Sunday, October 10, 2021

"Best Calculated for Appearance and Defence" - The Boston Edition of the 1764 Crown Manual

On October 29, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress addressed what appropriate military exercise the various militia and minute companies should adopt in preparation for war with England.  

It is possible that the delegates considered the “Norfolk Exercise”.  Developed in England in 1757, the Norfolk Exercise, or “A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk”, had been adopted by many New England militia companies by 1768 and was declared the official drill of the colony in the early 1770’s.  

However, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordered that “it be recommended to the inhabitants of this Province that in order to their perfecting themselves in the Military Art, they proceed in the method ordered by his Majesty in the year 1764, it being, in the opinion of this Congress, best calculated for appearance and defence.”  Known as the 1764 Crown Manual of Arms, this was the drill used by the British troops stationed in Boston in 1775.


According to research conducted by Dr. Niels Hobbs, in late 1774 and early 1775, several Boston, Salem and Newburyport print shops acquired copies of the Crown Manual and offered it to sale to the general public. Understandably, many Massachusetts militia officers and NCOs quickly purchased copies to assist them in preparation for the coming war.

For your review, here is a scanned copy of the 1774 “Boston Edition” of the 1764 Crown Manual that was sold by print shops in Eastern Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution. Interestingly, the second page of the edition includes the October 29, 1774 resolution from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordering the adoption of the Crown Manual by Massachusetts militia and minute companies.

Please feel free to share this document with others!


Monday, August 30, 2021

"Dip Arrows in Matter of Smallpox" - The Possible Use of Smallpox as a Biological Weapon During the Siege of Boston

The Nerds must apologize for our prolonged absence over the past several weeks in both podcasting and blog posting. Between catching a nasty cold that resulted in the loss of our angelic voices and moving moody teenagers into college dorm rooms, we’ve been a bit sidetracked.

As we prepared for the future recording of podcast episodes, our attention was drawn to an upcoming topic - smallpox and the Siege of Boston.

The Center for Disease Control notes that the origin of smallpox is unknown. The finding of smallpox-like rashes on Egyptian mummies suggests that the disease has existed for at least 3,000 years. Smallpox arrived in New England during the early years of the seventeenth century and had devastating effects upon the native American population. As one colonizing Puritan would later observe “The good hand of God favoured our beginnings in sweeping away the multitudes of the Natives by the small pox."



At the commencement of the Siege of Boston, the threat of a smallpox outbreak was continuously on the mind of both American and English commanders. Following George Washington’s assumption of command of the Continental Army in July, 17775, he was determined to prevent the spread of the disease among his soldiers. The general worried that an epidemic among the troops would significantly weaken his ability to mount an effective military campaign against the British troops trapped inside Boston as well as deter future enlistment prospects. As a result, Washington made the health of his troops one of his top priorities and ordered strict enforcement of numerous directives so as to contain and control the smallpox contagion.

One concern that the American forces had was the weaponization of smallpox by His Majesty’s forces. Understandably, the apprehension was justified. During Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, military authorities openly discussed the use of smallpox against their Native American enemies. “Could it not be Contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians?” That same year, militia commander William Trent noted that he gave a visiting Indian delegation “two Blankets and a Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.” He was later compensated for the act by the British commander overseeing the defense of Boston - Thomas Gage.

During the early months of the Siege of Boston, one Boston resident warned “soldiers try all they can to spread the smallpox, but I hope they will be disappointed.” In a May 13, 1775 letter to Asahel Pomeroy, Seth Pomeroy reflected in a letter to a relative that he believed that “If it is In General Gage[’] s power I expect he will Send ye Small pox Into ye Army.” When four British deserters fled Boston and were quickly apprehended, Washington’s aide-de-camp Robert Harrison wrote to the Massachusetts PRovincial Congress to alert them “Four [British] deserters have just arrived at headquarters giving an account that several persons are to be sent out of Boston . . . that have lately been inoculated with the smallpox, with the design, probably, to spread infection to distress us as much as possible.”

As the siege progressed, smallpox began to spread amongst the soldiers and residents inside Boston. According to a December 1, 1775, General Order, “The Small Pox spreading universally about the Town, makes it necessary for the safety of the Troops, that such men as are willing, and have not had that distemper shou’d be inoculated immediately.”



A few weeks earlier, General Howe reversed British policy and allowed certain persons to leave the town. According to the general three hundred of the Inhabitants of Boston were removed from Boston by ship and were bound for Massachusetts seaport communities, including Point Shirley, Plymouth, Salem, Beverly and Newburyport. Although the refugees were “destitute of any thing to help themselves in this inclement Season”, It soon became clear that utmost of the passengers were infected with smallpox. According to Boston’s Thomas Crafts, “The smallpox has broken out in two families that came out of Boston on the first vessels.” Ezekiel Price reported that “the people who came out last from Boston and landed at Point Shirley, have the smallpox among them; that a person at Brookline was taken with it.”

