Thursday, November 30, 2017

"We Fired on Them" - What Likely Happened at Parker's Revenge

In the hours after the Battle of Lexington, Captain Parker assembled his men on the village common. According to local folklore, the company then marched westward as fifer Jonathan Harrington played the Jacobite tune The White Cockade.

When the Lexington Company arrived at the Lexington-Lincoln border around 12:30 in the afternoon, Parker signaled the company to halt and then instructed his men to prepare for an ambush. Absent from the company was the confusion and hesitation of the earlier encounter with the British regulars. More than anyone else on that day, the Lexington Training Band wanted revenge.

So what really happened when Captain Parker’s Company attacked the retreating British column the afternoon of April 19th? Thanks to an archaeological survey and a subsequent report by Dr. Margaret Watters Wilkes, we now have a better sense of what transpired at the battle site better known as Parker’s Revenge. 

Parker selected a position near the Tabitha Nelson Homestead. This site included a house, barn, farmyard, orchard and woodlot. There were also several out buildings such as privies, sheds, and chicken coops dispersed throughout the property. Dozens and dozens of boulders of various sizes dotted the farmland. Along the eastern and southern boundaries of the property was a geological seep. A small bridge part of the Concord Road crossed over it. Adjacent to the homestead was a ledge that overlooked the property.

The site offered several tactical advantages to Parker and his men. The bridge would be a point of constriction for the retreating British forces - the retreating soldiers would have to slow down to cross the structure and would be more vulnerable to an attack. The boulders, structures and trees provided ample coverage and could serve as obstacles to a British counter assault. From their vantage point, Parker’s Company had a clear view down Concord Road. Not only would the militia have heard the battle coming toward them, but from their elevated position they could watch the British approach. Finally there was an accessible route that ran through the woodlot. The pathway not only provided an easy path of withdrawal but also permitted the men to re-engage the retreating column at the Bloody Bluff and Fiske Hill.

The majority of Parker’s men broke ranks and formed a long, staggered skirmish line along an elevated finger of land inside the woodlot overlooking the footbridge. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, Parker likely received information that the regulars were now marching back towards Lexington.

As the British column approached the Nelson Homestead, they had been marching and fighting for over twelve hours. According to Captain William Soutar of the Marines, Lt. Col. Smith’s column was subjected to a continuous barrage of musket fire that they did not anticipate. “The Country by this time had took ye alarm, and were immediately in arms, and had taken their different stations behind walls &c. on our flanks and thus we were harassed on our front, flanks and rear…by a continual fire for eighteen miles, it not being possible for us to meet a man otherwise than behind a bush, stone, hedge or tree, who immediately give his fire and off he went. Our companies were not able to march half of its front on the open road, or more properly speaking in two platoons, the second in rear of the first. On our leaving Concord we were immediately surrounded on every Quarter, and expected to be cut off every moment. Sometimes we took possession of one hill, sometimes of another; at the last it was determined to push forward to Lexington, which we did through a plaguey fire…” The regulars were running out of water and ammunition, and discipline in the British column was quickly breaking down.

The British had already suffered close to one hundred casualties. The retreating soldiers’ pace had likely slowed down because it was now encumbered with scores of wounded soldiers and officers that clung to horses, carts, carriages or whatever else might help them reach Boston. In fact, research conducted by Dr. Watters Wiles suggests the column may have been travelling only four miles per hour as it approached Parker’s position.

When the column reached the bridge, Smith’s column was suddenly in a very dangerous position. In short, the soldiers entered the lowest point of a “valley” along the seep feature while the Lexington militia held an elevated position.

The head of the column likely caught sight of the Lexington men. In response, a vanguard composed of light infantry formed on the seep feature, remained clustered together as they crossed the bridge and started to deploy towards Parker’s Company in a close, tight formation. Naturally, this offered an excellent target for the Lexington militia.

Parker waited until the soldiers were within fifty yards of his position before ordering his men to fire. The Lexington men then unleashed a volley that swept along the vanguard, instantly killing or wounding an unknown number of regulars. Lieutenant-Colonel Smith was struck in the thigh and Captain Parson of the 10th Regiment of Foot was hit in the arm.

