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 07, 2008

The Selectmen Plead for a Cease Fire

On the day after the British military command decided to evacuate Boston as quickly as possible, selectman Timothy Newell described their haste in his journal:

The last night and this day the Troops are very busily employed in removing their stores, cannon, ammunition—some of the Dragoons on board, the Refugees &c. &c., in shipping their goods &c.

The Selectmen write to the commanding officer at Roxbury, at the earnest desire of the Inhabitants and by permission of Genl. [William] Howe as follows.
To the Commanding Officer at Roxbury.
Boston March 8th 1776.

As his Excellency Genl. Howe is determined to leave the Town with the troops under his command, a number of the respectable Inhabitants, being very anxious for its preservation and safety, have applied to General [James] Robertson for this purpose, who at their request have communicated the same to his Excellency Genl. Howe, who has assured him, that he has no intention of destroying the Town, unless the Troops under his command are molested, during their embarkation, or at their departure by the armed force without; which declaration he gave General Robertson leave to communicate to the Inhabitants. If such an opposition should take place, we have the greatest reason to suspect the Town will be exposed to entire destruction.

As our fears are quieted, with regard to General Howe’s intentions, we must we may have some assurances, that so dreadful a calamity may not be brought on by any measures without. As a testimony of the truth of the above we have signed our names to this Paper, carried out by Messrs. Thomas and Jonathan Amory, and Peter Johonnet, who have at the earnest entreaties of the Inhabitants, through the Lieut. Governor [Thomas Oliver] solicited a flag of truce for this purpose.

[signed]
1 John Scollay
2 Timothy Newell
3 Thomas Marshall
4 Samuel Austin
These selectmen had remained in Boston through the siege with the hope of preserving people and property, and now they faced threats both from the angry departing British troops and the American artillery. These men were staunch Whigs, but not everyone trusted their accommodations to the military authorities. In July 1775, Joseph Greenleaf had even referred to Gen. Thomas Gage’s “tools the S——t-men” in a letter to his brother-in-law, Robert Treat Paine.

It’s interesting that the selectmen didn’t go out to the lines themselves. Perhaps the general wouldn’t allow them to. Instead, of the men who delivered their letter to the American lines, Peter Johonnot was a Loyalist and the Amory brothers had tried to stay neutral, and thus would all return to Boston.

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