Thursday, April 19, 2018

"She Fought Bravely" - The Privateer Vengeance

We figured it was long overdue for the nerds to return to Newburyport and once again discuss Nathaniel Tracy’s privateer fleet that harassed British supply lines in the North Atlantic during the American Revolution. Today we'll review the privateer Vengeance.

According to the ship’s bond, the Vengeance was a four hundred ton brig armed with over twenty 6 pound cannons and a crew compliment of one hundred and twenty men. She was commanded by Wingate Newman, an experienced privateer who had previously commanded the brigantine Hancock. Newbury physician Samuel Nye served as the ship’s surgeon and kept a journal of his adventures on board the Vengeance.



The privateer left Newburyport on August 16, 1778 in search of a rumored British supply convoy bound from the West Indies to England. Approximately two and a half weeks later, on September 2, 1778, the Vengeance encountered the fleet, but was chased away by two frigates escorting it. Four days later Vengeance encountered the same convoy, but was too far away to give chase.

On September 17th, the Vengeance’s luck changed when its crew observed the sixteen gun packet ship HMS Harriot sailing westward for New York City. Captain Newman immediately ordered the Vengeance to give chase. According to the commander, the Harriot offered “small resistance.” 

Surgeon Nye described the engagement in greater detail. “Sept 17 Lat 49 Discovered a sail at 9 AM bearing ENE 4 leagues distance at 3 PM got within cannon shot of her gave her two or three bow chasers and received as many stern chasers from her soon after which she hauled up her courses and gave a broadside but her guns being light the shot did not reach she then endeavored to get away by making sail again but found it impracticable she again lay to till we got within pistol shot of her and then gave us another broadside which was returned on our part and to such purpose as to oblige her to strike at once after having one man killed and six wounded.”

After the Harriot surrendered, the crew was removed and the prize was sent to Newburyport to be sold.

Four days later, on September 21, 1778, the Vengeance encountered the fourteen gun HMS Snow Eagle, which was en route to Falmouth, England. After a long chase the Snow Eagle was forced to turn and engage the Newburyport privateer. 

Newman held his fire until the very last minute and then unleashed a full broadside into the Snow Eagle. After a twenty minute fight the British ship surrendered with two killed and six wounded.  Among the dead was one of the passengers, a Colonel Howard of the 1st Guards Regiment.  Nye recalled how he was brought on board the enemy vessel to render medical assistance to the wounded. One sailor was so badly injured the doctor “was obliged to amputate his leg.” 

On board the Vengeance, only Captain Newman was slightly wounded.

The Newburyport privateer took eighty nine prisoners that day. Among the detainees were an assortment of officers. “The prize proved to be . . . from New York to Falmouth out twenty eight days mounting twelve three pounders and having forty three men beside the following passengers Col Howard of the 1st Regiment Guards killed in the engagement Col McDonald 71st Regiment Highlanders Col Anstruther Col Stevens of the Guards Maj Barcley Maj Forbes and the Hon Maj afterwards Lord Charles Cathcart Capt of the Athol Highlanders and 2d Major of Lord Cathcart’s legion and brother to Lord Cathcart Mr Sloper cornet of horse two sergeants three or four servants and Miss Jane Marsh On board were some dry goods besides plate and cash to a considerable amount Got the prisoners on board our brig and sent Mr Thomas Newman prize master and a gang of our people aboard to repair her rigging.”

Captain Newman was now faced with a dilemna. Specifically, he had “more prisoners aboard than my own number consisted of, my vessel excessive crank, and not much provisions on board. I determined to go to Bilboa in order to get rid of my prisoners and to refit my vessel, but on making Cape Ortugal the wind came to the Eastward and blew very hard, which obliged me to put into this port [La Coruña, Spain] . . .”

Upon arriving in La Coruña around October 4, 1778, Newman turned all of his prisoners over to the British consul, Herman Katenkamp. In turn, he secured a receipt for the future exchange of American prisoners of equal ranks.

The Vengeance was back at sea in late October 1778. While on patrol off the coast of Spain she encountered the fourteen gun British privateer Defiance. A vicious fight ensued before the Defiance was forced to surrender. 

Newman lost eight men killed or wounded, while the British suffered fifteen casualties.



In December, 1778, the Vengeance captured the brigantine Elizabeth and the brig Francis.

