Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"The Body Of The Maid Was Found By An Indian" - The Murder of Mary Sholy

For the past two weeks, the nerds of have been hard at work assisting Untapped History conduct research for its October Haunted Candlelight Tours. If you want to avoid the rush and oddities of Salem in October, be sure to travel a bit further north and check out a historical tour that prides itself in accuracy, entertaining stories and historic alcoholic drinks!

Anyway, the nerds were researching 17th and 18th century homicide cases and came across the murder of Mary Sholy.

In 1635, English settlers anchored off the coast of Massachusetts Bay Colony, rowed up the Parker River and established the village of Newbury. Meanwhile, thirty miles to the north, another group of settlers had established a village along the Piscataqua River in 1630. That settlement was called by a variety of names but eventually became known as Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

One of the Portsmouth residents was Mary Sholy.  Little is known about Mary other than she was possibly a maid, a servant girl or indentured servant. In 1636, she traveled south to Newbury to attend to some personal business. The journey was difficult as she had to traverse along a “narrow path” for several days and then had to find a way to cross the treacherous Merrimack River (ferries had yet to be established).

Nevertheless, despite the hardships, she successfully reached Newbury without incident.

After spending a few weeks tending to her personal matters, Sholy decided she wanted to return home. She posted an advertisement in town seeking to hire a guide to escort her back to Portsmouth. 



It was at this time she had the misfortune of meeting William Schooler. 

While in England, Schooler was employed as a “vintner with intemperate habits.” Though he had been married to “a handsome, neat woman,” he was, by his own admission, a common adulterer. After wounding a man in a duel, he fled to Holland to avoid prosecution. He then abandoned his wife and traveled to New England. By 1636, he was living in a shack along the Merrimack River with another man. Many Newbury residents referred to Schooler and his roommate as “atheists”.

Schooler answered Sholy’s advertisement and offered to lead her north for a fee of fifteen shillings.  Unfortunately, Mary was completely unaware that Schooler had no experience as a guide and was not familiar with the route between Newbury and Portsmouth.  Sholy agreed and the pair departed Newbury. 

Two days after their departure, William Schooler returned to Newbury alone. When asked why he had returned so quickly, he simply replied that he had guided Mary to “within two or three miles of Pascataquack (Portsmouth), where she stopped, saying she would go no farther.” Schooler allegedly left her there and returned to Newbury. 

The settlers were naturally suspicious. Several people noted Schooler had a scratch on his nose and blood stains on his clothes and hat. When pressed, he explained the blood came from a pigeon he had killed to eat and the scratch was from a branch. Schooler was promptly arrested and hauled before a magistrate in Ipswich to be examined. The magistrate, although highly suspicious, found there was no evidence that a crime had taken place and released him.

Mary was never seen alive again.

Several months later, an Agawam Indian was passing through the Winnacunnet woods, about three miles north of the Merrimack River, when he discovered the decomposed body of a young white woman. She was stripped naked and her clothing was in a neat pile nearby. The Indian immediately reported his discovery to the residents of Newbury and led several Englishmen back to the crime scene. The woman was eventually identified as Mary Sholy.

Meanwhile, fighting had broken out between the Pequod tribe and the English colonists. William Schooler was drafted to serve in the militia but publicly spoke out against it. His actions were considered “mutinous and disorderly,” and the Massachusetts colonial governor issued a warrant for his arrest. When he was approached by the authorities, Schooler assumed they were there to arrest him for the murder of Mary Sholy. He began to loudly proclaim his innocence. The protest revived suspicions that Schooler had not told the truth about Mary Sholy’s fate and he was once again brought before a magistrate.

This time, authorities developed a circumstantial case against Schooler. Witnesses noted that Sholy’s body was found well off the path leading to her intended destination of Portsmouth. Others noted that following his quick return, Schooler was flush with money he previously didn’t have. The scratches on his face and bloodstains on his clothes naturally didn’t help and Schooler only made things worse when he escaped from the local jail. He eventually returned to face his accusers.



Schooler was indicted for the murder of Sholy. According to the charging documents:


1.  He had led a vicious life and now lived like an atheist.

2.  He had sought out the maid and undertook to carry her to a place where he had never been.

3.  When he crossed Merrimack he landed in a place three miles distant from the usual path from whence it was scarce possible he should get into the path.

4.  He said he went by Winicowett house which he said stood on the contrary side of the way.

5.  Being as he said within two or three miles of Swanscote when he left her, he went not thither to tell them of her, nor stayed by her that night, nor at his return home did tell anybody of her ’till he was demanded of her.

6.  When he came back he had above 10ƒ in his purse, and yet he said she would give him but 7ƒ, and he carried no money with him.

7.  At his return he had some blood upon his hat, and on his shirts before, which he said was with a pigeon which he killed

8.  He had a scratch on the left side of his nose, and being asked by a neighbour how it came, he said it was with a bramble, which could not be, it being of the breadth of a small nail; and being asked after by the magistrate, he said it was with his piece, but that could not be on the left side.

9.  The body of the maid was found by an Indian about half a year after in the midst of a thick swamp, ten miles short of the place he said he left her in, and about three miles from the place where he landed by Merrimack (and it was after seen by the English) the flesh being rotted off it, and the clothes laid all on a heap by the body

10.  He said that soon after he left her he met with a bear, and he thought that bear might kill her, yet he would not go back to save her.

