Saturday, December 11, 2021

"And Followed in the Retreat to Cambridge" - What Happened to Captain John Parker's Company After the Regulars Withdrew from the Town?

A common question the Nerds are often asked is what happened to the Lexington Training Band after the events of Parker’s Revenge on April 19, 1775?

After ambushing the retreating British column, Captain John Parker and his men quickly retired up a nearby access path to the top of a hill and then moved down the east side. Once at the bottom, the company moved to a new position down the road to attack the column again.  According to Lexington militiaman Nathan Munroe “We fired on them and continued to do so until they met their reinforcement in Lexington.”  

But what happened to Parker and his men after the retiring British column left Lexington? 

Don Troiani's "Lexington Common"

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the presumption has been that militiamen from Lexington pursued the retreating regulars into East Lexington but simply halted at the Menotomy line. This claim is supported by the fact that John Parker and his men did not submit a mileage claim to the Massachusetts government following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. By comparison, most other towns that mobilized that day, including Andover, Newbury, Framingham, and Acton submitted claims seeking compensation for the travel expenses incurred by their militia and minute companies as they pursued the British back to Boston. 

It has been theorized by many historians, including the Nerds, that as a result of the destruction and death the regulars had left behind in Lexington, Captain Parker’s men ceased pursuing the British column at the Lexington-Menotomy line. Once His Majesty’s forces disappeared from view, the embattled Lexington men returned home so as to address the immediate needs of their community.

However, the Nerds have stumbled across a pair of early 19th-century pension claims that challenge the presumption that Captain John Parker’s Company stopped pursuing the British column at the Lexington-Menotomy Line. Instead, Lexington veterans John Hosmer and Jonathan Loring specifically assert that Parker’s men continued to pursue the column as far as Cambridge, Massachusetts, and remained outside of Boston for between two and eight days.

Veteran John Hosmer submitted his pension application in April of 1832. In support of his request for financial support, Hosmer  asserted “While residing at Lexington, Massachusetts, on the morning of April 19, 1775, he was one of the Lexington Company of Militia, drawn up on the common, when the British advanced and fired on them … and followed in the retreat to Cambridge, and served at this time, eight days.”

Pension Application of Lexington Veteran John Hosmer

Similarly, Lexington militiaman Jonathan Loring also stated that he served in the Battle of Lexington. According to his pension claim of 1832, Loring “was at Lexington on the morning of the 19th of April, A.D. 1775, embodied with his company and received the fire of the British near the meeting house and continued during that day in [illegible] pursuing the Enemy when they returned from Concord … he continued in the field three days in Cambridge.”

Primary sources from April 19th have consistently suggested that the militia and minute companies of April 19th operated under the direction of their company officers and NCOs and did not break down into an unorganized mob of individuals who acted without direction. Thus, the statements of Loring and Hosmer do create a fair and powerful inference that Captain Parker’s Company continued to pursue the British column as it crossed into Menotomy. 

So why didn’t Lexington submit a mileage claim in the aftermath of April 19th? The most plausible explanation is a combination of the town still reeling from the devastating effects of April 19th, as well as Parker’s failing health. 

It wouldn't be the only occasion where Lexington did not stay on top of submitting claims to Massachusetts officials. Two months later, as the Battle of Bunker Hill raged, American commander General Artimus Ward called for reinforcements in the event the British army punched through the American siege lines. In response, Captain Parker’s Company mobilized the afternoon of June 17th and marched directly to Cambridge. They remained outside of Boston for two days. Unfortunately, only after some delay, did Parker complete but not submit a mileage compensation claim for the men who mobilized in response to Bunker Hill. In fact, the request was never submitted to Massachusetts officials until mid-1776, months after Parker had died of tuberculosis. 

The Nerds will continue our research into this new development and will keep you posted as to what we find!!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

"To Put Themselves in a Position of Defense Against Their Enemies" - Lexington Prepares for War

247 years ago this month, Massachusetts Bay Colony started its preparation for war with England. The launch of the war-time effort began after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress correctly surmised war with England was inevitable and the peoples of Massachusetts had to “consider what is necessary to be done for the defence and safety of the province.” As a result, the rogue legislative body passed a series of resolutions ordering the creation of minuteman companies, recommending proper drill exercises and the collection of military supplies.

One of the first towns to start their wartime preparations was Lexington. 

Four days after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress call for military readiness, Lexington held an emergency town meeting to plan “military discipline and to put themselves in a position of defense against their Enemies.” A week later, on November 10, 1774, the residents again gathered to discuss expanding the town’s stock of ammunition and powder. At the conclusion of the meeting, the men of Lexington resolved “Voted. That two half barrells of powdere be addede to the Town stocke. Also Voted that a sufficiency of ball for sd powdere be provided. Votede. That there be a suitable quantity of Flints provided for the Towne if there be found a deficency. . . That the Towne provide a pair of Drums for the use of the Military Company in Towne.”

Around the same time as Lexington was discussing the expansion of its military supplies, it also started to explore how to acquire cannons. In his critically acclaimed book, “The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War”, Mr. J. L. Bell discusses how Massachusetts residents were scrambling in late 1774 to obtain artillery pieces. Some of the guns, mostly iron cannons, were taken from coastal defenses around Boston and sent to Watertown.

