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. 

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