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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Monday, September 13, 2010

“For Your Excellencies Perusal”

As Joseph Reed laid out the scheme in his 28 July 1775 letter, Lt. Col. Loammi Baldwin was supposed to hand over a letter to one of the Tewksbury brothers at Shirley Point in Chelsea. That man would “deliver it to a Waterman whom he can depend on.”

Reed didn’t name this boatman, possibly because he didn’t know the name. That man might have been Enoch Hopkins, who operated a ferry from Boston’s North End. I’ve quoted a letter dated 15 June 1775 showing that Hopkins and his son were carrying mail and goods in and out of the besieged town.

Even though the town was besieged, there was some water traffic back and forth, and not just the clandestine kind. On the day after Baldwin received Reed’s letter, the officer wrote to Gen. George Washington:

About twelve oClock this day we were all alarmed by the approach of a Boat to Winnisimmit Ferry & by a Signal soon found them to be friends who Landed with their Houshold good there ware several of my Intimate acquaintance

I have taken the names of all the Passengers and stopd the Letters which I now Send for your Inspection & Beg your Excellency would Send them Back to me again as soon as possable as the Bairers are some of them in weighting and others are to Call again tomorrow for theirs Please to Keep the Inclosed Letters in their Respective Covers.

I would Beg your Excellency would Send me some Assistance as the Boats are to Continue passing (That is if we can believe General Gage) and Somthing may Escape for want of Proper assistance that may turn to our disadvantag
Gen. Thomas Gage had first told Bostonians they were free to depart as long as they left their guns. Then he stopped letting people leave easily, and at this point resumed the outflow. That meant frontline officers like Baldwin needed procedures to make sure they collected all useful information coming out, and let no useful information go in.

For example, on 31 July Baldwin debriefed one disembarking passenger:
Colo. [Joseph] Ingersoll…Informed me that there was one Regular Officer & Several other persons badly wounded brought to Boston Just as he came away which was about Eight or Nine oClock A.M. and that there went from Boston in the Night meaning Last night a large number of Granedears & Light Infantry in larg flat bottom Boats for the Southward Shore it was suposd
And on 2 August Baldwin sent the general “two Letters in one Cover Directed to Mr Nathl. Noyes, Andover, which I thought Proper to Send for your Excellencies Perusal.” Presumably British officers were searching the people and letters that ferrymen brought into Boston. But the American commanders trusted that unnamed “Waterman” to get a letter to their secret informant, “John Carnes a Grocer.”

TOMORROW: The Rev. Mr. Carnes.

1 comment:

Tess said...

This is excellent, Mr. Bell, just wonderful! I look forward to your next post. I think I share the opinion of others, when I say we are very interested in knowing how citizens got in and out of Boston.