The British light infantry completed its flanking deployment and then returned fired at the Lexington militia. Two Lexington militiamen, Jedediah Munroe and Nathan Wyman, were struck and killed. Immediately after discharging their muskets, the regulars swept up the slope. However, Parker and his men had already started to withdraw. After discharging a single volley, the militiamen quickly retired up the access path to the top of the hill and then moved down the east side. Once at the bottom, the company moved to a new position down the road to attack the column again. According to militiaman Nathan Munroe “We fired on them and continued to do so until they met their reinforcement in Lexington.” The British vanguard did not pursue the militiamen and returned to the column.

Monday, November 13, 2017

"It Was Done by Fire and Water" - The Tea Burnings of Lexington and Newburyport

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act in an attempt to refinance the shaky economic base of the British East India Company. Established in 1709, the East India Company derived over ninety-percent of its profits from the sale of tea. However, by 1772, due to severe mismanagement, the company was in desperate need of a bailout. The company directors looked to Parliament for relief. Parliament’s response was the Tea Act, through which the East India Company was given exclusive rights to ship tea to America without paying import duties and to sell it through their agents to American retailers. American merchants who had for years purchased tea from non-British sources (Dutch tea was a particular favorite of New Englanders) faced the prospect of financial ruin.

Massachusetts immediately opposed the act and began to organize resistance. On November 29, 1773, the tea ship Dartmouth arrived at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. Three days later, the Beaver and the Eleanor arrived at the same wharf. Bostonians demanded that Governor Hutchinson order the three ships back to England. On December 16, 1773, the owner of the Dartmouth apparently agreed and went to Hutchinson to beg him to let the ships return to England. Hutchinson refused, and at approximately six o’clock that evening, some 150 men and boys disguised as Indians marched to the three ships, boarded them and dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.

Meanwhile, as tempers boiled over in Boston, the citizens of Lexington assembled three days prior to the Boston Tea Party to discuss the unfolding events. The matter was referred to the town’s committee of correspondence, which quickly drafted an emotional and stinging condemnation of the Tea Act.

"[It] appears that the Enemies of the Rights & Liberties of Americans, greatly disappointed in the Success of the Revenue Act, are seeking to Avail themselves of New, & if possible, Yet more detestable Measures to distress, Enslave & destroy us. Not enough that a Tax was laid Upon Teas, which should be Imported by Us, for the Sole Purpose of Raising a revenue to support Taskmasters, Pensioners, &c., in Idleness and Luxury; But by a late Act of Parliament, to Appease the wrath of the East India Company, whose Trade to America had been greatly clogged by the operation of the Revenue Acts, Provision is made for said Company to export their teas to America free and discharged from all Duties and Customs in England, but liable to all the same Rules, Regulations, Penalties & Forfeitures in America, as are Provided by the Revenue Act . . . Not to say anything of the Gross Partiality herein discovered in favour of the East India Company, and to the Injury & oppression of Americans; . . . we are most especially alarmed, as by these Crafty Measures of the Revenue Act is to be Established, and the Rights and Liberties of Americans forever Sapped & destroyed. These appear to Us to be Sacrifices we must make, and these the costly Pledges that must be given Up into the hands of the Oppressor. The moment we receive this detested Article, the Tribute will be established upon Us . . . Once admit this subtle, wicked Ministerial Plan to take place, once permit this Tea . . . to be landed, received and vended . . . the Badge of our slavery is fixed, the Foundation of ruin is surely laid. "

The committee also issued six resolves pledging to preserve and protect the constitutional rights that Parliament had put into jeopardy, to boycott any teas "sent out by the East India Company, or that shall be imported subject to a duty imposed by Act of Parliament," to treat as enemies anyone found aiding in the landing, selling or using of tea from the East India Company, and to treat the merchants of the East India Company with contempt. Finally, the town expressed its gratitude to Boston for its undertaking in the name of liberty, and pledged

"We are ready and resolved to concur with them in every rationale Measure that may be Necessary for the Preservation or Recovery of our Rights and Liberties as Englishmen and Christians; and we trust in God That, should the State of Our Affairs require it, We shall be ready to Sacrifice our Estates and everything dear in Life, Yea and Life itself, in support of the common Cause."

Upon completion, the Town of Lexington with a unanimous vote adopted the resolves. Immediately afterwards, an additional resolve was passed, warning the residents "That if any Head of a Family in this Town, or any Person, shall from this time forward; & until the Duty taken off, purchase any Tea, Use or consume any Tea in their Famelies [sic], such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this town & to this Country, and shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt."

