The Salisbury letters – evidence from a merchant
Through the summer of 1774, as they prepared for an expected confrontation with British soldiers, how did the Worcester men get their guns and powder? And on September 6 and 7, as great numbers from across the county converged in the “shiretown,” how were they supplied with drink and sundry necessities?
The letters of merchant Stephen Salisbury to his brother Samuel in Boston, also a merchant, are housed at the American Antiquarian Society.. On July 22 Stephen wrote that although business in general was slow, he was all out of gunpowder. The demand was so great, in fact, that he was thinking of building his own powderhouse. On August 20 he wrote, “Guns are in good demand as well as powder. I would therefore have you send me all the Longest guns that you have.” On August 25 he asked Samuel to send him, along with chocolate, pepper, and Spanish indigo, some “Barr Lead,” “Gun Locks,” and “Bullets–25 to the pound.”
On September 6, there were so many militiamen in town that they wouldn’t fit on the Common. Instead, they moved their base of operations to Stephen Salisbury’s meadow on the north end of town, in back of his store. This was great for business, as was the mobilization for the Powder Alarm a few days earlier. On September 7 he wrote, “I have been exceedingly Hurried more so than ever I have been in Business.” On Saturday morning, September 3, as men headed toward Boston during the Powder Alarm, he had taken in “£173 in Cash & fill near 5 pages in my petty worth book in Entrys for powder &c.” He did another £95 of business on Monday and an all-time high of £300 on Tuesday, as thousands of militiamen clamored for necessaries and sundries. “It was out of my power to Lend all the people that wanted,” he wrote. “I never had my Temper tried in Business to that degree that I had then. However I did not Show any more than thought absolutely necessary to keep any order.”