According to research conducted by historian Joel Bohy and shared with the Nerds, several of the guns caught the attention of Lexington, Waltham, Concord and Lincoln. Its residents quickly pressed the selectmen to acquire a block of the cannons for the respective towns as part of a “bulk purchase”.

In early November, Lexington selectmen relented and announced the issue would be addressed at the next town meeting. Specifically, “Upon a request of a numbre of Inhabitants to see if the Town will fetch two small pieces of cannon from Watertown, offered by said Town for the use of the Company in this Towne.” A week later, the town approved the purchase of two guns. “Voted. . . to bring the two pieces of Cannon (mentioned in the warrant) from Watertown & mount them, at the at the Town charge.”

After approving the purchase of two cannons, in true Yankee fashion, the residents of Lexington voted to create a committee to explore the cheapest methods of mounting of the guns on carriages and building of ammunition boxes. “That a Comtee of three persons go to Watertown & see what the cost of mounting sd pieces will be & whether the carriages cannot be made by work men in this town”

It should be noted that the committee included Jonas Parker, an experienced woodworker and carpenter. Parker was later killed at the Battle of Lexington.

By the end of the month, Lexington acquired the two guns of the two cannons. On November 28, the twon “Voted . . . that the Selectmen receive the two pieces of cannon with their beds [from] the Towne of Watertowne and give receipts for the same on behalf of the Towne.”

As an aside, by late February 1775, it appears the guns were mounted on carriages but were rendered useless due to a lack of proper ammunition for the weapons.

In addition to stockpiling arms and ammunition, the town’s training band also assembled on the town common throughout November to drill and practice the evolutions of the 1764 Crown Manual. According to Reverend Jonas Clarke, the Lexington militia was continuously “training” and “showing arms” throughout the Fall of 1774. The 19th Century deposition by Lieutenant William Tidd asserted“that said company frequently met for exercise, the better to be prepared for defense.” Finally, Corporal John Munroe recalled “the company was frequently called out for exercise, and desired to furnish ourselves with arms and ammunition, and to be in constant readiness for action.”

Of course, Lexington did not simply conclude its wartime efforts as winter set in. In a future post, the Nerds will examine how the town expanded its wartime preparation efforts in December 1774, including documentary hints that the town took measures to create a minute company.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

"A Few Had Old French Pieces" - The Muskets of April 19, 1775

 A few months ago, the Nerds gave a presentation on the muskets available to Massachusetts militia and minutemen on the eve of the American Revolution.

Admittedly, the presentation was merely an overview of available weapons and did not cover all possible muskets that were likely used at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. 

Similarly, the Nerds recognize that each weapon discussed during our presentation could be the subject of its own unique presentation.

Nevertheless, we wanted to share with our followers the presentation so as to shed light on the weapons utilized by provincial troops at the outbreak of the American Revolution.

The presentation can be accessed here.

Please feel free to share or use the document as you see fit!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

"Best Calculated for Appearance and Defence" - The Boston Edition of the 1764 Crown Manual

On October 29, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress addressed what appropriate military exercise the various militia and minute companies should adopt in preparation for war with England.  

It is possible that the delegates considered the “Norfolk Exercise”.  Developed in England in 1757, the Norfolk Exercise, or “A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk”, had been adopted by many New England militia companies by 1768 and was declared the official drill of the colony in the early 1770’s.  

However, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordered that “it be recommended to the inhabitants of this Province that in order to their perfecting themselves in the Military Art, they proceed in the method ordered by his Majesty in the year 1764, it being, in the opinion of this Congress, best calculated for appearance and defence.”  Known as the 1764 Crown Manual of Arms, this was the drill used by the British troops stationed in Boston in 1775.

According to research conducted by Dr. Niels Hobbs, in late 1774 and early 1775, several Boston, Salem and Newburyport print shops acquired copies of the Crown Manual and offered it to sale to the general public. Understandably, many Massachusetts militia officers and NCOs quickly purchased copies to assist them in preparation for the coming war.

For your review, here is a scanned copy of the 1774 “Boston Edition” of the 1764 Crown Manual that was sold by print shops in Eastern Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution. Interestingly, the second page of the edition includes the October 29, 1774 resolution from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordering the adoption of the Crown Manual by Massachusetts militia and minute companies.

Please feel free to share this document with others!

Monday, August 30, 2021

"Dip Arrows in Matter of Smallpox" - The Possible Use of Smallpox as a Biological Weapon During the Siege of Boston

The Nerds must apologize for our prolonged absence over the past several weeks in both podcasting and blog posting. Between catching a nasty cold that resulted in the loss of our angelic voices and moving moody teenagers into college dorm rooms, we’ve been a bit sidetracked.

As we prepared for the future recording of podcast episodes, our attention was drawn to an upcoming topic - smallpox and the Siege of Boston.

The Center for Disease Control notes that the origin of smallpox is unknown. The finding of smallpox-like rashes on Egyptian mummies suggests that the disease has existed for at least 3,000 years. Smallpox arrived in New England during the early years of the seventeenth century and had devastating effects upon the native American population. As one colonizing Puritan would later observe “The good hand of God favoured our beginnings in sweeping away the multitudes of the Natives by the small pox."

