By Horst Augustinovic
The thirteen American colonies that rebelled against Britain, were just as English as Bermudians, who regularly traded with those colonies, had family living in the American colonies and sent their children to school in America. It should not be surprising that public opinion in Bermuda was very much divided in regard to the American quest for independence from England.
The British, who knew that Bermudians traded with America, tried to put a stop to that trade, with Bermudians coming close to starvation as a consequence. As the situation became more critical, the Bermuda Government sent Colonel Henry Tucker to Philadelphia to try and negotiate a deal with the Continental Congress, trading salt in exchange for food.
Unfortunately the Continental Congress was not interested in such a deal. What they were interested in, however, was the gunpowder which the British were storing in Bermuda. They made it clear to Colonel Tucker, that any ship arriving in America with British gunpowder, would return to Bermuda stacked with provisions!
On August 14th, 1775, two weeks after Colonel Tucker’s return to Bermuda, two ships appeared off Tobacco Bay in St. George’s. Manning small boats, crew members approached the gunpowder magazine which had been built a couple of years earlier. After cutting a hole in the roof to gain access, they rolled a hundred barrels of gunpower down the hill to the waiting boats. 1,800 pounds of powder was landed in Philadelphia a week later, the rest sent to Charleston, South Carolina.
By the time the theft was discovered, it was too late to pursue the powder-laden ships. Capt. John Dill, a known sympathizer of the Americans and whose property overlooked the area, maintained his innocence when questioned by the Governor’s men. “But you could hardly miss seeing the ships off the North Shore!” “No,” said Dill, “I was reading my Bible!”
Not realizing that the gunpowder had already been stolen, George Washington wrote the following letter:
To the Inhabitants of the Islands of Bermuda
In the great conflict which agitates the continent, I cannot doubt but the asserters of freedom and the right of the constitution are possessed of your most favorable regards and wishes for success.
As descendants of freedom, and heirs with us of the same glorious inheritance – we flatter ourselves, that, though divided by situation, we are firmly united in sentiment. The cause of virtue and liberty is confined to no continent or climate – it comprehends, within its capacious limits, the wise and good, however dispersed and separated in space and distance.
You will not be uninformed, that the violence and rapacity of a tyrannic ministry have forced the citizens of America, your brother colonists, into arms. We equally detest and lament the prevalence of those counsels, which have led to the effusion of so much human blood and left us with no alternative but a civil war – or a base submission. The wise Disposer of all events has hitherto smiled upon our virtuous efforts. These mercenary troops, a few of whom lately boasted of subjugating this vast continent, have been checked in their earliest ravages, and are now actually encircled in a small space, their Arms disgraced, and suffering all the calamities of a siege. The virtue, spirit, and unison of the provinces leave them nothing to fear, but the want of ammunition.
The application of our enemies to foreign states, and their vigilance open our coasts, are the only efforts they have made against us with success. Under the circumstances, and with these sentiments, we have turned our eyes to you, gentlemen, for relief.
We are informed there is a very large magazine on your island under a very feeble guard – We would not wish to involve an opposition, in which, from your situation, we would be unable to support you; we know not, therefore, to what extent to solicit your assistance in availing ourselves of this supply; but, if your favour and friendship to North America and its liberties have not been misrepresented, I persuade myself – you may, consistently with your own safety, promote and further the scheme, so as to give it the fairest prospect of success.
Be assured that in this case the whole power and exertion of my influence will be made with the honourable Continental Congress, that your island may not only be supplied with provisions, but experience every mark of affection and friendship, which the grateful citizens of a free country can bestow on its bretheren and benefactors.
General George Washington, Camp Cambridge, three miles from Boston,
Sept. 6, 1775
Having received the gunpowder from Bermuda, the Continental Congress lifted the embargo against supplying provisions to Bermuda and an agreement was reached to again ship salt to America.