Wednesday, February 24, 2021

“Father Sent Jonas Down to Grandfather Cook's To See Who Was Killed" - April 19th from the Perspective of Lexington Child Witnesses

It is no secret that the Nerds are fascinated with the research studies and reports from the past few years that explore the Civilian Evacuation of April 19, 1775. That said, we have become increasingly interested in a “subcategory” of the evacuation that focuses on the day’s events from the perspective of child witnesses.

Admittedly, the Nerds are unaware of any existing primary accounts from children that document the occurrences of that day’s events. Instead, most, if not all of the accounts from children first surfaced in the early to mid 19th Century and are understandably subject to careful scrutiny.

Many historians rightfully argue that these 19th-century accounts may be tainted by either fading memories or a desire to exaggerate or sensationalize one’s role during the early months of the American Revolution. As 19th Century Massachusetts historian George E. Ellis noted, many veterans and witnesses who claimed to have participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill, "Their contents were most extraordinary; many of the testimonies extravagant, boastful, inconsistent, and utterly untrue; mixtures of old men's broken memories and fond imaginings with the love of the marvellous. Some of those who gave in affidavits about the battle could not have been in it, nor even in its neighborhood. They had got so used to telling the story for the wonderment of village listeners as grandfathers' tales, and as petted representatives of 'the spirit of '76,' that they did not distinguish between what they had seen and done, and what they had read, heard, or dreamed. The decision of the committee was that much of the contents of the volumes was wholly worthless for history, and some of it discreditable, as misleading and false."

With that context in mind, the Nerds would still like to highlight a pair of accounts from Lexington’s Elizabeth Clarke and Anna Munroe regarding their memories of April 19, 1775.

The first is from Elizabeth Clarke. Elizabeth was the daughter of Lexington’s spiritual leader, the Reverend Jonas Clarke. At the time of the Battle of Lexington, Elizabeth was twelve years old. On April 20, 1835, Elizabeth wrote to her niece, Lucy Ware Allen. In her letter, she describes her family’s role in the Civilian Evacuation as well as the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington. Specifically, Clarke initially notes how in the early morning of April 19th, her family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes” before evacuating to safety.

Following the Battle of Lexington, Elizabeth asserts that the family returned to the town common. “Father sent Jonas down to Grandfather Cook's to see who was killed and what their condition was and, in the afternoon, Father, Mother with me and the baby went to the Meeting House. There was the eight men that was killed, seven of them my Father's parishioners, one from Woburn, all in Boxes made of four large boards nailed up and, after Pa had prayed, they were put into two horse carts and took into the graveyard where some of the neighbors had made a large trench, as near the woods as possible and there we followed the bodies of those first slain, Father, Mother, I and the baby, there I stood and there I saw them let down into the ground, it was a little rainy but we waited to see them covered up with clods and then for fear the British should find them, my Father thought some of the men had best cut some pine or oak bows and spread them on their place of burial so that it looked like a heap of brush.”

A second account is attributable to Anna Munroe. Anna was the daughter of Lexington tavern owner William Munroe and his wife Anna. At the time of the Battle of Lexington, Anna was just shy of four years of age. According to her 19th-century account, the family initially evacuated their tavern along the Bay Road in the early hours of April 19th and “hid on a hill behind the establishment”.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington, the family returned to Munroe Tavern but was forced to flee yet again in the wake of Lord Percy’s relief column arriving in Lexington. According to her account, young 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.”

Interestingly, Anna supplements her account by stating “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.’”

Although a significant amount of time had passed between the actual events of April 19th and the recording of their statements, the accounts of Anna and Elizabeth still underscore the devastating psychological and physical impact the Battles of Lexington and Concord had on the civilian population.

Of course, the Nerds are always on the hunt for primary accounts of the events of April 19, 1775, from the perspective of children. If you are aware of any, feel free to let us know!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

"To Have All The Effects of the Inhabitants of Their Respective Towns Removed as Soon as Possible" - The Aftermath of the Ipswich Fright

Over the past few years, the Nerds have posted a few articles on the psychological effects of the Civilian Evacuation of April 19, 1775 and the Ipswich Fright that occurred in the days afterward.

