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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Turn Out! Turn Out! Or You will All Be Killed!" - The Great Ipswich Fright

Two days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, widespread panic set in among the residents of several North Shore Massachusetts towns. Known as the "Ipswich Fright", this psychological phenomenon led to the mass abandonment of homes and the evacuation of Essex County residents into New Hampshire.

Local tradition suggests that on the morning of April 21, 1775, A British naval cutter anchored at the mouth of the Ipswich River. In response, the local alarm list mobilized but did not engage the enemy. No fighting ever broke out between the ship's crew and the militiaman. Nevertheless, an unfounded rumor began to spread inside the town that British regulars had landed and were laying waste to everything before them. With most Essex County minute and militia men away at the Siege of Boston, a massive panic set in.  The rumor quickly spread to other towns.

A few hours later, it reached as far away as Newburyport. A minister named Carey was holding a meeting when alarm rider Ebenezer Todd interrupted the meeting and announced "“Turn out, turn out, for God’s sake,” he cried, “or you will be all killed! The regulars are marching on us; they are at Ipswich now, cutting and slashing all before them!”

The fright continued west to Haverhill and Andover.  An early 19th century account of the incident suggests an alarm rider instructed Haverhill residents to "Turn out! Get a musket! Turn out . . . the regulars are landing on Plum Island!"

As panic set in, many residents began to gather their valuables and fled as far north as Exeter and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Many Essex County residents overwhelmed ferries as they tried to cross the Merrimack River.  Period accounts suggest Amesbury, Salisbury and Rowley were completely abandoned by its residents.

The residents were so overcome with fear and despair that they began to turn on each other in order to secure their escape. According to one period account "a Mr. ___, having placed his family on board of a boat, to go to Ram island, for safety, was so annoyed with the crying of one of his children, that he exclaimed, in a great fright, 'do throw that squalling brat overboard, or we shall all be discovered!'"  

Some residents refused to flee. One Newbury account suggests an elderly resident took up a defensive post at his front door, loaded his musket and declared he intended to “shoot the devils" when they arrived.

The panic continued well into the early morning of April 22, 1775.  By then, residents of Exeter had begun to suspect the entire ordeal was an unfounded rumor.  In turn, the town dispatched an alarm rider towards Newburyport with a message that the account of a British army invading Essex County were false.  

Shortly thereafter, many residents returned to their homes.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

"You Would Have Been Shocked at the Destruction" - The Aftermath of April 19th in Lexington

Last week, Historical Nerdery posted about the civilian evacuation of the Lexington area on April 19, 1775. Today, we'd like to share some accounts regarding the destruction of Lexington property by the British troops. 

In addition to suffering the highest casualty rate of the American forces for on that day, Lexington also suffered extensive property damage. Several homes were burned or destroyed and while others were looted. Andover minute man Thomas Boynton noted "after we came into Concord road we saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners."

Another Andover soldier, James Stevens, recalled "we went in to Lecentown. We went to the metinghous & there we come to the distraction of the Reegerlers thay cild eight of our men & shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous. we went a long through Lecintown & we saw severel regerlers ded on the rod & som of our men & three or fore houses was Burnt & som hoses & hogs was cild thay plaindered in every hous thay could git in to thay stove in windows & broke in tops of desks."

According to the Reverend William Gordon, "you would have been shocked at the destruction which has been made by the Regulars, as they are miscalled, had you been present with me to have beheld it. Many houses were plundered of every thing valuable that could be taken away, and what could not be carried off was destroyed; looking-glasses, pots, pans, etc. were broke all to pieces; doors when not fastened, sashes and windows wantonly damaged and destroyed. The people say that the soldiers are worse than the Indians."

Lydia Mulliken lost everything when her house and clock making shop were burned to the ground. The only surviving valuables were the silver that she had hidden in a stone wall behind her house. Lydia's daughter, Rebecca Mulliken, particularly mourned the loss of “a pocket which with great pride she had embroiders with crewels." The Loring family also lost everything, including all household furnishing and every stitch of linens and clothing. Fifer Jonathan Harrington's family lost “an eight-day clock, clothes, books, moose-skins and other articles.”

Upon returning home, some Lexington residents discovered their residences had also been vandalized and defiled. A "Mrs. Muzzy" discovered that British soldiers had broken her mirror, valuable crockery, fired bullets into the wall and left the floor smeared with blood. When Anna Munroe returned to her family tavern, she quickly noted that the retreating soldiers had eaten her freshly baked bread, broken into her supplies, and consumed all the alcohol in the shop. Her household linens were used as bandages for wounded soldiers. She also discovered the soldiers had piled up her furniture, including a mahogany table, and set it on fire in an attempt to burn the tavern down.

Pursuant to 18th Century law, the illegal breaking and entering into a home was a capital offense punishable by death. Thus, from Lexington's point of view, the plundering and burning of homes was not only highly offensive, it also served to fuel their anger even further.

In the aftermath of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, many Lexington residents started to compile a running list of lost, stolen or destroyed property. Ultimately, claims for compensation for property lost or destroyed were submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Those petitions can be viewed here.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"This is My Little Girl That I Was So Afraid the Red Coats Would Get" - The Civilian Evacuation of Lexington

In our last post, we discussed an interpretive program that McAlpin's Corps of American Volunteers would be undertaking this Saturday at Minute Man National Historic Park. The program will bring attention to the April 19, 1775 civilian evacuation of the homes along the Battle Road.

In order to give the event proper context, we at Historical Nerdery would like to share additional accounts of Lexington civilians fleeing from the British column. Keep in mind the civilians of Lexington evacuated the town twice. Once before the Battle of Lexington and once afterwards.

During the initial evacuation, it appears that many non-combatants left their homes between midnight and two o'clock in the morning. Understandably, many were anxious as to what the day would bring. Anna Munroe, wife of tavern-keeper William Munroe, would later admit, “I mixed my bread last night with tears coming, for I feared I should have no husband when the next mixing came."

Most Lexington women and children escaped to the safety of nearby woods and fields. Abigail Harrington, took her younger children “down a lane back of the house across a meadow to the old place on Smock Farm.” Anna Munroe fled Munroe Tavern with her three children and hid on a hill behind the establishment.
Of course, others traveled to nearby towns. As news of the fighting spread, the Mead women fled to Burlington. Likewise, at the Reverend Clarke parsonage, the family bundled the children and also fled to Burlington.

The Rev. William Gordon of Roxbury recounted “the inhabitants had quitted their houses in the general area upon the road, leaving almost everything behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives.” Some escaped with a few select belongings. Others quickly hid or buried valuables before leaving. One 19th century Lexington account suggests many residents "hid their silver and mirrors and many other things in Russell’s swamp beyond Munroe’s brook." The Reverend Clarke's family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes.”

