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, August 11, 2010

Asa Lawrence at the “Battle of Chelsea”

Asa Lawrence (1737-1804) was a provincial army captain from Groton. In the second volume of his Groton Historical Series (1890), the indefatigable local historian Samuel Abbott Green published Lawrence’s 1779 petition to the Massachusetts General Court, asking for some compensation and support:

Humbly shewes Asa Lawrence of Groton in the County of Middlesex that he was in the Engagement of the 17th of June at Charlestown [i.e., the Battle of Bunker Hill] and there lost goods an account whereof is hereunto annexed—

and that at the Battle of Chelsea he risqued his Life at the Command of general [Israel] Putnam to Burn one of the Enemies armed Vessels and after many attempts he finally effected the same whereby there was an acquisition of twelve peices of Cannon to the Public,

and also that he served seven weeks in the late Expedition against Rhode Island as a Volunteer and has never had any reward for said services or Compensation for his said Losses.

Wherefore he prays that a due allowance may be made him for his services and losses aforesd and he as in duty bound shall ever pray &c.
The Massachusetts legislature voted to grant Lawrence £100 for the “gun, knapsack, bayonet, coat, blanket, &c.” that he lost at Bunker Hill.

This petition suggests that the fight in late May 1775 had become known in Massachusetts as “the Battle of Chelsea.” Of course, Lawrence had every reason to portray that fight as an important battle since he had played an important role in it and was seeking some reward.

I can’t leave Capt. Lawrence without noting the evidence, mentioned in this article, that his twelve-year-old son Rowland (or Roland) came with him to the siege of Boston as a “waiter,” or personal servant and gofer. Later, in 1776-77, Rowland served four months in the militia at Dorchester.

TOMORROW: So what does this mean for “the Battle of Chelsea Creek”?


RFuller said...

"The Massachusetts legislature voted to grant Lawrence £100 for the “gun, knapsack, bayonet, coat, blanket, &c.” that he lost at Bunker Hill.

I'm not sure when they granted him this in compensation, but £100 was a considerable sum in 1775, and for many years after.

I am reminded of the late Sen. Everett Dirksen's observation about Congressional spending, "A billion here, a billion there...pretty soon, you're talking real money."

J. L. Bell said...

Even in inflated wartime currency, that does seem like a lot of compensation. But I suspect this was the state’s elite class looking after one of their own, knowing he’d done important service earlier in the war and using “compensation for lost goods” as their excuse for giving him some money.

Chris the Woburnite said...

Perhaps the 100 pounds was for his whole company.

J. L. Bell said...

There are a lot of petitions for lost property like this in the Massachusetts legislative records, and they’re usually from individuals, including lowly privates.

In this case, Lawrence was asking for compensation four years after the Bunker Hill battle, long after the unit was broken up. His petition doesn’t say anything about anyone else’s losses. So I think he needed money for himself.

peterfisk said...

Pretty sure this is the same Asa Lawrence who was a leader in Shays' Rebellion, right?

J. L. Bell said...

I see Lawrence’s name on a Groton committee to deal with some of the economic problems that led to Shays’s Rebellion, but I don’t know what further part he played.

J. L. Bell said...

Looking back at my original source for Lawrence’s petition, I see that he appended an accounting for his losses that came to only £7.10s. So the legislature was obviously compensating him for more than just that.

peterfisk said...

@JL -- I guess you're right, re: Shays' Rebellion. For some reason I had remembered Capt. Asa Lawrence as having been more directly involved in the rebellion, but like you I can't find any evidence of that now. I must have been conflating him with another man.

Anonymous said...

In a book called Groton During the Revolution Asa Lawrence's name appears on the bottom of page 184 as a person who took part in Shays rebellion.