story and history is all stories–the details are what make the events exciting so we can picture it in our minds eye. Nice post.

    1. Check out my next post for more John Singleton Copley portraits. I was completely enamored with his work, even though I’ve seen it before.

So what do you think?