The Vengeance returned to the New England coast in April, 1779. On April 19th she met the British privateer Mary, which was en route to Antigua. Although only slightly outgunned, the Mary immediately surrendered without a fight.

The privateer returned to Newburyport on May 29, 1779.

While in port, the ship underwent extensive repairs. As she was nearing the end of her refit the British established a military outpost at Penobscot, Maine. In response, Massachusetts authorities began raising an expedition to drive them out. Among the privateers recruited for this expedition was the Vengeance.

Apparently Captain Newman declined to participate in the expedition with the Vengeance and thus, command was transferred to a Captain Thomas Thomas of Newburyport. (This is NOT a typo...his name really was Thomas Thomas.)

The privateer took part in the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition of 1779.  Privateer Micah Lunt of Newburyport would later report the fate of the ship. “[In] the year 1779 I shipped in Newburyport on board the armed ship Vengeance commanded by Thomas Thomas in the expedition to Penobscot which ship was driven up the river by the British fleet and with others in the expedition was burnt by order of the Commodore to prevent them falling into the hands of the British their crews took to the woods and on foot found their way back to the province of Massachusetts.”

The Vengeance was destroyed in the Penobscot River to prevent her capture on August 14, 1779.  All of her crew were discharged from Massachusetts service on August 27, 1779.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"To Be Ready At An Hour's Warning" - The Massachusetts Militia System on the Eve of Lexington and Concord

Starting this weekend there will be several interpretive programs highlighting the events surrounding the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In recognition of these educational programs, here is a quick refresher post on the Massachusetts militia system on the eve of the American Revolution.

By the 17th century, militias were the cornerstones of English society. Thus, when Plimouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were founded, the establishment of the militia followed naturally. In both colonies, every man over sixteen automatically became a member. The governor maintained the sole authority to activate the militia in the time of crisis. Each time a new town sprung up, a militia company was formed. As the town expanded, additional companies often were created. When counties were formed, the various town militias within the borders of each county were organized into regiments. The governor held the sole authority to activate the militia in the time of crisis. 



In the decades following the establishment of the initial English settlements in Massachusetts, the number of hostile encounters had continually increased between the colonists and the French and Native Americans who opposed further English expansion west and north into New England. To counter the ever-present threat of French and Native American attacks, Massachusetts created rapid response militia units that evolved over time into the minutemen. During King Phillips’s War (1675-1676), Massachusetts ordered one hundred men from each county regiment “to be ready at an hour’s warning and . . . not fail to be at the [appointed] rendezvous.” With the outbreak of King George’s War in 1745, militia commanders were again required to appoint a fraction of their men “to be [ready] at a minutes warning to march [to the] enemy.” When the French and Indian War started, Massachusetts continued to make use of the rapid-response concept. Militia companies were required to single out particular men “to be completely furnished with arms and ammunition . . . and hold themselves in readiness to march at a minute’s warning to such part of the [frontier] or elsewhere as service required.”

However, with the elimination of the French threat as a result of the French and Indian War, the need for a militia decreased significantly. After 1763, companies and regiments of Massachusetts militia rarely assembled to drill and as a result, were of little military value. By the eve of the Boston Tea Party, a militia muster was not viewed as a military gathering, but rather as a sort of town holiday offering an opportunity for families and friends to get together. 

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress correctly surmised war with England was inevitable. As a result it had to “consider what is necessary to be done for the defence and safety of the province.” Quickly, it resolved to wrest control of the militia away from the group of loyalist officers who commanded it. To achieve this, the Provincial Congress first ordered the militias to “meet forthwith and elect officers to command their respective companies; and that the officers so chosen assemble as soon as may be . . . and proceed to elect field officers.” Congress also recognized the need to revitalize and further strengthen the colony’s militia system as quickly as possible. On October 26, 1774, the delegates set into motion the formation of minute companies within Massachusetts. As part of its resolution, it declared "[The] field officers, so elected, forthwith [shall] endeavor to enlist one quarter, at the least, of the number of the respective companies, and form them into companies of fifty privates . . . who shall equip and hold themselves in readiness, on the shortest notice from the said Committee of Safety, to march to the place of rendezvous . . . said companies into battalions, to consist of nine companies each."

