Wednesday, December 8, 2021

December 8, 1758: A Colonial Wedding

On December 8, 1758 a wedding took place that united prominent families not just from the New York and New Jersey colonies but from the mother country itself. It was on that day that Margaret Kemble, a daughter of the wealthy and powerful Peter Kemble, married Thomas Gage, a colonel in the British army. From the two sides of her family Margaret was related to the Bayards, Van CortlandtsSchuylers, and De Lanceys; Thomas was the son and namesake of an Irish peer who had converted to Anglicism in the early 1700s to bolster his opportunities with Parliament and the Crown. Those efforts paid off handsomely. Thomas Gage Sr. spent decades in politics and died in December 1754 just as his sons military career was taking off. In the early stages of the French and Indian War Thomas the Younger served under General Edward Braddock in the Battle of Monongahela, where the commanding officer lost his life. The resourceful Gages career rebounded after that defeat. So too did the career of another officer serving the British cause that fateful day in the Ohio Valley: George Washington. In the ensuing two decades the two remained cordial despite their growing differences. 

The war continued and Gage worked his way up the ranks. Within two years he was granted permission to raise his own regiment. One of Colonel Gages officers in the unit was Stephen Kemble, who became Gages brother-in-law with the December 1758 wedding. Colonel and Mrs. Gage soon began a family and before the wars end Gage rose to become a major general. When peace came in 1763 Thomas Gage was named Commander-in-Chief, North America and kept his headquarters in New York City. This was fortunate for Margaret, whose friends and family were largely concentrated in colonial New York and New Jersey. Overall it was a good period for the Gages and their growing family. Thomas Gage did well for himself, acquiring sizable land holdings in New York State, British Canada, and the West Indies. In the early 1770s Margaret sat for this striking John Singleton Copley portrait, considered by many art critics to be one of his finest works. The British had vanquished the French in North America but it was a pyrrhic victory as tensions with the American colonists accelerated over the following decade.After the Boston Tea Party George III appointed Gage colonial governor of Massachusetts. Still also commander-in-chief, it was Gage who would have to quell further unrest after the passage of the Coercive Acts. The task proved impossible and things came to a head at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. 

There are some scholars who believe that Margaret Kemble Gage was a mole” or spy” for the Sons of Liberty and that it was she who tipped the Patriots off about her husbands plan to seize the arsenal in Concord. There is no solid evidence to prove this however and a definitive answer will likely never be known. In a related note, some speculate that the Shot Heard Round the Worldand Margaret Gages alleged role in tipping off the Patriotscooled Thomas and Margarets marriage. No one can ever know what takes place within another couples union, but we do know that of their eleven children two were born well after the start of the American Revolution. What is clear is that the Siege of Boston damaged Gagepolitical and military careerFollowing the Battle of Bunker Hill Gage placed General William Howe in charge of putting down the colonists. The former commander moved to London with his wife and was officially relieved of his duties shortly thereafter. 


Back in New Jersey Peter Kemble remained a staunch Loyalist. Mr. Kemble had amassed a substantial estate in Morristown, New Jersey by the mid-eighteenth century. When General Washington searched for winter quarters in late November 1779 he looked to Morristown and chose a location that included part of the Kemble property. Washington and his men stayed until June 1780. The following winter of 1780-81 General Anthony Wayne headquartered in the Kemble House. It was likely due to George Washingtons affection that the Kembles were never harmed during the war. This is quite marked because several of Kembles sons, including Stephen, also remained loyal to King George III. The family was fortunate too after the war: unlike many Loyalists they were not stripped of their holdings and property. Peter Kemble died in 1789 and is interred in the family burial site on what was once his Morristown estate. His daughter, Margaret Kemble Gage, never saw New Jersey or America again. General Thomas Gage died in 1787. Mrs. Gage passed away in 1824 and was laid to rest beside her husband in St. Peter's Churchyard in East Sussex, England. 

Written by Keith Muchowski, Morristown NHP volunteer.

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