11.  He broke prison and fled as far as Powder Horn hill, and there hid himself out of the way for fear of pursuit, and after, when he arose to go forward he could not, but as himself confessed, he was forced to return back to prison again.

Authorities successfully portrayed him as a man who callously robbed, raped and murdered Sholy. He was quickly “condemned by due proceeding” and sentenced to death by public hanging. Surprisingly, several local ministers came forward and pleaded with authorities to spare his life. These pleas were rejected and on September 28, 1637 Schooler was executed.

According to a period account he protested his innocence to the very end. “At his death he confessed he had made many lies to excuse himself, but denied that he had killed or ravished her. He was very loth to die, and had hope he should be reprieved, but the court held him worthy of death in undertaking the charge of a shiftless maid, and leaving her, when he might have done otherwise, in such a place as he knew she must needs perish, if not preserved bv means unknown. Yet there were some ministers and others who thought the evidence not sufficient to take away life.”

Monday, September 3, 2018

“We Beg Your Order About The Delivery Of 'Em" - Bridgett Phillips' Great Escape


While preparing a timeline of important events in Newburyport's history for our friends at Revolution 250, we came across an interesting account of Bridget Phillips, wife of British officer “Captain Phillips”. 

 The nerds are still trying to identify exactly who Captain Phillips was. All we know is that he was an officer who served under General Gage during the Siege of Boston. 

It appears that Mrs. Phillips was en route from Ireland to join her husband in Boston when fighting broke out in Lexington and Concord. Although it is not exactly known how she was captured, records confirm that by June of 1775, she was a prisoner of the Massachusetts rebel government.

Following her capture, Phillips was taken to Newburyport, Massachusetts and held as a hostage. On June 22, 1775, she wrote to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and begged for permission to join her husband in Boston. According to her petition “To the Honorable Provincial Congress at Watertown, June 22, 1775. The petition of Bridget Philips humbly showeth that she hath lately arrived from Ireland and is desirous of going to her husband now in Boston. She therefore prays the Honorable Congress that they would give her a permit to go into the town of Boston & your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. Bridget Philips.”

Image Courtesy of Jennifer Heim

Two days later the Provincial Congress summarily rejected Phillips’ petition. Worse, the Newburyport Committee of Safety was ordered to keep her under constant guard to prevent her escape. “Resolved, that General Ward do not suffer or permit Bridget Phillips, wife to an officer under General Gage, to go into Boston, nor any other person whatever, without leave first obtained of this Congress, or some future house of representatives and that an express be forthwith sent to the committee of safety for the town of Newburyport, to order them to take the most affectual measures to prevent the said Bridget from going out of this province, or to Boston.”

While held in Newburyport, Phillips stayed at a local tavern as the guest of the owner. Many of the seaport’s residents felt the Provincial Congress’ orders regarding her confinement “to be very harsh.” Nevertheless, Mrs. Phillips never behaved in any manner that would create “suspicion in us that she would take pains for her escape.”

Following General George Washington’s arrival in Cambridge in July, 1775, Bridgett Phillips approached the Newburyport Committee of Safety and sought permission to travel to Cambridge to seek Washington’s permission to return to Boston. In response the committee noted “upon the arrival of the New General at Cambridge she seemed to flatter herself, her case might be more tenderly considered by them & that upon application they would permit her going to her husband. This she mentioned to several of the committee but was told she must not go to Cambridge without Consent of the Majority of them.”

Perhaps sensing that the majority would never issue a pass, Phillips fled Newburyport in the middle of the night. According to a July 26, 1775 letter from the Newburyport committee to the Provincial Congress, town officials were completely caught off guard. Worse, “it was not for a day or two known by us that she was gone.” According to the tavern keeper, a Mr. Greenleaf, he was completely fooled and thought she was merely travelling throughout town. “She left here two Trunks supposed to contain valuable apparrell which might prevent in Mr. Greenleaf the apprehention of her intending to go off.”

According to period accounts, the British officer’s wife simply boarded “a Chaise with Capt John Blake (formerly of Boston) from hence to Salem, giving out she was going to Head Quarters at Cambridge.”

Once in Salem, Phillips changed course to throw off Greenleaf, who had been sent to bring her back. “Upon enquiry we find that she hired a Chaise & Boy at Salem & in company with Benj. Jenks (who is said to belong to Casco Bay) she went the next day to Haverhill & the next to Portsmouth:by the assistance of this Jenks procured herself to be put on board the Scarborough Man of War there.”

The HMS Scarborough had been operating off the New Hampshire coast since May 29, 1775.

HMS Maria Anna, Earl of Chatham and Achilles Off a Coastal Town by Thomas Luny

Of course, the incident proved to be quite an embarrassment for the Newburyport Committee of Safety.  Naturally, the organization quickly moved to divert blame away from itself. “As she was a Woman & appeared of Some Fashion, we did not think it expedient to put her under close Confinement neither did we suppose bv the Order it was intended . . . Upon this occasion give us leave to remark what we hinted formerly to the Committee of War at Cambridge, the ease with which an escape may at any time be made to the stationed ship at Portsm'th as things are now ordered.”

Ultimately, Phillips was reunited with her husband in Boston. Once there she sent word to Mr. Greenleaf to have “her Trunks to be sent to Boston.” In response, the Newburyport Committee of Safety sought instructions from the Provincial Congress. “We beg your Order about the delivery of 'em.”

The entire incident enraged the Provincial Congress and representatives clammored to have those who helped Phillips escape arrested.