Historians have suggested Howe’s motives were influenced by a desire to remove those who would be a burden on limited supplies and resources. However, Historian Ann M. Becker has argued “[Howe’s] decision to inoculate his troops and send out contagious refugees—along with reports detailing the American belief that the British were attempting to infect the colonials with smallpox—support the idea that smallpox was being used as a military weapon to protect against aggressive American maneuvers.”

Becker’s theory is not without merit. A February 1776 Massachusetts newspaper reported that Thomas Francis, a young indentured servant, had been inoculated with smallpox inside Boston against his will and then forced to board a British refugee ship sailing for Port Shirley. As a result of this calculated exposure, several other passengers on board the vessel contracted the disease.

If Howe’s intentions were to unleash a viral agent into the Massachusetts countryside, he was in part successful. The smallpox virus began to spread. This in turn fueled American suspicions that the enemy had launched a biological attack. In a letter to Congress, Washington warned “The information I received that the Enemy intended spreading the smallpox amongst us, I could not suppose them capable of; I now must give some credit to it, as it has made its appearance on several of those who last came out of Boston.” In a separate letter to John Hancock, the general asserted “The small-pox rages all over the town. Some of the military as had it not before, are now under inoculation. This, I apprehend, is a weapon of defense they are using against us.”

Although there is no direct evidence of Howe or Gage launching a biological attack on American forces, there is a fair inference that measures were undertaken to weaken the rebellion through the introduction of smallpox. That said, by 1777, some British officials were openly advocating to use smallpox as a weapon against the colonists. For example, English officer Robert Donkin proposed to “dip arrows in matter of smallpox, and twang them at the American rebels. . . . This would . . . disband these stubborn, ignorant, enthusiastic savages. . . . Such is their dread and fear of that disorder.”

Monday, June 28, 2021

"It was absolutely necessary to become masters of these heights" - The Battle of Bunker Hill

 



In today’s episode, "the decisive day is come"! We’ll discuss the pivotal battle of June 17, 1775...the Battle of Bunker Hill.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

"That We Will Exert Our Best Abilities to Acquire the Art Military" - How Serious Did Massachusetts View Its 1774-1775 Wartime Buildup Efforts?


The Nerds were recently asked to comment on whether Massachusetts towns and their respective military companies viewed the need for a wartime buildup on the eve of the American Revolution as a matter of great importance or not.

As noted by a variety of historians, by 1774, Massachusetts colonists firmly believed that an immoral British government, having exhausted opportunities for plunder and profit in England and Ireland, was now seeking a dispute with the American colonies as an excuse to enslave and deprive them of their wealth and liberties.

Thus, the short answer is “yes”... the residents of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775 saw the coming conflict with England as having potentially grave consequences and thus, did approach military preparations with a sense of importance and urgency.

As a preliminary matter, many town historians from the 19th and 20th Centuries either promoted or expanded upon the erroneous claim that New England militia men who served at the Battles of Lexington and Concord were poorly trained and equipped yeomen who operated on the individual level rather than as part of a larger military body.

However, thanks to research initially conducted by John Galvin, and expanded upon by historian Joel Bohy and the talented rangers at Minute Man National Historical Park, we now know the myth of the independent, untrained “embattled” farmer is just that, a myth.

Following the October 1774 orders of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, provincial towns scrambled to put themselves onto a wartime footing. As part of the effort, many militia and minute companies passed resolutions or entered into covenants clearly outlining the expectations of military service. For example, in Lexington, the men of Captain John Parker’s Company resolved to fine those men who did not treat military preparation seriously, were disruptive or engaged in “indecent behavior … two shillings”. Militiamen from the Town of West Brookfield declared “That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military: That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and harzard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts.” Finally, Ipswich declared ““We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice ... And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military."

However, a strong emphasis was also placed on military drilling and training. Following the recommendations of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Andover ordered “[Soldiers] on the said first said day of December meet together and chuse such person only for leading or instructing as shall appear to them to be most skillful in Military Discipline and that they be well equipped with good guns, and other necessary warlike armour in order for their performing of all military maneuvers.” Amesbury resolved that its minute men would engage in “exercising four hours in an fortnight.” Two weeks later, the town modified its order and instructed its minute men to “[exercise] four hours in a week.” The residents of Boxford voted on March 14, 1775 “that the minute-men shall train one half day in a week, for four weeks after this week is ended.” The Reverend Jonas Clarke noted Lexington's militia was continuously drilling and "showing arms".