For some women, the flight was particularly difficult. Four women (Sarah Marrett, Amity Pierce, Sarah Reed and Betty White) were likely still in bed after recently giving birth over the past month. Three others (Dorcus Parker, Elizabeth Estabrook and Lydia Harrington) were within a few weeks of delivering. In fact, Sarah Reed and her newborn child had to be carried out her home on a mattress by her husband and parents.

Francis Brown’s widow recalled that the Lexington roads were clogged with “women and children weeping."

Unfortunately, some families waited until the last moment to escape and came in direct contact with the British army. Anna Munroe, daughter of William and Anna, was five years old when the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place. After returning to Munroe Tavern following the first evacuation, the family was forced to flee again. According to her 19th Century account, Anna “...could remember seeing the men in red coats coming toward the house and how frightened her mother was when they ran from the house. That was all she could remember, but her mother told her of her very unhappy afternoon. She held Anna by the hand, brother William by her side and baby Sally in her arms . . . She could hear the cannon firing over her head on the hill. She could smell the smoke of the three buildings which the British burned between here and the center of Lexington. And she did not know what was happening to her husband, who was fighting, or what was happening within her house. . . Anna’s mother used to talk to her of what happened on April 19th and she remembered that her mother used to take her on her lap and say: ‘This is my little girl that I was so afraid the Red coats would get.’”

In our next posting Historical Nerdery will discuss the aftermath of the British Retreat through Lexington.

Friday, April 7, 2017

"The Women and Children Had Been so Scattered and Dispersed" - The Civilian Evacuation Along the Battle Road

Next weekend, Minute Man National Historical Park will be hosting a variety of educational activities focusing on the events of April 19, 1775.  On Saturday, April 15th,  the site will sponsor a tactical scenario highlighting the American ambush at "Parker's Revenge".  However, immediately before the reenactment, McAlpin’s Corps of American Volunteers will oversee an interpretive program focusing on the civilian evacuation of homes along the Battle Road.  

McAlpin's Corps of American Volunteers is a progressive living history organization that usually portrays Loyalist refugees from the Burgoyne Campaign.  Recently, the organization has branched out and is starting to take on documented non-traditional roles at the annual Battle Road reenactment.  For example, last year McAlpin's portrayed Loyalist guides who led the British expeditionary force to Concord.  This year, with the Park’s support, McAlpin's will be calling attention to the trials and tribulations of those civilians who were forced to evacuate their homes as the British column retreated from Concord.

Historical evidence suggests a panic sets in when residents recognized that a military force under continuous attack was marching towards them. Women, children and some men who resided along or near the Battle Road quickly vacated their homes.  Many civilians fled to nearby woods and fields.  Women gathered their valuables and led their families to the safety of nearby woods and fields or to homes far away from the route of the British retreat.  

Lexington’s Lydia Parker, “took all the valuables and hid them in a hollow trunk of a tree standing some distance from the house.”    Lydia Mulliken and her daughters, hurriedly buried the family’s silver and other valuables in a wall near the clock shop, then fled to distant safety.  Mary Sanderson gathered her children and “taking such articles as they could hurriedly collect and carry in their arms…[and made their way] to a refuge, the home of her father.”  The Loring family scurried to hide the communion silver in a brush heap back of the house before fleeing.  Abigail Harrington, took the younger children “down a lane back of the house across a meadow to the old place on Smock farm.”  

By the time the retiring British column reached the Lincoln-Lexington line, one early 19th account suggests “the women and children had been so scattered and dispersed, that most of them were out of the way.”

This interpretive program will take place approximately 15 to 20 minutes prior to the start of the tactical scenario and will include civilians fleeing down the Battle Road towards the Bluff and a family vacating one of the Park’s properties.  

Next week Historical Nerdery will share additional accounts of the civilian evacuations of April 19, 1775!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"Sideways . . . Thro' the Air" - The Amesbury Tornado of 1773

The nerds of Historical Nerdery would like to apologize for our absence over the past week. We got a little distracted doing battle with a gaggle of girls from our u14 soccer team. Someone we survived...

With the current erratic weather patterns in New England, we figured it would be a proper time to turn our attention to an unusual but devastating event that occurred in Amesbury, Massachusetts on August 14, 1773.

Between 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning, a weather front passed over Northeastern Massachusetts and a series of violent storms sprung up. According to one period account, the storms consisted of "heavy rain and gross darkness".  At some point, a water spout formed somewhere along the Salisbury section of the Merrimack River. It quickly moved northwest along the river and landed in Amesbury at the junction of the Merrimack and Powwow Rivers.

In 1773 this part of Amesbury was a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing community. It also had a ferry that connected the town with Newbury. Several active farms were located on the outskirts of the village.  Five years after the storm, the famed Continental naval frigate USS Alliance would be launched from one of the local shipyards.

When the tornado landed, homes and shops were leveled. Building supplies, including shingles, timber and bricks, were thrown upwards of 140 feet in all directions. Apple trees were leveled and farm animals killed. A sail loft (and its occupants) was pulled off of its foundation and carried almost 100 feet down a roadway. Witnesses described trees and ship planks striking homes "with the velocity of cannon balls".

 The twister was so powerful that it lifted a pair of recently constructed 90 ton vessels out of their berths and carried them "sideways . . . thro' the air".

According to Amesbury's Samuel Williams, the tornado lasted approximately four minutes and traveled for almost a mile. The Essex Gazette reported that the tornado also left a mile wide swath of destruction. If this newspaper account is accurate, it is possible the tornado was at least a F4 on the Fujita Scale.

Over one hundred and twenty buildings were destroyed or damaged. Several residents were trapped in cellars and had to be dug out. Miraculously, no one was killed. Only two people suffered serious injuries.     


Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Church is Also Burnt but not the Meeting House" - The Burning of Falmouth

One of the often overlooked events of the early months of the American Revolution was the burning of Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. In an effort to crush the rebellious spirit of Massachusetts, Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves, commander of the British North Atlantic fleet, ordered Royal Navy Captain Henry Mowat to “carry on such Operations upon the Sea Coasts … as you shall judge most effective for suppressing … the Rebellion… to "lay waste burn and destroy such Sea Port towns as are accessible to His Majesty’s ships."

Captain Mowat already had a poor relationship with Massachusetts colonists, especially those from Falmouth. In April 1775, he and his ship, the HMS Canceaux, were dispatched to the coastal town to protect a British merchant vessel that had arrived in March. While onshore, Mowat was kidnapped by local militiamen and held for ransom. The Royal Navy was forced to pay for his release.