At the commencement of the Siege of Boston, the threat of a smallpox outbreak was continuously on the mind of both American and English commanders. Following George Washington’s assumption of command of the Continental Army in July, 17775, he was determined to prevent the spread of the disease among his soldiers. The general worried that an epidemic among the troops would significantly weaken his ability to mount an effective military campaign against the British troops trapped inside Boston as well as deter future enlistment prospects. As a result, Washington made the health of his troops one of his top priorities and ordered strict enforcement of numerous directives so as to contain and control the smallpox contagion.

One concern that the American forces had was the weaponization of smallpox by His Majesty’s forces. Understandably, the apprehension was justified. During Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, military authorities openly discussed the use of smallpox against their Native American enemies. “Could it not be Contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians?” That same year, militia commander William Trent noted that he gave a visiting Indian delegation “two Blankets and a Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.” He was later compensated for the act by the British commander overseeing the defense of Boston - Thomas Gage.

During the early months of the Siege of Boston, one Boston resident warned “soldiers try all they can to spread the smallpox, but I hope they will be disappointed.” In a May 13, 1775 letter to Asahel Pomeroy, Seth Pomeroy reflected in a letter to a relative that he believed that “If it is In General Gage[’] s power I expect he will Send ye Small pox Into ye Army.” When four British deserters fled Boston and were quickly apprehended, Washington’s aide-de-camp Robert Harrison wrote to the Massachusetts PRovincial Congress to alert them “Four [British] deserters have just arrived at headquarters giving an account that several persons are to be sent out of Boston . . . that have lately been inoculated with the smallpox, with the design, probably, to spread infection to distress us as much as possible.”

As the siege progressed, smallpox began to spread amongst the soldiers and residents inside Boston. According to a December 1, 1775, General Order, “The Small Pox spreading universally about the Town, makes it necessary for the safety of the Troops, that such men as are willing, and have not had that distemper shou’d be inoculated immediately.”

A few weeks earlier, General Howe reversed British policy and allowed certain persons to leave the town. According to the general three hundred of the Inhabitants of Boston were removed from Boston by ship and were bound for Massachusetts seaport communities, including Point Shirley, Plymouth, Salem, Beverly and Newburyport. Although the refugees were “destitute of any thing to help themselves in this inclement Season”, It soon became clear that utmost of the passengers were infected with smallpox. According to Boston’s Thomas Crafts, “The smallpox has broken out in two families that came out of Boston on the first vessels.” Ezekiel Price reported that “the people who came out last from Boston and landed at Point Shirley, have the smallpox among them; that a person at Brookline was taken with it.”

Historians have suggested Howe’s motives were influenced by a desire to remove those who would be a burden on limited supplies and resources. However, Historian Ann M. Becker has argued “[Howe’s] decision to inoculate his troops and send out contagious refugees—along with reports detailing the American belief that the British were attempting to infect the colonials with smallpox—support the idea that smallpox was being used as a military weapon to protect against aggressive American maneuvers.”

Becker’s theory is not without merit. A February 1776 Massachusetts newspaper reported that Thomas Francis, a young indentured servant, had been inoculated with smallpox inside Boston against his will and then forced to board a British refugee ship sailing for Port Shirley. As a result of this calculated exposure, several other passengers on board the vessel contracted the disease.

If Howe’s intentions were to unleash a viral agent into the Massachusetts countryside, he was in part successful. The smallpox virus began to spread. This in turn fueled American suspicions that the enemy had launched a biological attack. In a letter to Congress, Washington warned “The information I received that the Enemy intended spreading the smallpox amongst us, I could not suppose them capable of; I now must give some credit to it, as it has made its appearance on several of those who last came out of Boston.” In a separate letter to John Hancock, the general asserted “The small-pox rages all over the town. Some of the military as had it not before, are now under inoculation. This, I apprehend, is a weapon of defense they are using against us.”

Although there is no direct evidence of Howe or Gage launching a biological attack on American forces, there is a fair inference that measures were undertaken to weaken the rebellion through the introduction of smallpox. That said, by 1777, some British officials were openly advocating to use smallpox as a weapon against the colonists. For example, English officer Robert Donkin proposed to “dip arrows in matter of smallpox, and twang them at the American rebels. . . . This would . . . disband these stubborn, ignorant, enthusiastic savages. . . . Such is their dread and fear of that disorder.”

Monday, June 28, 2021

"It was absolutely necessary to become masters of these heights" - The Battle of Bunker Hill


In today’s episode, "the decisive day is come"! We’ll discuss the pivotal battle of June 17, 1775...the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

"That We Will Exert Our Best Abilities to Acquire the Art Military" - How Serious Did Massachusetts View Its 1774-1775 Wartime Buildup Efforts?

The Nerds were recently asked to comment on whether Massachusetts towns and their respective military companies viewed the need for a wartime buildup on the eve of the American Revolution as a matter of great importance or not.

