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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Friday, March 14, 2008

“Plundering of Houses, Shops, Warehouses”

By 14 Mar 1776, Boston selectman Timothy Newell was no longer fretting so much about the American cannons aimed at the town. Instead, he was fretting about the evacuating British. Poor soldiers and workmen had little incentive to hold back their frustrations or respect people’s property.

11th. Monday. Cannonade began about half past 7 from Hatch’s wharf and other battery’s at near the fortification, which continued most of the night.

12th. This day and night quiet—the Soldiers shut up in their Barracks, except some who were about, plundering. The wind high at N. W. The Inhabitants greatly distressed thro’ fear the Town would be set on fire by the Soldiers.

13th. Wednesday. The Inhabitants in the utmost distress, thro’ fear of the Town being destroyed by the Soldiers, a party of New York Carpenters with axes going thro’ the town beaking open houses, &c. Soldiers and sailors plundering of houses, shops, warehouses—

Sugar and salt &c. thrown into the River, which was greatly covered with hogsheads, barrels of flour, house furniture, carts trucks &c. &c.—One Person suffered four thousand pounds sterling, by his shipping being cut to pieces &c.—Another five thousand pounds sterling, in salt wantonly thrown into the River.

14th March. Thursday. The same as above except somewhat restrained by the General [probably William Howe].
I think Newell’s phrase “New York carpenters” refers to workers Gen. Thomas Gage had brought to Boston in the fall of 1774 to build barracks for his troops; few local workers had been willing to take that job. Now those men had little recourse but to evacuate with the British troops.

Meanwhile, Capt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment recorded the Continental artillery moving ever closer, the British engineers erecting obstacles to any American soldiers who might charge in to cut off their withdrawal, and the Royal Artillery loading their guns onto ships:
[13 Mar:] The Rebels began a Battery nearer the point of the Peninsula, intended against the Ships.

Breastworks and Abbatties thrown across some of the Streets, a dry ditch made between the two Gates at the Lines and one at the Neck; the Gates barricaded.

Every Cannon on board but some iron ones which are to be spiked.
Today’s thumbnail picture is from Colonial Williamsburg’s page on carpenters, with best wishes to everyone in those warmer climes.

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