A while back author Don Hagist reminded me of the online auctions at EarlyAmerican.com, which often include Revolutionary items, including powder horns, buttons, pamphlets, books, and documents.
For example, one item recently on the block was a manuscript describing a “New manner of forming a company in order of Battalion, as practiced by the Independent Companies in Boston”. This is a guide to militia drill, with a diagram, for a captain, two lieutenants, and four sergeants.
Another was a list of Massachusetts non-commissioned officers and men raised for the defense of the Castle and Governors Island in Boston harbor, made out by Col. William Burbeck of the state militia in 1782.
In the middle of 1775, Burbeck was second-in-command of the American artillery regiment under Col. Richard Gridley. He probably had more experience with explosives than anyone else in Massachusetts outside the Royal Artillery, having worked at the Castle William fort for several years while it housed first militia troops and later regiments from the British army. Burbeck was also Boston’s fireworks expert. He was at the Castle when the war began in 1775, and reportedly escaped to the provincial lines in a canoe.
In late 1775, Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress replaced Gridley with Col. Henry Knox, a much younger man whose highest previous rank was a lieutenant in the Boston grenadier company. Other aspiring officers, such as Thomas Crafts, Jr., seem to have resented Knox’s sudden promotion. Burbeck continued to serve in the regiment until the British military sailed away in March 1776.
Then Washington ordered most of the Continental artillery to move south to New York, where he anticipated another attack. On 12 April, Burbeck wrote to Knox:
I see, by your instructions from his Excellency, I am ordered to New-York directly. When I came out of Boston, the [Massachusetts] Provincial Congress voted me one hundred and fifty pounds during the war, and four shillings sterling a day for life. It would be ungenerous for me to leave their service, as they have provided so well for me. If I leave their service, the four shillings a day is lost to me. As I am advanced in years, I am unwilling to part with it.Burbeck thus left his high post in the American artillery, preferring to remain in Massachusetts working for the state’s guaranteed salary and pension. (Two of his sons, Edward and Henry, remained Continental Army artillery officers; Henry eventually succeeded to Col. Gridley’s post as Chief Engineer of the U.S. Army.)
I am not able to set out directly to New-York, because I am finishing the drafts for cannon, mortars, and carriages, for the Province.
I hope, sir, the above will excuse me for not complying with your orders.
I suspect Burbeck may not have been happy continuing as Knox’s second-in-command; artillery officers seem especially touchy about relative rank. It was under that state authority as a militia commander that he wrote the document on sale this month.