As noted by a variety of historians, by 1774, Massachusetts colonists firmly believed that an immoral British government, having exhausted opportunities for plunder and profit in England and Ireland, was now seeking a dispute with the American colonies as an excuse to enslave and deprive them of their wealth and liberties.

Thus, the short answer is “yes”... the residents of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775 saw the coming conflict with England as having potentially grave consequences and thus, did approach military preparations with a sense of importance and urgency.

As a preliminary matter, many town historians from the 19th and 20th Centuries either promoted or expanded upon the erroneous claim that New England militia men who served at the Battles of Lexington and Concord were poorly trained and equipped yeomen who operated on the individual level rather than as part of a larger military body.

However, thanks to research initially conducted by John Galvin, and expanded upon by historian Joel Bohy and the talented rangers at Minute Man National Historical Park, we now know the myth of the independent, untrained “embattled” farmer is just that, a myth.

Following the October 1774 orders of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, provincial towns scrambled to put themselves onto a wartime footing. As part of the effort, many militia and minute companies passed resolutions or entered into covenants clearly outlining the expectations of military service. For example, in Lexington, the men of Captain John Parker’s Company resolved to fine those men who did not treat military preparation seriously, were disruptive or engaged in “indecent behavior … two shillings”. Militiamen from the Town of West Brookfield declared “That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military: That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and harzard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts.” Finally, Ipswich declared ““We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice ... And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military."

However, a strong emphasis was also placed on military drilling and training. Following the recommendations of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Andover ordered “[Soldiers] on the said first said day of December meet together and chuse such person only for leading or instructing as shall appear to them to be most skillful in Military Discipline and that they be well equipped with good guns, and other necessary warlike armour in order for their performing of all military maneuvers.” Amesbury resolved that its minute men would engage in “exercising four hours in an fortnight.” Two weeks later, the town modified its order and instructed its minute men to “[exercise] four hours in a week.” The residents of Boxford voted on March 14, 1775 “that the minute-men shall train one half day in a week, for four weeks after this week is ended.” The Reverend Jonas Clarke noted Lexington's militia was continuously drilling and "showing arms".

The Towns of Haverhill, Andover and Bradford even went as far to hire a British deserter to train their men for war. George Marsden was a grenadier from the 59th Regiment of Foot. He and his regiment arrived in New England in 1768. However, by 1769 the 59th was in Nova Scotia. A muster roll from October, 1770 reveals Marsden was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Unfortunately, by 1774 he was demoted back to a private. The reason for the demotion is unknown but the regimental muster rolls indicate that on July 24, 17774 he deserted from his regiment. Afterwards, Marsden fled to Haverhill. In March and April of 1775, the units from those three towns actively worked with Marsden to prepare for war.

Of course, the dedication to wartime preparation did not stop at covenants and drills. Most towns established pay rates and salaries to ensure their soldiers treated their military responsibilities seriously.

Similarly, towns undertook a variety of steps to ensure its minute companies were somewhat uniformly armed with belting, bayonets and cartridge boxes. In Bradford, the town resolved “Voted, That the Selectmen provide bayonets and cartouch boxes for the Minute-Men on the town cost, to be returned to the town after they are dismissed from the service.” Residents of Brimfield resolved that it “provide for 50 minute men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and thirty rounds of cartridge and ball a sett for each private in said Company to be provided imemdiately.” In March of 1775, the Town of Ashburnham voted that Captain Jonathan Gates be instructed to procure thirty-six cartridge boxes for the use of the town’s minute-men at the expense of the town. Finally, Lexington quickly developed a cottage industry whereby men were hired to make powder horns, cartridge boxes and knapsacks, as well as modifying fowling guns to accept bayonets.

So in summation, Massachusetts colonists firmly committed to their wartime preparation efforts against England and adopted a variety of measures designed to ensure their minute and militia companies were properly prepared for a military campaign. The perpetuated myth that colonists were an untrained, poorly equipped and individualist rabble that abandoned their plowshares to engage the regulars on April 19th needs to be buried in the backyard with a shovel.

And then bury the shovel.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Loyalist Plight


In today’s episode, we’ll take a deep dive into history and discuss what really happened to New England and New York Loyalists after the outbreak of the American Revolution.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Battle of Chelsea Creek


On today’s episode, we’ll discuss the often-overlooked battle of the American Revolution - the May 1775 Battle of Chelsea Creek.

"But is Rather a Burden Upon Them" - Is Mocking the Wounded for Entertainment Ever Acceptable?

The Nerds rarely get involved in the politics of reenacting. Honestly, we have better things to do with our time.

However, a video promoted earlier this week by a non-profit historical organization has caused a bit of a kerfuffle within the living history community. The now-deleted video in question depicted a group of reenactors portraying privateers (although fantasy pirates is probably a more apt description) engaged in a tactical demonstration. At the height of the engagement, and to the humor of the spectators and participants, a reenactor comically mimicked a wound to the groin. 

It was clear by his subsequent conduct the display was done to entertain reenactors and the spectators alike. In their defense, the non-profit organization that supervised these reenactors argued that the incident occurred during a “private” tactical for reenactors, the public never saw these antics and those who objected are overreacting.