On August 5, 1775, the legislative body declared “Whereas one Bridget Phillips who said she was a wife to one of the officers in Genl Gages Army was by the late Congress of this Colony put under the care of the committee of safety of Newburyport, has since made her escape from them (as by a letter from said committee may appear and has left some effects behind). Therefore, Resolved, that the committee of safety of Newburyport take into their custody the trunks and other effects which belonged to the said Bridget Phillips and them safe keep and detain until the further order of this Court. Also further Resolved that the committees of safety or correspondence of any of the Towns in this Colony are hereby directed to take into Custody one John Blake (formerly of Boston) with whom the said Bridget Phillips made her Escape from Newburyport, and one Benjamin Jenks (said to belong to Casco Bay) in whose Company the said Bridget went to Portsmouth and by his assistance was secured on board the ship Scarborough then in that Harbour, and the said Committee of any town where the said Blake or Jenks may be taken or found are directed to Hear & examine the above charge against the said Blake and Jenks or either of them according to the evidence which they may have of either of them or of their crimes & if it shall be made to appear to the Committee, on said trial, that the said Blake & Jenks, or either of them, are guilty of the charge alleged against him or them that then they cause him or them to be kept in safe custody until the further order of this court, and its Recommended to the several committees in seaport towns to take such measures as shall appear most effectual to warrant any other person who may be Inimical to their Country- making their Escape, in such manner, for the future.”

What became of Bridgett Phillips (or her trunks) after she returned to Boston remains a mystery.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

"She Means to Fight Us" - The Newburyport Privateer "Thorn"

The HMS Thorn was built in Mistley, England and launched on February 17, 1779. She weighed over 305 tons, had eighteen guns, was coppered under the waterline and pierced for eighteen guns. Unfortunately, service in the Royal Navy was short lived as the ship and crew were captured by two American naval frigates on August 25, 1779. She was towed back to Boston and sold as a prize to local merchant Isiah Doane.

The vessel was quickly outfitted and re-launched as the Privateer Thorn on November 11, 1779.

On Christmas Eve, 1779, the Thorn spotted two British privateers off the Massachusetts coast, the Sir William Erksine and Governor Tryon. The Thorn’s captain, Daniel Waters, ordered his crew to turn away from the two vessels to lure them into a pursuit. According to Waters, “the men [were] at their quarters, and in high spirits for engaging.”

By Christmas morning, the British vessels were still in pursuit and closing fast. However, when a wind came up from the southwest, the Thorn reversed course and steered down on its pursuers. An hour later, the American privateer pulled up alongside the Governor Tryon, “as she was the heaviest.”

The British officers on board the Governor Tryon were understandably confused. From their point of view, a Royal Navy warship that was flying an American flag was bearing down on them. As a result, when the American privateer pulled alongside the Governor Tryon, its captain hailed the Thorn and demanded to know “what right he had to wear the 13 stars in his pendant.” Captain Waters quickly answered “I’ll let you know presently” and fired a full broadside “within pistol shot range”.

The Governor Tryon returned fire as the Sir William Erskine pulled up to join the fight. A heated exchange between the three ships continued for about an hour. During the engagement Captain Waters was wounded in the knee.

At the height of the battle, the Governor Tryon’s crew attempted but failed to board the Thorn. According to one account, the boarders received “such a warm and well directed fire from our marines” that they could not cross over to the enemy ship.  After the failed attempt, the three vessels renewed the action “with surprising spirit.” Following a series of broadsides from the Thorn, the Governor Tryon struck her colors. According to the February 24, 1780 edition of The Continental Journal “blood [was] running out the [Governor Tryon’s] scuppers.” 

Following the Governor Tryon’s surrender, the Sir William Erskine attempted to flee. Rather than remain with his prize, Captain Waters ordered his crew to pursue. After the Sir William Erskine was struck several times with bow chasers from the Thorn, she also struck her colors and surrendered.

Unfortunately for the Thorn, in the confusion of the pursuit of the Sir William Erskine, the Governor Tryon escaped. The next day, as the Thorn escorted its prize into port, it came across a debris field of oars, masts, spars and sails. It was presumed by Waters that the Governor Tryon sank and its crew was lost at sea.

On January 13, 1780, the Thorn encountered the 250-ton British privateer ship Sparling, which was en route from Liverpool, England to New York City to deliver coal and military provisions. Following a short engagement, the Sparling surrendered.

On April 5, 1780, Newburyport’s Nathaniel Tracey purchased the Thorn and appointed Richard Cowell as its captain. Over the next several months Cowell only captured two British supply vessels, the Dragon and the Aurora. The following year Tracey replaced Cowell with Captain Samuel Tucker of Marblehead. Under Tucker’s command the Thorn successfully captured no less than six British vessels over a nine month period.



One such vessel was the Lord Hyde. In early March, 1781 the Thorn sighted the ship which was en route to London from Jamaica. The Lord Hyde was clearly armed and not running away from the American privateer. Tucker called his men on deck and declared “She means to fight us and if we go alongside like men she is ours in thirty minutes; but if we can’t go as men, we have no business here!” The crew immediately rushed to battle stations.

The ships circled each other as both captains demanded surrender. When the Thorn finally swung towards the Lord Hyde, the British fired off a harmless broadside. In response, the American privateer opened fire with both cannon and muskets, sweeping the enemy deck. After pounding each other for over an hour, the British captain finally called for “Quarter. For God’s sake! Our ship is sinking! Our men are dying of their wounds!” Captain Tucker refused because the British ensign was still flying. One period account suggests Tucker shouted “How can you expect quarter while that flag is flying . . . cut away your ensign staff or ye’ll all be dead men!” The flag quickly came down.

