Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fear and Flight: Civilian Evacuations of Middlesex and Essex Counties, April 18-22, 1775

Many historians have overlooked the psychological and physical impact the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Ipswich Fright had upon the civilian populace of Massachusetts. Both events not only led to the abandonment of homes and the flight to areas of relative safety, but also contributed to the brief collapse of society.

The Civilian Evacuation Along The Boston Road 

Hours before the engagements at Lexington and Concord, at approximately six o’clock in the evening of April 18, 1775, Lexington resident Solomon Brown observed nine British officers riding slowly along the country road before him. The night was not very cold yet Brown noted that each of the officers was wearing a heavy wool blue overcoat under which he could see the shape of their pistols. Taken aback, Brown passed the officers and galloped towards Lexington. He rode directly to Munroe’s Tavern where he informed Sergeant William Munroe of what he had observed.

By eight o’clock in the evening, Lexington received two messages from Elbridge Gerry, a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Committee of Safety and Supplies. According to Jonas Clarke “We received two messages, the first verbal, the other, by express . . . informing that eight or nine officers of the king's troops were seen just before night passing the road towards Lexington in a musing, contemplative posture; and it was suspected they were out upon some evil design.” At eleven o’clock in the evening, alarm rider Paul Revere arrived in Lexington warning of a military expedition advancing from Boston. Approximately an hour later, a second alarm rider, William Dawes, arrived and confirmed Revere’s report. As a result, militia Captain John Parker ordered his company to assemble.

When Lexington’s alarm bell began to toll, most residents recognized that a hostile military force was marching directly towards them. With the possibility of the town being subjected to plunder and destruction, a panic set in. Many who lived along the Boston Road prepared to evacuate. Anna Munroe, wife of Sergeant Munroe, started to bake bread for her husband. Later she confessed “I mixed my bread last night with tears coming, for I feared I should have no husband when the next mixing came.” 

The Reverend William Gordon of Roxbury noted “the inhabitants had quitted their houses in the general area upon the road, leaving almost everything behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives.” Some escaped with a few select belongings. Others quickly hid or buried valuables before leaving. One 19th century Lexington account suggested many residents “hid their silver and mirrors and many other things in [a] swamp.” The Reverend Clarke's family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes.” Captain Parker’s wife, Lydia, “took all the valuables and hid them in a hollow trunk of a tree standing some distance from the house.” Lydia Mulliken and her daughters, who lived along the Boston road, heard the alarm and hurriedly buried the family’s silver and other valuables by a stone wall near their clock shop, then fled to distant safety. Mary Sanderson gathered her children and “taking such articles as they could hurriedly collect and carry in their arms, by the light of a lantern [made their way] to a refuge, the home of her father in New Scotland.” The Loring daughters scurried to hide the communion silver in a brush heap back of the house before fleeing.  

Why was there a desire to protect some valuables? Naturally, a fear of looting, vandalism and theft at the hands of British troops was a contributing factor. Later in the day and from the safety of distant hills, many Lexington residents watched in horror as their homes were burned, destroyed or looted when the regulars retreated through the town. Pursuant to 18th Century law, the illegal breaking and entering into a home was a capital offense punishable by death. Thus, from an American point of view, the plundering and burning of homes was not only highly offensive, it also served to fuel their anger and despair even further. According to the Reverend Gordon, “you would have been shocked at the destruction which has been made by the Regulars, as they are miscalled, had you been present with me to have beheld it. Many houses were plundered of everything valuable that could be taken away, and what could not be carried off was destroyed; looking-glasses, pots, pans, etc. were broke all to pieces; doors when not fastened, sashes and windows wantonly damaged and destroyed. The people say that the soldiers are worse than the Indians.”

