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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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Lad Blown Off in a Canoe

In the midst of Back to School Week, I’m checking in on the diary of Timothy Newell, keeping track of events during the siege of 1775-76:

11th. Sept. [1775] A Serjent and 5 men taken by the Provincials at Dorchester

12th. Went in a boat to relieve a lad blown off in a Canoe.
A selectman’s work was never done.

ADDENDUM: While posting this extract, I was wondering how the provincials could have captured a squad of soldiers in Dorchester; I didn’t recall any British operations there yet. I tried to find the answer in my usual accounts of the siege, and couldn’t.

But it turned out my bedtime reading explained everything. Pvt. Thomas Sullivan wrote in his journal for 13 Sept 1775:
There was a working party carrying Timber and Provisions from the Town to the Lines, in Boats, and the wind blew excessive strong, so that the Harbour was very rough. A Serjeant and six men that were in a boat, and rowing up to the Neck, were driven on the opposite side, and soon were seized by the Enemy, with all that was in the Boat.
So everyone was being blown around the harbor in that couple of days.

2 comments:

Janice said...

What exactly does "blown off in a Canoe" mean by the way? Was the wind blowing him out to sea? Did he fall out of the boat?

Janice

J. L. Bell said...

I suspect the boy was out in Boston harbor in a canoe, and the rough winds and waters were carrying him out too far. If darkness was coming on, or he was in danger of getting tired, swamped, or dashed onto rocks, Newell and other grown-ups might well have felt a responsibility to rescue him.