On May 27, 1781, Tucker received word of a large British supply convoy carrying sugar, coffee, rum and cotton from the West Indies to Halifax. According to intelligence reports, the supply group was being escorted by three small warships, the largest being the HMS Elizabeth.

Days later, the Thorn found the convoy. The crew hoisted up an English ensign and quickly sailed up alongside the Elizabeth. Captain Tucker hailed the vessel and asked if she was the same Elizabeth bound for Halifax. When he received an affirmative answer from a Captain Pine, Tucker announced he was the commander of the “sloop-of-war Thorn, recently taken back from the Americans”.

As the conversation progressed, the Thorn, edged closer to the Elizabeth. Captain Pine protested “You keep too close to me!” Tucker turned and ordered his men to raise the American colors. With Captain Tucker in the lead, boarders quickly crossed over onto the Elizabeth and drove its crew below deck. (To add to the humiliation, Tucker broke his sword over Pine’s head.) During the action the Thorn’s first lieutenant and five sailors were killed.

The other ships saw what had happened and quickly tried to scramble and flee. However, Tucker and his privateers managed to capture two more vessels before the remainder of the convoy escaped.

In June 1781, the Thorn was unexpectedly captured near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. The officers and crew were taken ashore and imprisoned in Nova Scotia. Days later, as the vessel was being brought into Halifax, it was recaptured by the French warships L’Hermione and L’Astreè. The French then towed the vessel to Boston and sold it back to Nathaniel Tracey.

Because Captain Tucker was a prisoner, Tracey rehired Captain Cowell to command the vessel. Over the next three months Cowell successfully captured three additional British ships, bringing the total number of prizes captured in 1781 by the Thorn to nine.

In August of 1782, the Thorn encountered a small British troop convoy escorted by HMS Renown and HM Frigate Arethusa. The Arethusa, under the command of Captain Richard Pearson, quickly gave chase and captured the Thorn. The officers and crew were removed to the Arethusa, where they were well-treated by Pearson. Captain Cowell later testified that “The commander, with the officers, look upon themselves under the greatest obligation to Sir Richard Pearson and his officers for the kind, humane, and public treatment received from them during their stay on board the frigate and for Sir Richard’s particular attention in effecting their paroles.”

The Thorn was taken into Halifax where the officers were quickly paroled.

After its capture, the Thorn remained in the service of the Royal Navy until 1816. Afterwards, the ship was sold to the Marine Society of London to serve as a training vessel.

In 1797, British artist George Owen created a series of watercolors of warships engaged in combat, including one of the Thorn, for a naval publication. Unfortunately, the images were rejected and never used. Although this watercolor was created a decade after the American Revolution, it is the only known drawing of a Newburyport privateer from the American Revolution.

This image (above), as well as three companion drawings, were sold at auction to a private collector on January 26, 2017.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"Threatened to Destroy the Carriadge" - When Loyalists Arrived in Newburyport

William Jackson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1731. By 1758, he partnered with his widowed mother, Mary Jackson, and opened a shop that sold groceries and general merchandise to the general public.

In 1763 Jackson broke out on his own and started to sell a wide range of fine goods imported from England. According to one period advertisement, he offered such goods as "buff, blue, and scarlet Broadcloth … German serges, stuffs for gowns, Linnen, Cambricks, and Lawns of all Prices, neat silk and black Russel Shoes, brass Kettles, London Pewter, frying and warming pans, Buckles, Buttons, Knives, Rasors, with a full Assortment of all kinds [of] London, Birmingham, and Sheffield Hard Wares, too many to enumerate . . . blue & white Tea-Cups, Saucers, Milk Jugs, English Loaf Sugars . . . Fresh Hyson, Souchong, Singlo, and Bohea Teas . . . Lisbon lemmons . . . Glocester cheese."

During the Stamp Act Crisis, one of the most effective methods to pressure the government into repealing the unpopular law was the boycott of imported British goods. Unfortunately for Jackson, he consistently defied the American non-importation efforts. 

When the English government passed the Townshend Acts in 1767, Jackson once again ignored the non importation agreements his fellow merchants were actively promoting.



His actions quickly drew the the attention of the Sons of Liberty, who urged Bostonians to boycott his shop. 

In 1770, anonymous broadsides declared “WILLIAM JACKSON, an IMPORTER; at the BRAZEN HEAD,North Side of the TOWN-HOUSE,and Opposite the Town-Pump, [in] Corn-hill, BOSTON It is desired that the SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY, would not buy any one thing of him, for in so doing they will bring disgrace upon themselves, and their Posterity, for ever and ever, AMEN.” 

The same year, a newspaper advertisement listed Jackson as among “the Names of those who audaciously continue to counteract the united Sentiments of the Body of Merchants throughout NORTH AMERICA, by importing British goods contrary to the agreement.”

At the outbreak of the American Revolution, William Jackson professed his loyalty to the British crown and remained inside Boston during the siege. When the British evacuated Boston in March, 1776, he escaped on board the brig Elizabeth. While off the coast of New Hampshire, three Continental Navy vessels, including the Newburyport built USS Hancock, captured the vessel. The Elizabeth was escorted into Portsmouth, New Hampshire and sold as a prize.