That evening, the residents of Lexington gathered all tea supplies and burned them. According to the December 16, 1773 edition of the Massachusetts Spy "We are positively informed that the patriotic inhabitants of Lexington unanimously resolved against against the use of Bohea tea of all sorts, Dutch or English importation; and to manifest the sincerity of their resolution, they brought together every ounce contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire."

Lexington was not the only Massachusetts town to protest via tea burning. Evidence suggests Newburyport also undertook a similar demonstration. However, this seaport’s method of protest was far more reserved and somewhat unusual in comparison to Lexington.

According to the December 4, 1773 edition of the Essex Packet and Merrimack Journal, "notifications were posted up in all parts of the town" detailing a proposal to block the landing of tea in Newburyport with "a united and forceful resistance." However, no attempt to unload tea in Newburyport was ever made.

On December 9th, the citizens of the town "selected a committee of prominent citizens" to craft the town’s position of support for the growing protests in Boston. According to town records, the committee ultimately pledged "[we] are Determined to give them all the Assistance in our power even at the Risque of our Lives & Fortunes." The next week, a town meeting was held "to consider the serious condition of public affairs." After some debate the citizens voted to assist the residents in Boston "with utmost Endeavors."

When word reached Newburyport of the destruction of tea in Boston, yet another town meeting was convened. Ultimately the town "voted unanimously to address the Boston committee in its strongest language yet."

However, Newburyport did not move to destroy its own stock of tea until approximately January 17, 1774. According to a report printed in the January 26, 1774 edition of the Essex Journal "A large quantity of the forementioned pernicious stuff was consumed here last week; in order to imitate at the same time both Boston and Charlestown. It was done by Fire and Water; and so general was the spirit, that all ranks and degrees of people, high and low, rich and poor, Whig and Tory, agreed in the affair."

If the above statement was the entirety of the account one would conclude the residents of Newburyport gathered most of the tea in town and collectively destroyed it in a massive bonfire.  However, this was not the case.  It appears Newburyport’s tea protests were actually private in nature.  According to the same newspaper account the protest "was done not in in the manner of some others, on the wharves and the public streets, but by each one under own roof, and, as if by a general agreement about the same time."

Why was Newburyport’s tea burning private while Lexington’s was out in the open?  Honestly….we don’t know.  However, we suspect Newburyport residents may have believed the act of publicly destroying tea may have been too offensive and radical for their liking.

Update 11/14/17:  We were contacted this morning by Newburyport historian Jack Santos.  After reading our blog post, he had a very interesting (and probably correct) take on the January 26, 1774 article.  Jack suggests that the article was actually a satirical piece mocking Newburyport for its inaction during the tea crisis.  The statements of everyone participating in the "protest", the event taking place "at the same time" and destruction of the tea "by fire and water" were actually references to the traditional "tea time" and the making and consumption of the drink.

Naturally this raises a question destined for research... did Newburyport even have its own tea protest??

Monday, November 6, 2017

"True Sons of Liberty Throughout the World" - The Toasts of Newburyport

If you have ever joined Untapped History for one of its historic walking tours of Newburyport, you would have concluded the tour with a sampling of alcoholic drinks from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  During the sampling, it’s likely Alex and Eric (the “nerds”) would have invited you to partake in a series of historically accurate toasts documentable to the American Revolution.  

The nerds of Untapped History tell us they relied upon period accounts and records from New York and Pennsylvania to come up with the toasts they offer.  However, thanks to the Newburyport Independent Marines, Untapped History may be introducing a series of period correct toasts directly tied to 18th Century Newburyport.

As Untapped History has previously written, the Newburyport Marine Society was founded on November 5, 1772 by ship captains and merchants.  In September, 1774, the members formed their own military unit known as the “Independent Marines”.  Shortly thereafter, the organization was on a wartime footing in preparation for a conflict with England.  

The September 21, 1774 edition of Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet details some of the early activities of the Independent Marines.  “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition: After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

The nerds of Untapped History recently discovered a second account describing the Independent Marines’ wartime preparation.  The report appeared in the October 26, 1774 edition of the Essex Gazette.  While the article describes the unit performing complex military maneuvers, including “different modes of firing”, it is notable that the unit also sponsored a post drill social gathering that included no less than twenty four toasts.

Here is a copy of the article which details the toasts made:

The two dozen toasts paid homage to a variety of “patriotic” individuals and organization, including Committees of Correspondence, Bostonians, John Hancock, Josiah Quincy and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

We look forward to seeing Untapped History introducing these Newburyport specific toasts to their tours.  Hopefully the guests will be able to keep up!