Before I get to summarizing my study, let me share this entry from the diary of the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, visting the siege lines on 17 Oct 1775. He described how the Continental Army had equipped two rowboats with small cannon:
This evening, two floating batteries, accompanied with some boats, went down Cambridge River [i.e., the Charles] in order to throw some shot into Boston, to alarm the regular army, and fatigue them with extraordinary duty, and also to endeavor to take a floating battery from them which lay near Boston Neck.But really I think they had something to swear about.
They got within three-quarters of a mile of the bottom of the Common, and the firing began between nine and ten o’clock. They fired about seventeen shot into the town; and then a nine-pounder in one of the batteries split: the cartridges took fire, and blew up the covering, or deck, on which several men were standing.
Captain Blackley [William Blackler], of Marblehead, who commanded the battery, had the calf of his leg shot off, and was blown, with several others, into the water. A Portuguese sailor was so badly wounded in the thigh, that he bled to death before morning; another had his arm broken, and is very dangerous; four others were slightly wounded. The battery was much shattered, and partly sunk. They towed her up the river by morning.
This manoeuvre is not generally approved by thinking people: it seemed to be rather a military frolic than a serious expedition. The camp appears to be a scene of wickedness. The oaths and execrations of the men that went on this frolic were horrid and dreadful.
I hoped to find hints about that “Portuguese sailor” who served under Capt. Blackler in Samuel Roads’s History and Traditions of Marblehead, which reprinted a roll of the town’s Continental regiment. However, that list of men is undated, so it could have been drawn up after this calamitous attack.
Capt. Blackler’s company included a man named “Manuel Seward”—but that appears to be the “Emmanuel Seward” who married in Marblehead in 1785 and survived to apply for a pension. Another man in the company was named “John Freeto”; he left descendants in Marblehead who went into state politics a century later. But the surname “Freeto” appears in the town’s vital records as early as 1731, so that man was probably not an immigrant.