Solemnly Engage That They Will Not Take Up Arms Against the King’s Troops

in by Warren

Date: April 22, 1775

“Joseph Warren to the Select Men and Inhabitants of the Town of Boston


The Committee of Congress being informed that General Gage has proposed a Treaty with the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, wherein he stipulates that the Women and Children with all their Effects shall have safe Conduct without the Garrison and their Men also, upon Condition that the Male Inhabitants within the Town shall on their Part solemnly engage that they will not take up Arms against the King’s Troops, within the Town, sh:d an attack be made from without: We cannot but esteem those Conditions to be just & reasonable, and as the Inhabitants are in Danger of suffering from the want of Provisions, which in this time of general Confusion cannot be conveyed into the Town: we would earnestly pray your acceptance of his proposals we are willing you should enter into and faithfully keep the Engagement aforementioned said to be required of you, and to remove yourselves, the Women, Children & Effects as soon as may be—

By Order of the Committee of [the Massachusetts Provincial] Congress—

Joseph Warren, Chairman

Cambridge 22nd April 1775”

Source: Thomas Gage Papers, American Series, Ann Arbor: Clements Library, University of Michigan, Vol. 127. Transcribed by me from the manuscript.  Also a handwritten draft by the chairman of the Committee [Joseph Warren] is in the U.S. Revolution Collection, Worcester: American Antiquarian Society. The struck-through phrase is found in that manuscript. “Committee” is identified in a correction as the Committee of Safety.

Commentary: At the commencement of the Siege of Boston, Joseph Warren negotiated through intermediaries an understanding with Governor General Gage free passage for Patriots trapped within Boston in exchange for a pledge that those remaining within the town would not take up arms in the event of an American attack. The agreement was slowly and imperfectly executed, much to Joseph Warren’s and the Patriots’ chagrin. Did personal effects include militiamen’s personal arms and gunpowder? What was to be the speed of the American Patriot exodus from Boston?

In the days following the April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Battle Road, Joseph Warren, with the encouragement of John Hancock, contemplated a Patriot onslaught to retake Boston and to defeat and capture the British occupiers in one bold stroke. Dragging out execution of this agreement was much to the advantage of the British, who feared such an attack and wondered if the Patriots within Boston would betray them as a fifth column. By early May, Patriot leaders realized that they did not possess enough gunpowder, cannon, or skill to execute a direct and immediate attack on Boston. The British strengthened their defenses day by day. Perhaps Warren came to realize that an assault would be a bloodbath. The town could well be destroyed in the course of confronting the British militarily.

Patriots remained irritated at the slow trickle of outbound Patriot refugees allowed by the British. Epithets and slogans of the time include references to the Old Testament Book of Exodus: “Pharaoh Gage” and “Let my people go.” Joseph Warren and Massachusetts Provincial leaders did not obstruct the much smaller movement of Loyalists into occupied Boston. The British gained tactical advantage by using slow implementation of their part of the agreement to forestall an attack on occupied Boston, while Patriots gained points by casting Gage as the tyrannical Pharaoh obstructing the exodus of God’s chosen people.

Previous post:

Next post: