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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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“They had left their coats and packs”

The recent posting about the New Hampshire regiments housed on Charlestown Neck in June 1775 prompted a comment from reader Peter Fisk, which sent me searching for the account he mentioned of Capt. Ezra Towne’s regiment. Those men came mostly from New Ipswich, and the story appears in the 1852 History of New Ipswich:
…about ten o’clock issued an order for the two New Hampshire Regiments, under Colonels [John] Stark and [James] Reed, to make the necessary preparations, and march to the Hill.

The Regiments being nearly destitute of powder and ball, were marched to the building occupied as an Arsenal, where each man received a gill cup full of powder, fifteen balls and one flint; the several captains were then ordered to march their companies to their respective quarters, and make up their powder and ball into cartridges, with despatch. As there were hardly two muskets of the same calibre, in any company, many of the balls had to be reduced in size; and as but few had cartridge-boxes, they mainly used powder-horns, putting their balls either in their pouches or pockets. Not a bayonet was to be found in our company, and not a dozen in the whole Regiment; the officers, like the soldiers, each carried a gun.
I interrupt here to note that although “not a bayonet was to be found in our company,” three of Towne’s men asked the colony to compensate them for bayonets lost in the battle.
About one o’clock, Col. Stark’s Regiment having arrived from Medford, joined that of Col. Reed, and both commenced their march over Charlestown Neck, exposed to a heavy fire of chain and round shot from the British ships and floating batteries. But our men safely crossed it, and, after a rapid march, formed on Bunker Hill, having first deposited their blankets, coats, and other burdens at the foot of the hill.

Just previous to the arrival of the New Hampshire Regiments, some of the Connecticut troops had been employed in making a temporary breastwork by planting two parallel lines of post and rail fence, commencing near the rear of the redoubt, and running down obliquely towards Mystic River, the spaces between the fences being filled with new mown hay. About four o’clock, the regiment of which our company formed a part, took up its position in rear of the rail fence, near the redoubt, Col. Starks’s being extended farther down towards the river.
There follows the standard story of three British advances, two repulsed before the provincials ran out of ammunition. As in many nineteenth-century American accounts, this one estimated the British force as much larger than the provincial: 3,000 men against 1,500. These days, most historians think the forces were closer to equal.
Capt. Towne’s company came off in good order, although exposed to a very heavy fire. . . . On their retreat our company found that the old house, near the Neck, in which they had left their coats and packs, had been set on fire by the hot shot from the British ships, and some of the men, among whom was Supply Wilson, ventured the attempt to save their packs, and succeeded in bringing them off, with as many more as they could carry; the rest were burned.
Which is why the Towne company’s request for reimbursement contains so many more personal goods, such as razors, than the request from other New Hampshire companies.

Supply Wilson was a corporal in the company as of August 1775. He lived until 1835, serving in town and militia offices, so he probably told this story a lot.

TOMORROW: The man who ran away.


Peter Fisk said...

Further notes of interest on Ezra Towne (sorry for not adding this in a more timely fashion):

* Ezra was great-grandnephew of Rebecca Towne Nurse and also great-grandson of Sarah Averill, who were hanged together July 19, 1692, in Salem Village as witches.

* He was killed by hay hook accident in 1795 at the age of 59.
(See: "The Towne family memorial"

Peter Fisk said...

* Also, he was a triplet, which was even more unusual then than it is now (in the age of fertility drugs).

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the odd details.