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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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

He “made the best of his way to our guard”

On Saturday, 16 Sept 1775, Lt. Paul Lunt of Newbury was serving in the siege of Boston. He recorded this event in his diary:

Cloudy this morning, but warm. A Regular of the Fifth Regiment, deserted, and came to the Whitehouse guard last night. The plot that he laid was this: he was standing sentry with another Regular, he took the flint out of his own gun, hove out the priming and spit in the pan, then offered to swap with his partner and give him a drink in the morning, which he accepted. As soon as that was done made his escape; his partner snapped [i.e., fired] his gun at him, but to no purpose; he turned round and discharged his piece at his partner, then threw off his watch-coat, and cartridge-box, and made the best of his way to our guard.
Writing in the American Journal of Science and Arts in 1824, John Finch identified the “White House Redoubt” as between the larger fortifications on Winter and Prospect Hill (shown above, courtesy of the Library of Congress). Behind the redoubt was a farmhouse that Gen. Charles Lee used as his headquarters—apparently one owned by John Tufts.

Desertion in this area wasn’t all one way. Just six days earlier, on 10 September, Gen. Nathanael Greene recorded that the Whitehouse Guard had reported a man making his way from the Continental ranks to the British fortification on Bunker Hill, evading shots. Greene ordered the passwords changed.

As long as I’m talking about deserters, I’ll take this opportunity to repeat that tomorrow night, Thursday the 17th, I’ll speak at Minute Man National Historical Park’s first 18th Century Research Forum on some British army deserters who constructed new lives in America.

Back to Lt. Lunt. Here’s his diary entry for 17 September, which was a Sunday:
Rain last night, cloudy this morning. Heard the Rev. Mr. [John] Cleaveland preach, forenoon, from Acts iii. 19: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”

Some cannon fired from Roxbury upon both sides; all still at Bunker Hill. One Regular lieutenant killed at Roxbury with a cannon-shot, several more wounded; one hung himself because he thought he was in a wrong cause.
I don’t recall any source from inside Boston confirming that last death, and I suspect Lunt simply heard the sort of rumor men told each other to assure themselves they were in the right cause.

Lunt’s diary was published ninety-eight years later by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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