We get that argument and understand where they are coming from. The Nerds are quite confident there are several images or photos of us acting like idiots and yahoos at private events hosted by reenactment groups from the past thirty-plus years. 

However, the problem is the non-profit organization posted the now infamous groin wound incident on a very public Facebook page and encouraged others to revel in the humor and share the experience with their friends.

Taken From Pension Application of Veteran Solomon Parsons

Let’s be blunt...we wouldn’t mock the experiences of a wounded Iraq War veteran, a Vietnam War veteran or a World War II veteran. Why is it acceptable to mock and make light of the experiences of the wounded from the American Civil War or American Revolutionary War?

Thanks to the romanticism of the 19th century, many people are oblivious of just how vicious and brutal combat during the American Revolution truly was. All one has to do is look at the aftermath of the Menotomy Fight of April 19, 1775, or the Battle of Oriskany to get even the slightest understanding of how destructive 18th-century combat truly was.  

Furthermore, the mocking of the wounded through comical antics only serves to trivialize the sufferings of those soldiers who received debilitating wounds during the war. 

How does mimicking a wound to the groin for the sake of humor bring to light the sufferings of Massachusetts Soldier Solomon Parsons? At the Battle of Monmouth, Parsons was bayoneted and shot multiple times by British soldiers before being dragged through the dirt, robbed and left for dead. As he laid suffering in an open field and exposed to the blazing hot weather, all Parsons could do was weakly plead for mercy as his assailants continued to taunt and dehumanize him. He was eventually rescued by American troops.

Perhaps the promoters of the “groin video” could explain how mocking the wounded highlights the sufferings of John Robbins. At the Battle of Lexington, Robbins suffered a debilitating wound that left him virtually a ward of the state for the remainder of his life. According to one of his earlier petitions, “That your Petitioner was on the memorable 19th of april 1775 most grievously wounded. by the Brittish Troops in Lexington, by a musket ball which passed by the left of the spine between his Shoulders through the length of his neck making its way through and most miserably Shattering his under jaw bone, by which unhappy Wound your Petitioner is so much hurted in the Muscles of his shoulder, that his Right arms is rendered almost useless to him in his Business and by the fracture of his under jaw the power of Mastecation is totally destroyed and by his, low Slop diet, weakness, and total loss of his right arm, and the running of his wound, his Situation is rendered truly Pitiable being unable to Contribute any thing to the Support of a wife and five small Children but is rather a Burden upon them.”

At the end of the day we understand this was a poor attempt at humor. All we ask is that in the future do better...and get to know your audience before releasing questionable and perhaps worthless content like this.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

"I screamed with all my might" - Dorothea Gamsby, A Child Witness to the Battle of Bunker Hill

It is no secret that the Nerds are fascinated with research studies and reports that explore the civilian experience of the American Revolution. Of particular growing interest has been the retelling of both important and mundane events from the perspective of child witnesses.

Admittedly, the Nerds are unaware of any existing primary accounts from children that document the Battle of Bunker Hill. Instead, most, if not all of the accounts from children first surfaced in the early to mid 19th Century and are understandably subject to careful scrutiny. Similarly, by the middle to late 19th Century, grandchildren of witnesses began to share the stories of their elders. 

Many historians rightfully argue that these 19th-century accounts may be tainted by either fading memories or a desire to exaggerate or sensationalize one’s role during the early months of the American Revolution. As 19th Century Massachusetts historian George E. Ellis noted, many veterans and witnesses who claimed to have participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill, "Their contents were most extraordinary; many of the testimonies extravagant, boastful, inconsistent, and utterly untrue; mixtures of old men's broken memories and fond imaginings with the love of the marvellous. Some of those who gave in affidavits about the battle could not have been in it, nor even in its neighborhood. They had got so used to telling the story for the wonderment of village listeners as grandfathers' tales, and as petted representatives of 'the spirit of '76’, that they did not distinguish between what they had seen and done, and what they had read, heard, or dreamed. The decision of the committee was that much of the contents of the volumes was wholly worthless for history, and some of it discreditable, as misleading and false."

With that context in mind, the Nerds would still like to highlight an account we came across approximately two years ago from Loyalist Dorthea Gamsby regarding her memories of June 17, 1775. Admittedly we completely forgot about Gamsby’s story until we were preparing for a History Camp presentation.

Loyalist Dorothea Gamsby was the daughter of John and Margaret Gamsby and the niece of Sir John Nutting. She arrived in Boston with her aunt and uncle at some point before April 1773. At the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill, she was only ten years old. 

Allegedly, Dorothea’s granddaughter, a “Mrs. Marcus D. Johnson”, recorded Dorothea’s recollections of her experiences in Boston at some point in the 1830s or 1840s. The accounts were eventually turned over to Dorothea’s great-grandson, Charles D. Johnson, the editor and publisher of a North Stratford, New Hampshire newspaper entitled The Coos County Democrat. Dorothea’s account appeared in that newspaper as a series of articles between 1859 and 1862.

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, Dorothea noted that “My uncle took a beautiful house in one of the pleasantest streets in Boston, my father went into business in Lynn a town not far off.  I never visited the place but once or twice and recollected very little about it, for the country my uncle said, had gone mad, and we had better stay at home.  In fact, it was on the eve of revolution, and we were visited by noble looking gentlemen  without number, who talked all dinnertime of the rebelious whigs, and what the parliament had done and would do.”

