« PreviousContinue »
Action of Congress. Treason of Dr. Church. The New England Colonies. Franklin's Post-office Boo.
adoption of measures to strengthen his hands, and to organize civil government. Acting upon the suggestion of the Provincial Congress of New York, we have already observed June ea (ante, page 316) that Congress authorized the emission of bills of credit. Articles 177% of war were agreed to on the 30th of June, and on the 6th of July a Declaration was issued, setting forth the cause and necessity for taking up arms. A firm but respectful petition to the king was drawn up by John Dickinson, the author of “Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer,” &c., and adopted on the 8th ; and addresses to the inhabitants of Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, and Jamaica, were adopted in the course of the month. The Indians were not overlooked ; it was important to secure their neutrality at least; and three boards for Indian affairs were constituted : one for the Six Nations and other northern tribes; a second for the Cherokees, at the South ; and a third for the intervening nations, on the borders of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Already some Stockbridge Indians, from Massachusetts, near the New-York line, the last remnant of the tribes of Western New England, were in the camp at Boston; and Kirtland, the missionary among the Six Nations of New York, was making overtures to the Oneidas and the Mohawks. Congress also established a post-office system of its own, extending in its operations from Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) to Savannah, and westward to remote settlements. Dr. Franklin was appointed post-master general." An army hospital for the accommodation of twenty thousand men was established. At its head was placed Dr. Benjamin Church, of Boston, till this time a brave and zealous compatriot of Warren and his associates. Soon after his appointment he was detected in secret correspondence with Gage. He had intrusted a letter, written in cipher, with his mistress, to be forwarded to the British commander. It was found upon her; she was taken to head-quarters, and there the contents of the letter were deciphered, and the defection of Dr. Church established. He was found guilty, by a court martial, of criminal correspondence with the enemy. Expulsion from the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, and close confinement in Norwich Jail, in Connecticut, by order of the general Congress, speedily followed. His health failing, he was allowed to leave the country. He sailed for the West Indies; but the vessel that bore him was never afterward heard from. His place in the hospital was filled by Dr. John Morgan, one of the founders of the Medical School in Philadelphia. Church was the first traitor to the American cause. The New England colonies, sustained by the presence of a strong army, labored energetically in perfecting their civil governments. Connecticut and Rhode Island, as we have observed, were always democratic, and through the energy of Trumbull, the governor of the former, that colony took an early, bold, and commanding stand for freedom. Nor was the latter colony much behind her democratic colleague. Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire, having lost all political power, shut himself up, for two months, in Fort William and Mary at Portsmouth, during which time his house was pillaged by a mob. He prorogued the Assembly in July, and then fled to Boston for safety. Massachusetts organized a House of Representatives under the original charter; and as, according to the provisions of that charter, the executive authority devolved upon the Council in the absence of the governor and his lieutenant, that body, chosen on the 21st of July, assumed such authority. Such continued to be the government of the colony until the adoption of a state constitution in 1780. A single executive committee was constituted, vested with all the powers hitherto exercised by the several committees of correspondence, inspection, and safety. This consolidation produced far greater efficiency. Of the civil and military operations of other colonies I shall write hereafter ; for the present, let us view the progress of events at Boston.
In the General Post-office at Washington city I saw, several years ago, the book in which Franklin kept his post-office accounts. It is a common, half-bound folio, of three quires of coarse paper, and contained all the entries for nearly two years. The first entry was November 17, 1776. Now more than fifteen hundred of the largest-sized ledgers are required annually for the same purpose; the number of contractors and other persons having accounts with the office being over thirty thousand. There are about one hundred clerks employed in the department.
The belligerent Armies at Boston. Skirmishes and other hostile Movements. Naval Operations on the Coast. Navy Boards.
