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Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Church is Also Burnt but not the Meeting House" - The Burning of Falmouth

One of the often overlooked events of the early months of the American Revolution was the burning of Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. In an effort to crush the rebellious spirit of Massachusetts, Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves, commander of the British North Atlantic fleet, ordered Royal Navy Captain Henry Mowat to “carry on such Operations upon the Sea Coasts … as you shall judge most effective for suppressing … the Rebellion… to "lay waste burn and destroy such Sea Port towns as are accessible to His Majesty’s ships."

Captain Mowat already had a poor relationship with Massachusetts colonists, especially those from Falmouth. In April 1775, he and his ship, the HMS Canceaux, were dispatched to the coastal town to protect a British merchant vessel that had arrived in March. While onshore, Mowat was kidnapped by local militiamen and held for ransom. The Royal Navy was forced to pay for his release.

After receiving Graves orders', Mowat and his squadron bypassed the coastal towns situated along Cape Ann, the Merrimack Valley and the New Hampshire Seacoast and instead sailed directly for Falmouth. On October 17, 1775, the ships appeared in the town's inner harbor. A naval lieutenant landed and quickly delivered Mowat's communication to the town. 




"After many premeditated attacks on the legal Prerogatives of the best of Sovereigns. After repeated Instances you have experienced in Britain’s long forbearance of the Rod of Correction; and the Merciful and Paternal extension of her Hands to embrace you, again and again have been regarded as vain and nugatory: And in place of a dutiful and grateful return to your King and Parent state, you have been guilty of the most unpardon- -able Rebellion, supported by the Ambition of a set of designing men, whose insidious views have cruelly imposed on the credulity of their fellow creatures, and at last have brought the whole into the same Dilemma, which leads me to feel not a little for the Innocent of them, in particular on the present occasion, having it in orders to execute a just Punishment on the Town of Falmouth: In the name of which Authority I previously warn you to remove without delay the Human Species out of the said town, for which purpose I give you the time of two hours, at the period of which, a Red pendant will be hoisted at the Maintop- -gallant Masthead with a gun. but should your imprudence lead you to show the least resistance, you will in that case free me of that Humanity, so strongly pointed 6 pointed out in my orders as well as my own Inclination. I also observe that all those who did upon a former occasion fly to the King’s Ship under my Command for protection, that the same door is now open and ready to receive them. The Officer who will deliver this letter I expect to return unmolested. I am &c H. Mowat"

As soon as they received this ultimatum, the townspeople sent a committee to plead with Mowat for mercy. He promised to withhold an attack if the town swore an oath of allegiance to the Crown and surrender all their small arms, powder and artillery carriages. The residents quickly deliberated Mowat's demands and chose to evacuate the town instead.

By the morning of October 18th, the town appeared abandoned.  Mowat ordered his squadron to open fire. According to one eye witness, "The firing began from all the vessels with all possible briskness, discharging on all parts of the town ... a horrible shower of balls from three to nine pounds weight, bombs, carcasses live shells, grapeshot and musketballs. ... The firing lasted, with little cessation, until six o'clock." Not satisfied with the bombardment, Mowat dispatched landing parties to burn any building that was still standing. By evening, according to Mowat, "the body of the town was in one flame."




Surprisingly, Falmouth had a large Loyalist population at the time of the raid and one recounted the impact of bombardment. 

"On the 18th Octbr last a Fleet under the command of Capt Mowatt burnt the Town of Falmouth as you’ve undoubtedly heard by Mr T—. Your House Barn Out Houses. Fences & Office are all in Ashes. We had so few Hours notice of our Destruction, that we had no Time nor Team to save either your Furniture or mine – I was obliged to flee for my Life – I knew not where till a Quaker offered me a lodging in his House, which had not a finished room in it— However I was obliged by the offer— and my wife & I were were forced to foot it with large Bundles on our Arms about 6 or 8 Miles & abused as we passed the Road What little time I had was employed in throwing my Furniture into the Garden from whence a good deal was stole and the most of the remainder broken or torn in pieces— The Church is also burnt but not the Meeting House— All below Doct r Watts except a few Houses in Back Street and Bradbury & Mrs Ross’s two Houses are clean gone— The upper End of the Town supposed to be about one third of the whole is standing among which is the House I lived in by reason of that fortunate Event, I saved some of my Furniture but am Still in the Woods, where if I cant get off either to London, Boston or Hallifax."

