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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Monday, July 30, 2007

A British Officer’s Worries

The situation inside besieged Boston was looking dire, according to this 25 July 1775 letter from a British officer to gentleman in London, published in Force’s American Archives and presumably reprinted from a British newspaper.

As far as I can guess from a matter not perfectly known, we at present are worse off than the rebels. In point of numbers they so surpass us, that we are like a few children in the midst of a large crowd. Trusting to this superiority, they grow daily more and more bold, menacing us most insolently, and we fear, when the days shorten, and dark nights come on, they will put some of their threats in execution, unless other re-enforcements, and a fleet of men-of-war arrive soon.

They know our situation as well as we do ourselves, from the villains that are left in Town, who acquaint them with all our proceedings, making signals by night with gunpowder, and at day out of the church steeples. About three weeks ago three fellows were taken out of one of the latter, who confess they had been so employed for seven days. Another was caught last week swimming over to the rebels, with one of their General’s passes in his pocket; he will be hanged in a day or two.
Could this swimmer be the mysterious barber named Carpenter I discussed back here? [ADDENDUM FROM MARCH 2011: His name was Richard Carpenter.] That would explain why he had gone over to Dorchester and back, but not why the military authorities later pardoned him (if indeed they did).

Since we have been here, we have been re-enforced by four Regiments; but many of the men are very ill with fluxes, occasioned by the bad water which they got on landing, and the want of fresh provisions. No action has happened since the 17th of June.

A few shot have been exchanged by scouting parties; one morning they beat in our advanced guard, and burnt the guard-house; and on the, 19th [probably the 12th] instant [i.e., this month] they set fire to the Light-house, and one of our men-of-war lying but a mile from it. As it was calm we could not get at them, their whale-boats, in which they made their escape, outrowing any of our boats, and a small island lying between them and the ship, prevented her firing on them. They took from the Light-house a six pounder and a swivel.
It had been five weeks since the army had won its costly victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The government in London had just received word of that event, and it would take several more weeks before they could send significant supplies.

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