Sunday, June 24, 2018

Think Massachusetts Militia Men Were Carrying Old French and Indian War Muskets and Equipment? Think Again ...

The nerds at Historical Nerdery were recently examining records discussing the arms and equipment available to Massachusetts militia and minute companies. During our review, we remembered a question we’ve received from time to time - were arms and equipment from the previous French and Indian War used by Massachusetts militiamen during the Battles of Lexington and Concord?

The short answer is “it depends”. 

The arms shipped to Massachusetts troops during the French and Indian War were generally referred to as a “stand of arms”. Firearms were issued in complete sets or “stands”, meaning that all of the basic components and accouterments needed to use the firearm were included. These components included the firearm itself, a bayonet fitted to the gun, bayonet scabbard, sling, a belly box with a waist belt and leather frog. Unlike the better quality cartridge boxes issued to regular regiments, the belly boxes that came with the stands were simple wooden blocks with cartridge holes drilled in it. Two thin leather strips were nailed to the front of the box for a waist belt, which carried the frog, scabbard and bayonet.

During the French and Indian War, all stands of arms provided to Massachusetts soldiers were considered property of His Majesty and were expected to be returned to officials at the end of each campaign. Nevertheless Massachusetts soldiers often refused to return these stands of arms and simply took them home at the end of their service. In 1757, the British Comptroller complained “out of the 2,000 [stands of arms] issued to the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, he has just yet received 300 only.” Two years later, in 1759, Massachusetts Governor Pownall complained “I had caused about three thousand stand of arms to be delivered to the [Massachusetts] men, raised the last year for His Majesty’s service, under General Abercromby; I have an account of one hundred and fifteen only, as yet returned.”

So it is very possible some Dutch and British muskets and belly boxes issued to Massachusetts provincial troops during the French  and Indian War saw service on April 19, 1775.

Likewise, bayonets issued during the war were repaired and re-issued to Massachusetts men in 1774 and 1775. For example, in Bradford, Phineas Carlton was hired to scour “the old Bayonets, and fitting with Belts, 4l. 4s. 0d. For 2 Scabbards and Belts.” In Lexington, bayonets issued by Massachusetts Bay Colony to the town’s militia company in 1758 were ordered to be collected, repaired and reissued.

However, the real question is just how many of these guns, bayonets and cartridge boxes actually saw service in 1775? We’re going to go out on a limb and say not as many as one would like to believe. Why? Simply put, the arms and equipment issued to the American colonies were far from top of the line. Worse, many of the weapons and accouterments issued to Massachusetts troops during the French and Indian War were utterly useless. 

For example, on September 28, 1755, Governor Shirley and Major General William Pepperrell both received correspondence highlighting the inadequacies of weapons and equipment sent to Massachusetts provincials in the field. “The locks being wore out and the hammers so soft, that notwithstanding repeated repairs they are most unfit for service, particularly Sir William Pepperrell’s Regiment being old Dutch arms.” In July 16, 1756, two Massachusetts colonels both complained that the arms they received “are in very bad condition.” Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie complained about a shipment of arms that was received and slated to be shared amongst the American colonies, including Massachusetts. According to Dinwiddie, the stands of arms were “in a very rusty condition, and it w’d appear they had been underwater for months.”

Of course, quality control issues were not limited to muskets. According to Governor Shirley, “the holes of the pouches and boxes are so small that they cannot receive the Cartridge, nor is there substance of the wood, to widen them sufficiently. The leather scanty and bad likewise.”

In a previous blog post, the nerds had estimated that by 1759 at least 4585 British and Dutch muskets, cartridge boxes and bayonets allegedly remained in the hands of Massachusetts provincials and could have found their way into the ranks of militiamen at Lexington and Concord. However, with references to cartridge boxes and belting made with substandard leather, and rusted muskets with inoperable locks, we have to ask just how likely these items would have been of any use by Lexington and Concord.

Naturally, this would possibly explain why Massachusetts towns were moving to equip their militia and minute companies with newly made cartridge boxes and belting. It would also provide some explanation as to why many militia companies were armed with civilian fowling pieces rather than old military guns. (The archeological findings of the Parker’s Revenge dig suggests the majority of Captain Parker’s men were armed with fowlers on April 19, 1775.) However, this is an issue that needs to be explored further.

We’ll keep you posted as to what we find.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"We Could Not Have Engaged in a More Lucrative Business" - The Smuggling Exploits of Sarah and David Emery

Whelp….we put this off long enough. Shame on us. It’s long overdue that we discuss the early 19th century smuggling exploits of Sarah Smith Emery of Newburyport.

Sarah was born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1787. During the War of 1812 Emery and her husband dominated the Newburyport smuggling trade. In 1879 her daughter published Sarah’s memoirs, entitled Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian. A large segment of the writings describe her exploits of smuggling imported goods literally under the noses of local custom officers. However, Sarah’s writings also recount her daily experiences as a child in Federalist Massachusetts.