During the remainder of the summer, and throughout the autumn, the belligerents continually menaced each other, but neither appeared ready for a general engagement. The British were awaiting re-enforcements, and the Americans were too feeble in men, discipline, and munitions of war, to make an assault with a prospect of success. Several skirmishes occurred, and on two or three occasions a general battle was apprehended. The declaration of Congress, setting forth the causes and the necessity for taking up arms, was read by President Langdon,’ of Harvard, before the army at Cambridge, on the 15th of July. On the 18th, it was read to the division under General Thomas, at Roxbury, and also to the troops under Putnam, upon Prospect Hill. At the close of the reading a cannon was fired, three hearty cheers were given by the army, and the flag that was presented to Putnam a few days before was unfurled.” “The Philistines on Bunker Hill,” said the Essex: Gazette, in its account of the affair, “heard the shouts of the Israelites, and being very fearful, paraded themselves in battle array.” The 20th was observed as a day of fasting by the whole army. On the 30th (Sunday), five hundred British troops marched over Charlestown Neck, and built a slight breast-work; at the same time a British floating battery was rowed up the Charles River. Another party of troops sallied out toward Roxbury, drove in the American sentinels, and set fire to a tavern. Frequent excursions were made by both parties to the islands in the harbor, and skirmishes, sometimes severe, were the consequences. These things kept the two armies on the alert, and disciplined them in habits of vigilance. British cruisers kept the New England coast, from Falmouth to New London, in a state of continual alarm. They were out in every direction, seeking plunder and endeavoring to supply the camp with fresh provisions. Lieutenant Mowatt, commander of a British brig, made a descent upon Gloucester, Cape Anne, and attempted to land. He was repulsed, after he had throyn several bombs into the town without serious effect. Sto- August 13. nington, in Connecticut, was bombarded for a day; two men were killed, and September 30. the houses were much shattered. In October, Mowatt was sent to Falmouth (now Portland, in Maine), to obtain a supply of provisions from the inhabitants, and to demand a surrender of their arms. They refused obedience, and boldly defied him; whereupon, after giving time sufficient for the women and children to leave the town, he bombarded and set it on fire. It contained about five hundred buildings, and presently a large portion of them were in flames. One hundred and thirty-nine houses, and two hundred and seventy-eight stores and other buildings were destroyed; but the resolute inhabitants maintained their ground, repulsed the enemy, and prevented his landing. Bristol, on the east side of Narragansett Bay, and other towns in the neighborhood, were visited in like manner by the depredators. These wanton cruelties excited intense indignation, and the American troops that environed Boston could hardly be restrained from attacking the oppressors of their countrymen. The Americans, as a countervailing measure, fitted out cruisers, and in a short time each colony had a navy board. These privateers became very formidable to the enemy, and the extent of British depredations along the coast was greatly lessened. Washington sent out five or six armed vessels to intercept supplies coming into the port of Boston, and some important captures were made. Some of the American naval officers proved very inefficient. Captain Manly, almost alone, at that time, sustained the character of a bold and skillful commander, and he and his crew did good service to the cause. They bravely maintained their position off Boston Harbor, and in the course of a few weeks captured three valuable
* Reverend Samuel Langdon was a native of Boston, and graduated at Harvard in 1740. He succeeded Mr. Locke as president of that institution, in 1774. On account of a lack of urbanity, he was disliked by the students, who made his situation so disagreeable that he resigned the presidency in 1780. In 1781, at Hampton Fall, New Hampshire, he resumed his ministerial labors, in which he continued faithful until his death. This event occurred on the 29th of November, 1797, at the age of seventy-four.
* This was the flag before alluded to, which bore on one side the motto “..An appeal to Heaven,” and on the other “Qui transtulit, sustinet.”