Dorothea’s account to her granddaughter does discuss the Boston Tea Party but does not recount any of the subsequent political or military conflicts until the Battle of Bunker Hill. Curiously, she does reflect upon the growing tensions between the troops stationed in Boston and the town’s civilian population. As Gamsby observed “They sent a host of troops from home.  Boston was full of them, and they seemed to be there only to eat and drink and enjoy themselves.”

In the early hours of June 17, 1775, Dorothea was woken from her sleep. According to her statement “one day there was more than usual commotion, uncle said there had been an outbreak in the country; and then came a night when there was bastle, anxiety, and watching.  Aunt and her maid, walked from room to room sometimes weeping.  I crept after them trying to understand the cause of their uneasiness, full of curiosity, and unable to sleep when everybody seemed wide awake, and the streets full of people.  It was scarcely daylight when the booming of the cannon on board the ships in the harbour shook every house in the city.  My uncle had been much abroad lately  and had only sought the pillow within the hour but he came immediately to my aunts room saying he would go and learn the cause of the firing and come again to inform us … We were by this time thoroughly frightened, but uncle bade  ‘Keep quiet’ said ‘there was no danger’ and left us.”

"Charlestown Promontory, the ruins of the town after the Battle of Bunker Hill and General Howe's encampment", c. 1775.

As the battle raged, Dorothea and her aunt went to an unknown location and apparently had a clear view of the engagement. According to Gamsby, “The glittering host, the crashing music, all the pomp and brilliance of war, moved on up toward that band of rebels, but they still laboured at their entrenchment, they seemed to take no heed- the bullets from the ships, the advancing column of British warriors, were alike unnoticed … Every available window and roof was filled with anxious spectators, watching the advancing regulars, every heart I dare say throbbed as mine did, and we held our breath or rather it seemed to stop and oppress the labouring chest of its own accord so intensely we awaited the expected attack, but the troops drew nearer and the rebels toiled on … At length one who stood conspicuously above the rest waved his bright weapon, the explosion came attended by the crash [illegible] the shrieks of the wounded and the groans of the dying.  My aunt fainted. Poor Abby looked on like one distracted.  I screamed with all my might.”

As with the pair of child witness accounts from the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Dorothea’s account also reflected upon the horrors of war. “Men say it was not much of a fight, but to me it seems terrible … Charleston was in flames; women and children flying from their burning homes … By and by, drays, carts and every description of vehicle that could be obtained were seen nearing the scene of conflict, and the roar of artillery ceased.   Uncle came home and said the rebels had retreated.  Dr Warren was the first to fall that day. Then came the loads of wounded men attended by long lines of soldiers ... a sight to be remembered … there is nothing but woe and sorrow and shame to be found in the reality.”

Dorothea Gamsby remained in Boston until the evacuation of March 17, 1776. Afterward, she resided first in Nova Scotia and then in Quebec. Eventually, she, her husband, and her children returned to the United States and settled in Vermont.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

"Turn Out! Turn Out!" - The Ipswich Fright of 1775


    In today’s episode, we’ll discuss the Ipswich Fright … a false rumor that caused widespread panic throughout Essex County Massachusetts in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Massachusetts Privateers During The Siege Of Boston

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Massachusetts Grand Army surrounded Boston and began to lay siege to it. The Massachusetts Committee of Safety quickly recognized that in order to drive the British army from the town, it had to starve them out.

In today’s episode, we’re going to visit the High Seas and explore Massachusetts Privateers' role in driving the British Army out of Boston in 1776.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

"Anxiety and Distress" - The Civilian Experience Inside the Siege of Boston

Over the years, historians have written countless works on the military and political aspects of the Siege of Boston. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to the impact of the siege upon the residents of the city. As British military and political authorities attempted to recover from the disaster of April 19, 1775, the residents of Boston found themselves trapped inside a town that was on the verge of social and economic collapse.

In our season 2 premiere of Historical Nerdery The Podcast, we investigate the struggles and hardships of the Massachusetts civilians trapped behind enemy lines during the Siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

“your Petitioner is so much hurted:” John Robbins and his April 19 Wound (Featuring Special Guest Bloggers Historians Joel Bohy and Dr. Douglas D. Scott)


The Nerds are thrilled to have Historians Joel Bohy and Dr. Douglas D. Scott join us today as guest bloggers!

Mr. Bohy is considered one of the leading experts on the events of April 19, 1775. He is an appraiser of arms and militaria on PBS’s popular Antiques Roadshow. He’s also an active member of the American Society of Arms Collectors and an instructor for Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist.

Dr. Scott has been the Great Plains Team Leader for National Park Service’s Midwest Archaeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska since 1983. He has written five books and more than 100 monographs and articles on those and related subjects. He is particularly noted for his expertise in battlefield archeology and firearms identification. 

Without further introduction, take it away gentlemen!

