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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.