Jackson recounts the events following his capture on board the Elizabeth in a July 6, 1776 letter. According to the loyalist, “Upon my landing . . . [a] Mr Wentworth Inform'd me he must Examine my Baggage as also what Money and Paper's I had, from the former he has detain'd about £35 . . . and from the latter five setts of Bills of Exchange amounting to £100-stirlg payeable to myself. Only, after he Examined my Baggage [I] had his leave to carry it with me but haveing no Acquaintance in the Town accepted his Offer of his store.”

The next day, Jackson and other Loyalists secured passes from New Hampshire authorities to travel to Boston to petition for protection and the return of their confiscated property.

After travelling twenty miles south by carriage, the party arrived in Newburyport. Upon entering the Wolfe Tavern, word quickly spread about the presence of a Loyalist party in town. An angry mob quickly gathered and descended upon the tavern. According to Jackson, “We set of for head Quarter's, but upon our reaching Newbury Port about 20 miles whare we stopt to refresh ourselves the popular Assembled and swore we should not ride and threatened to destroy the Carriadge.”

Horrified, Jackson and the other Loyalists quickly sought the protection of Newburyport’s Committee of Safety. “We sent for the Committe of safety to Appease them, but all to no purpose, finding ourselves in such a situation we comply'd, the Committe not thinking it safe they Appointed a Guard of five Men and Obliged us to pay the Expence the rest of the Journey.”



Unfortunately, the bodyguards did little to protect them. As Jackson recalled “as soon as we came out of the Inn we received Blow's, mud, stones, Eggs, and every other abuse.” The small band of refugees fled Newburyport and “proceeded to Boston being 40 miles on foot.”

Upon arrival in Boston, Jackson and the others were quickly arrested and imprisoned. The following year, jackson was tried for the crime of attempting to profit from the distress caused by the American Revolution. He was convicted and ceremonially banished from Boston. Shortly thereafter, Jackson fled to England. He was formally banished by the Massachusetts legislature in 1778.

He died in England in 1810.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fear and Flight: Civilian Evacuations of Middlesex and Essex Counties, April 18-22, 1775

Many historians have overlooked the psychological and physical impact the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Ipswich Fright had upon the civilian populace of Massachusetts. Both events not only led to the abandonment of homes and the flight to areas of relative safety, but also contributed to the brief collapse of society.

The Civilian Evacuation Along The Boston Road 

Hours before the engagements at Lexington and Concord, at approximately six o’clock in the evening of April 18, 1775, Lexington resident Solomon Brown observed nine British officers riding slowly along the country road before him. The night was not very cold yet Brown noted that each of the officers was wearing a heavy wool blue overcoat under which he could see the shape of their pistols. Taken aback, Brown passed the officers and galloped towards Lexington. He rode directly to Munroe’s Tavern where he informed Sergeant William Munroe of what he had observed.

By eight o’clock in the evening, Lexington received two messages from Elbridge Gerry, a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Committee of Safety and Supplies. According to Jonas Clarke “We received two messages, the first verbal, the other, by express . . . informing that eight or nine officers of the king's troops were seen just before night passing the road towards Lexington in a musing, contemplative posture; and it was suspected they were out upon some evil design.” At eleven o’clock in the evening, alarm rider Paul Revere arrived in Lexington warning of a military expedition advancing from Boston. Approximately an hour later, a second alarm rider, William Dawes, arrived and confirmed Revere’s report. As a result, militia Captain John Parker ordered his company to assemble.

When Lexington’s alarm bell began to toll, most residents recognized that a hostile military force was marching directly towards them. With the possibility of the town being subjected to plunder and destruction, a panic set in. Many who lived along the Boston Road prepared to evacuate. Anna Munroe, wife of Sergeant Munroe, started to bake bread for her husband. Later she confessed “I mixed my bread last night with tears coming, for I feared I should have no husband when the next mixing came.” 

The Reverend William Gordon of Roxbury noted “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 suggested many residents “hid their silver and mirrors and many other things in [a] swamp.” The Reverend Clarke's family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes.” Captain Parker’s wife, Lydia, “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, who lived along the Boston road, heard the alarm and hurriedly buried the family’s silver and other valuables by a stone wall near their 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, by the light of a lantern [made their way] to a refuge, the home of her father in New Scotland.” The Loring daughters scurried to hide the communion silver in a brush heap back of the house before fleeing.  


Why was there a desire to protect some valuables? Naturally, a fear of looting, vandalism and theft at the hands of British troops was a contributing factor. Later in the day and from the safety of distant hills, many Lexington residents watched in horror as their homes were burned, destroyed or looted when the regulars retreated through the town. Pursuant to 18th Century law, the illegal breaking and entering into a home was a capital offense punishable by death. Thus, from an American point of view, the plundering and burning of homes was not only highly offensive, it also served to fuel their anger and despair even further. According to the Reverend 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 everything 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.”

However, an even stronger contributing factor may have been colonial Massachusetts inheritance laws. While all property technically belonged to the husband, household movables such as textiles, furniture, the tools of domestic production, silverware and dishes were generally passed from generation to generation through the female line and were considered properly part of women’s domestic sphere. For example, Hannah Stone, bequeathed almost the whole of her estate “to my beloved daughter Tabitha Merriam.” Hannah Stearns willed to her daughter-in-law Patty her porridge pot and flat irons. Abigail Bridge left her riding hood to one daughter-in-law and a dark calico gown to another. Thus, a woman’s household goods was a woman’s closest representation of legitimate possessions and gave her a sense of ownership.  