The Towns of Haverhill, Andover and Bradford even went as far to hire a British deserter to train their men for war. George Marsden was a grenadier from the 59th Regiment of Foot. He and his regiment arrived in New England in 1768. However, by 1769 the 59th was in Nova Scotia. A muster roll from October, 1770 reveals Marsden was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Unfortunately, by 1774 he was demoted back to a private. The reason for the demotion is unknown but the regimental muster rolls indicate that on July 24, 17774 he deserted from his regiment. Afterwards, Marsden fled to Haverhill. In March and April of 1775, the units from those three towns actively worked with Marsden to prepare for war.

Of course, the dedication to wartime preparation did not stop at covenants and drills. Most towns established pay rates and salaries to ensure their soldiers treated their military responsibilities seriously.

Similarly, towns undertook a variety of steps to ensure its minute 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.” 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. Finally, Lexington quickly developed a cottage industry whereby men were hired to make powder horns, cartridge boxes and knapsacks, as well as modifying fowling guns to accept bayonets.

So in summation, Massachusetts colonists firmly committed to their wartime preparation efforts against England and adopted a variety of measures designed to ensure their minute and militia companies were properly prepared for a military campaign. The perpetuated myth that colonists were an untrained, poorly equipped and individualist rabble that abandoned their plowshares to engage the regulars on April 19th needs to be buried in the backyard with a shovel.

And then bury the shovel.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Loyalist Plight

 


In today’s episode, we’ll take a deep dive into history and discuss what really happened to New England and New York Loyalists after the outbreak of the American Revolution.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Battle of Chelsea Creek

 


On today’s episode, we’ll discuss the often-overlooked battle of the American Revolution - the May 1775 Battle of Chelsea Creek.


"But is Rather a Burden Upon Them" - Is Mocking the Wounded for Entertainment Ever Acceptable?

The Nerds rarely get involved in the politics of reenacting. Honestly, we have better things to do with our time.

However, a video promoted earlier this week by a non-profit historical organization has caused a bit of a kerfuffle within the living history community. The now-deleted video in question depicted a group of reenactors portraying privateers (although fantasy pirates is probably a more apt description) engaged in a tactical demonstration. At the height of the engagement, and to the humor of the spectators and participants, a reenactor comically mimicked a wound to the groin. 


It was clear by his subsequent conduct the display was done to entertain reenactors and the spectators alike. In their defense, the non-profit organization that supervised these reenactors argued that the incident occurred during a “private” tactical for reenactors, the public never saw these antics and those who objected are overreacting.


We get that argument and understand where they are coming from. The Nerds are quite confident there are several images or photos of us acting like idiots and yahoos at private events hosted by reenactment groups from the past thirty-plus years. 


However, the problem is the non-profit organization posted the now infamous groin wound incident on a very public Facebook page and encouraged others to revel in the humor and share the experience with their friends.


Taken From Pension Application of Veteran Solomon Parsons

Let’s be blunt...we wouldn’t mock the experiences of a wounded Iraq War veteran, a Vietnam War veteran or a World War II veteran. Why is it acceptable to mock and make light of the experiences of the wounded from the American Civil War or American Revolutionary War?


Thanks to the romanticism of the 19th century, many people are oblivious of just how vicious and brutal combat during the American Revolution truly was. All one has to do is look at the aftermath of the Menotomy Fight of April 19, 1775, or the Battle of Oriskany to get even the slightest understanding of how destructive 18th-century combat truly was.  


Furthermore, the mocking of the wounded through comical antics only serves to trivialize the sufferings of those soldiers who received debilitating wounds during the war. 


How does mimicking a wound to the groin for the sake of humor bring to light the sufferings of Massachusetts Soldier Solomon Parsons? At the Battle of Monmouth, Parsons was bayoneted and shot multiple times by British soldiers before being dragged through the dirt, robbed and left for dead. As he laid suffering in an open field and exposed to the blazing hot weather, all Parsons could do was weakly plead for mercy as his assailants continued to taunt and dehumanize him. He was eventually rescued by American troops.


Perhaps the promoters of the “groin video” could explain how mocking the wounded highlights the sufferings of John Robbins. At the Battle of Lexington, Robbins suffered a debilitating wound that left him virtually a ward of the state for the remainder of his life. According to one of his earlier petitions, “That your Petitioner was on the memorable 19th of april 1775 most grievously wounded. by the Brittish Troops in Lexington, by a musket ball which passed by the left of the spine between his Shoulders through the length of his neck making its way through and most miserably Shattering his under jaw bone, by which unhappy Wound your Petitioner is so much hurted in the Muscles of his shoulder, that his Right arms is rendered almost useless to him in his Business and by the fracture of his under jaw the power of Mastecation is totally destroyed and by his, low Slop diet, weakness, and total loss of his right arm, and the running of his wound, his Situation is rendered truly Pitiable being unable to Contribute any thing to the Support of a wife and five small Children but is rather a Burden upon them.”


At the end of the day we understand this was a poor attempt at humor. All we ask is that in the future do better...and get to know your audience before releasing questionable and perhaps worthless content like this.