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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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Chelsea Creek, or My First and Last Post about Videogames

Yesterday’s Boston Globe reported on efforts to map the skirmish over the Royal Navy schooner Diana on 27 May 1775. That fight began with provincials raiding two islands in Boston harbor to deny food and forage to the British army, the Diana counterattacking and running aground, and finally provincial troops stripping that ship of its artillery and setting it on fire.

Last year the National Park Service awarded a grant to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to find out more about the fight using archeological studies and GIS mapping. The Globe reported on the search for the Diana last July, a story that got picked up in London.

In January the home-town paper noted another approach to exploring the same history:

A group of students at the Umana Middle School Academy have helped create a video game that may soon be available for free download to mobile devices. Impatient riders stuck on the Blue Line will be able to relive the battle on an iPhone, tapping on the touch screen as Minutemen with muskets charge the HMS Diana, a British ship that ran aground at low tide. . . .

Jason Petralia…and three colleagues worked with the students to develop ideas and had them put pencil to paper, allowing the middle-schoolers to create the building blocks for graphics. After scanning the student’s drawings into a computer, the programmers added color and brought to life the game, which will be submitted to Apple for approval and distribution next month.

The setting is simple: blue sky, yellow sun, and a marooned ship, the HMS Diana. A constant stream Minutemen rush the ship with their muskets at the ready. When a Minuteman reaches the hull, he deposits a bail of hay, which the patriots used to torch the real British ship in 1775.

The person playing the game is on the side of the British, defending the Diana, using the flick of a finger to chase away advancing Minutemen. When 20 hay-carrying colonists reach the ship, it bursts into flames…
I haven’t found the game available at the iPhone store, but then I’ve never visited before. Those same students appear to be part of a push for an East Boston Historical Society.

All these articles refer to the fighting on 27 May 1775 as “the Battle of Chelsea Creek.” As far as I can tell, that phrase didn’t appear until 1906, when Fred W. Lamb used it as the title of an article in the Granite State Monthly. (New Hampshire colonel John Stark led the first raids.) Before then, authors who mentioned the skirmish at all tied it to Noddle’s Island or Hog Island. [ADDENDUM: More on the nomenclature here.]

The fight for the Diana was the first and, I believe, last significant American victory where Israel Putnam was present. But his role was impressive enough for the Continental Congress to make him a major general in June. Diaries and letters show how excited the win left the New England troops outside Boston—twice they’d gone up against the British military, and twice they’d come out ahead.

Then, three weeks later, came the Battle of Bunker Hill. For the provincials, that looked like a loss; there were a lot of recriminations and finger-pointing. It took a while for Americans to realize how much that battle had cost the British. Indeed, it was the main turning-point in the siege of Boston, even though the campaign went on for another nine months. Because the casualties at Bunker Hill dwarfed those from the fighting off Chelsea, the earlier fight was quickly overshadowed.

A year ago Rick Detwiller told me that Heritage Auction Galleries sold a 17th-century Dutch gun (more pictures here). Aside from proximity, however, I don’t see an obvious connection between this gun and the Chelsea Creek fighting. In January Fontaine’s Auction sold grapeshot said to come from that battle, though I don’t see information about how that material was unearthed.


Pvt.Willy said...

"The fight for the Diana was the first and, I believe, last significant American victory where Israel Putnam was present"
Well,I suppose if you wish to call the Battle of Bunker Hill a glorious victory for the British as many historians have done.It seems a bit luducrous to term it a "victory",giving that it was one of the major battles and also major physical losses for the King's men.
I doubt that Wm.Howe felt very victorious that evening.In fact, it seems to have changed his outlook totally.

J. L. Bell said...

I think Bunker Hill is a textbook definition of a Pyrrhic victory for the British. But that doesn’t make it a victory for the Americans. They spent a lot of the next several weeks arguing about who was to blame.