Unfortunately, there is a perception in some historical circles that after the Ipswich Fright concluded the residents of Essex County simply chalked up the entire experience as an embarrassing experience and went on with their daily lives. In reality, this was hardly the case.

Historian Joel Bohy has been prodding the Nerds to expand our horizon and start reviewing the post-April 19th minutes and records of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Well, we finally got off our collective butts and did so. Little did we know that we were about to uncover just how rattled coastal Essex County and the Merrimack Valley were in the aftermath of the Ipswich Fright.

Many Essex County residents quickly realized that while the Ipswich Fright was nothing more than a rumor, the reality was most, if not all, of their coastal communities were not prepared for a seaborne attack. If a Royal Navy warship anchored off the coast of a town, or in the case of the Merrimack Valley, entered and sailed up the Merrimack River, it could easily bombard the communities, destroy wharves and shipyards and drive the population to the interior.

The first hint of concern over this perceived threat was raised the morning of April 26, 1775. On that day, Provincial Congress delegates from Haverhill, Massachusetts begged to be excused from their responsibilities in Watertown.

Haverhill already had a string of bad luck in April. In the days before Lexington and Concord, the town had fallen victim to a devastating fire that destroyed most of the businesses and homes near the center of town. All of the town’s militia, minute and independent companies marched for war the morning of April 19th and had not yet returned. The Ipswich Fright caused the remaining residents of the town to flee north to New Hampshire. 

In the aftermath of the Ipswich Fright, many Haverhill residents were convinced it was only a matter of time before a British sloop would sail down the Merrimack River and fire the town. As a result, the Haverhill delegates pleaded to be excused from their duties. “Sir: The Congress have this day received a letter from Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant, Esq., and Jonathan Webster, Esq., acquainting them that the late dreadful fire in Haverhill, together with some public disturbances in said town, make it necessary that they should be at home at this time.” 

Of course, Congress was unsympathetic and simply retorted that “ if neither of those gentlemen can attend, others should be elected.”

However, on the same day, the representatives of the Provincial Congress started to receive a string of letters and communications from other Essex County maritime towns pleading for protection from British warships that were unexpectedly observed cruising off their coastline.

The first report came from Marblehead but other communications from Newburyport, Beverly, Salem and York started to stream in as well. As the Provincial Congress noted “Many memorials ... were presented to the Congress from the maritime towns, representing that the long line of sea coast was without adequate defence; that armed vessels were hovering about the ports, ready to turn their cannon upon the villages of the shore; that the people were exhausted by strenuous exertions in the common cause; and praying for reinforcement of men, and supplies of arms and ammunition.”

The reports horrified the Provincial Congress as it came to the realization that Essex County as well as the Maine Province were completely helpless if the Royal Navy launched a coordinated attack. Of particular concern to the delegates were the Maine Province communities of York, Wells, Boothbay and Biddeford. 

While many Essex County towns had some defensive capabilities in the form of iron cannons, shot and gunpowder, the Maine Province had nothing. As a result, the Provincial Congress ordered “Resolved, That it be, and it hereby is recommended to the selectmen of the towns of Marblehead, Salem and Newburyport, that they forthwith sell out of their town stock four half barrels of powder each, to said towns of York, Welles, Biddeford and Boothbay, to put the inhabitants thereof in some tolerable state of defence; and should the towns of Marblehead, Salem and Newburyport be under the necessity of having the quantities which they have delivered to the said towns of York, Welles, Boothbay and Biddeford replaced, in that case, the Congress will give orders for the same as soon as may be: the powder to be apportioned according to the number of inhabitants in the said towns: as also to Sandford, said town having made appli- cation for supplies of the same kind.

Understandably, the Essex County seaport communities opposed selling some of their military supplies to their Maine counterparts and argued that such a move would only weaken an already untenable position.

The tense situation only became worse on April 27, 1775, when the Massachusetts Provincial Congress revisited the issue and examined just how vulnerable Essex County was to a naval attack. At the conclusion of the discussion, the delegates concluded that there was nothing that could be done in the event of a Royal Navy strike. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress adopted a stance that surely rattled the residents of Essex County even more. In short, Congress simply recommended that the coastal communities of the county should prepare for a mass evacuation in the event of an attack.