However, an even stronger contributing factor may have been colonial Massachusetts inheritance laws. While all property technically belonged to the husband, household movables such as textiles, furniture, the tools of domestic production, silverware and dishes were generally passed from generation to generation through the female line and were considered properly part of women’s domestic sphere. For example, Hannah Stone, bequeathed almost the whole of her estate “to my beloved daughter Tabitha Merriam.” Hannah Stearns willed to her daughter-in-law Patty her porridge pot and flat irons. Abigail Bridge left her riding hood to one daughter-in-law and a dark calico gown to another. Thus, a woman’s household goods was a woman’s closest representation of legitimate possessions and gave her a sense of ownership.  

For some, the flight was particularly difficult. Four Lexington women, Sarah Marrett, Amity Pierce, Sarah Reed and Betty White, were still likely bedridden having given birth over the past month. Three others, Dorcus Parker, Elizabeth Estabrook and Lydia Harrington, were all over eight months pregnant. Other women rushed to get their young children to safety. Abigail Harrington, took the her toddlers “down a lane back of the house across a meadow to the old place on Smock farm.” Anna Munroe fled from the family tavern with her three young children and hid on a hill behind the establishment.

Some men remained with the women and children during the evacuation. A few were ministers who tended to their flock. Others suffered from physical injuries and thus, could not field with their companies. At least seven Lexington men missed the fighting and participated in the civilian evacuation because they were caring for their wives, mothers or daughters. Moses Reed and his father-in-law Jacob Whittemore carried Sarah Reed and her newborn child out of the family home on a mattress. Likewise, teenager Joseph Estabrook and his father “assisted in carrying his mother with a young infant (Solomon) in her arms, in an armchair, about a mile back from the scene of danger.”

Upon hearing the exchange of musketry from the Battle of Lexington, Lydia Parker sent her eldest son to the top of a nearby hill to see whether the British regulars were moving to plunder Lexington homes. Once certain the British column had moved on to Concord, many returned to the town common. Upon arrival, they discovered that over two hundred men from Woburn’s militia and minute man companies had arrived and were assisting in the treatment of the wounded. By mid morning, residents of Lexington buried their dead in a makeshift grave. “Father sent Jonas down to Grandfather Cook's to see who was killed and what their condition was and, in the afternoon, Father, Mother with me and the baby went to the Meeting House. There was the eight men that was killed, seven of them my Father's parishioners, one from Woburn, all in Boxes made of four large boards nailed up and, after Pa had prayed, they were put into two horse carts and took into the graveyard where some of the neighbors had made a large trench, as near the woods as possible and there we followed the bodies of those first slain, Father, Mother, I and the baby, there I stood and there I saw them let down into the ground, it was a little rainy but we waited to see them covered up with clods and then for fear the British should find them, my Father thought some of the men had best cut some pine or oak bows and spread them on their place of burial so that it looked like a heap of brush.”

Meanwhile, in Lincoln and Concord, news of the British expeditionary force advancing into the countryside spread. After the Lincoln minute companies departed for Concord, Mary Hartwell recounted “I did up the chores of the barn and cared for the children as well as I could in my anxiety . . . I feared that I should never see your grandfather again.”

According to Mary Hoar Farrar of Lincoln, “The Concord families living nearest to our home fled this way for safety, and with my grandmother and others of the family left this house, and took refuge in ‘Oakey Bottom,’ a retired piece of forest land about one-half mile in the rear of the house, still known by that name in our community. Grandmother in her haste had sufficient self-possession to think of the cattle tied in the barn. These she let loose, desiring to save them from the flames that she expected would be kindled by Gage’s army. She took her babe, Samuel (the third), in her arms, the large family Bible, a loaf of bread, and a looking glass, with what little silver she had, and bade farewell to the old dwelling, never expecting to gather her family about her again beneath that ancestral roof. Every little while they would venture out far enough to look over the hill to see if the soldiers had set the house on fire.”