 So how did Sarah get her start in the smuggling trade?

In 1807, war raged between England and France. Unfortunately, the United States was caught in the middle of the conflict and saw its merchant fleet repeatedly harassed by both the French and British Navies. In response, President Jefferson and the American Congress passed the Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited the United States from engaging in trade with all foreign ports.

The embargo crippled the American economy and coastal ports like Newburyport struggled to survive. As Emery noted in her biography, “The Embargo Act wholly disarranged the business of Newburyport; for a time it brought much suffering. It was but natural that opposition to the policy of the administration should he nearly universal. On the first anniversary of the passage of the act, the flags were hung at half mast, the bells were tolled, and minute guns were fired; while a procession of sailors bearing erape on their arms marched through the streets, headed- by a dismantled vessel drawn by horses on a cart. This craft bore a flag inscribed 'Death to Commeree.' On the quarter-deck stood a sailor with a glass in his hand, and a painted motto bore the words 'Which way shall I steer?' Occasionally the sailor threw the lead.”

The Embargo Act was replaced with the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which enabled the President, once the wars of Europe ended, to declare the country sufficiently safe to allow foreign trade with certain nations. With the passage of this law, Emery noted that “Business revived, and shipbuilding again became active.”

Unfortunately, when war was declared in 1812, an embargo against British goods and trade was once again imposed. “In every seaport there was much distress. Labor was impeded; the most industrious were enforced to idleness; poverty took the place of plenty; this was too often followed by despondency . . . and misery. Many a noble man became a mere wreck of humanity, and many a delicately bred lady descended into an unthrifty, slatternly household drudge, while their offspring, half-clad and half-fed, mixed unrestrained amongst the very dregs of the population.” 

Sarah’s husband David, a Newburyport tavern keeper, feared financial ruin. If merchants and sailors could not trade with England, they could not spend their coins in his tavern. Shortly after the declaration of war, he finally confessed his fears. “At night, after the house was still he came into my private parlor, and sinking into the large rocking-chair exclaimed, 'Wife, I fear I am ruined.' ” 

However, Sarah rejected her husband’s grim outlook. “I did not share in this despondency, and soon succeeded in chasing the gloom from his brow.” Sarah quickly realized British merchants wanted to trade with New England and would undertake extraordinary measures to get their products to commercial centers like Newburyport. Shortly thereafter, Sarah Smith Emery presented a plan to her husband that would eventually lead the Emerys to become one of the most successful importers of British goods in New England.

Simply put, Sarahtold her husband they were entering the world of smuggling.

One way illegal British goods made their way into Massachusetts was to sail up the Merrimack River and take advantage of the many islands and inlets that could hide merchant vessels from American revenue cutters. The other was to bring the goods overland from Canada. According to Emery, “British manufacturers having quantities of goods upon their hands, ran cargo after cargo into their eastern provinces [in Canada], thence they were passed across the border and taken South [to Newburyport, Salem and Boston] by ox teams; as our accommodations were excellent, the teamsters made 'Emery's tavern' their headquarters.”

The couple became successful overnight. “We could not have engaged in a more lucrative business . . . At sunset I have often counted a dozen or fifteen [carts] drawn up by the sidewalk, opposite the long barn, their motley coverings of patchwork quilts, coverlets etc., presenting a gypsy-like, semi-barbarous appearance.” 

 On another occasion, Emery recalled “I was awakened one night by a tap upon the window of my bedroom. Somewhat startled, 1 still forebode to awaken my husband, who had retired much fatigued. Slipping on a wrapper, 1 raised the curtain and asked 'Who is there?' . . .  I recognized the voice as that of Capt. Josiah Bartlett . . . at that time an active ship-master. Mr. Emery hastily dressed, when it was found that Capt. Bartlett had a stagecoach at the door, filled with merchandise, gloves, muslins, laces, vestings, ribbons, and other articles of a like description. These were hastily placed in my best bedroom, from whence they were gradually taken to the stores in town. Capt. Bartlett continued to bring goods for some time. We often had bales of valuable cloth hidden in the hay mow; some were taken to Crane Neck and stored away in the large back chamber.”

On one occasion, the Emerys received word of a lot of linen awaited pickup at the “Kennebunk wharves.” Wearing a disguise and carrying false customs papers, David retrieved the linen and returned to Newburyport with it hidden inside rum casks.

To avoid detection she routinely entertained and plied custom officers and marines with alcohol in the same tavern her illicit activities operated out of. “The collector of the customs, Mr. Ralph Cross, and Master Whitmore, another custom house official, were in the habit of walking up to the tavern of a pleasant afternoon; on one occasion I entertained the two old gentlemen in my parlor while Mr. Emery loaded a team at the barn with smuggled goods and drove away to West Newbury without exciting the slightest suspicion in the government officers, though the whole household were on the brood grin, and I was obliged to control my risibles and give a variety of private signals to the others to prevent an unseemly outburst of merriment.”

