Author throws new light upon Gunpowder Plot
Anyone interested in Bermuda's Gunpowder Plot should give Michael Marsh's new book a read.
He claims it's “the defining story” of those events on August 14, 1775.
“I had so many questions about the Gunpowder Plot and I had to find the answers,” he said. “I used logic, I used local knowledge [and], as much as I could, other people's work to help me.
“It throws brand new light upon this allegedly ‘treasonous' crime of the 18th century. Just who were the conspirators? Did the powder ever reach George Washington?”
The book's release coincides with anniversary celebrations of the Bermuda Gunpowder Plot this week. Several events have been organised to bring attention to the role Bermuda played in the American Revolution.
Bermudians sympathetic to the American Continental Congress' desire for independence from Britain stole gunpowder from the Island's magazine and delivered it to Americans waiting offshore, 240 years ago.
“I've always been interested in Bermuda's history. It's a fascinating subject,” said Mr Marsh. “I partly wrote [the book] because think it should be in the hands of every Bermudian and American interested in Bermuda history and/or the American Revolution. The book is really a story about freedom. In 1775 the British Government was corrupt. America didn't want a war but got fed up with the British demanding more taxes without representation. Ultimately, the gunpowder theft assisted America in obtaining freedom against the oppressive British regime. It tells it the way it was in 1775.”
Gunpowder was in short supply in the colonies in 1775. As payment for the theft, Bermudians received a partial exemption from the Continental Congress' trade embargo. It allowed Bermuda to continue importing food from the US.
“There was a population of 10,000 approximately,” said Mr Marsh.
“To survive, they built cedar ships and then turned to scraping salt in Turks & Caicos and selling it all over the world.
“Bermuda was in a very vulnerable position. It was a constant fight between the governor, representing the king, and the Bermudian population who, from time to time, were near starving. It was all about the freedom of the individual.”
The author took more than ten years to write Great Gunpowder Plot 1775.
Other interests kept him busy: A series of children's books called the Purple Grumblie, were based on tales he made up to entertain his grandchildren; Mr Marsh, his wife Sandy and 25 other activists spearheaded Bermudians for Referendum. Fifty-three per cent of voters signed the petition asking that independence in Bermuda be decided by referendum.
“In 2000 I returned to Bermuda having fought a legal battle which had worn me out,” he said. “I needed a rest and so I began reading about Bermuda's history. I also spearheaded the fight of Bermudians for Referendum. I felt the people of Bermuda should decide. I made a big effort with a large group of other people and got over 50 per cent of the electorate demanding a referendum on the specific issue of independence.”
Once that was completed Mr Marsh returned to his historical readings, which led to his most recent book. His goal was to make the writing accessible to students and also appealing to anyone with an interest in that era of history.
“You don't do these things to make a lot of money,” he said. “I wrote it for fun more than anything else. I tried to write the book without long paragraphs to make it easy to read so [people aren't faced with] the boring type of history book I had to put up with at school.
“I'm hoping that the book will help bring us tourists. American tourists coming here should know the friendly connection historically between Bermuda and the US; [this type of information] should be pointed out in tourist propaganda.”
Great Gunpowder Plot 1775 is available in Hamilton at The Bookmart, the Bermuda Bookstore, the Stationery Store and AS Cooper's. Look for it in St George's at Robertson's Drugstore, Tobacco Bay Beach Concession and the Visitor Information Centre in King's Square. It's also available at the Bermuda Craft Market in Dockyard.
Mr Marsh will sign copies at The Bookmart on Friday between noon and 2pm. He will also give a presentation at the Bermuda National Library on Queen Street on Tuesday, August 18, from noon to 2pm
•For more information on his series of children's books, visit www.thepurplegrumblies.com
Author Michael Marsh started his research on the gunpowder plot because he had so many questions. The answers to some of them are below:
• Most sources state 100 barrels of gunpowder were stolen although Mr Marsh also found reports of 500 and 126. They’re all incorrect, according to the author who believes 80 kegs and eight half-barrels were taken from the Island’s magazine on August 14, 1775.
“Nobody said how large the barrels were,” he said. “I’ve determined the size, which determined the amount of gunpowder stolen based on various letters of people I quote in the book.”
• The Bermuda Historical Quarterly states that three American vessels came and got the gunpowder. According to Mr Marsh, that also isn’t true.
“In fact, only two were involved and only one took the gunpowder to Philadelphia,” he said.
• Some say a French prisoner of war intruded and was murdered and buried on Retreat Hill. There is no evidence to support this theory at all, according to Mr Marsh.
• Some have said the Governor was drugged and the key to the gunpowder magazine was stolen from under his pillow as he slept.
“That’s simply not true,” said Mr Marsh. “If that occurred they would’ve unlocked the door and taken the gunpowder. Why would they have knocked a hole in the roof?”
• Some have assumed that without Bermuda’s gunpowder, America would have lost the war.
“Absolutely not true,” said Mr Marsh.
• Some have said that the gunpowder barrels were rolled down grassy slopes from the magazine.
“They obviously don’t know gunpowder is very volatile nor do they know the topography of St George’s,” he said.
• A stamp issued by the Bermuda Government in honour of the 200th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot “got a number of critical points completely wrong”, according to Mr Marsh.
“The only thing they got right was that the gunpowder magazine was very close to Tobacco Bay.”