Later in the morning, many Lexington residents realized that the British regulars would be marching back through their town again. As a result, most prepared to flee for a second time. One evacuee recalled that the roads were clogged with “women and children weeping.” Some escaped back to woods and fields, while others traveled to nearby towns. Some sought refuge in homes far from the British path of retreat. By the time the retreating regulars returned to Lexington, “the women and children had been so scattered and dispersed, that most of them were out of the way.”

Unfortunately, some families waited until the last moment to escape and came in direct contact with the British army. Anna Munroe, daughter of William and Anna, was five years old when the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place. After returning to Munroe Tavern following the first evacuation, the family was forced to flee again. According to her 19th Century account, Anna “could remember seeing the men in red coats coming toward the house and how frightened her mother was when they ran from the house. That was all she could remember, but her mother told her of her very unhappy afternoon. She held Anna by the hand, brother William by her side and baby Sally in her arms . . . She could hear the cannon firing over her head on the hill. She could smell the smoke of the three buildings which the British burned between here and the center of Lexington. And she did not know what was happening to her husband, who was fighting, or what was happening within her house. . . Anna’s mother used to talk to her of what happened on April 19th and she remembered that her mother used to take her on her lap and say: ‘This is my little girl that I was so afraid the Red coats would get.’” 

Lincoln’s Mary Hartwell also remembered coming in close contact with retreating British forces. “ I saw an occasional horseman dashing by, going up and down, but heard nothing more until I saw them coming back in the afternoon all in confusion, wild with rage and loud with threats. I knew there had been trouble, and that it had not resulted favorably for their retreating army. I heard musket shots just below by the old Brooks Tavern, and trembled, believing that our folks were killed.”

In the aftermath of the engagement, Mercy Warren recalled “it seemed necessary to retire to a place of safety till the calamity was passed. My partner had been a fortnight confined by illness. After dinner (19th) we set out not knowing whither we went. We were directed to a place called Fresh Pond, about a mile from the town, but what a distressed house did we find there, filled with women whose husbands were gone forth to meet the assailants; seventy or eighty of these with numbers of infant children, crying and agonizing for the fate of their husbands Another uncomfortable night we passed, some nodding in their chairs, others resting their weary limbs on the floor.... To stay in this place was impracticable Thus with precipitancy were we driven to the town of Andover, following some of our acquaintance, five of us to be conveyed by one poor tired horse-chaise. Thus we began our pilgrimage, alternately walking and riding, the roads filled with frighted women and children, some in carts with their tattered furniture, others on foot fleeing into the woods. But what added greatly to the horror of the scene was our passing through the bloody field at Menotomy, which was strewed with the mangled bodies. We met one affectionate father with a cart looking for his murdered son and picking up his neighbors who had fallen in battle, in order for their burial.”

The Ipswich Fright

Two days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, widespread panic once again set in amongst the Massachusetts population. Known as the "Ipswich Fright", this psychological phenomenon led to the mass abandonment of homes and the evacuation of North Shore and Merrimack Valley residents into New Hampshire.

Local tradition suggests that on the morning of April 21, 1775, a British naval cutter anchored at the mouth of the Ipswich River. In response, the local alarm list mobilized but did not engage the enemy. Nevertheless, an unfounded rumor began to spread inside the town that British regulars had landed and were laying waste to everything before them. With most Essex County minute and militia companies away at the Siege of Boston, a massive panic set in. The rumor quickly spread to other towns.

A few hours later, the rumor had reached as far away as Newburyport. A Congregationalist minister named Carey was holding a parish meeting when alarm rider Ebenezer Todd burst in and announced “turn out, turn out, for God’s sake or you will be all killed! The regulars are marching on us; they are at Ipswich now, cutting and slashing all before them!” The fright continued west to Haverhill and Andover. An early 19th century account of the incident suggests an alarm rider instructed Haverhill residents to “Turn out! Get a musket! Turn out . . . the regulars are landing on Plum Island!”