“Resolved, That it be, and it hereby is earnestly recommended to the committees of the sea port towns in the county of Essex, that they use their utmost endeavors to have all the effects of the inhabitants of their respective towns removed as soon as possible : that the Congress highly approves of the conduct of said towns in wearing a pacific ap- pearance until their effects shall be secured: that the Congress consider it as absolutely necessary for said inhabitants to be in readiness to go into the country on the shortest notice, and to avoid mixing with our enemies, as thereby their own lives will ever be in imminent danger when the colony and the continent shall attack such enemies. And it is also recommended to them that their application to Congress for advice, and this resolve in consequence thereof, be kept a secret, that their effects may more easily be removed.”

As an aside, during this same crisis, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was faced with the reality that Boston residents trapped behind British lines might be released by General Thomas Gage to relocate to the interior of the Colony. Congress listed a variety of towns to take in the Boston refugees. Essex County communities were not among those towns listed.

By mid-May, the coastal communities of Essex County continued to be on edge. 

The situation only became worse when on May 23, 1775, a detachment of British sailors and officers from the HMS Scarborough rowed into Newburyport Harbor under the cover of darkness to scout the town’s defensive capabilities. According to the Essex Journal, “last Tuesday evening (May 23) a barge belonging to the man of war lying at Portsmouth, rowing up and down the river to make discoveries with two small officers and six seamen.”

Fortunately, the mission was an utter failure as the “tars not liking the employ, tied their commanders, then run the boat ashore, and were so impolite as to wish the prisoners good night, and came off.” Upon entering Newburyport, the deserters alerted the town of the mission and the location of the officers. However, “the officers soon got loose and rowed themselves back to the ship” before they were apprehended.

By the end of May, coastal communities finally had enough and started to take measures into their own hands. Over the summer, communities such as Newburyport, Marblehead, Amesbury, Salem, Beverly and Lynn started to fortify their towns in the event of a British attack. Newburyport and Salisbury instructed fishing boats to watch the horizon for signs of Royal Navy activity. Cape Ann communities started to evacuate civilians to interior communities while more than a few villages openly discussed outright abandoning their homes until the conflict with England ended.

Almost three months later, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress relented and agreed to provide military support to those coastal communities. Specifically, on July 11th, Congress declared “Whereas, many able-bodied men, who were inhabitants of the seaport towns of the colony, have removed their families into the country, and have themselves left said towns, and carried with them their arms and ammunition ; therefore. Resolved, that this Congress do approve of the conduct of such persons, so far as it respects the removing the women, and children, and valuable effects. It is recommended to the male inhabitants, fit to bear arms, that they return to their respective towns, and there continue with tliat dignity and firmness which ought ever to distinguish an American, and to defend them from the ravages of the enemy, until it shall be judged by the inhabitants of such towns, at a meeting for that purpose, expedient to vacate the same.”

Of course, Essex County’s concerns of a possible naval assault were not unfounded. In August 1775, the commanding officer of the HMS Scarborough, then anchored off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recommended that the port town of Newburyport be bombarded. In response, Admiral Graves admitted such an operation was unlikely only due to the lack of ships. “I observe what you say about Newbury; that place and all others indeed require to be strictly attended to, but where are the Ships?” Two months later, Admiral Graves ordered Lieutenant Henry Mowat, of the HMS Canceaux to burn Salem, Beverly, Ipswich, Newburyport and other Essex County seaports to the ground. Fortunately for the county, Mowat had other plans and attacked Falmouth, Maine instead.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

" To See if the Town Will Call For Those Bayonets" - Lexington's Wartime Effort of November and December 1774

Over the past month, the Nerds have been going back and re-examining Lexington’s wartime buildup over the months of November and December 1774 and we think we finally have a complete picture of the great lengths the town went to prepare for war with England.

While the town had started military preparations as early as September 1774, the true war effort “ramped up” on November 3, 1774. On that date, the town assembled to plan “military discipline and to put themselves in a position of defense against their Enemies.”

A week later, the residents met once again and approved measures to ensure it’s militia company had sufficient ammunition. “Voted, That two half barrells of powdere be addede to the Town stocke. Also Voted that a sufficiency of ball for sd powdere be provided. Votede. That there be a suitable quantity of Flints provided for the Towne if there be found a deficency. . . That the Towne provide a pair of Drums for the use of the Military Company in Towne.”