Emphasis on proper military skill and logistical supply was strongly emphasized by the delegates. On the same day as the creation of minute companies, the Provincial Congress resolved "That, as the security of the lives, liberties and properties of the inhabitants of this province, depends under Providence, on their knowledge and skill in the art of military, and in their being properly and effectually armed and equipped, it is therefore recommended, that they immediately provide themselves therewith; that they use their utmost diligence to perfect themselves in military skill; and that, if any of the inhabitants are not provided with arms and ammunition according to law, and that if any town or district within the province is not provided with the full town stock of arms and ammunition . . . that the selectmen of such town or district take effectual care, without delay, to provide the same. "

Finally, the Congress voted to create a Committee of Safety, charged with the responsibility to “carefully and diligently . . . inspect and observe all and every such person or persons as shall at any time attempt or enterprise the destruction, invasion, detriment or annoyance of this Province . . . [The Committee] shall have the power . . . to alarm, muster, and cause to be assembled with the utmost expedition, and completely armed, accoutered . . . march to the place of rendezvous, such and so many of the militia of this Province, as they shall judge necessary for the ends aforsaid.” 



To support the logistical needs of the Committee of Safety, a sister committee was created to gather “such provisions as shall be necessary for [the militia’s] reception and support, until they shall be discharged by order of the Committee of Safety.”

Three days later, on October 29, 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress addressed what appropriate military exercise the various militia and minute companies should adopt. 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.

Acting upon these instructions, the recently elected militia officers loyal to the Provincial Congress traveled throughout their respective counties recruiting minutemen. Andover’s Samuel Johnson, colonel of the 4th Essex Regiment of Militia, appeared before each of his companies to recruit and organize companies of minutemen. On February 2, 1775, he spoke to the four companies of militia from the North and South Parishes of Andover. According to the Essex Gazette, "Last Tuesday at 2 o'clock p. M. the town foot-companies of the 4th regiment of Militia in the County of Essex, Inhabitants of the North Parish in Andover, being mustered (after attending prayers for the direction of the God of armies), Col. Samuel Johnson, lately chosen first officer of said regiment, addressed himself to the companie and with great zeal recommended to them the necessity of enlisting themselves into the service of the province and in a short time fifty able-bodied effective men, being one quarter part of said companies — more than a third part of whom are heads of families and men of substance and Probity, willingly offered themselves: they were then escorted to an Inn, where they made choice of Capt. Thomas Poor, junr, for their captain, Ensign Benjamin Farnum first lieutenant, and Samuel Johnson junr. for second lieutenant. They then subscribed a covenant obliging them to conform to the Resolves of the former or any future Congress or General Assembly of the Province that hath or may have Relation to their Duty, and by said Covenant subjected themselves to martial discipline for the term of one year from the time of their enlisting. And this day the two companies in the South Parish in this town were mustered at two o'clock afternoon, when after attending prayers for direction, Col. Johnson enlisted forty-five able-bodied men as aforesaid and of the like condition and probity, being one quarter part of said companies last mentioned, who immediately proceeded to make choice of Capt. Benjamin Ames for their captain, Lieut. David Chandler first lieutenant and Isaac Abbot for second lieutenant, and subscribed the covenant aforesaid. All being performed with great unanimity, seriousness and decorum, and the soldiers seeming rather to be animated than disheartened by the late disagreeable news contained in the king's speech."

On February 14, 1775, Johnson visited Methuen. Following his speech, fifty men enlisted as minute men under the command of Captain John Davis. Haverhill likewise established a minute company under the command of James Sawyer. On February 22, 1775, Johnson visited Boxford. The colonel “addressed himself with great zeal to the two foot-companies of the Fourth Regiment, recommending to them the necessity of enlisting themselves into the service of the Province, and in a short space of time fifty-three able-bodied and effective men willingly offered themselves to serve their Province in defence of their liberties.” Amesbury, one of the few towns not visited by Johnson, was slow to respond in the formation of a minute company. On March 20, 1775, the town finally “voted to raise fifty able bodyed men including officers for minnit men and to enlist them for one year.”

Sunday, April 8, 2018

"I Got Hold of the Bridle of His Horse and Dismounted Him" - The State of the British Column As It Advanced on Lexington

Later this week, Historical Nerdery's Alexander Cain will release his book We Stood Our Ground in print format. The following is an excerpt from the book and discusses the experiences of the British soldiers and Loyalist guides as they advanced on Lexington the morning of April 19, 1775.