As the panic set in, many residents quickly gathered their valuables and fled northwards. In Newburyport, Amesbury, Haverhill, Bradford and Methuen civilians overwhelmed the local ferries as they tried to cross the Merrimack River. In Newbury, one woman “having run four or five miles, in great trepidation, stopped on the steps of reverend Mr. Noble's meeting house to nurse her child and found to her great horror, that she had brought off the cat and left the child at home.” Residents of the North Parish district of Andover fled to a woodlot known as Den Rock and remained there for at least a day. In Newburyport “the houses at Turkey hill were filled with women and children who spent the night in great trepidation. One man yoked up his oxen and taking his own family, and some of his neighbor's children in his cart, drove off to escape the regulars.” A witness recalled another Newburyport woman, “having concealed all her pewter and silverware in the well, filled a bag with pies and other edibles, and set off with it and her family for a safer place.” Period accounts suggest Amesbury, Salisbury and Rowley were completely abandoned by its residents.     

Essex County civilians were so overcome with fear and despair that they began to turn on each other. According to one period account “a Mr. ___, having placed his family on board of a boat, to go to Ram island, for safety, was so annoyed with the crying of one of his children, that he exclaimed, in a great fright, 'do throw that squalling brat overboard, or we shall all be discovered!” An Essex County woman fled her home with a market wallet filled with food. After travelling some distance she set it down to speak with someone. When she returned to the bag she discovered she had been robbed “not in deed, by the regulars among the people, but by the irregulars among her provisions.” Residents near the Parker River bridge in Newbury nearly came to blows over the proposal to destroy the structure in order to slow the regular’s advance.

Of course, some residents refused to flee. One Newbury account suggests an elderly resident took up a defensive post at his front door, loaded his musket and declared he intended to “shoot the devils" when they arrived.

The panic continued well into the early morning of April 22, 1775. By then, residents of Exeter had begun to suspect the entire ordeal was an unfounded rumor. In turn, the town dispatched an alarm rider towards Newburyport with a message that the account of a British army invading Essex County were false. As Newburyport’s Benjamin Greenleaf noted in a letter to the Hampton (NH) Committee of Correspondence that same day, “We were unhappily thrown into distress yesterday, by false accounts received by two or three persons, and spread abroad, of a number of Soldiers being landed at Ipswich and murdering the inhabitants. We have since heard that it arose in the first place from a discovery of some small vessels near the entrance of their River, — one at least known to be a Cutter, — and it was apprehended that they were come to relieve the captives there in jail.”

Shortly thereafter, many residents returned to their homes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ripped Off No More: Ten Hand Sewing Techniques You Can Teach Yourself Through Online Classes

One common complaint among Revolutionary War reenactors is that they are often forced to shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to tailors, seamstresses and companies to have historical clothing made.  Unfortunately,the old adage “you get what you pay for” often applies and many of these sources will routinely cut corners, ignore historically correct patterns and utilize synthetic fabrics.  The end result is a shoddy product that is neither historically accurate nor properly made.

Many argue (perhaps correctly) that the primary responsibility of Revolutionary War reenactors is to faithfully interpret the clothing, material culture, lives and events of the period. Thus, if we rely upon questionable workmanship then we are actually doing a disservice to the public.

As a result, we should look towards making our own clothing based upon historically accurate patterns and utilizing period correct fabrics and materials.

Of course, a common objection from many reenactors is “I can’t make that, I don’t know how to sew!” 

Well, object no more fellow historical nerd! Here are ten instructional videos compiled by Burnley and Trowbridge and Fort Ticonderoga  that you can utilize to teach yourself how to hand sew in a proper, 18th Century manner. 

Soon you’ll be making quality clothing and telling that shady sutler to cancel your order.

Disclaimer . . . The nerds of Historical Nerdery are not responsible if you accidentally blow yourself up while teaching yourself how to hand sew.