Capture of Ammunition. Attempt to seize Manly. Repulse of Linzee. Scarcity of Powder. Expected Sortie
vessels, one of which was laden with heavy guns, mortars, and intrenching tools—a valu able prize for the Americans at that time. Only thirteen days before, Washington wrote to Congress, “I am in very great want of powder, lead, mortars, indeed most sorts of military stores.” Captain Manly supplied him more promptly and bountifully than Congress could do. The finest of the mortars was named Congress, and placed in the artillery park at Cambridge. Manly soon became a terror to the British, and the Falcon sloop-of-war, Captain Linzee, was sent out to attempt to seize him. He was chased, in company with a schooner, into Gloucester Harbor. The schooner was seized by the enemy. Manly ran his brig ashore. Linzee fired more than three hundred guns, and sent barges of armed men to take the brig ; but the crew and the neighboring militia behaved so bravely that Linzee was repulsed, having lost nearly half his men. Manly's vessel was got off without much damage, and was soon cruising again beneath the pinetree flag." Early in August, Washington discovered that a great mistake had been made in reporting to him the condition of the commissariat, in the article of powder. “Our situation,” he said, in a letter to Congress, “in the article of powder, is much more alarming
than I had the most distant idea of.” “In-
Powder-mills were not yet in successful operation in the province, and great uneasiness prevailed lest the enemy should become acquainted with their poverty. Vessels were fitted out, on private account, to go to the West Indies for a supply of powder. The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting a waste of powder in shooting birds or for sports of any kind, and every precaution was adopted to husband the meager supply on hand. Although Washington did not feel strong enough to make an assault upon Boston, he was prepared to receive an attack from the enemy, and was anxious for such an event. For weeks it had been rumored that the British intended to make a sortie in full force; and, finally, the 25th of August was designated as the day selected for the demonstration. It was understood that Earl Percy was to have the command of Boston Neck, where he expected to retrieve the honors which he lost in his retreat from Lexington. In the mean while, the British were daily practicing the maneuvers of embarking and debarking, and every movement indicated an intention to make an effort to break up the circumvallating line of provincials that hemmed them so closely in. On Saturday night, the 26th of August, General Sullivan, with a fatigue party of one thousand men, and a guard of two thousand four hundred, marched, in imitation of the feat of Prescott's, to Plowed Hill (now Mount Benedict), within point blank shot of
* Bradford's History of Massachusetts, page 75.
* This engraving is a reduced copy of a vignette on a map of Boston, published in Paris in 1776. The London Chronicle, an anti-ministerial paper, in its issue for January, 1776, gives the following description of the flag of an American cruiser that had been captured: “In the Admiralty office is the flag of a provincial privateer. The field is white bunting; on the middle is a green pine-tree, and upon the opposite side is the motto, “..Appeal to Heaven.'”
Fortifications on Plowed Hill. Heavy Bombardment. Condition of Troops and People in Boston.
the enemy's batteries on Bunker Hill, and before morning cast up such intrenchments as af. forded excellent protection against the cannons of the British. Washington hoped this maneuver would bring on a general action, and he rejoiced to hear the cannonade that opened upon the American works in the morning, from Bunker Hill and a ship and two floating batteries in the Mystic. More than three hundred shells were thrown by the enemy on that occasion." On account of the scarcity of powder the cannonade was not returned. A nine pounder, planted on a point at the Ten Hills Farm, played so effectually against the floating batteries that one of them was sunk and the other silenced. The British cannonade ceased at night. In the morning, troops were observed to be drawn up on Bunker Hill, as if for marching. Washington now expected an attack, and sent five thousand men to Plowed Hill” and to the Charlestown Road. It was a bold challenge for the enemy, but he prudently refused to accept it. For several days he fired a few cannon shots against the American works, but, perceiving them to be ineffectual, he ceased all hostilities on the 10th of September. It was about this time that the Continental army received seven hundred pounds of powder from Rhode Island; “probably a part,” says Gordon, “ of what had been brought from Africa.” The close investment of Boston by troops on land and privateers at sea began to have a serious effect upon the officers, troops, and people in the city." They had an abundance of salt provision, but, being unaccustomed to such diet, many fell sick. Gage, doubtless, spoke in sentiment, if not in words, as Freneau wrote:
Since roast beef I have touched, except in dreams.