After receiving Graves orders', Mowat and his squadron bypassed the coastal towns situated along Cape Ann, the Merrimack Valley and the New Hampshire Seacoast and instead sailed directly for Falmouth. On October 17, 1775, the ships appeared in the town's inner harbor. A naval lieutenant landed and quickly delivered Mowat's communication to the town. 

"After many premeditated attacks on the legal Prerogatives of the best of Sovereigns. After repeated Instances you have experienced in Britain’s long forbearance of the Rod of Correction; and the Merciful and Paternal extension of her Hands to embrace you, again and again have been regarded as vain and nugatory: And in place of a dutiful and grateful return to your King and Parent state, you have been guilty of the most unpardon- -able Rebellion, supported by the Ambition of a set of designing men, whose insidious views have cruelly imposed on the credulity of their fellow creatures, and at last have brought the whole into the same Dilemma, which leads me to feel not a little for the Innocent of them, in particular on the present occasion, having it in orders to execute a just Punishment on the Town of Falmouth: In the name of which Authority I previously warn you to remove without delay the Human Species out of the said town, for which purpose I give you the time of two hours, at the period of which, a Red pendant will be hoisted at the Maintop- -gallant Masthead with a gun. but should your imprudence lead you to show the least resistance, you will in that case free me of that Humanity, so strongly pointed 6 pointed out in my orders as well as my own Inclination. I also observe that all those who did upon a former occasion fly to the King’s Ship under my Command for protection, that the same door is now open and ready to receive them. The Officer who will deliver this letter I expect to return unmolested. I am &c H. Mowat"

As soon as they received this ultimatum, the townspeople sent a committee to plead with Mowat for mercy. He promised to withhold an attack if the town swore an oath of allegiance to the Crown and surrender all their small arms, powder and artillery carriages. The residents quickly deliberated Mowat's demands and chose to evacuate the town instead.

By the morning of October 18th, the town appeared abandoned.  Mowat ordered his squadron to open fire. According to one eye witness, "The firing began from all the vessels with all possible briskness, discharging on all parts of the town ... a horrible shower of balls from three to nine pounds weight, bombs, carcasses live shells, grapeshot and musketballs. ... The firing lasted, with little cessation, until six o'clock." Not satisfied with the bombardment, Mowat dispatched landing parties to burn any building that was still standing. By evening, according to Mowat, "the body of the town was in one flame."

Surprisingly, Falmouth had a large Loyalist population at the time of the raid and one recounted the impact of bombardment. 

"On the 18th Octbr last a Fleet under the command of Capt Mowatt burnt the Town of Falmouth as you’ve undoubtedly heard by Mr T—. Your House Barn Out Houses. Fences & Office are all in Ashes. We had so few Hours notice of our Destruction, that we had no Time nor Team to save either your Furniture or mine – I was obliged to flee for my Life – I knew not where till a Quaker offered me a lodging in his House, which had not a finished room in it— However I was obliged by the offer— and my wife & I were were forced to foot it with large Bundles on our Arms about 6 or 8 Miles & abused as we passed the Road What little time I had was employed in throwing my Furniture into the Garden from whence a good deal was stole and the most of the remainder broken or torn in pieces— The Church is also burnt but not the Meeting House— All below Doct r Watts except a few Houses in Back Street and Bradbury & Mrs Ross’s two Houses are clean gone— The upper End of the Town supposed to be about one third of the whole is standing among which is the House I lived in by reason of that fortunate Event, I saved some of my Furniture but am Still in the Woods, where if I cant get off either to London, Boston or Hallifax."

More than 400 buildings and houses were damaged or destroyed by fire. In his report to Graves, Mowat stated that eleven small vessels were destroyed in the harbor itself, and four captured, at the cost of one man killed and one wounded. 
A visitor to the town reported that, a month later, there was "no lodging, eating or housekeeping in Falmouth." 

The events of Falmouth cause an uproar in the colonies and further galvanized the American rebellious spirit. Mowat's career suffered as a result of his actions. He was repeatedly passed over for promotion, and achieved it only when he downplayed his role in the event, or omitted it entirely from his record.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Struck Severely with Such a Spectacle" - The Privateer Yankee Hero

The Privateer Yankee Hero of Newburyport was a 14 gun sloop-of-war that was part of General Washington's 1775-1776 “Wolf Pack”.  This small fleet of privateers from the North Shore region of Massachusetts routinely harassed British shipping en route to resupply British troops trapped in Boston.  Following the Evacuation of Boston on March 17, 1776, the Yankee Hero continued to patrol Cape Ann for enemy supply ships that strayed too close to the Massachusetts coast.

On June 6, 1776, she encountered the HMS Milford off of Cape Ann. Following a two hour battle, the Yankee Hero was forced to strike her colors and surrender.

On August 22, 1776, the Essex Gazette published an account of the engagement and the suspected fate of the privateer’s crew.  

“August 12. –A correspondent gives the following account of the capture of the privateer Yankee Hero: –Captain James Tracy sailed from Newburyport, in New Hampshire, on the seventh of June, in the Yankee Hero, for Boston, with twenty-six men only, including officers. This number was not a quarter of his complement; he was provisioned for a six months’ cruise, and was to take in the remainder of his men at Boston. The afternoon he went out, going round Cape Ann, he observed a sail in the offing, but in his situation did not think of looking after her. Two boats full, manned with their muskets, who had put out after the sail, came on board and informed him a number of transports had been close into the Cape that day, and fourteen men from the two boats joined him, and sent their boats on shore. He had now forty hands in the whole, (only a third of his complement,) and with these he put away for the sail, which bore E. S. E., about five leagues distance, the wind being then westerly. At six miles distance they perceived her to be a ship, and soon, from her management, to be a ship-of-war. As a contest with her must have been very unequal, Captain Tracy, who intended to make a harbor that night, ordered the brig to be put about for the shore, not then suspecting that the ship would come up with him. But he had not tacked ten minutes before the westerly wind died away, and the ship taking a fresh southerly breeze, came fast in, endeavoring to cut the brig off from the shore. After some time, the ship thus getting in the wake of the brig, the wind again came fresh to the westward, upon which the brig hauled to the wind in the best angle for the shore. The ship gave chase, and in an hour came up within half a mile, and began to fire her bow chasers, which the brig only answered with a swivel, Captain Tracy reserving his whole fire until the ship, keeping a constant fire, came up within pistol shot upon his lee quarter, when the brig gave her the best return they could make from their main and quarter deck guns, swivels, and small arms, and after kept up a constant fire. The ship was soon up alongside, and with twelve nine-pounders on a side, upon one deck, besides forecastle and quarter deck guns, and with her marines overlooking the brig as high as her leading blocks, kept up a continual fire. After some time, the ship hauled her wind so close (which obliged the brig to do the same) that Captain Tracy was unable to sight his lee guns. Upon this he backed under her stern, but the ship, which sailed much faster and worked as quick, had the advantage, and brought her broadside again upon him, which he could not evade. In this manner they lay, not a hundred feet from each other, yawing to and fro, for an hour and twenty minutes, the privateer’s men valiantly maintaining their quarters against such a superior force. About this time, the ship’s foremast guns beginning to slack fire. Captain Tracy tacked under her stern, and when clear of the smoke and fire, perceived his rigging to be most shockingly cut, yards flying about without braces, some of his principal sails shot to rags, and half his men, to appearance, dying and wounded.