More than 400 buildings and houses were damaged or destroyed by fire. In his report to Graves, Mowat stated that eleven small vessels were destroyed in the harbor itself, and four captured, at the cost of one man killed and one wounded. 
A visitor to the town reported that, a month later, there was "no lodging, eating or housekeeping in Falmouth." 

The events of Falmouth cause an uproar in the colonies and further galvanized the American rebellious spirit. Mowat's career suffered as a result of his actions. He was repeatedly passed over for promotion, and achieved it only when he downplayed his role in the event, or omitted it entirely from his record.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Struck Severely with Such a Spectacle" - The Privateer Yankee Hero

The Privateer Yankee Hero of Newburyport was a 14 gun sloop-of-war that was part of General Washington's 1775-1776 “Wolf Pack”.  This small fleet of privateers from the North Shore region of Massachusetts routinely harassed British shipping en route to resupply British troops trapped in Boston.  Following the Evacuation of Boston on March 17, 1776, the Yankee Hero continued to patrol Cape Ann for enemy supply ships that strayed too close to the Massachusetts coast.

On June 6, 1776, she encountered the HMS Milford off of Cape Ann. Following a two hour battle, the Yankee Hero was forced to strike her colors and surrender.



On August 22, 1776, the Essex Gazette published an account of the engagement and the suspected fate of the privateer’s crew.  

“August 12. –A correspondent gives the following account of the capture of the privateer Yankee Hero: –Captain James Tracy sailed from Newburyport, in New Hampshire, on the seventh of June, in the Yankee Hero, for Boston, with twenty-six men only, including officers. This number was not a quarter of his complement; he was provisioned for a six months’ cruise, and was to take in the remainder of his men at Boston. The afternoon he went out, going round Cape Ann, he observed a sail in the offing, but in his situation did not think of looking after her. Two boats full, manned with their muskets, who had put out after the sail, came on board and informed him a number of transports had been close into the Cape that day, and fourteen men from the two boats joined him, and sent their boats on shore. He had now forty hands in the whole, (only a third of his complement,) and with these he put away for the sail, which bore E. S. E., about five leagues distance, the wind being then westerly. At six miles distance they perceived her to be a ship, and soon, from her management, to be a ship-of-war. As a contest with her must have been very unequal, Captain Tracy, who intended to make a harbor that night, ordered the brig to be put about for the shore, not then suspecting that the ship would come up with him. But he had not tacked ten minutes before the westerly wind died away, and the ship taking a fresh southerly breeze, came fast in, endeavoring to cut the brig off from the shore. After some time, the ship thus getting in the wake of the brig, the wind again came fresh to the westward, upon which the brig hauled to the wind in the best angle for the shore. The ship gave chase, and in an hour came up within half a mile, and began to fire her bow chasers, which the brig only answered with a swivel, Captain Tracy reserving his whole fire until the ship, keeping a constant fire, came up within pistol shot upon his lee quarter, when the brig gave her the best return they could make from their main and quarter deck guns, swivels, and small arms, and after kept up a constant fire. The ship was soon up alongside, and with twelve nine-pounders on a side, upon one deck, besides forecastle and quarter deck guns, and with her marines overlooking the brig as high as her leading blocks, kept up a continual fire. After some time, the ship hauled her wind so close (which obliged the brig to do the same) that Captain Tracy was unable to sight his lee guns. Upon this he backed under her stern, but the ship, which sailed much faster and worked as quick, had the advantage, and brought her broadside again upon him, which he could not evade. In this manner they lay, not a hundred feet from each other, yawing to and fro, for an hour and twenty minutes, the privateer’s men valiantly maintaining their quarters against such a superior force. About this time, the ship’s foremast guns beginning to slack fire. Captain Tracy tacked under her stern, and when clear of the smoke and fire, perceived his rigging to be most shockingly cut, yards flying about without braces, some of his principal sails shot to rags, and half his men, to appearance, dying and wounded.



