The Magazine - Its Place in History

A magazine is not always something you read. Most of us, when we hear the word, magazine, we think of those paper magazines we see at the grocery store before we pay for our food.  There is another meaning for the word magazine.  According the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the first definition is actually “a place where goods or supplies are stored”.  The second definition states a magazine is “a room in which powder and other explosives are kept in a fort or a ship”.
The Magazine at Williamsburg

This particular magazine at Williamsburg has a place in history.  As a matter of fact, the Magazine proved a key event in Virginia’s battle against the British.  What many people don't know is this event mirrored the events also happening at Lexington and Concord as well as what later happened in Boston.  Emotions ran high in the colonies.  The men and women were tired of being pushed around by the British.  This move by Lord Dunmore was just one more example of Britain flexing its royal muscle and saying "You have no power!  I am in control."  The men and women in Williamsburg were not about to let this sneaky incident go without some form of notification.

The events according to naval documents state that 20 armed men landed at the James River with the intent of seizing the gunpowder at the Magazine on April 20, 1775.  The schooner, under the command of Lieutenant Henry Collins was prepared for any attacks by the colonists and had his guns loaded and ready.
gunpowder kegs

Sometime between 3 and 4 in the morning, Governor Dunmore’s men took 20 barrels of gunpowder from the Magazine and brought them to the schooner, Magdalen, in the James River.

The people of Williamsburg were quite upset by this and went before the assembly to complain.  They stated “this magazine was erected at the public expense of this colony, and appropriated to the safe keeping of such munitions as should be there lodged from time to time, for the protection and security of the country, by arming thereout such of the militia be necessary in case of invasion and insurrections, they humbly conceive it to be the only proper repository to be resorted to in times of imminent danger”.

Of course the governor replied “he had removed the powder from the magazine, where he did not think it secure, to a place of perfect security; and that upon his word and honour, whenever it was wanted in any insurrection, it should be delivered in half an hour; that he had removed it in the night time to prevent an alarm, and that Captain Collins had his express commands for the part he had acted; he was surprised to hear the people were under arms on this occasion, and he should not think it prudent to put powder into their hands in such a situation”.

Then, of course on April 23, 1775, the powder was transferred to the sloop Liberty by Captain Montagu and moved to Hampton Road.

The people were incensed by the situation. Several men in Fredericksburg decided to join the march to protest the situation further.

Peyton Randolph writes on the 27th of April back to the men.  He relays the events of that night and explains how several men took it upon themselves to act rashly.  He then explains how the governor explained he was merely protecting the gunpowder and that how his words were soon found to be ridiculous.  The governor continues to state he will return the gunpowder and realizes his reputation is at stake.  Randolph asks the men to be patient. He thanks them for their assistance and tells them to just wait and see what happens.  He feels certain the governor will indeed return the gunpowder to the people of Williamsburg. 

The building seen in Williamsburg was reconstructed in 1934.  The original structure was built in 1715 by Governor Spotswod and was used to protect the weapons and other munitions needed to protect the people who lived in the area from the natives.  Some of the things that can be found in the Magazine included gunpowder, rifles, pistols, swords and other equipment needed for soldiers including camping materials.

 The original building actually began to collapse in the late 1800s.  Bricks were used for a church.  The building was reconstructed in 1934 and finally restored in 1946.  It was opened to the public in 1949.  

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