Mr. Main, his first lieutenant, was among the first wounded, and Mr. Davis, one of the prize masters, fell in the last attack. In this situation they went to work to refit the rigging, and to carry the wounded below, the ship having then taken a broad sheer some way off, and none of her guns bearing. But before they could get their yards to rights, which they zealously tried for in hopes still to get clear of the ship, as they were now nearer in shore, or to part from her under the night, she again came up and renewed the attack, which obliged Captain Tracy to have recourse to his guns again, though he still kept some hands aloft to his rigging; but before the brig had again fired two broadsides, Captain Tracy received a wound in his right thigh, and in a few minutes he could not stand. He laid himself over the arm chest and barricade, determined to keep up the fire; but in a short time, from pain and loss of blood, he was unable to command, growing faint, and they helped him below. As soon as he came to, he found his firing had ceased, and his people round him wounded, and, not having a surgeon with them, in a most distressed situation, most of them groaning and some expiring.

Struck severely with such a spectacle, Captain Tracy ordered his people to take him up in a chair upon the quarter deck, and resolved again to attack the ship, which was all this time keeping up her fire. But after getting into the air, he was again so faint that he was for some time unable to speak, and finding no alternative, but they must be taken or sunk, for the sake of the brave men that remained, he ordered them to strike to the ship.

Thus was this action maintained upwards of two hours, in a low single-decked vessel, with not half the metal the ship had, against an English frigate, whose navy has been the dread of nations, and by a quarter the number of people in the one as in the other; yet the victors exulted as though they had overcome a force as much superior as this was inferior to them. The brig had four men killed and thirteen wounded, including officers. The number in the Milford wounded is not known, though there were some. The deprivation of these brave officers and men is to be regretted by all friends to this country. With justice to Captain Burr, of the Milford, it must be acknowledged he treated with humanity and politeness the officers and men that were wounded; but to the eternal disgrace of Britain, and the present King and Parliament, let it be recorded, that in this very action above related, upwards of thirty Americans, prisoners in the Milford, were forced, at the forfeit of their lives, to fight against their countrymen; and the officers and men of the Yankee Hero, that were not wounded, are now detained in several of their ships, and may meet with the same cruel fate; an exaction that even savages have not been known to require. It is to the credit of the Hero’s men, that not one would enter upon the ship’s books, though not only urged by every persuasion, but by threats.”

Following her capture, the Yankee Hero was pressed into service for the Crown and renamed the HMS Postillion.  The vessel was part of the British Navy until it was sold in Halifax for £450.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Their Caps Were Embroidered by Several of the Fair Sex" - Roxbury's Grenadier Company

Last month we discussed how several independent militia companies were privately raised in 1774 and 1775 by Massachusetts men in anticipation of war with England.  Thanks to a tip from Greg Theberge of the 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center, we learned of a quasi independent militia company that existed before the political and military conflicts of the 1770s.

It seems that in 1769, many of the younger men from the Town of Roxbury expressed a desire for a more military appearance within the ranks of their militia company.  In an effort to achieve this goal, many purchased clothing and equipment with their own money.

According to an article that appeared in the September 14, 1769 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, these young men fielded at two separate militia musters in Roxbury as grenadiers with full uniforms, accouterments and mitre caps.  The caps were made and embroidered by several Roxbury women.  The motto "LOYALTY" was emblazoned across the front.

The news article praised the militia company for its military like appearance and its proficiency on the field.

Unfortunately, there are no known descriptions of what the uniforms or mitre caps looked like.  Likewise, we at Historical Nerdery are unaware of any surviving uniform.  Thus, we can only speculate as to what the Roxbury grenadier uniform may have looked like.

It should be noted these grenadiers, as well as the other men in the militia company, were commanded by a "Captain Heath".  It is likely this officer was William Heath, the future major general of the Continental Army.

Roxbury 2.jpg           

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Take an Exact State of Their Numbers and Equipments" - The Massachusetts Provincial Congressional Order for Inspection

While many are familiar with the recommendations of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to organize minute man companies throughout the colony, few may know that the organization also ordered a colony wide inspection of said units to ensure they were sufficiently armed and equipped for war.

On February 14, 1775, the Provincial Congress passed a resolution instructing regimental commanders to conduct inspections of the minute and militia companies under their command to determine if they were properly supplied for war. It also ordered towns to inspect their supply of ammunition and powder ("town stock").

"Resolved, That it be and hereby is recommended to the commanding officers of each regiment of minute men that now is or shall be formed in this province, that they review the several companies in their respective regiments, or cause them to be reviewed, and take an exact state of their numbers and equipments : and where there is any company that is not incorporated into a regiment, the commanding officer thereof shall review the several companies, or cause them to be reviewed, and take a like state of their numbers and equipment - and it is also recommended to the colonels or commanding officers of each regiment of militia in this province, that they review the several companies in their respective regiments, or cause them to be reviewed, and take a state of their numbers and accoutrements, which said state of the minute men and militia, shall be, by said officers, returned, in writing, to this Congress on the first day of their next session after the adjournment. And it is further Resolved, That it be recommended to the selectmen of each town and district in the province, that on the same day they make return in writing, of the state of the town and district stock of ammunition and warlike stores to this Congress."

Following the February 14th order it appears the various regimental commanders did comply with the recommendation and ordered the inspection of arms and equipment of their men. Likewise, town selectmen ordered a review of town stocks and "warlike stores". Period accounts suggest that most inspections took place between late February and the end of March.

On April 14, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress reported the returns of the inspections. "Returns of warlike stores were received from almost all the towns of the several counties of Massachusetts and Maine, except Dukes and Nantucket, April 14, 1775. The aggregate was as follows: Fire-arms- 21,549; Pounds of powder- 17,444; . Pounds of lead balls- 22,191; Number of flints- 144,699; Number of bayonets- 10,108; Number of pouches- 11,979."