For some, the flight was particularly difficult. Four Lexington women, Sarah Marrett, Amity Pierce, Sarah Reed and Betty White, were still likely bedridden having given birth over the past month. Three others, Dorcus Parker, Elizabeth Estabrook and Lydia Harrington, were all over eight months pregnant. Other women rushed to get their young children to safety. Abigail Harrington, took the her toddlers “down a lane back of the house across a meadow to the old place on Smock farm.” Anna Munroe fled from the family tavern with her three young children and hid on a hill behind the establishment.

Some men remained with the women and children during the evacuation. A few were ministers who tended to their flock. Others suffered from physical injuries and thus, could not field with their companies. At least seven Lexington men missed the fighting and participated in the civilian evacuation because they were caring for their wives, mothers or daughters. Moses Reed and his father-in-law Jacob Whittemore carried Sarah Reed and her newborn child out of the family home on a mattress. Likewise, teenager Joseph Estabrook and his father “assisted in carrying his mother with a young infant (Solomon) in her arms, in an armchair, about a mile back from the scene of danger.”


Upon hearing the exchange of musketry from the Battle of Lexington, Lydia Parker sent her eldest son to the top of a nearby hill to see whether the British regulars were moving to plunder Lexington homes. Once certain the British column had moved on to Concord, many returned to the town common. Upon arrival, they discovered that over two hundred men from Woburn’s militia and minute man companies had arrived and were assisting in the treatment of the wounded. By mid morning, residents of Lexington buried their dead in a makeshift grave. “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.”

Meanwhile, in Lincoln and Concord, news of the British expeditionary force advancing into the countryside spread. After the Lincoln minute companies departed for Concord, Mary Hartwell recounted “I did up the chores of the barn and cared for the children as well as I could in my anxiety . . . I feared that I should never see your grandfather again.”

According to Mary Hoar Farrar of Lincoln, “The Concord families living nearest to our home fled this way for safety, and with my grandmother and others of the family left this house, and took refuge in ‘Oakey Bottom,’ a retired piece of forest land about one-half mile in the rear of the house, still known by that name in our community. Grandmother in her haste had sufficient self-possession to think of the cattle tied in the barn. These she let loose, desiring to save them from the flames that she expected would be kindled by Gage’s army. She took her babe, Samuel (the third), in her arms, the large family Bible, a loaf of bread, and a looking glass, with what little silver she had, and bade farewell to the old dwelling, never expecting to gather her family about her again beneath that ancestral roof. Every little while they would venture out far enough to look over the hill to see if the soldiers had set the house on fire.”

Later in the morning, many Lexington residents realized that the British regulars would be marching back through their town again. As a result, most prepared to flee for a second time. One evacuee recalled that the roads were clogged with “women and children weeping.” Some escaped back to woods and fields, while others traveled to nearby towns. Some sought refuge in homes far from the British path of retreat. By the time the retreating regulars returned to Lexington, “the women and children had been so scattered and dispersed, that most of them were out of the way.”


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.’” 

Lincoln’s Mary Hartwell also remembered coming in close contact with retreating British forces. “ I saw an occasional horseman dashing by, going up and down, but heard nothing more until I saw them coming back in the afternoon all in confusion, wild with rage and loud with threats. I knew there had been trouble, and that it had not resulted favorably for their retreating army. I heard musket shots just below by the old Brooks Tavern, and trembled, believing that our folks were killed.”

In the aftermath of the engagement, Mercy Warren recalled “it seemed necessary to retire to a place of safety till the calamity was passed. My partner had been a fortnight confined by illness. After dinner (19th) we set out not knowing whither we went. We were directed to a place called Fresh Pond, about a mile from the town, but what a distressed house did we find there, filled with women whose husbands were gone forth to meet the assailants; seventy or eighty of these with numbers of infant children, crying and agonizing for the fate of their husbands Another uncomfortable night we passed, some nodding in their chairs, others resting their weary limbs on the floor.... To stay in this place was impracticable Thus with precipitancy were we driven to the town of Andover, following some of our acquaintance, five of us to be conveyed by one poor tired horse-chaise. Thus we began our pilgrimage, alternately walking and riding, the roads filled with frighted women and children, some in carts with their tattered furniture, others on foot fleeing into the woods. But what added greatly to the horror of the scene was our passing through the bloody field at Menotomy, which was strewed with the mangled bodies. We met one affectionate father with a cart looking for his murdered son and picking up his neighbors who had fallen in battle, in order for their burial.”

The Ipswich Fright

Two days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, widespread panic once again set in amongst the Massachusetts population. Known as the "Ipswich Fright", this psychological phenomenon led to the mass abandonment of homes and the evacuation of North Shore and Merrimack Valley 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. 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 companies away at the Siege of Boston, a massive panic set in. The rumor quickly spread to other towns.