The Emerys made a fortune smuggling goods into Newburyport and naturally, Sarah enjoyed the additional benefit of picking out goods for herself. “The shawls were quite pretty, having white or buff centres and high-colored borders; they sold for four dollars apiece. I took calico for a dress and a shawl; two other shawls were sold in the house; the remainder of the goods were slyly conveyed in the evening to the store of Miss Dolly Carnes. This new stock brought a rush of custom to that spinster's establishment… Shawls were in great demand.”

The Emery’s smuggling business continued for some time after the War of 1812. Fortunately, David’s fear of financial ruin never came to fruition and he and his wife were able to ensure their family remained comfortable. With the funds they acquired from smuggling they were able to invest in legal business ventures.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"The Curd Was Ready for the Press" - Meal Preparation on a Federalist Massachusetts Farm

Sarah Smith Emery was born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1787. During the War of 1812 Emery and her husband dominated the Newburyport smuggling trade (we still need to talk about that. In 1879 her daughter published Sarah’s memoirs, entitled Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian. A large segment of the writings describe her exploits of smuggling Irish linen literally under the noses of local custom officers. However, Sarah’s writings also recount her daily experiences as a child in Federalist Massachusetts.

In the mid 1790s, Sarah was a young girl who lived on a Newbury (now West Newbury) farm that her father had inherited from her grandfather. During the summer her family spent most of their time working on tasks and chores. As Emery noted, “Industry and economy were the watchwords of the household: still, there was no overtasking nor stint.”

In addition to describing the daily routine of maintaining a farm, Sarah also described the collective effort needed to prepare daily meals for a family and hired hands on a farm in Federalist Massachusetts

“In those summer days . . . mother and Aunt Sarah rose in the early dawn, and, taking the well-scoured wooden pails from the bench by the back door, repaired to the cow yard behind the barn. We owned six cows; my grandmother four. Having milked the ten cows, the mild was strained, the fires built, and breakfast prepared. Many families had milk for this meal, but we always had coffee or chocolate, with meat and potatoes. During breakfast the milk for the cheese was warming over the fire, in the large brass kettle. The milk being from the ten cows, my mother made cheese four days, Aunt Sarah having the milk the remainder of the week. In this way good-sized cheeses were obtained. The curd having been broken into the basket, the dishes were washed, and, unless there was washing or other extra work, the house was righted. By the time this was done the curd was ready for the press. Next came preparations for dinner, which was on the table punctually at twelve o’clock. In the hot weather we usually had boiled salted meat, and vegetables, and, if it was baking day, a custard or pudding. If there was linen whitening on the grass, as was usual at this season, that must he sprinkled."

After a noontime meal, Sarah noted that the women of the family would change into a clean set of clothes. "After dinner the cheeses were turned and rubbed; then mother put me on a clean frock, and dressed herself for the afternoon. Our gowns and aprons, unless upon some special occasion, when calico was worn, were usually of blue checked home-made gingham, starched and ironed to a nice gloss."

During warmer days of the summer, Sarah's mother and aunt would break from meal preparation and sew. "In the sultry August afternoons mother and Aunt Sarah usually took their sewing to the cool back room, whose shaded door and windows overlooked the freshly-mown field, dotted by apple tree."

Towards the end of the day, when her father and his hired help returned to the farm house, tea was served. "At five o’clock the men came from the field, and tea was served. The tea things washed, the vegetables were gathered for the morrow, the linen taken in, and other chores done."

Afterwards, the men resumed their chores. "At sunset the cows came from the pasture. Milking finished and the milk strained, the day’s labor was ended. The last load pitched on the hay mow, and the last hay cock turned up, my father and the hired man joined us in the cool back room, where bowls of bread and milk were ready for those who wished the refreshment. At nine o’clock the house was still, the tired hands gladly resting from the day’s toil."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Fathom The Bowl: Five Historic Alcoholic Drink Recipes to Try this Summer

We at Historical Nerdery would like to apologize for our recent absence. Between family commitments, getting Untapped History ready for its second tour season and putting together podcasts (yes, those are being released this summer), we’ve been a tad busy.

So please accept our deepest apologies for not posting.

To make it up to you here are five historic alcoholic drink recipes to try this summer!

Hannah Wooley Punch (17th Century)

Yield: 15 cups

10 ounces Hennessy Fine De Cognac
8 ounces Barolo Chinato
10 ounces nutmeg syrup
26 ounces dry red wine, preferably merlot
10 ounces fresh lemon juice
5 ounces soda, to top

Nutmeg Syrup: 2 lbs white sugar, 1 whole nutmeg, 35 ounces water. Add sugar and water to a pan, grate the nutmeg and heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

Garnish: red currant strings or cranberries, edible flowers (such as violas), grated nutmeg and orange wheels.


Combine first five ingredients in punch bowl. Top with soda.

