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, December 12, 2016

A Key Location in The Road to Concord

The image above comes from this hand-drawn map in the collection of the Library of Congress. I’ve flipped it so the street labels are easier to read; that puts north to the lower right. You can click on the image for a bigger view or follow the link for the whole map.

The library has no information about who created this diagram, but we can deduce its approximate date from the labels on the right side. Moving from the far right, they show the locations of camps of His Majesty’s 4th Regiment (on a hillock), the 47th, and the Marines.

The Marines arrived in Boston harbor on 5 December and remained aboard ship until sometime in January, according to Lt. John Barker’s diary. Barracks were prepared for them in the North End for the winter. On 26 April, they finally camped on the Common. Barker likewise wrote that the 47th was then on the Common and the 4th upon “Whoredom Hill.”

Given those positions and the map’s lack of gun emplacements and fortifications along the Charles River shore, this map seems to date from the spring of 1775, soon after the Revolutionary War began. More British regiments arrived the next month, and the engineers began to fortify the town.

At the center of this image are two parallel lines of squiggles. That’s the Mall, a line of elm trees, along the edge of the Common. On the left side of those trees we can see streets branching off of Newbury Street, part of the main thoroughfare through town now called Washington Street.

At the bottom are Summer and Winter Streets, which still bear those names. Above them are Pond Street and Water/Watch Street. Pond Street has been built over. Other eighteenth-century maps label the Water/Watch as West Street, suggesting this mapmaker wasn’t a local; that street is still called West today. Slanting off to the right above West is “Hog A[lley].”

Where Water/Watch/West Street runs into the mall is a six-sided orthogonal shape, probably a land lot. That was where the South Writing School and the Boston militia train’s new gunhouse shared a fenced yard. Back in September 1774, two of the train’s brass cannon disappeared from that gunhouse. The British military never found out, but those guns lay hidden for two weeks inside that school. By the time this map was drawn, they had been spirited out west as far as Concord and probably Stow, and were headed back to the siege lines.

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