On that same day, November 10, 1774, the town initiated a discussion to see if the “Town will fetch two small pieces of cannon from Watertown, offered by said Town for the use of the Company in this Towne.” By the end of the debate, the residents of the town agreed to purchase the two iron guns. “That a Comtee of three persons go to Watertown & see what the cost of mounting sd pieces will be & whether the carriages cannot be made by work men in this town . . . Captain Bowmane, Mr. Jonas Parkere & Ensign Harrington . . . Be a Comtee for the sd. Purpose.” 

Two weeks later, Lexington was working with town carpenters to build carriages to mount the newly acquired cannons on.

On December 12, 1774 the town voted to start acquiring bayonets for its militiamen. “Upon request of a number of the Inhabitants to see if the Town will call for those bayonets that were providede for part of the training soldiers at the Province cost, and that the remaindere of the soldiers may be providede with bayonets at the expense of the Towne, to be returnable when called for. And that those persons that have purchased bayonets at their own cost may be paid for them, by the Towne, at the price the others cost the Towne.”

Interestingly, the same day, the town received orders from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress instructing the community to ensure its militia company was properly armed and equipped in the event of an outbreak of hostilities. Specifically, the Provincial Congress order drafted by John Hancock stated “The improvement of the militia in general in the art military has been therefore thought necessary, and strongly recommended by this Congress. We now think that particular care should be taken by the towns and districts in this colony, that each of the minute men, not already provided therewith, should be immediately equipped with an effective firearm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls.”

In response to this order, the Lexington selectmen vote “Ordered...the Clerke to . . . warn a Town Meeting to be on Tuesday 27 Decembr. . . at twelve o'clock to act on the following articles . . . To see if the Town will comply with the resolves of the Provincial Congress.”

Approximately two weeks later, on December 27, 1775, male residents of Lexington gathered to discuss the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’ order of December 10, 1775. At the conclusion of the meeting, the town agreed to comply with the directive and resolved “Votede . . . That seven persons be appointed as a committee of inspections to see that the plans of the Continental and Provincial Congresses are faithfully carriede into executione. . . . [seven people listed, including John Parker]”

The next day, residents of the town returned to the issue of supplying bayonets to the soldiers of the town. After some debate, the residents voted “to provide bayonets at the town’s cost for one-third of the training soldiers.”

Over the next four months, the town committee would personally oversee Lexington’s continued wartime effort, which included the production of cartridge boxes, powder horns, bayonet carriage belting and knapsacks. Other activities included the modification of fowlers to accept bayonets, melting lead bricks down into bullets, buying gunpowder and building the artillery carriages to mount the two iron guns the town had purchased from Watertown weeks earlier.

In February 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress notified all the towns in the colony that they were expected to be in full compliance with its December 10, 1774 order. Officers of militia and minute companies were instructed to conduct inspections and submit returns to the Provincial Congress as proof of compliance. Unfortunately, an inspectional return from Lexington does not exist.

However, a review of surviving artifacts, probate returns and period accounts suggests that John Parker and his committee were successful in their mission. As one British officer noted as they approached Parker’s Company assembled on the Lexington Green the morning of April 19th:

“In the obedience to your Excellency's commands, I marched on the evening of the 18th inst. with the corps of grenadiers and light infantry for Concord, to execute your Excellency's orders with respect to destroying all ammunition, artillery, tents, &c, collected there. I think it proper to observe, that when I had got some miles on the march from Boston, I detached six light infantry companies to march with all expedition to seize the two bridges on different roads beyond Concord. On these companies' arrival at Lexington, I understand, from the report of Major Pitcairn, who was with them, and from many officers, that they found on a green close to the road a body of the country people drawn up in military order, with arms and accoutrement, and, as appeared after, loaded.”

Saturday, November 7, 2020

"I See Nothing But the Horrors of a Civil War" - The Nerds Return to History Camp Online This Thursday!

 This Thursday the Nerds join History Camp Online to discuss our research findings on the loyalist experience during the Saratoga Campaign.

