On this day in 1775, Marinus Willett stops British soldiers from leaving New York City with a store of arms. In fact, he not only stopped them, but he also gave a thundering speech that convinced some Red Coats to abandon the British army!
I guess Willett must have been one charismatic fellow?!
The matter came to be known as the Broad Street Affair, and it occurred mere weeks after the “shot heard ’round the world” at Lexington Green.
The battles at Lexington and Concord had left the colonies in turmoil. New York was “one continuous scene of riot, tumult and confusion,” according to one Loyalist. An arsenal was raided, and arms were taken. Ships were emptied of any supplies intended for the besieged British soldiers at Boston. A so-called Committee of 100 was created to temporarily govern the city.
Nevertheless, some British soldiers were still in the city. The Committee decided to let the soldiers leave in peace, carrying their own arms. They were to go to Boston and join their fellow soldiers.
The British decided that they wanted more.
On the morning of June 6, the soldiers set off for the wharf, but they carried more than only their own arms. They were carrying whole carts of ammunition and arms. A member of the Sons of Liberty, Marinus Willett, was at a local public house nearby. He was known as a bit of a “rabble rouser,” so perhaps it is unsurprising that he decided to act when he heard what was happening. He and some friends decided to gather other members of the Sons of Liberty.
Well, that was the plan, at least. Willett soon crossed paths with the retreating British soldiers. The guard was small, and he decided to take matters into his own hands. He approached the first horse and forced a halt.
A bit of an argument ensued. The British commander wanted to know what authority Willett had. But Willett wanted to know why the British were taking more than only their personal arms. A crowd began to gather. Willett must have been quite a character because he was soon standing atop one of the British carts and giving a speech! Willett urged any British soldier who “disliked the service” to stay and “receive the protection of the Citizens who considered them as Bretheren of the same famaly.” Willett later recounted that one soldier took the offer and “was received with repeated huzzas and Led away by the Exulting citizens.” A few more soldiers took the offer as well. The remaining soldiers were allowed to leave, but the crowd hissed at them as they retreated.
Willett took the carts and arms to a safe location. They would later be used to arm American troops.
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Daniel E. Wager, Col. Marinus Willett: The Hero of Mohawk Valley (Address before the Oneida Historical Society; 1891)
Hal T. Shelton, General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel (1994)
New York City during the American Revolution: A Collection of Original Papers (Mercantile Library Assoc; 1861)
Richard M. Ketchum, Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York (2002)