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, November 30, 2010

“Martial Law has had a full Swing”

Here’s another glimpse of life inside besieged Boston from William Cheever’s diary, now online at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This time the entry comes from 21 July 1775:

A Court martial has been held for several days upon Mess’rs Lovell, Leach and others, at which one Carpenter was sentenced to be hanged this day for carrying Intelligence over to the Provincials by swiming; however it was thought fit to reprieve him.

Martial Law has had a full Swing for this month past. The Provost with his Band entering houses at his pleasure, stoping Gentlemen from enter:g their Warehouses and puting some under Guard: as also pulling down Fences, etc., particularly Mr. Carnes’s Rope Walk and our Pasture.
The jailhouse diaries of Peter Edes, published in 1837, and John Leach, published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1865, have lots more detail about these proceedings. Which makes sense, since they were among the accused. The royal authorities eventually figured out that the man who had corresponded with Dr. Joseph Warren before the Battle of Bunker Hill was James Lovell. They let Edes and Leach go, but kept Lovell locked up past the end of the siege.

The man named “Carpenter” was, according to Leach’s journal, a barber by trade. He swam from Boston to Dorchester in July, and then back—when he was caught. Selectman Timothy Newell’s diary has more about his dramatic reprieve from hanging. [ADDENDUM FROM MARCH 2011: His name was Richard Carpenter.]

The “Provost” was William Cunningham, whose mythical end I discussed here. He and his sons had long careers as prison wardens in Britain after the war. I need to track down a book about prison reform in Gloucestershire for more information on them.

Finally, Cheever mentions “Mr. Carnes’s Rope Walk.” This was Edward Carnes, and his house and rope factory was on the sparsely-settled side of Beacon Hill, under where Historic New England’s headquarters are now. In 1782 Carnes would marry Sarah Cheever, William’s 47-year-old aunt.

TOMORROW: Church and state.

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