Mr. Main, his first lieutenant, was among the first wounded, and Mr. Davis, one of the prize masters, fell in the last attack. In this situation they went to work to refit the rigging, and to carry the wounded below, the ship having then taken a broad sheer some way off, and none of her guns bearing. But before they could get their yards to rights, which they zealously tried for in hopes still to get clear of the ship, as they were now nearer in shore, or to part from her under the night, she again came up and renewed the attack, which obliged Captain Tracy to have recourse to his guns again, though he still kept some hands aloft to his rigging; but before the brig had again fired two broadsides, Captain Tracy received a wound in his right thigh, and in a few minutes he could not stand. He laid himself over the arm chest and barricade, determined to keep up the fire; but in a short time, from pain and loss of blood, he was unable to command, growing faint, and they helped him below. As soon as he came to, he found his firing had ceased, and his people round him wounded, and, not having a surgeon with them, in a most distressed situation, most of them groaning and some expiring.

Struck severely with such a spectacle, Captain Tracy ordered his people to take him up in a chair upon the quarter deck, and resolved again to attack the ship, which was all this time keeping up her fire. But after getting into the air, he was again so faint that he was for some time unable to speak, and finding no alternative, but they must be taken or sunk, for the sake of the brave men that remained, he ordered them to strike to the ship.

Thus was this action maintained upwards of two hours, in a low single-decked vessel, with not half the metal the ship had, against an English frigate, whose navy has been the dread of nations, and by a quarter the number of people in the one as in the other; yet the victors exulted as though they had overcome a force as much superior as this was inferior to them. The brig had four men killed and thirteen wounded, including officers. The number in the Milford wounded is not known, though there were some. The deprivation of these brave officers and men is to be regretted by all friends to this country. With justice to Captain Burr, of the Milford, it must be acknowledged he treated with humanity and politeness the officers and men that were wounded; but to the eternal disgrace of Britain, and the present King and Parliament, let it be recorded, that in this very action above related, upwards of thirty Americans, prisoners in the Milford, were forced, at the forfeit of their lives, to fight against their countrymen; and the officers and men of the Yankee Hero, that were not wounded, are now detained in several of their ships, and may meet with the same cruel fate; an exaction that even savages have not been known to require. It is to the credit of the Hero’s men, that not one would enter upon the ship’s books, though not only urged by every persuasion, but by threats.”

Following her capture, the Yankee Hero was pressed into service for the Crown and renamed the HMS Postillion.  The vessel was part of the British Navy until it was sold in Halifax for £450.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Their Caps Were Embroidered by Several of the Fair Sex" - Roxbury's Grenadier Company

Last month we discussed how several independent militia companies were privately raised in 1774 and 1775 by Massachusetts men in anticipation of war with England.  Thanks to a tip from Greg Theberge of the 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center, we learned of a quasi independent militia company that existed before the political and military conflicts of the 1770s.

It seems that in 1769, many of the younger men from the Town of Roxbury expressed a desire for a more military appearance within the ranks of their militia company.  In an effort to achieve this goal, many purchased clothing and equipment with their own money.

According to an article that appeared in the September 14, 1769 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, these young men fielded at two separate militia musters in Roxbury as grenadiers with full uniforms, accouterments and mitre caps.  The caps were made and embroidered by several Roxbury women.  The motto "LOYALTY" was emblazoned across the front.

The news article praised the militia company for its military like appearance and its proficiency on the field.

Unfortunately, there are no known descriptions of what the uniforms or mitre caps looked like.  Likewise, we at Historical Nerdery are unaware of any surviving uniform.  Thus, we can only speculate as to what the Roxbury grenadier uniform may have looked like.

It should be noted these grenadiers, as well as the other men in the militia company, were commanded by a "Captain Heath".  It is likely this officer was William Heath, the future major general of the Continental Army.

Roxbury 2.jpg           

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Take an Exact State of Their Numbers and Equipments" - The Massachusetts Provincial Congressional Order for Inspection

While many are familiar with the recommendations of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to organize minute man companies throughout the colony, few may know that the organization also ordered a colony wide inspection of said units to ensure they were sufficiently armed and equipped for war.

On February 14, 1775, the Provincial Congress passed a resolution instructing regimental commanders to conduct inspections of the minute and militia companies under their command to determine if they were properly supplied for war. It also ordered towns to inspect their supply of ammunition and powder ("town stock").

