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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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Notice on Gen. Lee’s Door

A while back, I quoted Pvt. Simeon Lyman’s account of the Connecticut troops’ dispute with Gen. Charles Lee over when exactly they would leave the Continental Army in December 1775 and how many of them would reenlist.

Lee said the departing soldiers were no better than deserters and threatened to send them up against the British positions on Bunker’s Hill. Finally he posted this notice on the door of his house, saying he was going to send copies to all the taverns southward:
To the Publicans and other Housekeepers residing on the different roads betwixt Cambridge, Newlondon, and Hartford.

Fellow Citizens: It is hoped and expected that as you value the sacred right and liberties of your country, you will show a proper contempt and indignation towards those disaffected miscreants who are at this crisis deserting her cause. Those who for want of zeal or courage, at a time when everything conspires to give us victory over our wicked enemies and tyrants, can so basely abandon their colors, those who by a traitorous desertion in the hour of trial would open a possibility to the enemy of enslaving you, have forfeited all title to be treated not only [as] fellow citizens but as men. You therefore, gentlemen, are most earnestly entreated and conjured to give testimony of your virtue and patriotism by punishing to your utmost those vile refugees.

In short, you are requested not to admit into your houses or furnish with any refreshment those bands of deserters now sneaking homeward to infate [i.e., infect] their relations and neighbors with cowardice and every bad quality, but to consider them as reprobates to virtue, honor, God, and their country, for in these lights they may justly be considered, particularly when it is known that it was only requested of them to remain three weeks longer, which they (oh scorn to the name of Amarica) have most basely refused to comply with.

Thanks however to God Almighty, who has hitherto so manifestly prospered our cause, this vile dastardly spirits is so far from being general that our army will the very day of their desertion be stronger than ever, but the spirit and virtue of the major part serve to render the infamy of those particulars more conspicuous.
As I quoted before, Lyman reported, “the paper was took down as soon as it was dark, and another put up that General Lee was a fool and if he had not come here we should not know it.” Below the text itself he wrote, “Thus much may suffice for General Lee.”

Lyman wrote little in his diary about his own actions during this confrontation. It’s clear that he didn’t volunteer to serve extra days or reenlist, so we know which side he was on. And somehow the text on the notice taken from Lee’s door “as soon as it was dark” ended up in Lyman’s papers.

(The image above shows the door of the house where Lee slept, as discussed here.)

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