The regular soldiers and officers marching towards the Lexington militia were in an understandably foul mood. The expedition, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith of the army and Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines, consisted of over seven hundred men. The force was composed of one company of marines, and the grenadier and light infantry companies of eleven different regiments.

Also present with the column were the Loyalist guides who either volunteered or were recruited to assist the mission to Concord. Little has been written about the role Loyalists played in Gage’s military operation. A review of primary sources, including Loyalist claims for compensation after the American Revolution, suggest that at least six loyalists were recruited to assist Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s expedition by navigating colonial roads and assisting troops in locating military stores in Concord.

Among the guides were former Harvard classmates and friends Daniel Bliss of Concord and Daniel Leonard of Taunton. Both were well established attorneys who were forced to flee to the safety of Boston in 1774. It was suspected by many Massachusetts Loyalists that Leonard was the anonymous author “Massachusettensis”, who had published a series of pro-government letters drafted in response to the political arguments of John Adams.

Dr. Thomas Boulton of Salem and Edward Winslow Jr. of Plymouth also voluteered for the mission. Boulton was a vocal supporter of Crown policies towards Massachusetts and was forced to flee to Boston in 1774. Winslow held several political and legal posts in Plymouth County. Sensing a radical shift in the political mood in October of 1774, he abandoned his estate and also retreated to Boston.

Another Loyalist was William Warden. Warden was born in Boston and was a shopkeeper, grocer and barber. Unlike many of his station, Warden had been opposed to the political and violent activities of the Massachusetts “patriots” since the Stamp Act.

It appears the guides were interspersed throughout the column. Lieutenant William Sutherland of the 38th Regiment of Foot references on two separate occasions a “guide” attached to the front of the column. “When I heard Lieut. Adair of the Marines who was a little before me in front call out, here are two fellows galloping express to Alarm the Country, on which I immediately ran up to them, seized one of them and our guide the other, dismounted them and by Major Pitcairn's direction gave them in charge to the men.” In a separate letter, Sutherland describes how a Loyalist guide identified a captured American prisoner as being a person of importance. “I mett coming out of a cross road another fellow galloping, however, hearing him some time before I placed myself so that I got hold of the bridle of his horse and dismounted him, our guide seemed to think that he was a very material fellow and said something as if he had been a Member of the Provincial Congress.”



The troops and guides started crossing the Charles River by boat at ten o’clock at night. According to the Reverend William Gordon, “On the first of the night, when it was very dark, the detachment, consisting of all the grenadiers and light infantry, the flower of the army to the amount of 800 or better, officers included, the companies having been fitted up, and several of the inimical torified natives, repaired to the boats, and got into them just as the moon rose, crossed the water, landed on Cambridge side, took through a private way to avoid discovery, and therefore had to go through some places up to their thighs in water.” For the next two hours, the entire expedition stood in the freezing marshes of Phips Farm until rations that they did not need arrived and were handed out.

When the expedition finally got under way at two o’clock in the morning, Colonel Smith soon realized that the entire countryside seemed to know of its existence. As he reported days later, “notwithstanding we marched with the utmost expedition and secrecy, we found the country had intelligence or strong suspicion of our coming, and fired many signal guns, and rung alarm bells repeatedly.” Realizing that the expedition was running behind schedule and that the success of the mission was in jeopardy, Smith halted the column upon reaching Menotomy. There, he gave his men a short rest and summonsed Pitcairn. He ordered the Major to take the six companies of light infantry and “march with all expedition to seize the two bridges on different roads beyond Concord.” Pitcairn set off immediately, pushing his detachment hard, and sent forward an advance guard consisting of Lieutenant Jesse Adair of the Royal Marines, loyalist guide Daniel Murray, several other officers and eight light infantrymen.

As Pitcairn’s force mobilized, the advance guard captured two men on horseback: Asahel Porter and Josiah Richardson of Woburn. As the two riders were taken into custody, signal guns and alarm bells began to sound. Hearing the alarms, Smith ordered an officer to return to Boston to request reinforcements.

At the front of Pitcairn’s column the sound of many galloping horses was heard, and into the ranks of the advance guard rode Major Mitchell’s party which had earlier captured Revere and three Lexington riders. As Lieutenant William Sutherland of the 38th Regiment of Foot remembered, “[we] were joined by Major Mitchell . . . and several other gentlemen who told us the whole Country was alarmed and had Galloped for their lives, or words to that purpose.”

