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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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Richard Carpenter “apprehended and confined in irons”

Two hundred thirty-five years ago today, the British fleet pulled away from Boston’s wharves, carrying several thousand soldiers, about a thousand Loyalist refugees, and a few prisoners that Gen. William Howe deemed too valuable to leave behind.

The most prominent of those was James Lovell, former assistant teacher at the South Latin School. Letters from him were apparently found in Dr. Joseph Warren’s pockets after the battle of Bunker Hill. Lovell had been locked up since the summer of 1775, and had unsuccessfully pleaded with Gen. Washington to exchange him.

Another prisoner on the fleet was Richard Carpenter, the barber who swam from Boston to Dorchester and back in late July 1775.

Boston newspapers tried to keep track of men known to be prisoners (see the examples at Rag Linen), and they spread more news of Carpenter in late July 1776. Here’s the version that appeared in the Boston Gazette on the 29th:

Last Tuesday Evening came to town from Halifax, Lieut. Scott of Peterborough, in New Hampshire Government, who was wounded and taken Prisoner at the memorable Battle of Bunker Hill the 17th of June, 1775, and has been a Prisoner ever since.

He informed, That he with 13 others broke Goal about 5 Weeks ago, and betook themselves to the Woods where they separated; that Captain [Sion] Martindale and his first and second Lieutenants, John Brown, Rifleman, Leonard Briggs of Ware, and himself arrived at Truro at the head of the Cobbecut river, after a travel of 3 days, where they procured a boat and got to the Eastward;

that Richard Carpenter formerly Barber in this town, Philip Johnson Peak, David Kemp of Groton, and Corporal [Walter] Cruse of Virginia, and two others took the road to Windsor where they were apprehended and confined in irons;

that Benjamin Willson of Billerica, one of the Bunker Hill Prisoners died lately in goal; and that he left Master James Lovell still confin’d, in high health and spirits
On 18 September the Connecticut Journal had a long report on prisoners of war “still confined in one room at Halifax, among felons, thieves, robbers, negroes, soldiers, &c.” At the top of that long list were “James Lovil & Richard Carpenter of Boston.” Further down was “Col. Ethan Allen, of Bennington.”

The report concluded, “All in the goal but [Bunker Hill prisoner Daniel] Sessions, are well and in good spirits; but wishing greatly for an exchange.”

TOMORROW: Richard Carpenter free at last.

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