Garnish with red currant strings or cranberries, edible flowers (such as violas), grated nutmeg and orange wheels.

Ladle over cups with ice to serve.

Regent’s Punch (17th Century)

Yield: 16 cups

1 1/2 cups white sugar
lemon peels from 4 lemons
2 cups green tea
1 cup pineapple juice
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 cup orange juice
2 cups Cognac, preferably Pierre Ferrand 1840
1/2 cup maraschino liqueur, preferably Luxardo
1/2 cup Jamaican rum, preferably Hamilton Gold Jamaican Rum
3/4 cup Batavia arrack
1/2 bottle Champagne


Prepare an oleo saccharum by combining the sugar and lemon peels in the bottom of a large punch bowl (four quarts, minimum).

Muddle the lemon peel and sugar gently from time to time over a period of 45 minutes while preparing the fresh juices and tea.

Once steeped, use the hot green tea to melt the oleo saccharum.

Add to the punch bowl all of the remaining ingredients, except the Champagne and store in the refrigerator until service.

When ready to serve, add in ice and top with Champagne.

Philadelphia Fish House Punch (18th Century)

Yield: 18 - 20 cups

1 cup sugar
4 lemons, peeled and peels reserved
4 cups black tea (or water)
1 cup lemon juice
4 cups rum, Jamaican
2 cups cognac
1/2 cup peach brandy
Garnish: lemon wheels and freshly grated nutmeg

In a large bowl, add sugar and lemon peels, and rub together to release the citrus oils into the sugar. (This is called oleo-saccharum.)

Allow oleo-saccharum to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Dissolve sugar with warm water or tea.

Add rum, cognac, lemon juice and peach brandy and stir to mix.

Add a block of ice to chill, and continue to add smaller pieces of ice for desired dilution.

Garnish with lemon wheels and freshly grated nutmeg.

Ladle into individual glasses.

Daniel Webster’s Punch (19th Century)

Yield: 8 Cups

3 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1 bag black tea
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup cognac
3/4 cup oloroso, dry
3/4 cup Jamaican rum
1 1/2 cups Bordeaux, or any full-bodied red wine
champagne, to top


Peel the lemons, taking care to avoid as much of the bitter white pith as possible.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar with the lemon peels, then lightly muddle and let sit for 20 minutes to allow the citrus oils to infuse with the sugar.

Boil 2 cups of water and steep the tea bag in it for 5 minutes, and set aside to cool slightly.

To the bowl, add the tea, lemon juice, cognac, sherry, rum and red wine, and stir to combine.

Strain out the lemon peels and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Fifteen minutes before serving, add the ice ring (see Editor's Note).

Ladle into cups and lightly top each glass with champagne.

Smoking Bishop (19th Century)

Yield: 10-12 cups

750 ml ruby port
750 ml red wine
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon allspice, ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
4 oranges
20 cloves, whole

Garnish: clove-studded orange slice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash and dry oranges. Pierce and stud each orange with five cloves.

Place oranges in a baking dish and roast until lightly browned all over, 60-90 minutes.

Add port, wine, water, sugar and spices to a saucepan, and simmer over low heat.

Slice oranges in half and squeeze juice into the wine and port mixture.

Serve in a punch bowl, and ladle into individual glasses.

Be sure to visit our official website for a variety of historical trade goods, 
research papers, information and other interesting tidbits!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

"To Accomplish His Abominable Villainy & Deceive Him of His Daughter" - The Fate of Rebecca Rawson

Admittedly, we’re suckers for love stories…especially those that end in acts of fraud. However, this one is simply too tragic.

Rebecca Rawson was born in Newbury in 1656 and was the daughter of Edward Rawson, a high ranking official of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. According to period accounts, she was “one of the most beautiful, polite and agreeable young ladies” in the entire colony. Many men made attempts to court her but their advances were always rebuffed.

In 1768, a Sir Thomas Hale arrived in the colony. The gentleman asserted that he was the nephew of Lord Chief-Justice Hale of England and immediately began to court Ms. Rawson. Shortly thereafter, Sir Hale asked for Rebecca’s hand in marriage. Her parents were impressed with the young man’s credentials, saw the benefits of their daughter marrying a lord and quickly assented to the request. Rebecca and Thomas were married in July, 1679 “by a minister of the Gospel, in the presence of near forty witnesses”. A very large dowry was given to Sir Hale by Edward Rawson.

The newlyweds quickly boarded a ship and embarked for England. Upon arrival in London, the couple spent the night at a local inn. The next morning, Thomas went back to the docks to retrieve their trunks, which he promised to send to Rebecca. The trunks soon arrived, but with no keys or Thomas to open them. After waiting several hours, she finally had the trunks broken open. Instead of finding her dowry and property, she “found herself robbed of everything and the trunks filled with shavings and rubbish.”

Horrified, Rebecca unsuccessfully scoured the neighborhood for her husband. After speaking to several locals, it was discovered that “Sir Thomas Hale” was actually Thomas Rumsey, a local con man. He had left his wife and two children three years before and relocated to the American colonies to further his schemes.

