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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Sunday, July 29, 2007

He Promised Me He Would Advance No Further

On 29 July 1775, Col. William T. Miller from Rhode Island wrote a letter from the Continental army camp at Prospect Hill in Cambridge that revealed some of the etiquette of the siege of Boston at the time—namely, that the sides shouldn’t do anything needlessly provocative:

I had the honor to be field officer of the day here yesterday: and as I was visiting the out sentries, which stand within half musket shot of the enemy’s sentries, the regulars came out with a party, and began to cut some trees and remove some fencing stuff which was between the sentries.

I beckoned to the two officers who commanded there, one of whom I took to be Major [Andrew] Bruce of the regulars, who came out and met me between the sentries, when I told him that his conduct in felling the timber so near our sentries created a jealousy, and desired him to desist from any further encroachments; when he told me he thought the trees, &c., which they were getting, were as near their lines as they were to ours, and that they had not interrupted our men in cutting hay close to the lines; and he promised me he would advance no further.

I immediately retired, and reported what had happened to Major-general [Charles] Lee, who thanked me for my conduct.

I also saw a gentleman that came out of Boston yesterday, who says the people of Boston and the soldiers are very sickly and much dejected; that General [Thomas] Gage had given orders for all the inhabitants of Boston that have a mind to depart by water to return their names, and they should have liberty to depart.

We have three deserters from the regulars come into this camp since we came here, one of whom found his own brother here in the camp. Their meeting was very affecting.
We don’t usually think of this canpaign as a “brother v. brother” conflict, at least in the enlisted ranks. The bulk of the Continentals were New Englanders or other natives of the colonies. Almost all the regulars were from the British Isles. Yet here were two brothers in the opposing armies, apparently unknown to each other.

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