Yet, Pitcairn was determined to still press ahead to Concord. As the expedition advanced, a third alarm rider, Simon Winship of Lexington, was captured. However, unlike his two predecessors, he refused to dismount and had to be dragged off his horse at gunpoint.

The column encountered other individuals on the road that morning both on horse and on foot. Each of them, when questioned by the officers, emphasized that a large body of militia was gathered in Lexington and would resist the regulars if they continued their march to Concord. 



As the column crossed into Lexington, Lieutenant Sutherland physically collided with Benjamin Wellington, a thirty-one-year-old Lexington resident who had his musket and bayonet in hand. “I . . . mett one of them in the teeth whom I obliged to give up his firelock and bayonet, which I believe he would not have done so easily but for Mr. Adair’s coming up.” Wellington was forced to surrender his musket and was then ordered to go home. Instead, he ignored the instruction and hurried back to the village common. He rearmed himself with another musket from the town’s stock.

As the column closed in on Lexington’s common, a British sergeant reported that a party of colonial horsemen rode out from the village and shouted, “[you] had better turn back, for you shall not enter the town!” One of the mounted men then “presented a musquet and attempted to shoot them, but the piece flashed in the pan.” According to Lieutenant Sutherland, another individual fired at him from the vicinity of Buckman’s Tavern. He reported this to Pitcairn who then galloped to the front of the column, halted the men and ordered them to load their muskets and fix bayonets.. “On this, I gave directions to the troops to move forward, but on no account to Fire, or even attempt it without Orders.”

William Sutherland noted “shots fired to the right and left of us, but as we heard no whissing of balls, I [concluded] they were to Alarm the body that was there of our approach.” Off in the distance, militiamen could be seen hurrying into line. “The road before you go into Lexington is level for about 1000 yards . . . when we came up to the main body which appeared to me to Exceed 400 in and about the village who were drawn up in a plain opposite the church.”

Captain Parker’s men waited nervously for the arrival of the British regulars. As the troops approached, many began to realize the danger they were in. One was bold enough to tell Parker “There are so few of us! It is folly to stand here!” The militia captain, ignoring the outcry, turned to his company and stated “Let the troops pass by, and don't molest them, without they begin first.”

Pitcairn was confronted with a military quandary. If he chose to ignore the militia company drawn up on the village common, he would be leaving an armed opponent to his rear. If he halted, he could exacerbate an already tense situation

Monday, April 2, 2018

"To Paint the Scenes of Distraction" - A Loyalist Account of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill

Today’s post contains the complete text of a unique primary source – a June 24, 1775 letter written by an unnamed Boston Loyalist and addressed to his friend in Scotland.

The anonymous merchant offered a detailed account . . . from the Loyalist perspective . . . of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and The Battle of Bunker Hill.  The author also described the reaction of Boston citizens to each of the events. 

The letter appeared in the September 9, 1775 issue of The London Chronicle.




"Boston, June 24.

