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, March 17, 2008

Two British Officers Depart Boston

On 17 Mar 1776, the British military evacuated Boston, 146 years after the town’s founding, almost two years after the London ministry had sent troops into the town to enforce its laws, and eleven months after the Revolutionary War had begun in earnest at Lexington and Concord.

Capt. John Barker of His Majesty’s 4th Regiment recorded the withdrawal this way:

At 4 oclock in the Morn. the Troops got under Arms, at 5 they began to move, and by about 8 or 9 were all embarked, the rear being cover’d by the Gren[adie]rs. and Lt. Infy. The Rebels did not think proper to molest us. We quitted Boston with a fair wind and sailed down to King Road, which is just below Castle William. We were again firing last night at Foster’s hill, but the Rebels had in spite of that erected a Work there, by taking advantage of all our Artillery being away, except a few old Iron Guns.
Here is another officer’s description of the same events, published in London later that year in the Remembrancer. I suspect this anonymous officer was in the British dragoons because he mentioned that branch of the army more than any other:
Nantasket Road, March 17th.

Our retreat was made this morning between the hours of two and eight. Our troops did not receive the smallest molestation, though the rebels were all night at work on the near hill, and we kept a constant fire upon them, from a battery of four twenty-four pounders. They did not return a single shot. It was lucky for the inhabitants now left in Boston they did not. For I am informed everything was prepared to set the town in a blaze had they fired one cannon.

The dragoons are under orders to sail to-morrow for Halifax, a cursed, cold, wintry place even yet. Nothing to eat, less to drink. Bad times, my dear friend. The displeasure I feel from the very small share I have in our present insignificancy is so great that I don’t know the thing so desperate I would not undertake in order to change our situation.
The “King Road” and “Nantasket Road” were deep-water areas of Boston harbor. The British fleet actually remained in those regions, well within sight of Continental Army positions, for a few more days before beginning the sail to Nova Scotia.

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