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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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Orders to Evacuate the Town

On 6 Mar 1776, Gen. Sir William Howe and his top officers weighed their situation, following the washout of their plans to attack Dorchester Heights, where the Continentals had built fortifications and mounted artillery. Capt. John Barker’s journal recorded the results:

It was determined by a Council of War to quit the Town. Orders [issued?] to get ready with all expedition, and to take as little baggage as [possible?]...

Transports allotted for the Troops: the Townspeople had liberty to go or stay: Artillery, Ammunition, Stores &c., &c., getting on board.
Selectman Timothy Newell was pleased to hear that the troops were leaving, but also worried about how they would react and what they would leave behind. His diary entry for that day:
This day the utmost distress and anxiety is among the Refugees and associaters &c. &c. &c., orders being given to embark the Kings Troops and evacuate the Town. Blessed be God our redemption draws nigh.
All those “&c.”’s disguise the challenges of moving thousands of men and a thousand more civilian Loyalists out of town while under fire. One indication of how some soldiers reacted to their army’s defeat appeared in Gen. Howe’s general orders at the end of the next day:
The Commanding Officers of Corps to order every Dram Shop in their respective Districts to be shut up, & to forbid Liquors to be sold on any Account, to be Attentive that their Men are in their Quarters as soon as possible in the Evening, & to be particularly carefull that they are all Present at Taptoo Beating. If any Person is detected in Selling Spirituous Liquors in Contradiction to this Order they are to be made Prisoners, & the Liquor found in their Possession destroy’d.

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