A few hours later, the rumor had reached as far away as Newburyport. A Congregationalist minister named Carey was holding a parish meeting when alarm rider Ebenezer Todd burst in and announced “turn out, turn out, for God’s sake 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 the panic set in, many residents quickly gathered their valuables and fled northwards. In Newburyport, Amesbury, Haverhill, Bradford and Methuen civilians overwhelmed the local ferries as they tried to cross the Merrimack River. In Newbury, one woman “having run four or five miles, in great trepidation, stopped on the steps of reverend Mr. Noble's meeting house to nurse her child and found to her great horror, that she had brought off the cat and left the child at home.” Residents of the North Parish district of Andover fled to a woodlot known as Den Rock and remained there for at least a day. In Newburyport “the houses at Turkey hill were filled with women and children who spent the night in great trepidation. One man yoked up his oxen and taking his own family, and some of his neighbor's children in his cart, drove off to escape the regulars.” A witness recalled another Newburyport woman, “having concealed all her pewter and silverware in the well, filled a bag with pies and other edibles, and set off with it and her family for a safer place.” Period accounts suggest Amesbury, Salisbury and Rowley were completely abandoned by its residents.     


Essex County civilians were so overcome with fear and despair that they began to turn on each other. 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!” An Essex County woman fled her home with a market wallet filled with food. After travelling some distance she set it down to speak with someone. When she returned to the bag she discovered she had been robbed “not in deed, by the regulars among the people, but by the irregulars among her provisions.” Residents near the Parker River bridge in Newbury nearly came to blows over the proposal to destroy the structure in order to slow the regular’s advance.

Of course, 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. As Newburyport’s Benjamin Greenleaf noted in a letter to the Hampton (NH) Committee of Correspondence that same day, “We were unhappily thrown into distress yesterday, by false accounts received by two or three persons, and spread abroad, of a number of Soldiers being landed at Ipswich and murdering the inhabitants. We have since heard that it arose in the first place from a discovery of some small vessels near the entrance of their River, — one at least known to be a Cutter, — and it was apprehended that they were come to relieve the captives there in jail.”

Shortly thereafter, many residents returned to their homes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ripped Off No More: Ten Hand Sewing Techniques You Can Teach Yourself Through Online Classes




One common complaint among Revolutionary War reenactors is that they are often forced to shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to tailors, seamstresses and companies to have historical clothing made.  Unfortunately,the old adage “you get what you pay for” often applies and many of these sources will routinely cut corners, ignore historically correct patterns and utilize synthetic fabrics.  The end result is a shoddy product that is neither historically accurate nor properly made.

Many argue (perhaps correctly) that the primary responsibility of Revolutionary War reenactors is to faithfully interpret the clothing, material culture, lives and events of the period. Thus, if we rely upon questionable workmanship then we are actually doing a disservice to the public.

As a result, we should look towards making our own clothing based upon historically accurate patterns and utilizing period correct fabrics and materials.

Of course, a common objection from many reenactors is “I can’t make that, I don’t know how to sew!” 

Well, object no more fellow historical nerd! Here are ten instructional videos compiled by Burnley and Trowbridge and Fort Ticonderoga  that you can utilize to teach yourself how to hand sew in a proper, 18th Century manner. 

Soon you’ll be making quality clothing and telling that shady sutler to cancel your order.

Disclaimer . . . The nerds of Historical Nerdery are not responsible if you accidentally blow yourself up while teaching yourself how to hand sew.

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Many Insults And Abuses From Rebels" - The Abuse of Loyalist Families During the Burgoyne Campaign

This Fall, McAlpin’s Corps of American Volunteers will be joining other progressive reenacting organizations at Saratoga National Historical Park to highlight the Loyalist refugee experience during the final weeks of General Burgoyne’s ill fated 1777 campaign.  The organization will be directing its efforts towards the portrayal of Loyalist civilians who were forced to flee their homes and seek the safety of the advancing British Army.

As a result of this living history presentation, the Nerds were curious about the hardships many Loyalist families faced at the hands of their political opponents and the exact circumstances that led to their respective flights towards British lines. 

Despite popular misconception, Loyalist women and their families generally did not gather their belongings and flee into the night in terror from local mobs. Instead, many Loyalist women concluded they and their families would be safer by withdrawing to British held territory north in Canada or south in New York City. As a result, these women appeared before local Committees of Safety and requested permission to leave their community to join their husbands who may have fled weeks or months earlier. 



At first, many committees were reluctant to release Loyalist families as they served a useful purpose as hostages. As historian Janice Potter-McKinnon noted “from the patriot perspective, the continued presence of loyalist families under their careful guard could deter future attacks, stem the flow of potential young male recruits into Canada and encourage the release of American prisoners held by British authorities.”  Ultimately, however, many local committees recognized that hostages would not stop Burgoyne's invasion and quickly agreed to release the women and their families.

Naturally, local officials carefully scrutinized the petitions of Loyalist women and set forth the terms of their departure. Often the decision to allow women to leave was prompted by concern about the financial cost involved in permitting them to stay. As the Albany County Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies declared, “it having appeared to us that those Women are become chargeable to the Districts in which they severally reside and that they together with their Families are subsisted at public Expence.” Thus, patriot officials did not want communities to take on the burden of caring for indigent Loyalist families and were often quite willing to grant permission to such families to leave.

Not surprisingly, many Loyalist families were subjected to various forms of harassment prior to their departure - the most common and devastating being the confiscation, looting or destruction of their personal and real property. Likewise, many families faced violence at the hands of local mobs. 



Loyalist Sarah Mcginnis of New York, her daughter, and granddaughter all watched as local “Patriots” sold off at a public auction all their possessions, “except what would scantily support them in victuals and clothes.”. After this, the women were imprisoned in a local fort and so badly treated that Sarah's granddaughter later died. Sarah and her daughter "escaped at night with only what they could carry on their backs.” Sarah was forced to leave behind a son “who was out of his senses and bound in chains ... and who some time afterward was burnt alive.”

