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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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boston Light and Little Brewster Island

I’ve flown off to Iowa to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday, lucky enough to have Christopher Klein offering to fill in as a guest blogger. Chris is the author of the new book Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands, published by Union Park Press. In this article, he describes Boston harbor’s main landmark in the eighteenth century.

When Boston Light was kindled in 1716, the solitary sentinel commanding the entrance to Boston Harbor became the first lighthouse in North America. It was a magnificent triumph for the maritime interests of Boston, providing them with a competitive advantage against commercial rivals such as New York City. Not only was Boston Light the first lighthouse in North America, it was one of only a handful to be found anywhere in the world at that time.

Unfortunately, 60 years after its beams first bounced across the waves of Massachusetts Bay, the original lighthouse was destroyed in the opening act of the American Revolution.

Following the devastating battles at Lexington and Concord, the beleaguered British troops and their sympathizers under siege on the peninsula of Boston were in desperate need of supplies. With land routes cut off, the British set their sights on the farms of the Boston Harbor Islands, which remained readily available to them as their naval supremacy remained intact. The hay, vegetables, and livestock on the islands were of strategic importance to both sides, and periodic island skirmishes between the British and the colonists broke out between May and July of 1775. Long, Peddocks, Deer, and Grape Islands were all scenes of skirmishes in the spring and summer of 1775.

Perhaps no island, however, was of more strategic importance than Little Brewster Island, simply because it was the location of Boston Light. The lighthouse was still in British hands in July 1775 when the patriots, seeking to disrupt British control of the harbor, launched two daring raids on Little Brewster Island.

On the night of 18 July 1775, a detachment of approximately 400 soldiers led by Major Joseph Vose set out for Nantasket peninsula on the southern shore of Boston Harbor where they cut and removed 1,000 bushels of barley and a large quantity of hay, thus depriving the British of these badly needed supplies. From Nantasket, a company of soldiers set off in whaleboats for Little Brewster Island.

TOMORROW: The Continentals make landfall, and the British counterattack.

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