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Many Insults And Abuses From Rebels" - The Abuse of Loyalist Families During the Burgoyne Campaign

This Fall, McAlpin’s Corps of American Volunteers will be joining other progressive reenacting organizations at Saratoga National Historical Park to highlight the Loyalist refugee experience during the final weeks of General Burgoyne’s ill fated 1777 campaign.  The organization will be directing its efforts towards the portrayal of Loyalist civilians who were forced to flee their homes and seek the safety of the advancing British Army.

As a result of this living history presentation, the Nerds were curious about the hardships many Loyalist families faced at the hands of their political opponents and the exact circumstances that led to their respective flights towards British lines. 

Despite popular misconception, Loyalist women and their families generally did not gather their belongings and flee into the night in terror from local mobs. Instead, many Loyalist women concluded they and their families would be safer by withdrawing to British held territory north in Canada or south in New York City. As a result, these women appeared before local Committees of Safety and requested permission to leave their community to join their husbands who may have fled weeks or months earlier. 

At first, many committees were reluctant to release Loyalist families as they served a useful purpose as hostages. As historian Janice Potter-McKinnon noted “from the patriot perspective, the continued presence of loyalist families under their careful guard could deter future attacks, stem the flow of potential young male recruits into Canada and encourage the release of American prisoners held by British authorities.”  Ultimately, however, many local committees recognized that hostages would not stop Burgoyne's invasion and quickly agreed to release the women and their families.

Naturally, local officials carefully scrutinized the petitions of Loyalist women and set forth the terms of their departure. Often the decision to allow women to leave was prompted by concern about the financial cost involved in permitting them to stay. As the Albany County Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies declared, “it having appeared to us that those Women are become chargeable to the Districts in which they severally reside and that they together with their Families are subsisted at public Expence.” Thus, patriot officials did not want communities to take on the burden of caring for indigent Loyalist families and were often quite willing to grant permission to such families to leave.

Not surprisingly, many Loyalist families were subjected to various forms of harassment prior to their departure - the most common and devastating being the confiscation, looting or destruction of their personal and real property. Likewise, many families faced violence at the hands of local mobs. 

Loyalist Sarah Mcginnis of New York, her daughter, and granddaughter all watched as local “Patriots” sold off at a public auction all their possessions, “except what would scantily support them in victuals and clothes.”. After this, the women were imprisoned in a local fort and so badly treated that Sarah's granddaughter later died. Sarah and her daughter "escaped at night with only what they could carry on their backs.” Sarah was forced to leave behind a son “who was out of his senses and bound in chains ... and who some time afterward was burnt alive.”

In the case of the Empy family, Philip, husband and father of eleven children, was subjected to “many insults and abuses from rebels.” When Philip and his three sons escaped from prison, the local officials turned their eyes to his wife and seven other children. Mrs Empty and her children were imprisoned and all of their real and personal property was confiscated. The family was eventually released however, when Philip’s wife returned to her home, she was “beat and abused [by] 4 men” and left on a road. Although she was rescued by friends and taken to Schenectady for medical treatment, she later died.

Elizabeth Cary Wilstee, a resident of the New Hamphshire Grants whose family had been victimized by the Green Mountain Boys in the 1760s, watched helplessly as a band of militiamen ransacked her home in 1776. In the middle of winter, the “outlaws” broke into her home and ordered her and her children to leave for her father's place. Although it was snowy and cold, she had no choice. “Looking back while on her way,” she saw the “outlaws moving her furniture and provisions from the house and loading them into a wagon . . . open her feather beds and shake the feathers from the ticks out of the windows and put the ticks and bed clothes into the wagon . . . pry the logs of the sides of the house out at the corners until the roof fell in.”

