Monday, May 22, 2017

"With a Company-Wide Space Between the Two" - Two Lexington Companies?

An analysis of the various accounts and reports of the Battle of Lexington suggest that the battlefield must have been a visual mess as the British column approached. The combination of 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 common.

However, despite the confusion, there is an account that suggest Captain Parker's Company was sufficiently disciplined and drawn up in military order. Specifically, Ensign Henry De Berniere of the 10th Foot provided an account of the Lexington men being drawn up in two divisions "with a company-wide space between the two."

Of course, based upon De Berniere's account, this begs the question: is it possible that there were two companies of Lexington militia on the common on April 19th? Most likely the answer is "no".

"Lexington Green" by Don Troiani

Almost a month after the battle Daniel Harrington recounted that when the militia mustered earlier in the morning, “the train band or Militia, and the alarm men (consisting of the aged and others exempted from turning out, excepting upon alarm) repaired in general to the common, close in with the meeting-house, the usual place of parade; and there were present when the roll was called over about one hundred and thirty of both.”

Unfortunately, Harrington is silent as to whether the alarm list and training band mustered together or as separate entities. When the militia assembled for a second time just before the Battle of Lexington, Harrington makes no reference to a second company. Instead, those who mustered are merely referred to as “the remains of the company.” 

Likewise, not a single deposition signed by spectators and Lexington militiamen makes reference to more than one company mustering on the field.

Of course, Loyalist and Boston resident George Leonard, who accompanied Percy’s relief column as a scout and was not a witness to the Battle of Lexington, indirectly suggested in his deposition that another company, perhaps unattached to Parker's Company, was nearby.

“That being on horseback . . .he several times went forward of the Brigade; in one of which excursions he met with a Countryman who was wounded supported by two others who were armed . . .the Deponent then asked what provoked [the regulars] to do it . . . he said that Some of our people upon the Regulars . . . he said further that it was not the Company he belonged to that fired but some of our Country people that were on the other Side of the Road.”

However, Leonard’s deposition is in direct contradiction with a statement given by James Marr, of the 4th Regiment of Foot, to the Reverend William Gordon. According to Marr, “when they and the others were advanced, Major Pitcairn said to the Lexington Company, (which, by the by, was the only one there), stop, you rebels! And he supposed that the design was to take away their arms.”

So what did the ensign actually see? Henry De Berniere probably observed a well drilled militia company that had been organized into platoons or divisions by its commanding officer.

There is no doubt Parker and his men were actively drilling in the months leading up to the battle. Period accounts document at least six occasions, as recent as the night before the battle, that the Lexington Company was drilling and performing maneuvers.

Interestingly, one period drill available to Captain Parker instructs officers of companies with more than forty men to divide the company into divisions, “in which case the captain leads the first, and the ensign the third, the lieutenant bringing up the rear. In general, the rule is, that the chief or commanding officer leads the whole, the second in command brings up the rear and the others lead the intermediate divisions.”

It is likely that Captain Parker followed this instruction and organized his company into “divisions” on the Lexington Common. This decision is corroborated by Lieutenant Colonel Smith's report on the engagement. "I understand, from the report of Major Pitcairn, who was with them, and from many officers, that they found on a green close to the road a body of the country people drawn up in military order, with arms and accoutrement, and, as appeared after, loaded."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It's Too Hot...

It's too hot to blog today.  So we'll be at the beach...playing in the Victorian clothing.

Image of a family with the Plum Island Lighthouse (Newburyport, Massachusetts) behind them (c.1900). This particular lighthouse was built in 1898.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Shrub, Rattle Skull and Fish House Punch! (Oh My!)

Admittedly, the nerds of Historical Nerdery have been busy dealing with their students and moody teenage soccer players.  So our apologies for the delay in posting.

To make amends, and in recognition of the warm weather that will arrive in Massachusetts later this week, here are some historically themed cocktail recipes we highly recommend!



