J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Prisoners and Spies in Boston Harbor

On 1 June 1775, Boston selectman Timothy Newell added to his journal of oppressions:

Mr. Hopkins a carpenter released from on board the Admiral where he has been prisoner for 3 weeks for no other reason than taking his own Canoe from one wharf to another. He complained that his fare on board was cruel viz. but half allowance of provisions; kept under deck without any thing to lodge on but the bare deck amidst the most horrid oaths and execrations, and amidst the filth and vermin &c. and left a number of prisoners in that same dismal state &c.
This carpenter may also have aroused suspicion because early in the siege a Boston retailer told Gen. Thomas Gage that ferrymen named Hopkins and Goodwin were sneaking rebels into Boston and sharing information. That informant must have meant the men who kept the regular ferries from the North End to Charlestown and Chelsea. John Greenwood remembered “the person who kept the [Charlestown] ferry” as “Mr. Enoch Hopkins, whose son used to go to school with me.” This Hopkins died on 27 Dec 1778 at the age of 55.

Gage’s informant went on:
And the men that go in the Fishing-boats are Equally as bad, for they will get a pass from the Admiral for a boat and Perhaps four men, they will take three Fisher-men and one Rebel, and as soon as they get below they will Land the Rebel and take another on board, so he comes up in the stead of him that they carried down, and Sees and hears what he can, and then returns the same way that he came.
In fact, here’s a letter from William Stoddard, a justice of the peace in Boston, to Capt. James Littlefield on 15 June 1775, showing how ferryman Hopkins and his son were conduits for messages, goods, and money, and how bringing a fishing boat into town was indeed a way to slip in precious food—and perhaps more:
Your letter and the last, dated the 13th instant, by Mr. Hopkins, I have received. I waited on the Admiral this morning, and have got you a fishing pass for your boat and three men, to come in and out of this harbour, which I now send you. You will carefully observe the pass; you must observe to go a fishing from Salem, before you come up here, and then you may come in and go out. I hope you will not meet with any obstruction at Salem; not forgetting, if in your power, to bring up veal, green peas, fresh butter, asparagus, and fresh salmon.

Mr. Miles went away yesterday in the afternoon, by water, in order to come to you, and we suppose he is with you before this. I hope you have received a cloak, with a bag of brown sugar, I sent over yesterday by Mr. Hopkins’s son. I have paid some of the ferrymen, and I shall pay them all for their trouble, when I have done with them. Do not pay them any thing; if you have, let me know; keep that to yourself. . . .

I shall be much obliged to you, if you can, before you go for Salem, send me some fresh butter, and half a bushel of green peas. I now send you two dollars in this letter, and an osnaburgh bag, by Mr. Hopkins’s son, to put the peas in. What other charges you are at I will settle with you hereafter. I am obliged to you for the hint in coming out. I will let you know more when you come up from Salem. . . .

Twenty-four sail of transports have arrived here this week with Light-horses and Troops from Ireland, and twenty-four more sail are coming.
Capt. James Littlefield was later recommended for a post as Deputy-Commissary of the Continental Army. After all, he was good at supplying things. Justice William Stoddard died in September, aged 82.

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