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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Monday, June 17, 2013

Ashley Bowen and the News of Bunker’s Hill

On 16 June 1775, mariner Ashley Bowen (1728-1813) of Marblehead wrote in his diary: “General [Israel] Putnam is a-trenching on Bunker’s Hill at Charlestown.”

Bowen seems to have known everything that happened in his home town, and on that evening he even apparently knew about the provincial army’s big move down the coast. Yet that action surprised the British commanders in Boston the next morning.

Here’s what Bowen recorded on 17 June:
This day the Merlin [a Royal Navy ship patrolling Marblehead harbor] firing on a target. This morning the King’s troops set fire to Charlestown and came under cover of the smoke and attacked the intrenchments on Bunker Hill and caused them to retreat. Sail small brig for Boston.
And on Sunday, 18 June:
This day much firing at Boston &c. Tis said a great number of men are killed on both sides.
On 19 June:
A grand muster with our Regiment. We cannot hear the particular at Charlestown. Some rain. Captain Sam Trevett under an arrest. For what?
Trevett was a Marblehead man, captain of the only American artillery company to remain on the field throughout the battle. Here’s his story of the fight, and the story of his arrest. Bowen’s sudden lack of clear information from the siege lines reflects the confusion and recriminations splashed up by that battlefield defeat.

The Marblehead regiment, commanded by Col. John Glover, marched for Boston later that month to reinforce the provincial lines, which suddenly seemed more stretched and vulnerable.


Gritius said...

Did he confuse the dates when he wrote? Why did he state on the 18th "This day much firing at Boston &c. Tis said a great number of men are killed on both sides."?

J. L. Bell said...

I think Bowen's 18 June entry reflected the news he heard that day, including the artillery firing that followed the battle.