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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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Weather Report for 4 December 1775

Last month Timothy Abbott shared on Facebook a glimpse of life in the British camp on Bunker’s Hill in late 1775. After the battle of 17 June, the British army had fortified those heights, securing the whole Charlestown peninsula from the Continentals.

On 26 Jan 1776, Abbott found, the Derby Mercury of Britain ran a brief “Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Camp on Bunker’s Hill, dated Dec. 4”:
You would be amazed how I am able to write at this Instant, for it Hails, Rains, Snows, and blows very bleakly on my Canvass House. The Regulars and the Provincials squint at one another like wild Cats across a Gutter, and it is very probable we shall keep our Distance till the Cessation of the Winter enables us to open the Campaign.
I decided to look for how the American troops were experiencing the same weather on 4 Dec 1775. Did they complain about how it “Hails, Rains, Snows, and blows very bleakly”? Were they huddled in their barracks and around their fires?

And I found Pvt. Daniel McCurtin of the Maryland riflemen writing:
December 1st, 1775. 1, 2, 3. I have seen nothing of note,…Yet those 3 days were fine days and clear weather.

10. From the 3rd untill this day I heard nothing material…During this time the weather has been very favourable.
Hmm. Well, Pvt. James Stevens of Andover noted a little poor weather the morning before:
Sunday Des the 3 I workt on the Baruk it raind som in the fore nune
Down in Plymouth, on 4 December the Continental naval agent William Watson reported “warm weather” to the commander-in-chief’s aide Stephen Moylan. So warm that it “had a very happy influence on the minds of the people” on board a ship who had refused to sally out against the Royal Navy; “The brig sailed Sunday afternoon [3 Dec] and has had fine weather ever since.”

So the officer writing from Bunker’s Hill wasn’t huddled up against the snow and wind. He was actually experiencing a fair, warm day in his “Canvass House.”

To be sure, the two armies had experienced far worse weather in the preceding month. Here’s how McCurtin reported those days:
  • 12 November: “A very blustering cold frosty day”
  • 17 November: “monstrous deep frost. This day its as good as 5 inches deep and very blustering winds. Last night I stood Picquet, I never yet felt such cold.”
  • 18 November: “Cold frosty weather and snow.”
  • 19 November: “Desperate cold weather, snow, frost and high winds.”
  • 25 November: “Still continues colder and colder.”
  • 26 November: “a severe cold day, frost, snow, high winds, and rain sometimes.”
  • 27 November: “Very cold weather.”
So that British officer had experienced a New England chill up on Bunker’s Hill—just not when he actually wrote. He had saved up that story to tell the folks back home.

1 comment:

Chaucerian said...

"Hails, rains, snows, and blows very bleakly" -- exactly what it's doing in Boston today. No fun, but at least I'm not outside in a fabric tent.