Dear brother, I Received yours, by Capt. Porterfield, and I am exceeding (sp) glad to hear of your welfare. The last time I wrote, I gave you some account of the deplorable state of this province: no doubt you will expect that I should give you a very particular state of matters here since that time. To paint the scenes of distraction, violence, mobs, riots, and insurrections that have taken place throughout this country for the last twelve months is altogether beyond my ability; how much less then shall I be able to describe the horrors of war, that have reigned here since the 19th of April. The people have been arming themselves, learning the military exercise, and forming magazines for war during the course of last year, and have always been publishing to the world, that they would fight and die for their liberties (as they express themselves): but few people believed they would fight, notwithstanding of their declarations, and I believe the General himself never thought they would carry it so far. But on the 18th of April, the General having previous information that they had formed their grand magazine at a place called Concord, about twenty miles from Boston, dispatched 500 troops with the greatest secrecy, at ten o’clock at night, to go and destroy that magazine. The troops no sooner got over the ferry, which was about one mile over, than alarms were spread throughout the country, by firing of cannon, ringing of bells, and post riders; all this was planned before that time. – The troops proceeded on their march, and when daylight appeared, they saw numbers of armed men traveling towards them from all quarters. In a short time after this, they found about 100 of them on a green by the wayside: the commanding officer ordered them to dismiss; they accordingly began to retire; and after going to a small distance in a straggling manner, and getting behind some fences, some of them turned about and fired, which wounded several men, upon which the troops fired on the others as they ran, and killed eight, and proceeded on their march, which was four miles further. After arriving, they sent three companies two miles beyond the place, to defend a bridge, that the rebels might not come upon them from that quarter, while they were executing their orders at this place, a large body came upon the three companies, and obliged them to return to the main body, with some loss of men. By this time the magazine was destroyed, which proved to be very inconsiderable. They instantly proceeded on their march for Boston, but as soon as they got out of town, they received a heavy fire from all quarters, but never could see above six people together at a time, for they hid themselves behind rocks, trees, fences, bushes, and in every house, barn, stable, &c. An Aid de Camp arrived in town from the commander of the party, to let the General know that an alarm was spread through the country: on receiving this advice, four regiments and two field pieces, were immediately ordered to march under the command of Lord Percy, to reinforce the other troops. They accordingly marched at nine o’clock, and arrived at the place of battle at two, which was 16 miles from Boston, and found the others in a most miserable situation, hemmed in on all sides, and their ammunition almost spent, with numbers killed and wounded. This party then refreshed themselves, while the fresh troops began upon them with cannon and small arms. In a short time they began their march home, and fought their way through innumerable multitudes, hid in the manner before said, during the course of 16 miles." 



"When the troops arrived, their ammunition was all gone, and all the men in the most fatigued condition imaginable, having received no kind of sustenance during the day. Two carts with provisions were sent off some time after the reinforcement, guarded by 24 men, some of whom were killed, and the rest taken prisoners, and never got up to the troops. A list of the killed and wounded has never been published here, but by the best account, about 70 were killed, and about 200 wounded, and 30 missing. How many of the rebels were killed and wounded is impossible to say: they published a list, but this and all other publications respecting their cause, are the most gross falsehoods; their leaders always take care to suppress the truth. But, dear brother, it is impossible to describe the surprise, amazement, and consternation that prevailed in town that day, word was brought every half hour that the troops would be all cut off; and almost every inhabitant was wishing and praying that it might be so; and it was expected that the whole country would rise and make an attempt to enter the town, which was not very strongly fortified at that time, and but few troops to defend it; and it was likewise supposed the inhabitants within, who all had arms in their possession, would rise and attempt to kill the soldiers and the few friends to good government that were in it. However, the night passed away, and no attempt was made from without, nor insurrection within. This place is surrounded with water all but one neck of land: the passage this way was stopped next day, and all boats forbid to go; so that no person was suffered to go out, and fortifications were begun and carried on with the greatest expedition day and night till they were made, and now are exceeding (sp) strong for defence (sp). The rebels to the amount of 20,000 assembled in a few days, and stopped all the passages and communications from the country to Boston, by this intending to starve us. The inhabitants in general became very uneasy for fear of the famine, and applied to the General to permit them to go out with all their effects: the answer was, if they would deliver up all the arms and ammunition that were in their possession, they might go with their furniture, but no merchandize (sp) nor provisions would be suffered to go. To this they agreed, and I suppose there is not one in 15 but what is now gone. Notwithstanding we have no supplies from the country, we are far from being in a state of famine; we live all on salt meat, except a few fish that comes in the harbour now and then, and the prices are not so much raised as might be expected. The army have some hay, cattle, and other articles from Quebec and Nova Scotia, which are the only governments that are not joined in the rebellion. From the 19th of April to the 17th of June, nothing very material has happened. On the 12th of June, the General issued a proclamation, offering his Majesty’s most gracious pardon to all who would lay down arms and return to their duty, except two of the ring-leaders; and likewise establishing the martial law in this province while this unnatural rebellion subsists; but no regard was paid to this."