In anticipation of this event, here is an excerpt from Alexander Cain's 2019 book, I See Nothing But the Horrors of The Civil War. This particular segment examines the makeup of those loyalist refugees who fled the American Colonies and settled in Upper Canada.


It is commonly stated that history is written by the victor and the American Revolution is no exception.  As a result of the rebel triumph at the conclusion of the War for Independence, those who remained faithful to the crown have often been depicted in a negative light.  In countless historical works, legal documents and even in popular culture, loyalists were typically portrayed as corrupt, inept and greedy people whose blind devotion to the British crown led to their downfall.  However, such a glaring and erroneous stereotype only trivialized the struggles that the American loyalist endured during the War for Independence.  

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.  Of those, approximately 7,500 ultimately settled in Upper Canada.  These men, women and children left behind more than their homes.  They left behind their experiences, communities, friends and relatives, businesses and personal belongings.   

Many colonists who ultimately became “Tories” were not distinguishable from their neighbors who embraced independence. Some loyalists were respected members of their towns and communities and included 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 of 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.  

Encampment of the Loyalists at Johnstown by James Peachey, ca. 1784-1790

These loyalists enjoyed neither wealth nor privilege. Of the four hundred eighty-eight loyalists who eventually settled in the Ontario region of Upper Canada following the American Revolution and submitted claims to the British government for losses sustained during the war, only five held public office.  Three of those 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.  

In 2016, historian Amber Jolly examined the court records of over eight hundred and fifty loyalist property seizure cases in New York following the passage of the Confiscation Act of 1783.  According to her research, the overwhelming majority of loyalists who lost property in New York were from the laboring, agricultural and artisan classes.  For example, court records assert that almost four hundred loyalists were listed as yeomen, two hundred were identified as farmers, and an additional sixty-four were simply listed as “laborers”.   Nineteen men were listed as blacksmiths, seventeen as tailors, sixteen as carpenters and six as shoemakers..  Other loyalist occupations identified by Jolly included wheelwrights, saddlers, mariners, bakers, coopers, shipwrights and hatters.  Four pieces of confiscated property were owned by single loyalist women, while an additional two were seized from widows.  Only six percent were considered “professional” by modern standards.   

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.

A Warm Place - Hell by Paul Revere, ca 1768

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.  At the start of the American Revolution, many loyalist Scot immigrants had only resided in the American colonies for four years.  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 who 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.  Despite 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.  However, the willingness of American loyalists to undertake such endeavors is noteworthy.  

Saturday, October 24, 2020

"I Made Me a Cartridge-box": A Quick Primer on Muskets and Cartridge Boxes on the Eve of April 19, 1775

Let’s be honest, the Nerds love it when Joel Bohy and David Wood host a military weapons talk. 

For those who may be interested, this upcoming Wednesday the Concord Museum will be hosting a seminar on the weapons used by Massachusetts Provincials and British soldiers on April 19, 1775. 

According to the Concord Museum’s website:

Learn about the firearms that were used at the start of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775! In this virtual event at 6pm on 10.28, experts Joel Bohy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers & the Concord Museum's Curator, David Wood, explore the objects that played a part in the events of that fateful day. Participants will experience historic objects like never before, all are welcome! 

Go to to register now!

This program is an event of the Cummings Davis Society, which helps support acquisitions & preservation of the Museum’s distinguished collection for future generations.

The Nerds would encourage all of our followers to check out this presentation.

Of course, in anticipation of this event, we went back and examined some of our own notes and research on the makeup of muskets and cartridge boxes within ranks of the American forces on the eve of Lexington and Concord.

Militia and minutemen obtained their firearms from a variety of sources.  These sources included fowling-pieces; imported muskets sold by local merchants; muskets and equipment captured from enemy troops (most notably the French and Spanish); locally produced weapons; stands of arms issued by the British government to Massachusetts provincial and militia soldiers during the French and Indian War; and finally, the rare procurement of a musket from a willing British soldier stationed in Boston.  

Thus, it was not uncommon to observe within the same militia company, 20 gauge fowlers, 12 gauge fowlers, 1742 King’s Pattern musket (often and erroneously referred to as the 1st Model Brown Bess), Dutch muskets, Spanish muskets, American muskets with parts obtained from several sources and French muskets within the same militia company.  

