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, March 21, 2016

“The very Time of the Convulsion” in Shrewsbury

On Thursday I’ll speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site about “The End of Tory Row,” the events that led to drastic changes in that neighborhood in September 1774. (Here’s more information.)

Here’s part of a description of that day, which the Rev. Ezra Stiles of Newport took down from an Irish businessman named McNeil a few days afterward:
Mr. McNeil told me he proceeding from Springfield journeyed towards Boston and on Thursday the first Day of Sept. reached Shrewsbury in the Evening and lodged there. I asked him where he met the public Tumult? he said at Shrewsbury a few miles nearer Boston than Worcester.

He went to bed without hearing any Thing. But about midnight or perhaps one oClock he was suddenly waked up, somebody violently rapping up the Landlord, telling the doleful Story that the Powder was taken, six men killed, & all the people between there & Boston arming & marching down to the Relief of their Brethren at Boston; and within a qr. or half an hour he judges fifty men were collected at the Tavern tho’ now deep in Night, equipping themselves & sending off Posts every Way to the neighboring Towns. . . . The Men set off as fast as they were equipt.

In the Morning, being fryday Sept. 2, Mr. McNeil rode forward & passed thro’ the whole at the very Time of the Convulsion. He said he never saw such a Scene before—all along were armed Men rushing forward some on foot some on horseback, at every house Women & Children making Cartridges, running Bullets, making Wallets, baking Biscuit, crying & bemoaning & at the same time animating their Husbands & Sons to fight for their Liberties, tho’ not knowing whether they should ever see them again.

I asked whether the Men were Cowards or disheartened or appeared to want Courage? No. Whether the tender Destresses of weeping Wives & Children softened effeminated & overcome the Men and set them Weeping to? No—nothing of this—but a firm intrepid Ardor, hardy eager & couragious Spirit of Enterprize, a Spirit for revenging the Blood of their Brethren & rescue our Liberties, all this & an Activity corresponding with such Emotions appeared all along the whole Tract of above fourty Miles from Shrewsbury to Boston.

The Women kept on making Cartridges, & after equipping their Husbands, bro’t them out to the Soldiers which in Crowds passed along & gave them out in handfuls to one and another as they were deficient, mixing Exhortation & Tears & Prayers—spiriting the Men in such an uneffeminate Manner as even would make Cowards fight. He tho’t if anything the Women surpassed the Men for Eagerness & Spirit in the Defence of Liberty by Arms. For they had no Tho’ts of the Men returning but from Battle, for they all believed the Action commenced between the Kings Troops & the Provincials.
Remember, this was 2 Sept 1774, more than seven months before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but the people of central Massachusetts “believed the Action commenced” already.

Many of those armed men with “a Spirit for revenging the Blood of their Brethren” ended up on the road from Watertown into Cambridge, passing the house of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver at the southwestern end of “Tory Row.”

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

My favorite detail is women handing out new musket cartridges to passing militiamen as if they were giving orange slices to Marathon runners.