"On the 17th instant at daylight, it was observed by some of the ships of war, that the rebels had thrown up an entrenchment on a hill on the other side of the river, about one mile from this town: the alarm about this new movement of theirs was general; for from this, if they were suffered to go on, they could beat down or burn the town. At nine o’clock, a battery on an eminence in this town directly opposite to their works, began to play upon them, but found they could not dislodge them. The rebels fired a few shot into this town, and then desisted, for their shot did no execution: 1800 of the rest of the troops were immediately ordered to embark on board of boats, and go and engage them, under the command of General Howe. About 3 o’clock they landed on the other side about half a mile from the rebels, under cover of 5 or 6 ships of war, who kept a continual fire on the ground betwixt the place of landing and the enemy, who chose to lie close in their breast works all this time. As soon as the troops had got themselves in order, they began to advance, canonading (sp) all the way till they came within gun-shot. Charles Town on the foot of the hill, consisting of about 200 houses, was set on fire by the fort on this side at the instant the engagement began, whose flames raged in the most rapid manner, being chiefly of wood: sure I am, nothing ever has or can be more dreadfully terrible, than what was to be seen and heard at this time! The most incessant discharge of guns that ever was heard with mortal ears, continued for three quarters of an hour, and then the troops forced their trenches, and the rebels fled. The place where the battle was fought, is a peninsula of a mile long and a half broad, and the troops drove them over the Neck and kept the island. All this was seen from this town. A very small part of the enemies entrenchments was seen on this side, it being only thought to be the work of a night, but their chief breast works were on the other side of the hill; it was found to be the strongest post that was ever occupied by any set of men, and the prisoners that were taken say they were 9000 strong, and had a good artillery; five cannons were taken. The spirit and bravery that the British troops exhibited on this occasion, I suppose is not to be surpassed in any history. But oh! The melancholy sight of killed and wounded that was seen on that day! In four hours after their landing not less than 500 wounded were relanded here, and 140 were left dead on the field, amongst which was a large proportion of brave officers, viz. 36 killed, and 44 wounded; 300 of the rebels were killed, and 36 wounded left on the field, but they carried off great numbers of their wounded in their retreat. To the great satisfaction of all good men, Dr. Warren was slain, who was one of their first and greatest leaders. Early next morning I went over and saw the field of battle, before any of the dead were buried, which was the first thing of the sort that ever I saw, and I pray God I may never have the opportunity of seeing the like again. The rebels are employed since that day, fortifying all the hills and passes within four miles, to prevent the troops from advancing into the country. We hourly expect the troops to make a movement against them, but they are too few number, not less than 20,000 being equal to the task. I cannot help mentioning one thing, which serves to shew (sp) the hellish disposition of the accursed rebels, by parcels of ammunition that were left on the field; their balls were all found to be poisoned. Thus, brother, I have endeavoured (sp) to give you a short account of the desperate state of matters here since my last, and shall sum up the whole with one single observation, viz. the delusion that reigns here is as universal and as deeply rooted as ever was found among the race of mankind, and of all other rebellions that ever subsisted in the world, it is the most unprovoked. I am, &c."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Darkness and Confusion: The Conditions of the Lexington Common in the Minutes Before the Battle

In review of the documentation on the Battle of Lexington, particularly the depositions of the Lexington militia men, it is probable that as the light infantry companies of the 4th and 10th Foot stepped onto the village common, the sun had yet to rise and lighting conditions were poor.

Thomas Rice Willard watched the battle from a window in Daniel Harrington’s house, located at the back of the Lexington common. Four days later, he testified “On the Nineteenth instant, in the morning, about a half hour before sunrise, I looked out at the window of said house, and saw (as I suppose) about four hundred regulars in one Body.” John Robbins noted the training band “being drawn up (sometime before sun Rise) on the Green or Common . . .there suddenly appear’d a Number of the Kings Troops.” William Draper, a resident of Colrain, Massachusetts who happened to be in Lexington on April 19th declared “about a half hour before sunrise, the King’s Regular Troops appeared at the meeting house of Lexington.” Finally, Thomas Fessenden asserted that as he stood in a pasture, he watched the regulars enter the common and rush the training band “at about half an hour before sunrise.”

 

Along with the darkness, the militiamen of the Lexington Training Band were also in a state of confusion. As the British advanced towards the common, Captain Parker initially ordered his men to “Let the troops pass by, and don't molest them, without they begin first.” However, when the light infantrymen rushed towards his company, Parker quickly reversed his own instructions. “I immediately ordered our militia to disperse, and not to fire.” 