In the case of the Empy family, Philip, husband and father of eleven children, was subjected to “many insults and abuses from rebels.” When Philip and his three sons escaped from prison, the local officials turned their eyes to his wife and seven other children. Mrs Empty and her children were imprisoned and all of their real and personal property was confiscated. The family was eventually released however, when Philip’s wife returned to her home, she was “beat and abused [by] 4 men” and left on a road. Although she was rescued by friends and taken to Schenectady for medical treatment, she later died.

Elizabeth Cary Wilstee, a resident of the New Hamphshire Grants whose family had been victimized by the Green Mountain Boys in the 1760s, watched helplessly as a band of militiamen ransacked her home in 1776. In the middle of winter, the “outlaws” broke into her home and ordered her and her children to leave for her father's place. Although it was snowy and cold, she had no choice. “Looking back while on her way,” she saw the “outlaws moving her furniture and provisions from the house and loading them into a wagon . . . open her feather beds and shake the feathers from the ticks out of the windows and put the ticks and bed clothes into the wagon . . . pry the logs of the sides of the house out at the corners until the roof fell in.”



Shortly after his flight to Canada, Loyalist Daniel McAlpin’s property was seized and his wife and family were arrested. Mary McAlpin described her family’s treatment at the hands of the rebels in vivid language. “From the day her husband left to the day she was forced from her home the Captain's house was never without parties of the Rebels present. They lived at their discretion and sometimes in very large numbers. They destroyed what they could not consume. Shortly after the capture of the fleeing Loyalists a group of armed Rebels with blackened faces broke into the McAlpin's dwelling house. They threatened Mary and her children with violence and menace of instant death. They confined them to the kitchen while they stripped every valuable from the home. A few days after this, by an order of the Albany Committee, a detachment of Rebel Forces came and seized upon the remainder of McAlpin's estate both real and personal.” Mary McAlpin and her children were taken to an unheated hut located in Stillwater and locked inside “without fire, table, chairs or any other convenience.”

Hoping that the hardship would eventually break Mrs. McAlpin and her family, the rebels kept Mary and her children in captivity for several weeks. Mary McAlpin refused to comply. Enraged, rebels seized Mary and her oldest daughter and “carted” both of them through Albany. According to one period account, “Mrs. McAlpin was brought down to Albany in a very scandalous manner so much that the Americans themselves cried out about it.” A second period statement asserts “when Mrs. McAlpin was brought from the hut to Albany as a prisoner with her daughter . . . they neither of them had a rag of cloaths to shift themselves.”

Elizabeth Munro Fisher was a refugee who fled her home in 1777 for the safety of General Burgoyne’s army. In her memoirs written in the early 19th Century, Fisher describes how she was summarily evicted from her home by a local mob and forced to flee to the safety of nearby British lines.



“A party of riflemen surrounded our house, about six o'clock in the morning, and inquired for Mr. Fisher. I told them he was not at home; they asked me where he was gone — I told them; upon which they ordered me out of my house with a threat that if I did not immediately comply they would burn me in it. I took my child from the cradle and went out of the house. — I sat down at a little distance, and observed them taking out all my furniture, and then they burnt the house- In this situation, without a home and no one near me to whom I could apply for advice or assistance . . . I was at a loss what to do. — At last, seeing a man drive a cow, I asked him which way he was going. — He answered to the camp. — I asked him if he would let me go along with him. — Yes, said he, if you can keep up with me. I arose from the ground (for I was sitting down with my child on my lap) and followed him. I walked that day, in company with this man, twenty- two miles, and carried my child; by the middle of the day I had neither shoe nor stockings on my feet; my shoes, being made of silk, did not last long, and my stockings I took off and threw away, on account of the fatigue of carrying my child and walking so far.— I was willing to lay down and die. On the road this man would often say that he did not know but a party of Indians might be out a scouting, and if so, we should fall a sacrifice to them; at first I was alarmed, but my fatigue at length was so great that I told him I wished they might come and kill me and my child, for I was almost exhausted. I had nothing to eat or drink all that day, except the water he gave me out of the brooks with his hat. We saw several houses, but the people had fled from them. About sunset we came to a house where we found a woman and seven children. Her husband had gone — I stayed there that night; the next day the man went with his cow into the camp; this cow was ail he had, and he wanted to sell her for money. I sent by him to Mr. Fisher, letting him know where I was. Mr. Fisher came to me that evening, and the next day I went into the camp. After I had been a few days in the camp, I bought every thing my child and I needed. I related to Mr. Fisher what had been done at home — he was much surprised at Williams' conduct, as he had sent him, and the men that burnt the house were under his command—my furniture was sold at his house as tory property.”

As violence, imprisonment and looting continued to mount, many Loyalist women recognized their situation was becoming desperate. In a letter to her husband John, Mary Munro described just how dangerous her situation was. “For heavens sake, my dear Mr. Munro, send me some relief by the first safe hand. Is there no possibility of your sending for us? If there is no method fallen upon we shall perish, for you can have no idea of our sufferings here; Let me once more intreat you to try every method to save your family; my heart is so full it is ready to break; adieu my Dearest John, may God Almighty bless pre serve and protect you, that we may live to see each other is the constant prayer of your affectionate tho' afflicted wife ... P.S. The Childer's kind love to you.”