Of course, Rebecca and her family were not Rumsey’s first mark. He had gained the confidence of John Hull, the treasurer and mint-master of Massachusetts and fraudulently convinced Hull to advance two hundred and fifty pounds in silver to him.

He also misled Theodore and Mary Atkinson of Boston. According to their sworn account, “About the 3rd month in the year 1678, Thos. Rumsey came to me and tendered his service for 1 yr. to work with me; & told me he was a Kentish- man & his father lived near Canterbury, & that his father was a yeoman & had an estate of 400 a year; also that his father had died when he was young & that his father's estate did fall to him at his mother-in-law's decease; & pretended that he came to New England on account of religion; & he hired himself to me for a year for to attend my business, keep my book of accounts & gather in my debts; but when he had been about a month with me he pretended he was one highly bred, but would not say further what he was; but 5 mo: after, he told me his father was a knight & baronet. So he lived and carried himself, pretending he was highly bred, that I did not set him on work because he promised me he would satisfy me for what charges & expenses I was out about him; but a little time after he came to me he began to discover himself so as his religion did seem to wear away, & before the year was expired he changed his name & said his name was Hailes, & professed he had been a great travel ler in the streights for about 2 & 20 months, & his mother was called Lady Hailes & paid him his money by bills of exchange from time to time; that she was a lady that had 300 p' an. of her own that she brought with her, & that his father had 800 a year and a vast estate where he durst not nor would not mention lest he should be laughed at and not be believed, & that all his father's estate after his mother's decease was his. Those & such like stories he made use of to put a cheat on Mr. Edward Rawson of Boston, to accomplish his abominable villainy & deceive him of his daughter, Mrs. Rebecca Rawson, who he was married unto by a minister of the Gospel on the first day of July, in the year of our Lord 1679, in the presence of near 40 witnesses.”

Rebecca never saw her husband again. To complicate the embarrassment of being part of a fraudulent marriage, she soon discovered she was also pregnant with Rumsey’s child. She sought out an older sister who resided in London and lived with her for the next thirteen years. She supported herself by painting miniatures on glass.

Her father was well aware of her plight and spent years begging her to return to him. Finally, in 1692, she agreed and boarded a ship bound for Boston with an uncle. Historical records suggest she left her child behind with her sister.

On June 6th, the vessel docked in Port Royal, Jamaica to deliver its cargo to local merchants. While docked at the island, a massive earthquake struck. According to witnesses, the earthquake was so violent that over 2,000 people were killed. Buildings collapsed, graves opened up, sand liquefied and the entire waterfront sank into the ocean. The dock that Rebecca’s ship was moored to quickly sank and pulled the entire ship, along with its crew and passengers, down with it. Everyone on board, including Rebecca Rawson, drowned.

Her uncle, who happened to be on shore at the time of the disaster, was the only person from the ship that survived. When he arrived in Massachusetts he had the difficult task of telling her parents of Rebecca’s fate.

"Hark! What grumbling Noise" - Wild Weather in 1768 New England

We thought it was time to once again visit some of the wild and unusual weather events of 18th Century New England. Today, we’ll discuss a series of violent storms that pounded New England 250 years ago this summer.

On August 1, 1768 a cold front passed through New England. Period accounts assert that during the storm rain fell in torrents, wind gusts leveled trees and the vivid lightning struck and killed two cows belonging to Hartford’s Caleb Bull. In Norwalk, a barn owned by the “widow Benedict” was also struck by lightning and quickly caught fire.

Meanwhile, in Boston, a lightning bolt struck the residence of a “well-known victualler, Mr. Shirley.” At the home of one Dr. Sprague, lightning struck the chimney and travelled down into a china closet, destroying several saucers and plates. The bolt continued through several curtain rods and then into an imported clock located on the main floor. The device exploded into several fragments which were were found throughout the room.

At the residence of a barber known as “Mr. Davis”, a lightning bolt also struck his chimney and travelled down the side of the house before entering a closet. The heat from the electrical charge melted several alead weights and nail heads. Two of Davis’ children were also struck, thrown across the room and rendered unconscious.

At the home of a Temple Street carpenter, the damage from lightning strikes was so severe it melted pewter plates, shattered glass and a damaged a kitchen hearth.

Several days later, a poem describing the tempest appeared in the Essex Gazette.