Of course, on a completely unrelated side note...What is interesting about the initial February 14th order is the phrase "where there is any company that is not incorporated into a regiment." This is likely a reference to "independent companies" that were being raised throughout the colony. Independent companies were military units that were raised, organized and funded by a collection of private individuals instead of Massachusetts towns. Newburyport, Haverhill, Ipswich and West Brookfield are just a few examples of towns that had independent companies in addition to their town funded minute and militia companies. On April 19, 1775, most of these independent companies acted as minute companies.

More on Independent Companies later this week...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"These Sons of Violence" - Ann Hulton's View of Mob Violence in Pre-Revolutionary War Boston

Ann Hulton was a Loyalist who resided in Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1760s and 1770s. She was also the brother of Royal Custom Officer Henry Hulton. According to J.L. Bell , the Hulton siblings resided in Brookline and as a result, were often outside the protective range of British soldiers stationed in Boston. Despite being removed from the town, Ann Hulton was still able to provide vivid accounts of the lawless behavior of many Boston residents on the eve of the Boston Massacre.

In a letter written on June 30, 1768, Hulton recounted the conduct of a familiar group she named the "Sons of Violence":

"The Mobs here are very different from those in England… here they act from principle and under countenance, no person daring or willing to suppress their outrages or to punish the most notorious offenders for any crimes whatever…These Sons of Violence, after attacking houses, breaking windows, beating, stoning and bruising several gentlemen belonging to the Customs, the Collector mortally, and burning his boat… All was ended with a speech from one of the leaders, concluding thus: ‘We will defend our Liberties and property, by the Strength of our Arm and the help of our God’…From the inherent republican and levelling principles, there is no subordination in the society. Government is exterminated and it is quite a state of anarchy. There are some sensible and good people that are greatly alarmed… the infant colonies are advancing toward a state of independency."

The following year, Hulton revealed just how dependent upon government soldiers Loyalists had become for protection from "lawless mobs". According to Hulton,

“I hope we shall be in no more dangers or alarms from lawless mobs… it is certain that our safety & quiet depends on the army and navy being here… the tyranny of the Multitude is the most arbitrary and oppressive… many persons awed by the people, are obliged to court popularity for their own security, this is only to be done by opposing [the British] government at home…Several persons were threatened for no other reason than visiting us at the Castle… it would certainly have been done with a deal more mischief, had not the troops arrived seasonably for our protection, as well as that of every person of property. Yet there are very few to be met with that will allow the right of taxation to the British Parliament, therefore we avoid [discussing] politics."

It is interesting to note that in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre trial, Hulton, like many Loyalists, mistakenly believed that mob violence would subside. From her perspective, due process and an "impartial trial" would persuade the general populace from engaging in riotous conduct.

"The impartial trial and honorable acquital of Capt: Preston and the soldiers, has the most happy effect, it has exposed the conduct of the Faction and opened the eyes of the people, in general convinced them that they had been deceived by the false opinions and false representations of Facts. . .These trials together with that of the Custom House Officers charged with Firing out of the C:H and the suborning of false witnesses which appeared on the trial, and the witnesses since commited the Perjury."

Unfortunately for Hulton and countless other Loyalists, she was wrong.   


Monday, February 27, 2017

"Lobster Son of a B----": A Loyalist Rebuke of the Boston Massacre

One of the compelling reasons many Loyalists remained faithful to the crown was the dislike of mob violence and a belief in public order and safety. Most loyalists detested the mob rule of Boston and New York City and abhorred the lack of order that resulted. As tensions grew between the colonies and England, many colonists attempted to remain neutral. However, by the eve of the American Revolution, neutrality became almost impossible.

For example, Dr. William Paine gave up his neutrality and declared himself a loyalist after he experienced "too many abuses" and "insults" from Patriots. Samuel Curwen, Judge of Admiralty, complained Whig “tempers get more and more soured and malevolent against all moderate men, whom they see fit to reproach as enemies of their country by the name of Tories, among whom I am unhappily (although unjustly) ranked.” The Reverend Samuel Seabury of Westchester, New York, lashed out at the patriot mobs who routinely and illegally entered and searched loyalist homes.

In 1776, Loyalist and former Boston resident James Chalmers authored the pamphlet Plain Truth. Written under the name "Candidus," the document was an all-out assault on Thomas Paine's work, Common Sense. One of the areas Chalmers addressed was the violent behavior of Boston mobs in the years before the American Revolution. 

He argued local citizens "demonstrated their commitment to mob violence, and their willingness to be led down the path to destruction by a few evil men." Chalmers even went a step further and accused Bostonians of being "committed to anarchy against the Crown."

Plain Truth contained a rare Loyalist account of the Boston Massacre.  According to Chalmers, "The soldiers fired in self-defense into an angry mob led by a few men trying to inspire a rebellion in the colonies. We have found that there were several events that occurred prior to the actual firing. On this day there were several isolated attacks on innocent British soldiers, provocation's to fight and various insults attacking the character of British Officers. Captain Goldfinch was viciously accused on not paying his debts and Private White defended his Captain's honor. Soldiers, at their duty posts, minding their own business and acting non-confrontational, were verbally assaulted by Bostonian men with epitaphs of "bloody back", "lousy rascal", "dammed rascally scoundrel", and "lobster son of a b---- ". Physical violence was done to the soldiers, unprovoked, by the mob pelting the soldiers with snowballs, icicles, and pieces of wood. These actions were continuously perpetrated on the soldiers throughout the day. John Gillespie has testified that he saw 50 men in roving patrols armed with clubs and sticks with the express purpose of attacking the soldiers. Sergeant Major Davies observed men with clubs shouting, "Now for the bloody-back rascals", "Murder", and "Kill the dogs". This was so startling to him that he changed out of his red uniform for civilian clothes. To add to the clamor of events, someone started ringing the fire bells. When these bells are rung the citizens are trained to come out of their houses to fight a fire. There was no fire but the citizens were lured out in the streets and were then incited to participate in the mob activities. All of these actions led to the tragedy of the day.

As many soldiers as possible were recalled to their barracks by Captain Thomas Preston to help defuse the mob excitement and prevent and potential violence. He then heard that a lone sentry was being assaulted outside the Custom House. Captain Preston marched a detachment of soldiers to the Custom House and ordered the soldiers to load their muskets and fix bayonets. According to Captain Preston, under an officer's code of honesty, there was never an intention to actually fire. A soldier was assaulted and knocked to the ground. It was clear that the soldiers need to protect themselves from the aggressive mob and the shots were fired in self-defense with no actual order to fire. It is clear upon knowing the facts that innocent lives of citizens were lost due to the unscrupulous actions of the mob inciters. These deaths will likely be enshrined in patriot mythology when they were, in reality unsuspecting victims of the mob inciters."