2 oz. of dark rum
Club soda
½ oz. of Shrub syrup

NOTE: To make the shrub syrup: In a medium bowl, mash the berries with the sugar and let sit for one and a half hours. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, pressing on the fruit to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in vinegar and pour into a bottle or jar and refrigerate. The syrup can be kept in the fridge for up to two months.

Rattle Skull

2 oz. of dark rum
2 oz. of brandy
Juice of ½ a lime
1 pint of dark beer 

Fish House Punch

3/4 ounce dark rum
3/4 ounce Cognac
3/4 ounce peach brandy
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 lime slice
1 maraschino cherry

Shandy Gaff   

5 oz of beer
5 oz of ginger beer or ginger ale


1 egg
1 tsp of brown sugar
2 oz. of golden/dark rum
Whole nutmeg
Combine egg, sugar, and rum in a shaker with ice.  After shaking hard, strain into a chilled glass.  Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

And why not a 20th century bonus recipe as well...

Mary Pickford

1.5 oz white rum
1.5 oz pineapple juice
1 tsp grenadine
6 drops Maraschino liqueur

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Sinful Pleasures and Vicious Courses" or Those Munro Girls...

According to Robert Gross, author of The Minutemen and Their World, on the eve of the American Revolution one out of three first born children were conceived out of wedlock. In the 1740’s, nineteen percent of all first births were prenuptial conceptions. From the 1740’s onward, births less than nine months after marriage steadily increased. By 1774, forty-one percent of all first born children were conceived out of wedlock.

Lexington youth were no exception to this growing trend and according to period accounts, their promiscuous behavior drew the attention of the Reverend Jonas Clarke. The influential minister was so alarmed by the immoral conduct that he preached a sermon directed towards the town's youth. Entitled A Sermon Preached in the Evening to the Youth, Clarke warned against the "sinful Pleasures and vicious Courses to which there are so many and such strong and alluring Temptation in this Part of Life. . . young People . . . were surrounded by the alluring Snares, Wiles, and Temptations."

Clarke urged his young audience not to be “tempted and allured away from God and their Deity to Sinful Pleasure and vicious Courses to their Shame and Sorrow, and finally to their Destruction" and encouraged them to “choose other courses.”

Of course, Clarke's sermon must have fallen on deaf ears as the promiscuous behavior of several young adults from Lexington eventually played out in the Middlesex County Court. All of these hearings addressed the birth of "bastard" children born outside of wedlock. 

In the 18th Century the birth of illegitimate children were treated as criminal in nature and punished by the imposition of a fine.

For example, "Sarah Mead of Lexington in the County of Middlesex, spinster, being presented for the crime of fornication on file comes into the court and pleads guilty and says she was delivered of a bastard female child born of her body in Lexington aforesaid on the 13th day of January last, which child is still living, and she charges Thomas Nunning of Bedford in the same County, husbandman, with being the father of said child... Sept. 8, 1772."

Likewise, "Lydia Simends of Lexington in the County of Middlesex, spinster, comes into court and confesses she has been guilty of the crime of fornication at said Woburn... whereof she there afterward had a bastard male child born of her body on the 15th day of September last which child is still living. The court having considered her offense ordered that the said Lydia five shillings to be disposed of as the law directs and that she pay fees and costs, standing committed til performed. March 8, 1774."

Curiously, it appears that four girls from two Lexington Munro families appeared before the Court on five occasions. Rachel Munro, daughter of Marrett Munro, was fined for "fornication and says she was delivered of a bastard child at Lexington on the first day of December last (which child still living) and she charges Thomas Godding ofLexington, cordwainer, with being the father of said child.... Date March 12, 1765." Four years later she was back before the Court again. "Rachel Munro, spinster, presented for the crime of fornication, resulted in birth of bastard girl on Nov. 30, 1769. Pleads guilty and charges Benjamin Bodge of Charlestown as father. Case dated April 2, 1770."

