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, July 20, 2015

The Fight from the Other Side

For the past few days I’ve been quoting an 1835 account written from the perspective of a young British officer captured in Boston harbor in June 1776.

That article names “Colonel Crofts” as the American official who took charge of him and his fellow prisoners. I wondered if that was Thomas Crafts, colonel in charge of Massachusetts’s artillery force (show here).

As it happens, we also have an “Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Colony Train, at Nantasket, under the Command of Col. Crafts, to his Friend in Boston, June 17, 1776,” describing that capture from the opposite direction. It was published in the 20 June 1776 Continental Journal.

Before quoting that, I should mention that Crafts’s regiment was stocked with Boston businessmen active in prewar politics, so the opening of the letter drops a lot of familiar names:
My dear Friend,

I promis’d to give you a short account of our transactions—We embarked with a part of Col. [Thomas] Marshall’s and [Josiah] Whitney’s Regiment late on Thursday evening for the lower harbour, under the Command of Major [Paul] Revere. The whole expedition directed by General [Benjamin] LINCOLN, Capt. [James] Swan for Petticks Island, Major Revere and Capt. [Thomas] Melvill for Nantasket: Capt. [Joseph] Balch for Hoff’s Neck and Capt. [Jonathan W.] Edes for Moonhead, and Capt. [Edward] Burbeck of the Continental Train with 500 men for Long-Island Head.—
The troops’ first mission was to fire cannon at the British warships still hanging around the harbor. They drove off that force, leaving no one to warn incoming British ships that the port had changed hands.
On Sunday afternoon we saw a ship and a Brigt. standing in for the Light-House channel, chased and fir’d upon by 4 privateers, who frequently exchang’d broad sides. We suppos’d them to be part of the Scotch fleet, got every man to his quarters, and carried one 18-pounder to point alderson, on purpose to hinder their retreat, should they get into the road, opposite where we had 3 18 pounders. About 5 o’clock the privateers left them and stood for the southward, when the ship and Brig crouded all their sail for the channel.

Our orders were not to fire till the last got a breast of us. In tacking she got aground just under our cannon; when we hail’d her to strike to this Colony: They refus’d, and we fired one 18-pounder loaded with round and cannister shot, when she struck and cried out for quarters. We order’d the boat and captain on shore, and then fired at the ship; but being quite dark, we suppos’d she had struck. By this time the privateers came up. A Capt. of the Highlanders, in the Brigt’s boat came on shore. Sometime after the ship got under way, and stood for the narrows; when a fine privateer Brigt. commanded by Capt. [Seth] Harding of New Haven, (who we hear came in this bay on purpose to meet our old friend Darson) and 5 Schooners gave chase.

The Brig came a long side, when a hot engagement ensu’d which lasted three quarters of an hour, when the ship struck. The Brigt floating took the advantage of the confusion and attempted to follow, both supposing the enemy in possession of Boston. We found them from Scotland, with highlanders to join General Howe. The ship had on board 114, the Brigt. 74. The former lost in the engagement Major Menzies, 8 privates, and 13 wounded. The latter 1 killed by the privateers in the day:—The privateer Brigt, had 3 wounded, one suppos’d mortally.
The mention of Maj. Robert Menzies’s death confirms that this was the same ship and the same fight.

TOMORROW: Capt. Harding’s luck.

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