On 16 Nov 1775, winter was approaching, and the British commanders besieged in Boston had to worry about moving their troops out of tents and into buildings, about firewood for warmth and cooking, and about food. Boston selectman Timothy Newell described the situation in his journal, recording every development as another injustice by the Crown:
Many people turned out of their houses for the troops to enter. The keys of our Meeting house cellars demanded of me by Major [William] Sheriff by order of General [William] Howe.This the first time in his diary that Newell described the military forcing Bostonians out of their homes. It isn’t entirely clear whether those people owned those buildings, rented them, and were housed by the town in, say, the almshouse (which the military command had tried to empty). In any event, the army’s move was legal because of the war. Even the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permits Congress to enact laws taking possession of homes for the use of troops in times of war.
Houses, fences, trees &c. pulled down and carried off for fuel. My wharf and barn pulled down by order of General Robinson [actually Gen. Archibald Robertson of the Corps of Engineers].
Beef, Mutton, Pork at 1/6 pr. pound, Geese 14/ Fowls 6/8 L.M. [lawful money]
I get the sense that the British army actually preferred to house its troops in large buildings, where they would be easier to supervise—hence the demand for the keys to the cellar of Newell’s meeting-house on Brattle Street.
Then comes the matter of firewood, a real crisis for the people left in Boston after coastal vessels had stopped bringing in cordwood. Among the other structures torn down and burned during the siege were Old North Meeting-House, John Hancock’s fence, and George Robert Twelves Hewes’s little shoemaking shop. The army also chopped down Liberty Tree for symbolic reasons, and pulled down the spire of the West Meeting-House so that spies couldn’t use it for signaling. It’s possible that Gen. Robertson had Newell’s wharf and barn removed (as opposed to being converted into a barracks) for similar security reasons. But the wood also certainly went into a fire.