In daily apprehension of an attack from the provincials, and the chances for escape hourly diminishing, they experienced all the despondency of a doomed people. Gage was convinced that the first blow against American freedom had been struck in the wrong place, and that the position of his troops was wholly untenable. He had been re-enforced since the battle of Bunker Hill, but the new-comers were a burden rather than an aid; for he had the sagacity to perceive that twice the number of troops then under his command were insufficient to effectually disperse the Continental army, backed, as it was, by other thousands ready to step from the furrow to the intrenchment when necessity should call. Idleness begat vice, in various forms, in his camp, and inaction was as likely as the weapons of his enemy to decimate his battalions.” Much annoyance to the British officers was produced by the cir
* During this cannonade, Adjutant Mumford, of Colonel Warnum's Rhode Island regiment, and another soldier, had their heads shot off, and a rifleman was mortally wounded. * Bunker Hill, Plowed Hill, and Winter Hill are situated in a range from east to west, each of them on or near the Mystic River. * Early in 1775, two vessels, laden with New England rum, sailed from Newport to the coast of Africa. The rum was exchanged, at the British forts, for powder; and so completely did this traffic strip the fortresses of this article, that there was not an ounce remaining that could be taken from the use of the garrisons. This maneuver produced a seasonable supply for the provincials. * The number of inhabitants in Boston, on the 28th of July, was six thousand seven hundred and fiftythree. The number of the troops was thirteen thousand six hundred. * Most of the soldiers were encamped on the Common, which was not, as now, shaded by large trees,
American Hand-bills in the British Camp. Opinions concerning the Provincials. Plan for relieving Boston.
culation of hand-bill addresses among the soldiers. They found their way into the British camp ; how, no one could tell.' They were secret and powerful emissaries; for the soldiers pondered much, in their idle moments, upon the plain truths which these circulars contained. Every thing now betokened ruin to the royal cause. Even as early as the 25th of June, Gage said, in a letter to Dartmouth, when giving an account of the battle of the 19th, “The trials we have had show the rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be ; and I find it owing to a military spirit encouraged among them for a few years past, joined with an uncommon degree of zeal and enthusiasm, that they are not otherwise.” Toward the close of July he wrote despairingly to Lord Dartmouth. After averring that the rebellion was general, he said, “This province began it—I might say this town ; for here the arch rebels formed their scheme long ago.” He spoke of the disadvantageous position of the troops, and suggested the propriety of transferring the theater of operations to New York, where “the friends of government were more numerous.” The few patriots who remained in Boston were objects of continual suspicion, and subject to insults daily. They were charged with sketching plans of the military works, telegraphing with the provincials by signals from steeples, and various other acts, for which some were thrown into prison. At length provisions became so scarce, and the plundering expeditions sent out by Gage to procure fresh food were so unsuccessful,” that the commander determined to make arrangements for the removal of a large number of the inhabitants from the town. It was notified that James Urquhart, the town major, would receive the names Julyst, of those who wished to leave. Within two days more than two thousand names ” were handed in, notwithstanding there was a restriction that no plate was to be carried away, and no more than five pounds in cash by each person. Many people of property, who would gladly have left, were unwilling to do so, for they knew that what property remained would become a prey to the soldiery. Of those who departed, many women quilted silver spoons into their garments. Coin was smuggled out of the city in the same way. These refugees landed principally at Chelsea, and scattering over the country, were all re
but exposed to the heat of the summer sun. “It is not to be wondered,” said a letter-writer, in August. “that the fatigue of duty, bad accommodations, and the use of too much spirits, should produce sever in the camp. The soldiers can not be kept from rum. Six-pence will buy a quart of West India rum, and four-pence is the price of a quart of New England rum. Even the sick and the wounded have often nothing to eat but salt pork and fish.”
* I saw one of these hand-bills among the Proclamations, &c., in the Massachusetts Historical Society. It was an address to the soldiers who were about embarking for America, and was printed in London. The writer, in speaking of the course of the provincials, emphasizes, by italics, printed in a single conspicuous line, the expression,
“Before God and man they are right !”
On the back of this address is the following endorsement, which was evidently printed in this country, the type and ink being greatly inferior to the other. It alludes to the two camps: the one on Prospect Hill, under Putnam; the other on Bunker Hill, under Howe.
Prospect Hill. t BUNRER HILL.
* One of these, in August, was quite successful. In the neighborhood of New London, a small British fleet obtained eighteen hundred sheep and more than one hundred head of oxen. Frothingham (page 236) quotes a letter from Gage to Lord Dartmouth, in which this important fact is announced. This letter was published, and in the anti-ministerial London Chronicle the following impromptu appeared:
“In days of yore the British troops
“Britons, with grief your bosoms strike!