Thomas Gage

The English general Thomas Gage (1719-1787) was commander in chief of British forces in North America and the last royal governor of Massachusetts.

Born at Firle, Sussex, Thomas Gage was a grandson of the 1st Viscount Gage, an Irish peer. On Jan. 30, 1741, Thomas purchased a lieutenancy in the 1st Northampton Regiment, and he obtained the rank of captain lieutenant when he transferred to Battereau's Foot in May 1742. Receiving his captaincy in 1744, he went to France as an aide to the Duke of Albemarle and participated in the battle of Fortenay. He saw action with Albemarle at Culloden in 1745 and was with the duke 2 years later in the Low Countries. In 1748 Gage purchased a majority in the 55th Regiment and became lieutenant colonel of that unit on March 2, 1751.

In 1754 Gage accompanied his regiment to America, where he distinguished himself in the French and Indian War, receiving a slight wound. In May 1757 he raised a provincial regiment and that same year commanded the light infantry in the strike against Ft. Ticonderoga. As a brigadier general, he led the rear guard of Commander Jeffery Amherst's forces at the capture of Montreal on Sept. 6, 1760, and then served as military governor of Montreal for a short period. In 1761 he was promoted to major general and 2 years later succeeded Amherst as commander in chief of all British forces in North America. During the next 10 years Gage remained in New York and was promoted to lieutenant general. In December 1758 he had married Margaret Kemble, daughter of a member of the Council of New Jersey; they had five daughters and six sons.

Gage went to England in 1773 but returned to America immediately (because of the Boston Tea Party) with a commission as vice admiral and "captain general and governor in chief" of Massachusetts. He arrived in Boston on May 13, 1774, three days after news of England's punitive measures against Massachusetts had arrived. When the General Court convened in October, a number of towns sent delegates to a provincial congress meeting at Concord; thus did the colony develop two separate governments. Deteriorating relations between Britain and the American colonies were evident during the celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, when Gage's effigy was publicly hanged and burned.

On April 14, 1775, Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies, instructed Gage to take action against the colonial rebels. On the night of April 18 Gage sent out the expedition to the towns of Lexington and Concord that precipitated armed hostilities and the siege of Boston. On June 12 Gage issued a proclamation establishing martial law but holding forth amnesty to all rebels except Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Five days later came the Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill.

Gage's actions had received severe criticism in England, and on October 10 he was recalled. He was replaced as commanding general by William Howe. Gage remained in the army. In November 1782 he was made a full general, but participated in no further military activities. He died on April 2, 1787.

Further Reading on Thomas Gage

The definitive biography of Gage is John R. Alden's sympathetic General Gage in America: Being Principally a History of His Role in the American Revolution (1948). See also John Shy, Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution (1965).

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