This Saturday the annual reenactment of the Boston Massacre will take place.  In preparation for this event, Historical Nerdery will post over the next few days additional Loyalist and British accounts of the events leading up to the March 5, 1770 confrontation.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"A Soldier Received a Bad Cut on the Shoulder" - The Battle of Golden Hill

In 1767 England was in the midst of a financial crisis. Charles Townshend, the impetuous Chancellor of the Exchequer, of whom it was said, “his mouth often outran his mind”, suddenly announced that he knew how to increase revenue via taxation of the American colonies. As a result, Parliament enacted a series of laws directed at raising revenue. The Townshend Acts, as they became known, provided for an American import tax on paper, painter’s lead, glass and tea. The acts also tightened custom policies and revived the vice-admiralty courts. Although a minority within the House of Commons opposed the measure, the majority rationalized it would raise colonial revenue, punish the colonists for their ill-behavior during the Stamp Act crisis, and exercise the rights to which Parliament laid claim to in the Declaratory Act.

Boston and New York City stood at the forefront of opposition to the Townshend Acts. Boston, residents quickly resorted to violence. By comparison, New York initially took a more cautious approach to the Townshend Acts and implemented a widespread boycott of goods. Specifically, on September 5, 1768, New York City merchants and tradesmen resolved

Image result for the battle of golden hill

Reflecting on the salutary [beneficial/curative] Measures entered into by the People of Boston and this City to restrict the Importation of Goods from Great Britain until the Acts of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. were repealed; and being animated with a Spirit of Liberty and thinking it our Duty to exert ourselves by all lawful Means to maintain and obtain our just Rights and Privileges, which we claim under our most excellent Constitution as Englishmen, not to be taxed but by our own Consent or that of our Representatives; and in order to support and strengthen our Neighbors, the Merchants of this City, we the Subscribers [signers], uniting in the common Cause, do agree to and with each other, as follows:

First, That we will not ourselves purchase or take any Goods or Merchandise imported from Europe by any Merchant directly or indirectly, contrary to the true Intent and Meaning of an Agreement of the Merchants of this City, on the twenty-seventh of August last.

Secondly, That we will not ourselves, or by any other Means, buy any Kind of Goods from any Merchant, Storekeeper, or Retailer (if any such there be) who shall refuse to join with their Brethren in signing the said Agreement; but that we will use every lawful Means in our Power to prevent our Acquaintance from dealing with them.

Thirdly, That if any Merchant, in or from Europe, should import any Goods in order to sell them in this Province contrary to the above Agreement, that we ourselves will by no Means deal with such Importers; and as far as we can, by all lawful Means, endeavor to discourage the Sale of such Goods.

Fourthly, That we will endeavor to fall upon some Expedient to make known such Importers or Retailers as shall refuse to unite in maintaining and obtaining the Liberties of their Country.

Fifthly, That we, his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, Inhabitants of the City of New York, being filled with Love and Gratitude to our present most gracious Sovereign, and the highest Veneration for the British Constitution, which we unite to plead as our Birth Right; and are always willing to unite to support and maintain, give it as our Opinion, and are determined to deem that Persons who shall refuse to unite in the Common Cause, as acting the Part of an Enemy to the true Interest of Great Britain and her Colonies, and consequently not deserving the Patronage of Merchants or Mechanics.

Unfortunately, by 1769 New York colony entered into an economic depression as a direct result of the boycott. Tensions rose and in 1770, New York succumbed to violence.

On January 19, 1770, New York merchant Isaac Sears and others attempted to stop a group of British soldiers from passing out handbills criticizing local citizens. The pamphlets chastised the local citizenry over a failed attempt by regulars to destroy a liberty pole erected on Golden Hill, New York City. Sears detained some of the soldiers and marched his captives towards the mayor's office, while the rest of the British regulars retreated to their barracks to sound an alarm.

A crowd of townsfolk soon arrived along with a score of soldiers. “In the mean Time, a considerable Number of People collected opposite to the Mayor’s. Shortly after, about twenty Soldiers with Cutlasses and Bayonets from the lower Barracks made their Appearance” The soldiers, who were greatly outnumbered, were quickly surrounded. Nevertheless, the soldiers attempted to rescue their fellow soldiers held captive in the mayor’s office. “When the Soldiers came opposite to his House, they halted. Many of them drew their Swords and Bayonets; some say they all drew. But all that were present agree that many did, and faced about to the Door and demanded the Soldiers in Custody. Some of them attempted to get into the House to rescue them. Capt. Richardson and others at the Door prevented them, and desired them to put up their Arms and go to their Barracks, that the Soldiers were before the Mayor who would do them Justice. The Soldiers within likewise desired them to go away to their Barracks and leave them to the Determination of the Mayor.”

Upon seeing the soldiers draw their weapons; the townsmen quickly retreated and armed themselves. Despite attempts by local officials and officers to defuse the situation, a full scale brawl, later called the “Battle of Golden Hill”, erupted. By the end of the fight, several of the soldiers were badly bruised while one “soldier received a bad cut on the shoulder.” One Citizen was wounded in the Face and had two of his Teeth broke by a Stroke of a Bayonet. Another was stabbed and later died of his wounds.

Monday, February 6, 2017

"We do voluntarily Inlist ourselves" - The Independent Massachusetts Militia Companies of 1775

Over the past year, Historical Nerdery has been collecting data on the militia and minute companies of Massachusetts. As we progressed with our research, we unexpectedly uncovered references to several "independent" militia and minute companies in the colony. Admittedly, it was our belief that Massachusetts independent militia companies were more of a 19th century phenomenon. Traditionally, these units received no public assistance, were armed and equipped with private funds and usually composed of men from the higher social and economic echelons of Massachusetts society.

Although not as widespread as their 19th century counterparts, it appears that at least four independent units existed in Massachusetts on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Research suggests these units were very similar to their 19th century counterparts and operated as minute companies on April 19, 1775.

It should be noted we excluded the Boston Corps of Cadet's from our "independent" militia company grouping because the unit was not operational in late 1774 and early 1775.

The first independent company we encountered was the Ipswich Minute Company. Unlike other Massachusetts towns, the Ipswich minutemen were organized pursuant to a private covenant not a town resolution. Members of the unit were responsible for arming and equipping themselves and dues were charged to the membership. The January 14, 1775 covenant states “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice. And we hereby Promise & engage, that we will immediately, each of us, provide for & equip himself, with an effective arm, Bayonet, Pouch, Knapsack, & Thirty rounds of Cartridges ready made. And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military, at least twice every week.”