The makeup of muskets within the ranks of the Lexington Company on April 19th was no different.  Benjamin Locke’s musket was of French origin while Captain John Parker’s musket was a combination of English, American and French parts. An archaeological survey of the Parker’s Revenge battle site inside Minute Man National Historic Park yielded several small caliber musket balls of American origin.  The size of these balls suggests that many of the Lexington men were firing fowling guns as the retreating column passed by.

Recent research has also revealed the popular assumption that militia and minutemen of Massachusetts carried their ammunition in various, individualistic ways to be incorrect. 

Instead, most towns undertook a variety of steps to ensure its minute and militia companies were somewhat uniformly armed with belting, bayonets and cartridge boxes.  In Bradford, the town resolved “Voted, That the Selectmen provide bayonets and cartouch boxes for the Minute-Men on the town cost, to be returned to the town after they are dismissed from the service.” Residents of Brimfield resolved that it “provide for 50 minute men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and thirty rounds of cartridge and ball a sett for each private in said Company to be provided imemdiately.” Finally, in March of 1775, the Town of Ashburnham voted that Captain Jonathan Gates be instructed to procure thirty-six cartridge boxes for the use of the town’s minute-men at the expense of the town.

The most common type of cartridge box constructed on the eve of the American Revolution consisted of a“D” design soft leather pouch with a wooden block inserted to hold nineteen rounds of ammunition.  The box lacked side flaps and would not have kept powder dry during inclement weather.  

Many towns, including Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, and Acton, developed a cottage industry and paid its saddlers to make cartridge boxes for its minute and militia companies. Scituate’s Israel Litchfield recorded in his journal the making of cartridge boxes.  “[January] 14 [1775] I made me a Cartridge-box, I Covered it with a Coltskin it will Carry 19 Rounds.”  In Lexington, Jonathan Harrington, father of the company fifer, and Phillip Russel were hired to make cartridge boxes made out of moose skin.  

As an aside, the only limited exception of individualistic styling appears to have been powder horns.  There is evidence that many militiamen personalized their horns by engraving them with maps, slogans or pictures. 

So, with that background in mind, if you are free next Wednesday, be sure to check out what will be a very informative and exciting lecture!

Saturday, October 3, 2020

"Almost Perished with Cold and Hunger" - The Loyalist Flight to Canada

In the early years of the American Revolution, many rebel committees in New York and New England were reluctant to release loyalist families as they served a useful purpose as hostages. According to historian Janice Potter McKinnon in her work, While the Women Only Wept: Loyalist Refugee Women in Eastern Ontario, the continued presence of loyalist families in rebel communities served as a deterrent against potential military strikes, stemmed the flow of young male recruits into Canada or New York City and encouraged the release of American prisoners held by British authorities.

However, following the commencement of Burgoyne’s invasion of the American colonies in 1777, many communities realized that the presence of loyalist hostages would not stop future raids. As a result, some officials agreed to release men, women and their families so they could travel to loyalist safe havens. At the same time, other authorities passed resolutions preemptively ordering the expulsion of loyalist families from their territories. For example, as Burgoyne advanced further south into New York, the Vermont Council of Safety declared “all such persons as have joined or may hereafter join the British Troops (& left or may hereafter leave) their wives and families within this State, Have their wives and families sent to General John Burgoins [sic] Head Quarters, or some other Branch of the Ministerial Army, as soon as may be.” Similarly, the Albany County Commissioners wrote to the governor of New York in July 1777 asking that “Women whose Husbands are with the Enemy may be sent to the Enemies Lines”.

Photo Published with Permission of Adam HL

As McKinnon noted, when loyalists left their communities (either voluntarily or through expulsion) and traveled north to Canada, they usually followed one of two routes. 

Loyalists from New York typically followed an overland route through Native American territory to Lake Ontario. Because much of the travel was along forest trails, Indian guides were essential. Unfortunately for many refugees, the route included passage through territory held by the Oneidas, an ally of the Americans. Likewise, refugees had to avoid Continental and militia detachments that actively patrolled the region. Once clear of enemy territory, refugees crossed Lake Ontario at Oswego or followed the southern shore of the lake to the Niagara River. The trip along the Niagara was often difficult, especially in times of spring floods. According to a 1781 account from Barry St. Leger, a group of loyalists arrived at Niagara “almost naked . . . they had been so long hiding in the woods that they were almost famished . . . 50 more are on their way but so weak they can scarcely crawl… they are a set of poor forlorn people. . .who cannot help themselves.” 