Many of us have read the histories of April 19, 1775. The British expedition marching all night to Lexington, arriving early in the morning. Muskets fired, men killed and wounded. Obviously, we feel pain and heartbreak for the dead and their families, but what about the men listed as wounded? The British then march off towards Concord and the events of the day continued. But back to Lexington. What became of those ten men who were wounded? Were they badly hurt? Did they recover? Sadly, for most of them we just do not know as their stories have been lost to history, but for one we do.

One of the members of Captain John Parker’s Lexington militia company wounded that morning was John Robbins. His name not only appears in the newspapers of the period and history books, but he was one of the men who wrote a deposition on April 24, 1775 for the Provincial Congress attesting to what happened on Lexington Green:

“I John Robins being of lawfull age, do Testify & say that on the nineteenth Inst. the Company under the Command of Capn. John Parker, being drawn up, (sometime before sun Rise) on the Green or Common, And, I being in the front Rank, there suddenly appear’d a Number of the Kings Troops, About a Thousand as I thought, at the distance of about 60, or 70 yards from us Hazzar[d]ing and on a quick pace toward us, with three officers in their front, on Horse Back and on full Gallop towards us, the foremost of which cryed, throw down your Arms ye Villains, ye Rebels, upon which said Company Disperseding. - The foremost of the three Officers orderd their Men, saying fire, by God fire, at which Moment we Received a very heavy & close fire from them, at which Instant, being wounded I fell, Several of our men were shot Dead by one, Capn. Parkers men, I believe had not then fired a Gun and further the Deponant saith not -John Robins”


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One of the interesting things is his name is misspelled as “Robins,” missing one of the n’s not only at the start of his deposition but also in the signature. Is this a clue to his wounds?

After April 19 and the Battle of Bunker Hill a few of the wounded men began to ask the state for help. Their wounds, in some cases, made them unable to work and make a living. Medical bills were also growing and with no income how could they pay the bills and provide for their families? Many of these petitions for a pension, or after December 1775 for lost and broken material, are in the collection of the Massachusetts State Archives spread through numerous volumes. The earliest petition for Robbins is from 1776. It gives a description of his wounds:

“To the Honorable the Colony Counsil & the Honorable the House of Representatives in general Court assembled The Petition of John Robbins of Lexington Humbly Sheweth, That your Petitioner was on the memorable 19th of april 1775 most grievously wounded. by the Brittish Troops in Lexington, by a musket ball which passed by the left of the spine between his Shoulders through the length of his neck making its way through and most miserably Shattering his under jaw bone, by which unhappy Wound your Petitioner is so much hurted in the Muscles of his shoulder, that his Right arms is rendered almost  useless to him in his Business and by the fracture of his under jaw the power of Mastecation is totally  destroyed and by his, low Slop diet, weakness, and  total loss of his right arm, and the running  of his wound, his Situation is rendered truly Pitiable being unable to Contribute any thing to the Support of a wife and five small Children but is rather a Burden upon them, & has no Encouragement from his Surgeon of his being Materialy better He therefor is under the disagrable  Necessity of begging relief & assistance of this Honrrable Court by a Pension or other wise as your Honors Great wisdom & compations may suggest, and your Petitioner as in duty bound will Ever pray Lexington 14th June 1776 John Robbins”

Not only does the petition describe his ghastly wound, but he had a wife and five small children all under the age of 13 to support. For the 1776 petition, Robbins is given a pension for the year:

“The Committee on the Petition of John Robbins have heard The Petitioner Examined his wounds considered his deplorable Circumstances and Report by way of Resolve---- In the House of Representatives Nov 4th 1776-----

Resolved that there be allowed and paid out of the Publick Trsy to and for the use of the Petitioner John Robbins the sum of thirteen Pounds six Shillings and Eight pence yearly untill the General  Court Shall otherwise Order it, to Recompence him for his sufferings by wounds which he recd on the 19th of Aprill 1775”

He submits petitions with the same wording till 1778 when he has another addition to his family, a daughter named Hannah. This time his petition also included a note from his doctor. It seems his body was never going to recover from his awful bullet wound from the morning of the 19th:

“To The honorable Council of the State of Massachusetts  Bay. This Certificate humbly sheweth that the Bearer Mr John Robbins of Lexington receiv,d such a grevious Wound thro: the Muscles of his right shoulder Neck & Jaw Bone which last was miserably fractured: by which Wound the unhappy Man is yet so debilitated in his right shoulder that He is unable to perform but very little labor as Fatigue upon his small Farm for the support of a numerous  Family of young Children and in the Opinion of the Subscriber who was his surgeon He is unhappily like to remain in such a weakned hopeless Condition during life and is a proper Object of the gracious Bounty of this State----------- Watertown July 5th .1778 sign,d Marshall Spring, N.B. He was wounded in the Morning of the 19th of april 1775 at Lexington."

Robbins continues to petition yearly for a pension through the war and does receive money from the state. The last listing found for him is in a newspaper article with a list of pensioners stating that a July 8, 1786 resolve of the courts placed him on a list of pensioners that the commonwealth felt could do garrison duty. He was to appear at the Commissary of Pensions for a revue. After this date there does not seem to be any other info on John Robbins. But what about his wound?