Because of Parker’s inconsistent commands, many, but not all, of the militiamen broke ranks and began to retire from the field. But simultaneously, additional men arrived at the parade ground to join the Lexington Training Band. Nathaniel Parkhurst affirmed, “we attended to the beat of our drum, and were formed on the Parade; we were faced towards the Regulars then marching up to us, and some of our Company were comeing to the parade with their backs towards the Troops, and Others on the parade, began to disperse when the Regulars fired on the Company.” 

According to Daniel Harrington, “Upon information being received . . . that the troops were not far off, the . . . company collected together . . . by the time the regulars appeared . . . [The company was] chiefly in a confused state and only a few of them being drawn up.” 

Within the space of minutes, the training band had become a confused mob. 



The combination of the darkness, spectators gathered in small clusters and militiamen coming and going from the common must have contributed to Major Pitcairn and Lieutenant Sutherland’s false impression that a large number of armed provincials were drawn up on the Lexington Common. 

 One officer believed he saw two militia companies formed on the common. Ensign Henry De Berniere of the 10th Foot, described the Lexington men drawn up in two “divisions”, with a company-wide space between the two.  As we previously discussed, that perception was erroneous.

Monday, March 26, 2018

"With What Little Silver She Had" - Female Evacuees of April 19th and Personal Property

Research conducted by historian Mary Fuhrer suggests ownership of luxury items in Lexington, including gold, silver, pewter, brass, clocks, and looking glasses soared after 1750. When Lydia Mulliken’s husband died in 1768, an inventory of his estate revealed that they had gathered several markers of taste and fashion. When Anna Munroe married innkeeper William in 1767, she reportedly brought to the marriage a “Round mahogany table, two arm-chairs, looking-glass, hat-tree, Britannia teapot, silver tablespoon and . . . [a] pewter candlestick.” William’s brother Edmund Munroe had built up a goodly fortune trading in furs before his marriage to Rebecca Harrington, and he titled himself a “gentleman.” Together the couple acquired pewter, brass, glass, china, tea board, tea table, “a number of picters,” mahogany tables, chests of drawers, looking glasses, silver spoons, punch bowls, brass ink horns and an extensive line of linens. Rebecca’s parents kept pace with their daughter. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord Rebecca’s parents submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress a claim that included the loss of over £50 worth of textiles, including one “fine India dark gown,” one “striped English cotton gown”, an expensive eight-day tall case clock valued at at £15, three large mirrors, and teapots.



When many of women of Lexington fled their homes on April 19, 1775, they either carried off with them or scrambled to hide personal valuables. Why?

 It appears part of the motivation may have to do with Massachusetts colonial 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 personal 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 were her closest connection to lawful possessions and thus gave her a sense of ownership.  This perception would be severely undermined or destroyed if her personal possessions were stolen by marauding British troops.  




Given the above, what were some of the items civilian evacuees hid or carried off when they left their homes? The Reverend Jonas Clarke’s family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes.” 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.” According to one account, A Lincoln evacuee carried off “the large family Bible, a loaf of bread . . . a looking glass, [and] with what little silver she had.” Finally, two of Jonathan Loring’s daughters hid the communion silver in a brush heap in back of the house before fleeing.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Every Now and Then We Engage in a Little Shameless Promotion

Well, it’s finally here . . . After several months of rewrites and research “We Stood Our Ground” has been published as an ebook! Historical Nerdery's Alexander Cain rewrote the book to reflect the recent discovery of countless new historical documents, town records and historical artifacts.

We Stood Our Ground explains Lexington's shift from a passive to a radical town in the 1760s and early 1770s. It not only examines Lexington's religious, economic, social and geographical settings on the eve of the American Revolution, but also describes its citizens' reactions to the Stamp Act crisis, the Townshend duties and the Intolerable Acts. Lexington's war efforts prior to the Battle of Lexington are also carefully scrutinized.



For the first time the April 19th civilian evacuation of Lexington and the roles of Loyalists at the Battle of Lexington are covered. Likewise. Captain Parker's ambush of retreating British regulars is also reexamined based upon the archaeological surveys conducted at the original battle site.

Because of the support and encouragement Historical Nerdery has received from our fellow history nerds and friends, the ebook is available for FREE and can be downloaded here.

If you do download the book and like it, all we ask is you give it a favorable review on Amazon. If you have any issues with our research or the book itself, contact us directly and let me know what you think is incorrect or misinterpreted. Chances are we'll correct the errors!

Enjoy!