Thursday, October 13, 2016

"As If It Came From the Very Suburbs of Hell" - Military Abuse of Civilians in Boston and A Loyalist Reaction to Bunker Hill

For our final post on the Siege of Boston's impact on the civilian population, we will be focusing on two separate accounts.  The first details the abuse residents received at the hands of British soldiers and their female counterparts.  The second addresses the psychological effects of the Battle of Bunker Hill on the Loyalist population of Boston.

The combination of British troops, Loyalist refugees and Boston residents all occupying a small amount of space only exacerbated a very dangerous situation.  Many of the soldiers and camp followers abused the inhabitants, stole from them and plundered their property.  John Andrews complained that the “Soldiery think they have a license to plunder evry ones house & Store who leaves the town, of which they have given convincing proofs already.”  Following his capture at the Battle of Bunker Hill, militiaman Peter Edes was brought into Boston.  According to Edes, Boston was a complicated “scene of oaths, curses, debauchery, and the most horrid plasphemy committed by the provost martial, his deputy and Soldiers who were our guard, Soldier prisoners, and Sundry Soldier women confin'd for theft, etc. We had Some of the vilest women for our neighbours ever known, Some placed over our heads, and Some in rooms each Side of us . . . Such Scenes as was Shocking to nature, and they used language horrible to hear, as if it came from the very Suburbs of Hell.”       

Of course, Loyalists were not immune from the negative impact of the siege either. Dorothea Gamsby was ten years old when the war broke out.  In a letter written years later to her granddaughter, Gamsby accurately described how tenuous situation inside Boston had become by the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Loyalists trapped inside Boston were also under constant stress.  Most believed that the town would be invaded and its inhabitants slaughtered at any moment.  As Gamsby recalled “then came a night when there was bastle, anxiety, and watching. Aunt and her maid, walked from room to room sometimes weeping. I crept after them trying to understand the cause of their uneasiness, full of curiosity, and unable to sleep when everybody seemed wide awake, and the streets full of people. It was scarcely daylight when the booming of the cannon on board the ships in the harbour shook every house in the city . . . My aunt fainted. Poor Abby looked on like one distracted. I screamed with all my might.”

1 comment:

  1. I don't think Peter Edes was a militiaman captured in the Bunker Hill battle. By his own account, he was arrested on 19 June 1775 outside his father's print shop. (To be exact, he fled the shop out of fear that a squad from the Royal Navy would impress him, but was then captured and ordered to the army provost on the charge of concealing muskets in the house.)