John Robbin’s pension documents graphically describe the horrific wounds he suffered to his back, neck and jaw on Lexington Green, April 19, 1775. Could a single musket ball have done such extensive damage to cause him partial nerve damage in his arm and broken his jaw to the point of only being able to eat “low slop?” Or might his pension application exaggerated the effect of his wounds to obtain a larger compensation from a sympathetic audience? 

Military surgeons in the late 18th and well into the 19th century described and commented on treating gunshot wounds in a variety of texts and treatises. A perusal of some of these texts as well as the pertinent sections of the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (Part One, Volume 2 and Part 2, Volume 2, 1875 and 1877 respectively) for wound effects of .69-caliber musket balls clearly demonstrate that these large lead balls could indeed inflict significant and lasting effects to hard and soft tissue as well as nerves. Once a ball enters the human body it can be deflected from a straight path through the tissue by any number of factors and exit the body after a torturous route. This is borne out by our recent live fire studies of Colonial era weapons, particularly with the shooting of British land pattern muskets. We observed, using high speed video recording, that a .69-caliber ball shot at target 25 to 30 yards away that the ball’s velocity and energy were significant enough to pass through reproduction clothing and 32 inches of tissue simulant. That is the equivalent of the body mass of two people. The ball, on exiting the tissue simulant, still had enough velocity and energy to travel between 50 and 100 additional yards before reaching its terminal velocity.

John Robbins’ pension application account of his wounding provides additional clues as to why he suffered such extensive wounds.  Robbins states he was in the front rank of the Parker’s militiamen drawn up on Lexington Green. His account states the company started to disperse when the British regulars were ordered to fire.  Assuming the accuracy of his account he may well have turned so that his back was partially toward the British line. On hearing the firing begin he may have instinctively ducked or bent forward so that the British ball struck his upper left back near the spinal column. If slightly bent over, as is speculated, the ball could well have been deflected by muscle and possibly striking a transverse process on one of the vertebrae. Such deflection is consistent with the ball passing around or under the spinal column and traveling up the neck, shattering his mandible, and exiting the body.  Robbins’ right arm paralysis is consistent with bullet caused nerve damage, as is the damage to his jaw that no longer allowed him to chew his food. His note that the wound was still “running” suggests that his wound had not fully healed and he suffered from a residual infection. Perhaps some cloth bits or other foreign matter were still in the wound causing it to continue to fester and discharge up to at least 1776. He is lucky to have survived his wounds at all given the state of medical knowledge and treatment of the day.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Historical Nerdery The Podcast: Episode 6

Historical Nerdery’s long-awaited Season 1 podcast is finally here!!

Entitled the “Lexington Series”, our six-episode program examines 18th Century Lexington and all things related to the events of April 19, 1775!

Historical Nerdery The Podcast can be found on the following sites:

iHeart Radio:

As well as all of your other favorite sites where you listen to your podcasts!!

Or...if you would like, you can listen to our podcast right here on our blog page!

In our Season 1 finale, we’re going to explore what really happened at the Battle of Lexington and how militia Captain John Parker was able to rally his defeated troops and inspire them to return to the bloody fight of April 19, 1775.

Historical Nerdery The Podcast: Episode 5


Historical Nerdery’s long-awaited Season 1 podcast is finally here!!

Entitled the “Lexington Series”, our six-episode program examines 18th Century Lexington and all things related to the events of April 19, 1775!

Historical Nerdery The Podcast can be found on the following sites:

iHeart Radio:

As well as all of your other favorite sites where you listen to your podcasts!!

Or...if you would like, you can listen to our podcast right here on our blog page!

In our fifth episode, we investigate the Civilian Evacuation of April 19, 1775 - As war raged in the Middlesex countryside, hundreds of civilians, mostly women, and children were forced to flee from the safety of their homes in order to avoid the brutality of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. This is their untold story.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Historical Nerdery The Podcast: Episode 4

Historical Nerdery’s long-awaited Season 1 podcast is finally here!!

Entitled the “Lexington Series”, our six-episode program examines 18th Century Lexington and all things related to the events of April 19, 1775!

Historical Nerdery The Podcast can be found on the following sites:

iHeart Radio:

As well as all of your other favorite sites where you listen to your podcasts!!

Or...if you would like, you can listen to our podcast right here on our blog page!

In our fourth episode of the Lexington Series, we’ll share the story of the forgotten heroes of the Battles of Lexington and Concord … the Loyalist scouts and guides who risked their lives and fortune to assist the British expedition to Concord on April 19, 1775.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Historical Nerdery The Podcast: Episode 3

Historical Nerdery’s long-awaited Season 1 podcast is finally here!!

Entitled the “Lexington Series”, our six-episode program examines 18th Century Lexington and all things related to the events of April 19, 1775!

Historical Nerdery The Podcast can be found on the following sites:
iHeart Radio:

As well as all of your other favorite sites where you listen to your podcasts!!

Or...if you would like, you can listen to our podcast right here on our blog page!

In our third episode, we take a deep dive into the world of the Massachusetts minutemen on the eve of the American Revolution and discuss the role the Town of  Lexington played in the build-up to war with England.

Of course, coming soon...Season 2 of Historical Nerdery the Podcast!!