Rachel's younger sister Bethia also appeared before the Court in 1775. "Bethia Munro of Lexington in the County of Middlesex, single woman, comes into the court and confesses she has been guilty of the crime of fornication in said Lexington whereof she there afterwards had a bastard male child born of her body on the 24th day of February 1775 which child is still living and she charges Samuel Bowman of said Lexington with being the father of said child. The Court orders that Bethia Munro pay a fine of six shillings to be disposed of as the law directs and that she pay fees and costs, standing committed til performed."

Two of Thomas Munro's daughters were also hauled before the Court. "Sarah Munro [of Lexington], spinster, presented for the crime of fornication, resulted in birth of bastard girl on Dec. 20, 1767. Pleads guilty and charges Wm. Swaney of Charlestown." 

Finally, "Abigail Munro, crime of fornication resulted in the birth of bastard girl on Oct. 27, 1769. Pleads guilty and charges Jonathan Peirce of Lexington. Case dated Nov. 27, 1770."

Friday, May 5, 2017

"A Schooner of Forty-Five Tons . . . Intended for the Enemy in Boston" - Interdiction of British Supplies by Massachusetts Privateers

In our last post, we discussed efforts by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to prevent provisions from reaching the British Army trapped in Boston.  Today we'll examine accounts detailing the activities of Massachusetts privateers.

It appears that by early fall of 1775, privateers from Newburyport, Beverly, Salem and Plymouth were actively cruising the waters off of Massachusetts Bay in search of supply ships destined for Boston.  Many of these privateers traveled in "wolf packs" that varied in size from a few ships to over twenty.  One such wolf pack from Newburyport consisted of twenty-five vessels and over 2800 men.  A second Newburyport armada boasted thirty vessels.   

According to reports from the Essex Gazette, Massachusetts privateers were far more successful in cutting off supplies than their land based counterparts.  As early as September 9, 1775, the newspaper reported that "Last Saturday a privateer belonging to Newburyport carried into Portsmouth a schooner of forty-five tons, loaded with potatoes and turnips intended for the enemy in Boston."  

Two months later, the Lee, a privateer under the command of one Captain Manly, captured the British vessel Nancy.  According to a December 7, 1775 description, "Captain Manly, in the Lee, a vessel of war, in the service of the United Colonies, carried into Cape Ann a large brig called the Nancy which he took off that place, bound from London to Boston, laden with about three hundred and fifty caldrons of coal; and a quantity of bale goods, taken by Captain Manly, was carried into Salem. She is about two hundred tons burthen, and is almost a new ship."  

Of course, the Nancy was a military ordinance supply ship from Woolwich, England and also contained several brass cannons and a large quantity of arms and ammunition. 

Interestingly, that same account hints that Massachusetts privateers were becoming problematic for the British.  "Several vessels loaded with fuel, provisions of various kinds, &c, bound to Boston, have been carried into Salem and Beverly within a few days past." 

A few weeks after the capture of the Nancy, the Essex Gazette announced Captain Manly had struck again.  "Captain Manly has, within a few days past, taken another valuable prize, a sloop from Virginia bound for Boston, loaded with corn and oats; fitted out and sent by Lord Dunniore."    

On Christmas Day, a Plymouth based privateer successfully intercepted a supply sloop from New York.  "On the 25th of December last [1775] was taken by a Plymouth privateer and carried in there a small sloop from New York, Moses Wyman, Master, laden with provisions fur the ministerial army in Boston, consisting of thirty-five fresh hogs, one hundred barrels of pork, fifty barrels fine New York pippins, twenty firkins hog's feet, some quarters of beef, turkeys, &c., &c."  

Less than six months after Massachusetts privateer operations commenced, eight captured vessels had already been brought into Newburyport.  One period account from March 6, 1776 describes the fifth vessel captured.  "A few days since, the Yankee Hero sent into Newburyport another prize, a fine brig of about two hundred tons burthen, laden with coal, cheese, &c, bound for White Haven, for the use of the ministerial butchers, under the command of General Howe, Governor of Boston. This is the fifth prize out of eight which sailed states from the above port, and we are in hopes of giving a good account of the three remaining."