The West Brookfield Minute Company drafted a similar covenant. “We the subscribers, soldiers inlisted from the several Militia companies within this town, and organized into a company called the Minute Company, do solemnly covenant that we will as soon as possible be provided and equipt with an effective firearm, cartouch box (or bullet pouch), 30 rounds of powder and bullets, and knapsack. That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military. That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and hazard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts — should any attempt be made between this time and the first of July next.”

Another company was Captain James Brickett's Company of Haverhill. Brickett’s Company was originally formed as an artillery unit. When its members were unable to procure an artillery piece, it reorganized itself into an “independent corps”. On the eve of the American Revolution, Brickett’s Company was essentially operating as a minute company. The company passed several resolutions regarding preparations for war. “That we will meet together (on the first and third Mondays of September, October and November following, and on the first and third Mondays of the six Summer months annually till the Company shall agree - to dissolve the same) for the exercise of Arms and Evolutions, And that the role shall be called two hours before Sunset, and the Company shall be dismissed at Sunset N. B. If it be fowl weather tho Day appointed, the Company shall meet the next fair Day.” Shortly thereafter, the men voted to adopt “the exercise as ordered by His Majesty in the year 1764.” Two months later, Brickett’s “independent corps” voted “that we hire Mr George Marsdin for 4 days at 12s a day, & that he be paid out of the fines.” As discussed in a previous posting, Brickett's Company even passed a resolution to have uniforms made.

The last independent company we encountered (so far) was the Newburyport Independent Marine Company. Organized by the Newburyport Marine Society, the unit was composed of merchants, sea captains and ship builders. According to the Essex Journal the "independent military society " assembled for a drill on September 21, 1774. “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition: After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions ; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society ; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

Of course, we will explore this phenomenon further and would love to hear from our readers whether they are aware of other "independent" Massachusetts companies that operated in 1775.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New York Public Library's "List of Loyalists Whom Judgments Were Given Under the Confiscation Act"

The New York Public Library recently announced that it has digitized the "List of Loyalists Whom Judgments Were Given Under the Confiscation Act". This document is a list of judgments against loyalists in New York State following the passage of the Confiscation Act of 1779. The document includes the names of the loyalists convicted, their occupations, the town or county that they resided in, dates of indictment, and dates of judgment. The indictment dates and judgments span 1780-1783.

A casual review of the list reveals that the majority of these loyalists were from the middle and lower classes of society. Many are listed simply as "yeoman" and "laborers". Of course, this list underscores the need to destroy the popular myth that most loyalists were corrupt, inept, greedy people whose blind faith to the British crown led to their downfall. Such erroneous stereotypes only undermine and trivialize the struggles of the American loyalist.

By the conclusion of the American Revolution, between 80,000 and 100,000 loyalists had fled the American colonies. Almost half of them escaped to Canada. Of those, 45,000 refugees settled in the Canadian Maritime region. An additional 9,500 refugees fled to the Quebec province. From Quebec, 7,500 loyalists ultimately settled in Upper Canada. These men, women and children that fled the American colonies left behind more than their homes. They left behind their experiences, personal belongings, communities, friends and relatives.

Many colonists who ultimately became “Tories” were not distinguishable from their neighbors who embraced independence. Many loyalists were respected members of their towns; often well-educated Harvard graduates who worked as merchants, doctors, lawyers, distillers or ministers. Individuals such as Sir John Johnson, Richard Saltonstall, Jonathan Sewell and Admiralty Judge Samuel Curwen, who would later enlist in the loyalist cause, were seen prior to the American Revolution as leading and influential members their respective colonies.

However, most colonists from New York and New England who remained faithful to the crown hailed from the middle and lower classes of the American colonies. These loyalists enjoyed neither wealth nor privilege. Of the four hundred eighty-eight loyalists who eventually settled in the Ontario region of Upper Canada and submitted claims to the British government for losses sustained during the American Revolution, only five held public office. Three were considered modest political posts. Only one claimant, a physician, would be considered a professional by modern standards. A small number owned shops, ran taverns or were considered artisans. Ninety percent of those loyalists who settled in the Ontario region simply identified themselves as farmers.

The average loyalist farmer who ultimately took refuge in Upper Canada leased or owned less than two hundred acres of land prior to the American Revolution. Forty-two percent of the Ontario settlers admitted they had cleared less than ten acres of land prior to their flight. Fifty-four percent of the farmers hailed from Tyron County, New York. An additional twenty-five percent had ties to Albany County. Fourteen percent claimed Charlotte County as their prior residence.

Over half of the refugees who settled in Upper Canada were foreign born. Over fifty percent of Ontario loyalists were Scot Highland Roman Catholics. Second in number were German and Irish immigrants. An additional eight percent claimed England as their place of birth. Many did not speak English. Many loyalist Scot immigrants had only resided in the American colonies for four years at the start of the American Revolution. English immigrants had resided in America on average for eight years. By comparison, many Irish and German immigrants had lived in the colonies between eleven and eighteen years.

Joining these loyalists were African-American loyalists. Almost ten percent of loyalists that fled to Canada were of African-American descent. Whether slave or freeman, many African-Americans cast their lot with the crown in an attempt to secure a better life for themselves and their families. Likewise, many Native American allies of the crown also retreated to Canada after the war. Over two thousand Iroquois from the Six Nations, Mohicans, Nanticokes and Squakis had settled in the Ontario region by 1785.

Regardless of their economic or social background, native born whites, immigrants, slaves, freemen and Native Americans banded together in support of King George and the British government. Regardless of the lack of supplies, political support or financial backing, the campaign to defend the British crown was enthusiastically and admirably waged by loyalists from the print of local newspapers to the siege lines of Yorktown. Granted, their defense of British policy often fell on deaf ears and their military endeavors were often insufficient to turn the tide of war, their willingness to undertake such endeavors is noteworthy.

Friday, January 27, 2017

"Best to the Reliefe of Our Friend[s] and Country" - Amesbury's War Effort on the Eve of Lexington and Concord

In 1774, many Massachusetts towns undertook sweeping measures to prepare for war with England. Surprisingly, Amesbury was not one of those towns. A review of original town records currently housed at the Amesbury City Hall reveal that the citizens of that town dragged their feet and waited until the last minute to form a minute company.

In 1774, while the neighboring towns were reorganizing its militia companies and forming an artillery unit, Amesbury merely elected to inspect its supply of gunpowder and ammunition. When officials opened the West Parish powder house (Amesbury had at least two powder houses in 1775), they were horrified to discover the entire supply missing. No immediate effort was made to replace or recover the lost ammunition.

