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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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Archibald Robertson’s Views of Besieged Boston

I was delighted to discover last week that the New York Public Library’s digital image collection includes the illustrations from Archibald Robertson: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762-1780, published in 1930.

The image above is labeled “View of Boston 4th Janry 1776 taken from the epaulment of the citadel on the heights of Charles Town”—i.e., the fort that the British army built on Bunker’s Hill. From the same point, Robertson (c.1745-1813) created a series of images of the Continental-held countryside. As an officer in the Royal Artillery, he had practice in studying and sketching landscapes, and inside besieged Boston he had a lot of time on his hands.

Robertson’s other pictures include views from Copp’s Hill in the North End and a study of the Boston Neck. There’s a “Sketch of the burning of the houses on Dorchester Neck, by our troops who went & returned upon the ice. 14 January, 1776.” and a “Sketch of the burning & destroying of Castle William in Boston Harbour” after the evacuation. Some are more stylized than others, with human figures in the foreground.

And there are some views of New York, Halifax, and other places, but who cares about seeing those?


G. Lovely said...

I particularly like the work entitled "View of Boston shewing the heights of Dorchester, taken from Mount Whoredom. 24th Janry 1776. No. 1". Does anyone know if that house on the right is John Hancock's? For comparison, see: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hancock_Manor

J. L. Bell said...

I think the Hancock house is over on the left side, with the chimneys, behind a barn. In that case, the houses on the right were probably owned by John Singleton Copley. Beacon Hill is at the far left.

Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

Yes, that house on the left looks like the replica I saw in Ticonderoga last month.

G. Lovely said...

Found this phot of a replica of the Hancock Mansion built, oddly, in Ticonderoga, NY in the 1920s, and from this angle it convincing shows you to be correct, the house on the left was Hancock's.

See: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hancock_House_(Ticonderoga,_New_York)#

G. Lovely said...

Duh, just read Chris Hurley's comment.

Marc Shelikoff said...

The immediacy of the images in that sketch book are amazing. The huge flag on Prospect Hill seems to appear in at least three sketches, but it doesn't look like any flag design was drawn. If the sketches were in perfect scale, I wonder how the height of the flagpole compares to the seventy-six feet for the mast of the Diana from Paul Lunt's diary?

In "No. 3. 14th Febry 1776--continuation from No. 2 including the Town of Cambridge," I think Fort Washington (and the other little battery in that part of Cambridge) are visible in the distance, but it's tough to be sure at the resolution available for free online.