Even as the British army was preparing to evacuate Boston, the famed Captain Manly was still harassing Crown shipping lanes.  On March 14, 1776 "a transport brig of sixteen guns, laden with naval stores and provisions bound from Boston for the ministerial fleet at the southward  was taken. A ship of two hundred and forty tons also captured by Captain Manly about this time was shipped with six double fortified four-pounders, two swivels, and three barrels of powder, while the cargo consisted of one hundred and seventy-five butts of porter, twelve packages of medicine with largo quantities of coal, sourkrout, &c, besides a great number of packages for the officers in Boston. She also brought out sixty live hogs, but only one of them was alive when she was carried in."

Privateering proved to be quite profitable for Massachusetts coastal towns.  At the height of the war, almost one hundred privateer vessels hailed from Newburyport alone.  According to historian George Clark, over a period of four months (November 1775 to March 1776) the number of British vessels captured en route to Boston "amounted to thirty-one, their tonnage to 3,045 tons."  


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"For the Prevention of Any Provisions Being Carried Into the Town of Boston" - Early War Efforts to Cut Off Supplies From Boston

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Massachusetts Grand Army surrounded Boston and began to lay siege to it. The Massachusetts Committee of Safety quickly recognized that in order to drive the British army from Boston, it had to starve them out. 

On May 7, 1775, the Committee passed a resolution ordering selectmen and Committee of Correspondence members for Chelsea "to take effectual methods for the prevention of any Provisions being carried into the Town of Boston." 

Unfortunately, the resolution proved to be difficult for the town as Chelsea selectmen lacked the authority to order the Massachusetts Army to mobilize. Likewise, some residents believed the execution of the order would have a negative impact on their livelihoods. William Harris, a manager at Oliver Wendell's farm on Hog's Island, later confided that he was "very uneasy, the people from the Men of War frequently go to the Island to Buy fresh Provision, his own safety obliges him to sell to them, on the other Hand the Committee of Safety have threatened if he sells anything to the Army or Navy, that they will take all the Cattle from the Island, & our folks tell him they shall handle him rufly."

The Committee of Safety recognized Chelsea could not go it alone and revisited the issue on May 14, 1775. After some debate, it was decided that the best way to prevent provisions from falling into enemy hands was to remove them altogether. Hence, the committee instructed “that all the live-stock be taken from Noddle’s Island, Hog Island, and Snake Island, and from that part of Chelsea near the seacoast, and be driven back.”  In turn, the Committee ordered “Committee of Correspondence and Selectmen of the Towns of Medford, Malden, Chelsea, and Lynn, and that they be supplied with such men as they shall need, from the Regiment now at Medford.”  

The "regiment now at Medford" was the 1st New Hampshire Regiment under the command of John Stark.  Unfortunately, Stark reported that his unit could not carry out the mission because it was too poorly equipped.  After receiving this news, the Committee of Safety resumed debate on how to best undertake interdiction operations.   

Meanwhile the British  army began to dispatch forage parties to Grape Island.

Provincial leaders scrambled to find a way to prevent further such raids and stop the flow of supplies into Boston.  The Committee of Safety drafted a new resolution to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress on May 23, 1775.  The Committee urged the Provincial Congress to use its authority to secure resources on the harbor islands and Massachusetts seacoast.  The next day, the Committee issued a second resolution, stating "Resolved, That it be recommended to Congress immediately to take such order respecting the removal of the Sheep and Hay from Noddle’s Island, as they may judge proper, together with the stock on adjacent islands."

In compliance with the Committee of Safety resolutions, Major General Artemas Ward, commander-in-chief of the army surrounding Boston, convened a council of war to discuss removing or destroying all supplies on Noddle’s and Hog Islands.  From this meeting a plan would be formulated regarding the removal of resources from some of the nearby Boston Harbor islands.  Unfortunately, the end result of the plan would be the Battle of Chelsea Creek.