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, December 05, 2008

The Ransom of John Loring

As I’ve been relating, Jamaica Plain native John Loring was a midshipman in the Royal Navy, fourteen or fifteen years old, when he was captured by Massachusetts militiamen off Martha’s Vineyard in April 1776. The Massachusetts Council ordered him and his superior officer confined in the jail at Concord.

However, Midshipman Loring was from an old Massachusetts family with connections on both sides of the conflict. Among his mother’s brothers was Obadiah Curtis (1724-1811), a Boston merchant. Curtis’s descendants later said that he was active in the Patriot movement, but I’ve been able to find only one piece of evidence to support that: he volunteered to patrol the docks during the tea crisis of 1773.

In any event, Curtis convinced the authorities to take pity on his young nephew and let him out of jail. John Loring was instead sent to the farm of Curtis’s father-in-law, Joseph Buckminster (1697-1780) of Framingham, to wait until a prisoner exchange was arranged or some other disposition.

So in his late seventies Buckminster became responsible for a teen-aged boy who had grown up in privilege and then spent several months in His Majesty’s navy, living without parental supervision among people he viewed as political enemies. This did not make for a peaceful situation. According to an 1869 history of the Curtis family:

the boy was so insolent to the neighbors, calling them “rascally rebels,” and other bad names, that his kind host was in danger of having his house pulled down, though himself a good patriot.
Indeed, Buckminster was among Framingham’s most prominent and respected men: militia colonel, selectman for a quarter-century, town clerk for three decades, General Court representative for nineteen years, charter member of the town’s Committee of Correspondence. But John was obnoxious enough to overcome that record.

No doubt Buckminster and his neighbors were pleased to see John Loring exchanged late in 1776 for a prisoner held by the British—I haven’t found out who. John became a lieutenant in the Royal Navy before the end of the Revolutionary War, a captain in Britain’s wars with revolutionary France, and a commodore in the wars against Napoleon. (His nephew John Wentworth Loring, son of the Commissary of Prisoners, eventually became an admiral.) John Loring died on his estate in Fareham, Hampshire County, Britain, in 1808.

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