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, August 13, 2007

Skirmishing Up Mystic River

Despite the Continental Army’s sudden realization of how little gunpowder it had, its troops continued to skirmish with the besieged British forces. Boston selectman Timothy Newell recorded three notable fights in the first part of the month.

6 Aug: “Skirmishing up Mistic river, several Soldiers brought over here wounded. The House at Penny ferry Malden side, burnt.”

13 Aug: “Several Gondaloes sailed up Mistic river, upon which the Provincials said they had a skirmish, many shots exchanged but nothing decisive.”

15 Aug: “Cannonade from the lines most of this afternoon on both sides. The General’s fleet of Transports arrived from their cruise having taken from the Islands of Gardners &c. about two thousand sheep—one hundred and ten oxen, butter, eggs, &c. &c.”
The “Penny ferry” was the best way over the Mystic River before a bridge connected Malden to Charlestown in 1787.

Gen. Thomas Gage’s foraging expedition apparently went far as Gardner’s Island off the east of Long Island, New York, in its search for food for the troops in Boston.

As for “Gondaloes,” they were boats with a shallow draft and a broad deck, useful for transporting cargo out of small harbors in peacetime and for carrying artillery during war. The name was also spelled “gundalows,” and just about every variation in between. The photo of a skirmishing gundalow above comes from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s webpage on the recreated Philadelphia. Other resources on this watercraft are the Gundalow Company of Portsmouth and this page from the University of New Hampshire on the Piscataqua River’s last gundalow captain and builder.

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