“Hark! What grumbling Noise comes thro' the yielding Air! Is it the Cannon's Roar! The Din of War? No! — 'Tis the Voice of God; he Thunder rolls, And flashes Lightnings to the distant Polls. The Clouds impregnate with electric Ire, Join and disjoin, and fold the Skies in Fire: At which the Thunders burst with dreadful Roar, Sweep through the Skies, and grumble on the Shore! But still the Sound augments: while through the Air Surprising Lightnings gleam with frightful Glare! See! — from the Weft the gloomy Tempest rife: Successive Flashes fire the burning Skies ! — Such is the Noise, and such the Lightnings Chine. They both proclaim the Author is DIVINE!— Are fuch his Terrors, when his kind Command Bids pregnant Clouds water the thirty Land ! What firy Vengeance will he then display, In that great, awful and consummate Day; When down the Skies to Judgment he descends; To crush his Foes; and to reward his friends! When round his shining Throne (no more of Grace) Shall stand a numerous I loft, the human Race! Angels and Devils! When the fov'reign Lord Shall judge the whole, and give a just Reward! — Amazing Thought!”

About a month later, New England was hit once again by wild weather. During the evenings of September 7 and 8, 1768, a powerful storm accompanied by high winds, hail and vivid lightning struck southeastern Massachusetts. According to one account, a bolt of lightning struck Daniel Mann’s tavern in Wrentham. The bolt travelled down the side of the building, shattered a glass window and entered the parlor room. Unfortunately for , heMann was hosting a social gathering at the same time. One of the guests recalled there was a “flash of lightning . . . followed by an explosion, apparently as loud as the discharge of a cannon. Large sparks were seen, and the air in the room smelled as if impregnated with sulphur.” A large clock in the room was damaged and toppled over onto a guest. A subsequent inspection of the device revealed that the steel spring that held the pendulum in place had melted. The coat of a second guest was scorched on the right shoulder. 

Curiosity seekers who visited the tavern in the days after noted “the ceiling and doors of the room were much damaged and two of the floor boards were raised and split . . . A tree near the house was also struck.”

During the same tempest a ten year old Rehoboth boy was struck and killed by lightning.

In Mendon, Dr. William Jennison’s barn was struck by lightning. The structure, as well as all of its contents, quickly burned to the ground. In Uxbridge, Joseph Reed was knocked unconscious when a bolt travelled down the chimney and into his kitchen. When he awoke, he found his fireplace and floorboards all destroyed.

A few days later, yet another storm struck the region. In Charlestown, the bake house of Thomas Rayner was hit by lightning. The roof caught on fire and suffered considerable damage. Meanwhile at a nearby bolting mill a young apprentice was hit by lightning and knocked off his feet. As he recovered, he noted the bolting cloth inside the mill was burned and the mill damaged.

"You Need be Under No Concern About My Treatment Here" - Massachusetts Loyalists Return Home

At the conclusion of the American Revolution, there was a massive exodus of loyalists from the former colonies to various locations throughout the world. With the passage of Banishment Acts by the American states, the overwhelming majority of loyalists were unable to return to their homelands. Thus, upon departure, many expressed a sense of despair as they left their homeland behind. As the Reverend Isaac Smith opined “"I wish nothing more ardently upon earth, than to see my friends and country again in the enjoyment of peace, freedom and happiness.”

Surprisingly however, there was a small percentage of individuals who were welcomed back into Massachusetts society after 1784.

At the conclusion of the War for Independence, a handful of Massachusetts loyalists started to reach out to family and friends in an effort to secure permission to return home. Those who lacked necessary contacts asked influential Americans such as John Adams or Congressman James Lovell for help. They consciously tried to show their affection for the new United States, especially the state of Massachusetts. In December 1786, three years after the conclusion of the war, exiled loyalist Dr. John Jeffries assured John Adams "that having been honored by my birth, education & many years residence in the capital of the same state [Massachusetts], I feel myself really interested in the rising honour & future welfare of it." To demonstrate his new found loyalty to Massachusetts, Isaac Smith spurned other loyalists and began to socialize at the Franklin Club in London.

Naturally, Massachusetts residents were opposed to their return. Many Bostonians feared returning loyalists would “destroy public virtue, advance episcopacy, and support an aristocracy.” In a letter to her husband, Abigail Adams noted "the spirit which rises here against the return of the Refugees is violent, you can hardly form an Idea of it."

In response, John Adams and Theodore Sedgwick advocated for a conciliatory policy towards Tories. Both argued that prosperous and well-educated citizens like the loyalists would encourage Massachusetts's economy and place the new nation in a positive light.

Starting in 1784, a small number of loyalists were granted licenses to return by Governor John Hancock. Naturally, many were fearful of violent retribution or arrest upon arrival in Massachusetts. Instead, returning refugees were warmly welcomed and very kindly received by old friends and foes alike. William Pynchon noted in his journal that loyalist "Dr. [John] Prince is graciously received here by all ranks, even by the intolerant G.W.'s and T.M.n.” Dr. Jeffries landed in Boston and was "very politely received, congratulated on my arrival by the company met on the warf." Frederick William Geyer, a former Boston merchant who fled at the outbreak of the war was not only permitted to return, but was encouraged to "pay respect to his Excellency Governor Hancock." The wife of loyalist merchant Thomas Robie assured him that the residents of Marblehead treated her kindly. "You need be under no concern about my treatment here for the Queen of Sheba when she made her visit to King Solomon could not be better treated.”

