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, September 30, 2012

A Dispute within the Artillery Company in 1768

Here’s an anecdote from Zachariah Whitman’s 1842 History of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. As I’ve described before, that organization wasn’t a part of the provincial militia but a private organization men joined to improve their military skills and show they had what it took to be officers. According to Whitman:
In 1768, several regiments of British troops were in Boston. On a field day, under command of Capt. [William] Heath, then Lieutenant [Footnote: It was customary before the Revolution, and so continued until recently, to give the Lieutenant the privilege of command one field day during the year.], it appearing probable that the Ar. Co. would not leave the Common until after the roll-call of the troops, their commanding officer sent orders that he must retire without beat of drum, and that there must be no firing at the deposit of their standard.

The Company opposed a compliance; but Lieut. Heath, conceiving it his duty to comply with the orders of a superior officer in his Majesty’s service, marched to Faneuil Hall in silence, and without firing.

This appeared to some of the members an infringement of their privileges. One Hopestill Capen, then Orderly, resented it so highly, that he went to the top of his house, and fired his musket three times, and even many years after would not vote for Gen. Heath.
Remarkably, while Heath served in the American army from the very first day of the Revolutionary War to the very last, Capen, who had resented the orders of an army officer, became a Loyalist. He had joined the Sandemanian sect, convinced of his religious duty to obey the king. Despite the general Sandemanian teaching of pacifism, during the siege Capen joined Boston’s Association, a Loyalist militia.

The photo above, from the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection, shows Capen’s house and rooftop as they appeared in 1930.

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