Those refugees from the Hampshire Grants and Western Massachusetts usually followed a combined land and water route along Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River to Montreal. The roads followed were often muddy and in poor condition. Refugees could only use pack horses, ponies, or hand and horse carts for their belongings and provisions.

Securing water transportation was critical to the flight north. Often refugees were often forced to seek shelter on insect-infested or low lying islands in the middle of Lake Champlain. Because of the difficulties of this combined land and water passage, loyalists were forced to travel in groups whose members could share the burden of carrying boats and provisions.

Photo Published with Permission of Adam HL

While some loyalists might be lucky enough to make the trip in thirteen days, most took much longer. If an expedition moved too slowly or was not lucky enough to make good connections with boats, the trek could take at least two to three months to reach the Quebec Province. 

The delay in travel, combined with the rugged and unforgiving countryside, easily took its toll on the physical and mental well-being of many refugees. A 19th Century letter from  Elizabeth Bowman Spohn to the Rev. Egerton Ryerson underscores the hardships and challenges many loyalists faced as they fled north to Canada.

“My father, Peter Bowman, the eldest son at home, was only eleven years old. As the pillage was at night, he had neither coat nor shoes; he had to cut and draw his firewood half a mile on a hand-sleigh to keep his sick mother from freezing; this he did barefooted. The whole family would have perished had it not been for some friendly Indians that brought them provisions. One gave my father a blanket, coat and a pair of mocassins. A kind Squaw doctored my grandmother, but she suffered so much through want and anxiety that it was not until spring that she was able to do anything. She then took her children and went to the Mohawk river, where they planted corn and potatoes; and in the fall the commander of the British forces at Niagara, hearing of their destitute situation, sent a party with some Indians to bring them in. They brought in five families: the Nellises, Secords, Youngs, Bucks, and our own family (Bowman), five women and thirty-one children, and only one pair of shoes among them all. They arrived at Fort George on the 3rd of November, 1776; from there they were sent first to Montreal, and then to Quebec, where the Government took care of them-that is, gave them something to eat, and barracks to sleep in. My grandmother was exposed to cold and damp so much that she took the rheumatism and never recovered.” 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

“Stopped But a Few Days, and Went Off Privately" - Enslaved People and Lexington

Contrary to popular belief in some circles, slavery did exist in Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution. In fact, Massachusetts was the first of the thirteen colonies to legalize slavery in 1741.

By 1775, Lexington was not immune to the institution. The largest slaveholder in 1771 was Samuel Hadley with three enslaved servants. Other slaveholders included Samuel Bridge, William Tidd, Robert Harrington, William Reed and Benjamin Estabrook.

In some Lexington households, male slaves worked side by side with their masters as coopers, blacksmiths, shoemakers and wheelwrights. In other homes, they ran errands, functioned as valets and performed heavy work for their masters. The few female slaves in Lexington were required to carry out the various household tasks their mistresses demanded.

The enrolling of enslaved men in the colony’s militia system was considered illegal on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In 1652, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a law requiring all African-Americans and Indian servants to undergo military training and serve in the militia. However, four years later, as fears of a slave revolt grew, Massachusetts reversed the law and prohibited Blacks from entering military service. According to research conducted by Minute Man National Historical Park,  In 1709, the Massachusetts legislature slightly reversed itself and declared that “free male negro’s or molattos” would be exempt from military training but would still be required to “make their appearance” with their local militia companies “in case of alarm”. 

Nevertheless, in 1775, Lexington turned a blind eye to the law. As a result, during the War for Independence, five of Lexington’s slaves served with the town's militia. These enslaved men were Prince Estabrook, Pompey Blackman, Samuel Crafts, Cato Tuder and Jupiter Tree. 

As an aside, there was a Lexington Black freeman, Eli Burdoo, who later asserted in a pension claim that he served Captain Parker’s Company at the Battle of Lexington.