Many returning loyalists immediately visited their friends and family. Robie’s daughter apologized for not writing promptly following her return in the summer of 1784 and explained "we have been so much engaged in receiving the congratulations of our friends here on our return.” Salem’s Timothy Pickering eagerly welcomed Mehetabel Higginson and assured the loyalist Salem was filled with supportive friends. “I persuade myself you will meet with very little trouble, except from such worthless characters as a `certain ------" who conscious of their infamy, greedily seize every opportunity of acquiring some little popularity.. to cover their reproach. But these efforts of such wretches will be fruitless against the powerful support such numbers of gentlemen of the first characters & influence in Massachusetts, who are your friends.”

Returning loyalists were permitted to sue to recover seized property. Thomas Brattle sued William Foster for seizing his two acre home located adjacent to the Boston Common. The matter was eventually brought before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that if a loyalist’s property was illegally seized, then it must be returned to its legal owner. In 1784, the Suffolk Court of Common Pleas ruled if a loyalist’s estate was legally confiscated and sold during the war, the previous owner could profit from the sale. For those loyalists who could not recover seized property, they built new homes. William Walter, whose confiscated estate was sold in 1783, bought a house in the North End of Boston. One account described the new residence as “the finest house in that part of Boston, with a yard so large that a generation later nineteen houses were built on." 

The returnees also were able to collect debts. Mary Robie successfully recovered outstanding loans from Marblehead and Salem businessmen. Elijah Williams was able to collect debts owed to him by residents in Keene, New Hampshire.

Other loyalists moved comfortably into Massachusetts society because they had the needed skills or capital. Doctors like John Jeffries and William Paine established substantial medical practices were always needed. Mary Robie encouraged her husband to reopen his store in Marblehead because of a significant demand for goods from the residents.

"Suffer’d Such Barbarous Cruelties" - The Deprivation of Civil Liberties of Massachusetts Loyalists

In 1775, Massachusetts politicians and public figures quickly adopted measures to suppress the rights and liberties of loyalists who had not fled to the safety of Boston and still resided within their communities.

Towards the end of November, 1775, Massachusetts selectmen from dozens of towns called for town meetings and issued orders to their constables to “warn a meeting” of their residents. Typically, constables were instructed “in his majestyes name to Warn a Meeting of the freeholders Inhabitants of Said town Qualifyd by Law to Vote in Town meetings that they meet at their meeting house.”

The town meetings addressed what to do with their loyalist neighbors. After extensive discussion, many of the towns determined that those who remained faithful to the Crown should be prosecuted as criminals. Residents selected men via ballot to serve as both investigator and prosecutor. These individuals were charged with the responsibility of building criminal cases against those suspected of loyalist sympathies.

Selectmen were expected to assist their inquisitors by compiling a list of men who had displayed loyalty to the Crown since the outset of the war. Anyone could submit a name and if the majority of local residents agreed, the person was added to the list of suspected loyalists.

Once the investigation was complete, the “prosecutor” would appear before a local county court and submit evidence of the "inimical character of any inhabitant whom the freeholders charged with favoring the British cause" before sympathetic justices. If satisfied with the presentation, the court would issue warrants for arrest.

Once hauled before the court, criminal defendants were given the opportunity to swear that the American conflict was a just cause, that they would not aid the British government and they would defend the American colonies.

If a defendant refusal to take this oath, he was prosecuted as an enemy of the country. If and when he was found guilty following a trial by jury, the defendant was incarcerated or placed under house arrest. Often Massachusetts courts would also rule that convicted loyalists could neither hold office nor vote. Worse, if the defendant was “a justice, minister, schoolmaster, or a governor of Harvard College,” he was stripped of his position and salary. One colonial judge received such a punishment after a Massachusetts court found him guilty and ruled “whether any suspected to be inimical to the liberties of the Independent States of America, which they are now contending for, and refuses to declare his attachment for the same, should have a seat in this Judicature? Voted they should not.”

On February 4, 1777, the Massachusetts government passed a law restricting loyalist speech. Entitled A law for the punishment of crimes below the degree of treason and misprison of treason, the statute silenced critics of the Declaration of Independence. Those who continued to criticize the push for independence were subject to a monetary fine “not to exceed £ 50 nor to be less than 20s or confinement in jail.”

Two months later, on April 9, 1777, Massachusetts officials passed An Act to prevent the waste of the estates of loyalists leaving estate of £ 20 or more within the state. Under this law, loyalists who abandoned real and personal property when they fled the state were to be treated as if they were dead. In turn, probate judges were authorized to appoint agents who would to take possession of the estate, file an inventory and render accounts as ordered by the court. Preference was given to “patriot” creditors at subsequent estate sales. If a loyalist wife remained behind to care for the family property, she was only entitled to one-third of the real and personal estate.