"Resolved, That it be and hereby is recommended to the commanding officers of each regiment of minute men that now is or shall be formed in this province, that they review the several companies in their respective regiments, or cause them to be reviewed, and take an exact state of their numbers and equipments : and where there is any company that is not incorporated into a regiment, the commanding officer thereof shall review the several companies, or cause them to be reviewed, and take a like state of their numbers and equipment - and it is also recommended to the colonels or commanding officers of each regiment of militia in this province, that they review the several companies in their respective regiments, or cause them to be reviewed, and take a state of their numbers and accoutrements, which said state of the minute men and militia, shall be, by said officers, returned, in writing, to this Congress on the first day of their next session after the adjournment. And it is further Resolved, That it be recommended to the selectmen of each town and district in the province, that on the same day they make return in writing, of the state of the town and district stock of ammunition and warlike stores to this Congress."

Following the February 14th order it appears the various regimental commanders did comply with the recommendation and ordered the inspection of arms and equipment of their men. Likewise, town selectmen ordered a review of town stocks and "warlike stores". Period accounts suggest that most inspections took place between late February and the end of March.

On April 14, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress reported the returns of the inspections. "Returns of warlike stores were received from almost all the towns of the several counties of Massachusetts and Maine, except Dukes and Nantucket, April 14, 1775. The aggregate was as follows: Fire-arms- 21,549; Pounds of powder- 17,444; . Pounds of lead balls- 22,191; Number of flints- 144,699; Number of bayonets- 10,108; Number of pouches- 11,979."

Of course, on a completely unrelated side note...What is interesting about the initial February 14th order is the phrase "where there is any company that is not incorporated into a regiment." This is likely a reference to "independent companies" that were being raised throughout the colony. Independent companies were military units that were raised, organized and funded by a collection of private individuals instead of Massachusetts towns. Newburyport, Haverhill, Ipswich and West Brookfield are just a few examples of towns that had independent companies in addition to their town funded minute and militia companies. On April 19, 1775, most of these independent companies acted as minute companies.

More on Independent Companies later this week...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"These Sons of Violence" - Ann Hulton's View of Mob Violence in Pre-Revolutionary War Boston

Ann Hulton was a Loyalist who resided in Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1760s and 1770s. She was also the brother of Royal Custom Officer Henry Hulton. According to J.L. Bell , the Hulton siblings resided in Brookline and as a result, were often outside the protective range of British soldiers stationed in Boston. Despite being removed from the town, Ann Hulton was still able to provide vivid accounts of the lawless behavior of many Boston residents on the eve of the Boston Massacre.

In a letter written on June 30, 1768, Hulton recounted the conduct of a familiar group she named the "Sons of Violence":

"The Mobs here are very different from those in England… here they act from principle and under countenance, no person daring or willing to suppress their outrages or to punish the most notorious offenders for any crimes whatever…These Sons of Violence, after attacking houses, breaking windows, beating, stoning and bruising several gentlemen belonging to the Customs, the Collector mortally, and burning his boat… All was ended with a speech from one of the leaders, concluding thus: ‘We will defend our Liberties and property, by the Strength of our Arm and the help of our God’…From the inherent republican and levelling principles, there is no subordination in the society. Government is exterminated and it is quite a state of anarchy. There are some sensible and good people that are greatly alarmed… the infant colonies are advancing toward a state of independency."




The following year, Hulton revealed just how dependent upon government soldiers Loyalists had become for protection from "lawless mobs". According to Hulton,

“I hope we shall be in no more dangers or alarms from lawless mobs… it is certain that our safety & quiet depends on the army and navy being here… the tyranny of the Multitude is the most arbitrary and oppressive… many persons awed by the people, are obliged to court popularity for their own security, this is only to be done by opposing [the British] government at home…Several persons were threatened for no other reason than visiting us at the Castle… it would certainly have been done with a deal more mischief, had not the troops arrived seasonably for our protection, as well as that of every person of property. Yet there are very few to be met with that will allow the right of taxation to the British Parliament, therefore we avoid [discussing] politics."

It is interesting to note that in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre trial, Hulton, like many Loyalists, mistakenly believed that mob violence would subside. From her perspective, due process and an "impartial trial" would persuade the general populace from engaging in riotous conduct.

"The impartial trial and honorable acquital of Capt: Preston and the soldiers, has the most happy effect, it has exposed the conduct of the Faction and opened the eyes of the people, in general convinced them that they had been deceived by the false opinions and false representations of Facts. . .These trials together with that of the Custom House Officers charged with Firing out of the C:H and the suborning of false witnesses which appeared on the trial, and the witnesses since commited the Perjury."

Unfortunately for Hulton and countless other Loyalists, she was wrong.