Shortly after his flight to Canada, Loyalist Daniel McAlpin’s property was seized and his wife and family were arrested. Mary McAlpin described her family’s treatment at the hands of the rebels in vivid language. “From the day her husband left to the day she was forced from her home the Captain's house was never without parties of the Rebels present. They lived at their discretion and sometimes in very large numbers. They destroyed what they could not consume. Shortly after the capture of the fleeing Loyalists a group of armed Rebels with blackened faces broke into the McAlpin's dwelling house. They threatened Mary and her children with violence and menace of instant death. They confined them to the kitchen while they stripped every valuable from the home. A few days after this, by an order of the Albany Committee, a detachment of Rebel Forces came and seized upon the remainder of McAlpin's estate both real and personal.” Mary McAlpin and her children were taken to an unheated hut located in Stillwater and locked inside “without fire, table, chairs or any other convenience.”

Hoping that the hardship would eventually break Mrs. McAlpin and her family, the rebels kept Mary and her children in captivity for several weeks. Mary McAlpin refused to comply. Enraged, rebels seized Mary and her oldest daughter and “carted” both of them through Albany. According to one period account, “Mrs. McAlpin was brought down to Albany in a very scandalous manner so much that the Americans themselves cried out about it.” A second period statement asserts “when Mrs. McAlpin was brought from the hut to Albany as a prisoner with her daughter . . . they neither of them had a rag of cloaths to shift themselves.”

Elizabeth Munro Fisher was a refugee who fled her home in 1777 for the safety of General Burgoyne’s army. In her memoirs written in the early 19th Century, Fisher describes how she was summarily evicted from her home by a local mob and forced to flee to the safety of nearby British lines.

“A party of riflemen surrounded our house, about six o'clock in the morning, and inquired for Mr. Fisher. I told them he was not at home; they asked me where he was gone — I told them; upon which they ordered me out of my house with a threat that if I did not immediately comply they would burn me in it. I took my child from the cradle and went out of the house. — I sat down at a little distance, and observed them taking out all my furniture, and then they burnt the house- In this situation, without a home and no one near me to whom I could apply for advice or assistance . . . I was at a loss what to do. — At last, seeing a man drive a cow, I asked him which way he was going. — He answered to the camp. — I asked him if he would let me go along with him. — Yes, said he, if you can keep up with me. I arose from the ground (for I was sitting down with my child on my lap) and followed him. I walked that day, in company with this man, twenty- two miles, and carried my child; by the middle of the day I had neither shoe nor stockings on my feet; my shoes, being made of silk, did not last long, and my stockings I took off and threw away, on account of the fatigue of carrying my child and walking so far.— I was willing to lay down and die. On the road this man would often say that he did not know but a party of Indians might be out a scouting, and if so, we should fall a sacrifice to them; at first I was alarmed, but my fatigue at length was so great that I told him I wished they might come and kill me and my child, for I was almost exhausted. I had nothing to eat or drink all that day, except the water he gave me out of the brooks with his hat. We saw several houses, but the people had fled from them. About sunset we came to a house where we found a woman and seven children. Her husband had gone — I stayed there that night; the next day the man went with his cow into the camp; this cow was ail he had, and he wanted to sell her for money. I sent by him to Mr. Fisher, letting him know where I was. Mr. Fisher came to me that evening, and the next day I went into the camp. After I had been a few days in the camp, I bought every thing my child and I needed. I related to Mr. Fisher what had been done at home — he was much surprised at Williams' conduct, as he had sent him, and the men that burnt the house were under his command—my furniture was sold at his house as tory property.”

As violence, imprisonment and looting continued to mount, many Loyalist women recognized their situation was becoming desperate. In a letter to her husband John, Mary Munro described just how dangerous her situation was. “For heavens sake, my dear Mr. Munro, send me some relief by the first safe hand. Is there no possibility of your sending for us? If there is no method fallen upon we shall perish, for you can have no idea of our sufferings here; Let me once more intreat you to try every method to save your family; my heart is so full it is ready to break; adieu my Dearest John, may God Almighty bless pre serve and protect you, that we may live to see each other is the constant prayer of your affectionate tho' afflicted wife ... P.S. The Childer's kind love to you.”