Two years later, the Massachusetts legislature passed a pair of confiscation laws. Entitled An Act to confiscate the estates of certain persons commonly called absentees and An Act to confiscate the estates of certain notorious conspirators against the government, these laws set aside the pretense that loyalists who fled the state were “civilly dead” and permitted committees and appointed agents to openly seize abandoned loyalist property without due process protections.

Many loyalists watched helplessly as their properties were stripped away from them with a simple legal notice: “To all People to whom these Presents shall come: Greeting-Whereas in and by an Act of the great and general Court passed and enacted on the thirtieth day of April in the Year of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred & seventy nine the Estate of the Persons therein mentioned for the Reasons in the same Act set forth are declared to be forfeited & ordered to be confiscated to the use of the Government, And Whereas by another Act of the same Court passed in the same Year the Estates of all Persons guilty of the Crimes therein mentioned & described are made confiscable in manner as by the same Act is provided.”

In 1778, Massachusetts passed a law denying loyalists the right to work within certain professions. Specifically, members of the General Assembly, civic and military officers, attorneys at law and physicians were all summarily excluded from their occupations.

By 1783, the state had passed two banishment acts, a law implementing a bill of attainder and resolutions restricting loyalist movement within the boundaries of Massachusetts.

The anonymous author “Plain English” (believed to be Boston loyalist Peter Oliver) correctly surmised the deprivation of personal liberties during the American Revolution when he stated “the distresses of some of those people who, from a sense of their duty to the King and a reverence for his laws, have behaved quietly and peacably, and for which reason they have been deprived of their liberty, abused in their persons, and suffer’d such barbarous cruelties, insults, and indignities beside the loss of their property by the hands of lawless mobs and riots as would have been disgraceful even for savages to have committed.”

"They Will Take All The Cattle From The Island" - The Forage Operations of May 1775

A year ago this week, the nerds of Historical Nerdery posted a pair of articles discussing American efforts to starve British forces out of Boston. Today we’d like to go into a little more detail about the forage operations of May, 1775.

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."

The British military had a longstanding practice of supplementing troops’ rations with fresh meat and produce that it purchased from local farmers. If these supplies were cut off, Gage would be forced to depend upon a long and tenuous line of communication to British possessions in Nova Scotia and, ultimately, back to England. To complicate matters, Gage’s Atlantic supply lines would be exposed to the privateer wolf packs of Newburyport, Salem and Plymouth.

At first, Gage contemplated purchasing supplies from American farmers who lived on the islands in Boston Harbor. Unfortunately, many yeomen were reluctant to cooperate. As farm manager William Harris noted, 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.” Thus, Gage decided he would initiate operations to forcefully seize supplies.

On May 10, 1775, Elijah Shaw testified before the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. The farmer testified that a British detachment of fifty men visited his farm and seized a large number of animals and five tons of hay, He also reported that he had heard rumors “the Troops would soon make a push either towards Dorchester Neck or Chelsea.”

American commanders found themselves unprepared to respond to these foraging operations. Initially the Massachusetts Committee of Safety proposed ““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.” However, the Committee failed to secure troops from nearby communities to carry out the instructions. Afterwards, the Committee turned to a New Hampshire regiment to take up defensive posts on the various islands and prevent supplies from falling into British hands. The 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.

Gage took advantage of the American confusion and continued to send out foraging parties. On May 21st, he enlisted the support of Vice Admiral Samuel Graves, and dispatched an armed schooner, two sloops and a detachment of one hundred troops to Grape Island.

The island, incorporated within the town of Hingham, was owned by Elisha Leavitt, a wealthy loyalist who had previously offered or sold the supplies to Gage. The vessels’ approach alarmed the neighboring towns. General John Thomas, in command of the provincial militia at Roxbury, sent three companies to a point of land across from Grape Island. The militiamen opened fire on the island but, given the range, had little effect beyond drawing a response from the ships’ cannons. Eventually, the regulars had escaped, taking with them what they could.

In response, the militiamen torched Leavitt’s barn and eighty tons of hay still inside, and seized the remaining livestock. 

Provincial leaders scrambled to find a way to prevent further such raids and stop the flow of supplies into Boston. The Committee of Safety drafteda 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.

British spies quickly gathered intelligence and passed it on to Gage. In a note to Vice Admiral Graves dated the morning of May 25th, the British commander reported “I have this moment received Information that the Rebels [intend] this Night to destroy, and carry off all the Stock & on Noddles Island,for no reason but because the owners having sold them for the KingsUse: I therefore give you this Intelligence that you may please to
order the guard boats to be particularly Attentive and to take such Other Measures as you may think Necessary for this night.”

In response, Graves recommended landing “a Guard upon the Island [as] the Most probable Means of preserving the Hay from being destroyed.” That evening there was an attempt to send a detachment over to Noodle’s Island. However, as Lieutenant John Barker of the King’s Own Regiment noted “50 Men order’d last night; did not go on account of the tide not serving.”