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 26, 2011

More Digital Resources about the Siege

Yesterday’s posting listed the links we’re using right now in a Massachusetts Historical Society workshop on the siege of Boston. Those all come from the M.H.S.’s own holdings and digital resources. But I think we might want to check other online sources for day-by-day records of 1775-76 to fill those out.

Starting at the top, George Washington’s official papers from the siege are at the Library of Congress, with searchable texts, transcriptions, and document images (taken from microfilm). Their volume can be overwhelming, so I sometimes prefer to start with the University of Virginia’s chronological archive of the early-20th-century edition of Washington’s writings: 1770 through September 1775, and September 1775 through May 1776.

Before Washington arrived in Massachusetts, the general in charge was Artemas Ward. The M.H.S. has digitized some crucial days from Gen. Ward’s orderly book as Washington took over. In the late 1800s, the society published a longer transcription of Col. William Henshaw’s orderly book. Henshaw was Ward’s adjutant, and then top deputy to Gen. Horatio Gates, so this contains useful information about the running of the American army in 1775.

What about the other side? For obvious reasons, the M.H.S. doesn’t have a lot of papers from British military officers, or from Loyalists who left Massachusetts for Canada and stayed there. One published source is Gen. William Howe’s orderly book, the equivalent of Washington’s official orders for the latter months of the siege and beyond.

In addition, the New-York Historical Society published the diary of Col. Stephen Kemble, aide and brother-in-law to Gen. Thomas Gage. In 1877 The Atlantic Monthly published a transcription of the diary of a British officer, later identified as Capt. John Barker. (A better edition has been published since as The British in Boston, but that’s not available to all online.)

For what the civil authorities were up to, there are The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, with Committee of Safety papers at the back. That legislature reverted to being the Massachusetts General Court in the summer of 1775, and I don’t think its records are online after that. The Library of Congress has digital versions of two important collections: Letters of Delegates to Congress, and Journals of the Continental Congress. Those websites don’t make it easy to find what you’re looking for, though.

Often letters and newspapers refer to events happening “last Tuesday,” or the like, and in colonial New England it’s useful to know when Sundays fall. So when I need to pin down a date, I turn to calendars for 1775 and 1776.

Back to the Massachusetts Historical Society website. It has many more digitized documents in:


That ought to keep us busy.

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