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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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gen. Howe Endorses the Loyal American Association

Boston selectman Timothy Newell reported two disparate events in his journal entry for 30 Oct 1775:

A soldier, one of the Light-horse men was hanged at the head of their camp for attempting to desert.

Proclamation issued by General [William] Howe for the Inhabitants to sign an Association to take arms &c.
The general’s proclamation was dated 28 October, and the Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies offers its full text. The picture of Howe comes from NNDB.com.

“Association” meant a sort of Loyalist militia, responsible for patrolling the streets of Boston. Some members of Association companies went on to serve in other Loyalist units or the regular British army.

On the 29th, a group calling itself “Royal North British Volunteers,” a socially acceptable way of referring to their origins in Scotland, formed a similar group. They included printer John Fleeming, a link in the Dr. Benjamin Church spy case. On 7 December, the Loyal Irish Volunteers officially formed; their officers included James Forrest and Ralph Cunningham, apparently son of provost-martial William Cunningham.

By 17 November, the main Loyal American Association had formed its official command structure under Timothy Ruggles, who had been a brigadier in the pre-war militia. Ruggles’s orders to company captain Francis Green, dated two days before, give a sense of the group’s duties:
I have it in command to acquaint you, that the General expects (for the present) you take charge of the District about Liberty Tree & the Lanes, Alleys & Wharves adjacent, & that by a constant patroling party from sunset, to sunrise you prevent all disorders within the district by either Signals, Fires, Thieves, Robers, house breakers or Rioters;
Again, that text comes courtesy of the Loyalist Institute.

However, other documents indicate that the Loyalists in Boston had formed themselves into companies as early as the preceding July, so Howe was merely giving his official blessing to those groups. Those early muster rolls from that month show some familiar names and intriguing patterns. Capt. Adino Paddock was head of Boston’s militia artillery company before the war. Without any cannon to command, he became an infantry captain in July 1775. Among his troops were shopkeeper Theophilus Lillie; the younger John Lovell, balanced on the edge of madness; Joshua Loring, Jr., whose wife became Howe’s mistress; Martin Gay, who had supported the Whigs in 1770 and would return to Boston after the war; &c.

An especially intriguing name is Sgt. Hopestill Capen, who was briefly the employer of Benjamin Thompson and the landlord of Isaiah Thomas. Capen was jailed by Massachusetts authorities after the British evacuation. He told them that his religion (Sandemanian Christianity) forbade him from taking up arms against a government, and some historians have treated that to mean it was a pacifist sect. But Capen’s church preached against taking up arms in rebellion; defending a government was apparently just fine.

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