In January and February, 1775, Samuel Johnson, the regimental commander of the 4th Essex Regiment, ordered towns under his command, including Amesbury, to form minute companies. Andover, Methuen, Bradford, Boxford, Haverhill and Salisbury quickly complied. For example, on February 22, 1775, Johnson visited Boxford. The colonel “addressed himself with great zeal to the two foot-companies of the Fourth Regiment, recommending to them the necessity of enlisting themselves into the service of the Province, and in a short space of time fifty-three able-bodied and effective men willingly offered themselves to serve their Province in defence of their liberties.”

Amesbury never acted upon Johnson's instructions and thus, failed to form a minute company in early 1775.

It would not be until the first week of March that Amesbury hosted a town meeting to address the question of whether a minute company should be raised. After some discussion, the town unexpectedly voted NOT to form a unit. Of course, in the tradition of New England town meetings when one does not like the outcome of a vote, you have another meeting and pack it with supporters. At a second meeting on March 20, 1775, the town finally “voted to raise fifty able bodyed men including officers for minnit men and to enlist them for one year.” By April 19th the town had raised two minute companies.

Why was Amesbury so reluctant to form a minute company?

It is possible the town felt it could not financially support such an endeavor. It's supply of ammunition and gunpowder was still depleted. Where other towns resolved to purchase and provide arms and equipment for their minute men, Amesbury voted "that said Minnit men shall upon their own cost be well equiped with arms and aminition according to law fit for a march.” Likewsie, most communities offered substantial compensation for minutemen who drilled and responded to emergencies. Amesbury offered much cheaper compensation rates. "Each man shall have one shilling for exercising four hours in an fortnight and that the commanding officer of said Minnit men shall exhibit an account of them that shall exercise to the Selectmen for to receive their pay for exercising . . .each minit man shall have two dollars bounty paid them at their first marching of provided they are called for by the Congress or a General officer they may appoint.”

Despite these financial and supply restrictions Amesbury's minute and militia companies did successfully mobilize for war on April 19, 1775. About mid morning, Amesbury's representative to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Isaac Merrill, received news of the Battle of Lexington. He immediately drafted correspondence to the captains of the Amesbury Minute Companies and ordered them to mobilize:

“Essex Co To John Currier Capt of a militerry foot Company in Amesbury this Day I have received intiligence that the ministeriel troops under the Command of General Gage did Last evening march out of Boston and marched to Lexington & there Killed a Number of our American Soldiers & thence proceed to Concord Killing and Destroying our men and interest: These are therefore to order you forthwith to Notify and muster as many of your under officers and Soldiers as you can possible to meet immediatly to Some Suitable place: and then to march of forthwith to Concord or Else where as in your Descretion you Shall think best to the reliefe of our Friend[s] and Country: and also to order those who are now absent & out of the way to Follow after and ioin you as Soon as they shall be apprized of the Alaram and when you have marched your men to Some part of our army you are to appoint some officer to head them in case you return home your Self: till Some Further order may be taken: in this Faile Not Given under my Hand and Seal at Amesbury this Ninteenth Day of April in the Fifteenth year of the Reign of George the third Anno Domini: 1775. Isaac Merrill.”

Although Amesbury's men did not catch the retreating regulars, they did actively participate in the Siege of Boston as part of Colonel Frye's Regiment. Period accounts suggest that the men participated in the Battle of Chelsea Creek and fought inside the redoubt at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Monday, January 23, 2017

"We Stopt to Polords & Eat Some Bisket & Ches on the Comon" - How the Andover Minute Men Missed an Opportunity to Attack the British

In the early morning of April 19, 1775, news of a British operation towards Concord reached the Merrimack Valley.  As militia and minute companies assembled, the Valley town that had the best chance of catching and engaging the British column was Andover.  

Andover was the westernmost town in Essex County and was less than twenty miles away from both Concord and Lexington.  On April 19th, it had two minute companies and four militia companies. 

According to Lieutenant Benjamin Farnum the Andover minute companies quickly mobilized. "April 19, 1775. This day, the Mittel men . . . were Alarmed with the Nuse of the Troops marching from Boston to Concord, at which Nuse they marched very quick from Andover, and marched within about 5 miles of Concord, then meeting with the Nuse of their retreat for Boston again with which Nuse we turned our corse in order to catch them." 

Likewise, Andover minute man Thomas Boynton described how his unit shifted course multiple times in an attempt to catch up with the regulars. "Andover, April 19, 1775. This morning, being Wednesday, about the sun's rising the town was alarmed with the news that the Regulars was on their march to Concord. Upon which the town mustered and . . . marched onward for Concord. In Tewksbury news came that the Regulars had fired on our men in Lexington, and had killed 8. In Bilricke news came that the enemy were killing and slaying our men in Concord. Bedford we had the news that the enemy had killed 2 of our men and had retreated back; we shifted our course and persued after them as fast as possible, but all in vain ; the enemy had the start 3 or 4 miles."

Given the statements of Bonton and Farnum, one might ask why was Andover unsuccessful in intercepting Lieutenant Colonel Smith's column that day.  Did the Andover minute companies take a wrong turn or become lost as they marched further into Middlesex County?  

No - they were simply hungry.  

According to James Stevens, the men only marched through two towns and then stopped for lunch.  Afyer halting, they ate biscuits and cheese on a common across from Solomon Pollard's Tavern in Billerica. 

"April ye 19 1775 this morning about seven aclok we had alarum that the Reegerlers was gon to Conkord we getherd to the meting hous & then started for Concord we went throu Tukesbary & in to Bilrica we stopt to Polords & eat some bisket & Ches on the comon."

The men must have spent considerable time eating in Billerica as they missed any chance of intercepting the enemy.  When the Andover men finally resumed their march, they quickly learned that the British troops had already joined Lord Percy's relief column, left Lexington and were en route back to Boston.  According to Stevens:  

"We started & wen into Bedford & we herd that the regerlers was gon back to Boston we went through Bedford, we went in to Lecentown. We went to the metinghous & there we come to the distraction of the Reegerlers thay cild eight of our men & shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous. we went a long through Lecintown & we saw severel regerlers ded on the rod & som of our men & three or fore houses was Burnt & som hoses & hogs was cild thay plaindered in every hous thay could git in to thay stove in windows & broke in tops of desks we met the men a coming back very fast we went through Notemy & got into Cambridg we stopt about eight acloke for thay say that the regerlers was got to Chalstown on to Bunkers hil & intrenstion we stopt about two miles back from the college."

It is unknown what the result would have been if the Andover Minute Companies had successfully caught up to the British column.  Nevertheless, the decision to stop for lunch resulted in at least two minute companies missing an opportunity to attack the regulars as they fought their way back to Boston.