Lexington slaves were not completely without rights. Unlike slaves in the southern colonies, New England slaves could hold limited amounts of property, and testify in court against both whites and other Blacks. 

On rare occasions, Massachusetts slaves were permitted to sue for freedom. One such case involved a female mulatto slave named Margaret from Lexington. On November 20, 1770, Margaret appeared in a court in Cambridge represented by a local Boston lawyer named Jonathan Sewall. John Adams, who was currently in the midst of the Boston Massacre trial, represented her masters, the Muzzey Family of Lexington. At the end of the hearing, which lasted most of the day, the court freed Margaret. 

In 1774, several African-Americans petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to demand that they too have the right to enjoy the benefits of liberty.
Still, slavery was a degrading and inhumane institution. 

By 1667, most American colonies had recognized that a slave could not be freed from bondage by baptism, thereby discarding the Christian principle of enslaving other Christians. That same year, the penalty for killing a slave was a mere £15. In 1670, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law permitting slaveholders to sell children of slaves into bondage.

By the middle of the 17th Century, all of the New England colonies had established laws punishing runaway slaves as “fugitives”. Under these anti-fugitive laws, a slave was forbidden from leaving his master’s property without a pass or permission from his master. Travel on Sunday was explicitly prohibited. Thus, a slave could not even move in search of opportunity or even travel outside of Lexington without the master’s assent. If he or she were discovered, the enslaved person would be prosecuted. 

Finally, a slave was always subject to both actual and potential cruelty against which there was no defense.

Understandably, these horrific conditions motivated many enslaved people from New England to run away from their masters. In turn, slaveholders would publish advertisements in area newspapers describing the enslaved person, the clothing they wore when last seen and any items they carried with them. 

In the work Escaping Bondage: A Documentary History of Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth Century New England 1700 - 1789, author Antonio Bly catalogs advertisements of runaway Black slaves that appeared in Eighteenth-Century New England newspapers. 

There are four newspaper advertisements Bly identifies that are tied to Lexington. The first three were published by Captain Benjamin Reed after his slave “Sambo” or Samuel Hanks escaped. Reed was particularly determined to apprehend the runaway as he flooded Boston area newspapers with advertisements seeking his slave’s capture. 

Here is Reed’s advertisement from the September 17, 1753 edition of the Boston Gazette

“Ran-away from his Master Capt. Benjamin Reed, of Lexington, on the 14th of this Instant September, a Negro Man Servant, named Sambo, but calls himself Samuel Hank’s, and pretends to be a Doctor, about 30 Years of Age, of a middling Stature, speaks good English: Had on when he went away, a brown homespun Coat with brass Buttons, a brown Holland Jacket, new Leather Breeches, a pair a blue clouded seam’d Stockings, a new course Linnen Shirt, and a Holland one, Trowsers, and an old Castor Hat: has lost some of his fore Teeth. He carry’d with him a Bible, with (Samuel Reed) wrote in it, with some other Books. Whoever shall take up said Runaway Servant, and convey him to his abovesaid Master in Lexington, shall have Four Dollars Reward, and all necessary Charges paid. And all Masters of Vessels and others are hereby caution’d against concealing or carrying off said Servant on Penalty of the Law. Lexington.”

Bly’s book also identifies an incident that involved Lexington tavern owner John Buckman. The account appeared in the January 18, 1776 edition of the New England Chronicle. According to the newspaper account, an eighteen-year-old male slave named Cato had escaped from Hampton, New Hampshire in the Fall of 1775. Surprisingly, Cato did not flee to Portsmouth or Newburyport to join a sailing vessel (18th century New England sailing vessels were notorious for taking on escaped Black slaves). Instead, he traveled into the Massachusetts interior and by November 1775, arrived in Lexington.

According to the New England Chronicle, Cato approached John Buckman seeking work. “He offered his service to Mr. John Buckman, innholder in that town, and called himself Elijah Bartlet, and said that he was free born.” Buckman was suspicious of the young man and believed Cato was “a runaway”. Aware that the tavern keeper was on to him, Cato “stopped but a few days [in Lexington], and went off privately.” It appears after Cato fled, the Buckman reported the runaway to the authorities, who in turn relayed the information to Cato’s owner.

As far as the Nerds can tell, Cato was never apprehended.