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, March 17, 2013

“The Agreeable Sight of a number of ships leaving”

This being Evacuation Day, I’m quoting all of Col. Jedidiah Huntington’s letter to his father back in Connecticut about that turning-point:
Roxbury Camp 17th March 1776

Hond. Sir,—

This morning we had the Agreeable Sight of a number of ships leaving the Town of Boston with a large number of Boats full of Soldiers, about ten of Clock several Lads came to our out Centries and informed us that the Troops had intirely left the Town and that the Selectmen were coming out to see us, soon after we had the Pleasure of seeing Messrs. [Samuel] Austin, [John] Scolly, [Thomas] Marshall &c—they had an Interview with the General [Ward or Washington?] & gave him the best Intellegence they could concerning the state of the Town & the Intentions of the Enemy—

the Enemy are now all laying between the Castle & Light House in full View from the Town and make a very formidable Appearance, we shall keep a sharp look out till they are out of Sight at least—the Talk of the Town is that the Troops are gone to Hallifax—the Country ought to be well on their Guard in every Place where it is likely they will make a Descent—

I expect most if not all the established Regiments will be ordered from this Station as soon as the Enemy are gone from the Bay—where my Destination will be I know not I hope it will give me an Opportunity of seeing Norwich—my Love & Duty to Mother & all & remain Your dutifull & affectionate son

J Huntington
The comment on “several Lads” who came out to the sentries appears to be the sole basis of statements like this in Richard Ketchum’s Decisive Day:
…a pack of little boys burst out of doors, ran screaming and yelling down Orange Street toward the town gates, and pelted across Boston Neck toward Roxbury, somehow darting in and out between Lieutenant [Jesse] Adair’s booby traps. Shouting with glee, the youngsters raced up to the rebel outposts and breathlessly delivered the news that Boston was free at last.
And from David McCullough’s 1776: “In no time small boys came running across the Neck from Boston to deliver the news that the ‘lobster backs’ were gone at last.”

I’d love to find an account from one of those boys, but it might tell quite a different story from the explosion of youthful energy Ketchum pictured. The word “Lads” could apply to older teenagers, for example.

I quoted the selectmen’s perspective on their errand here.

TOMORROW: Lt. Adair and the booby traps.

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