From a genteel family with relatives on both sides of the political divide, Deming was inside Boston when the fighting began on April 1775. And she wanted to get out. The letter is quite fraught with emotion about that, which may conceal the fact that her departure was in fact quite swift and early.
This is from Deming’s description of 20 April:
about 3 o’clock P.M. the Chaises return’d (for they both went to Jamaca plain wth Mr. Waters’s wife, children & maids he having first engag’d them, one of ’em being his brother Thomsons, which he Mr. Thomson offer’d to Mr. D.g while it was out, & promis’d we should have on its return). We set off immediately, Mr. D.g & I in one, Sally & Lucinda, with Jemmy Church to drive in the other.Was “Mr. Waters” Josiah Waters? A father and son of that name helped to design the fortification at Roxbury. I see connections between them and a distiller named James Thompson, but I haven’t confirmed a familial relationship. Deming later reports that Waters got out of Boston on 21 April, with his parents having gone to Woburn and his own family headed to Providence.
Was “Jemmy Church” the eldest son of Dr. Benjamin Church, named James Miller Church? He was born in 1759 and worked as an assistant apothecary and surgeon’s mate during the siege. (There’s no evidence he knew of his father’s spying at this time.)
We were stop’d & enquir’d of wether we had any arms etc. by the First & Second [British army] centinals, but they treated us civilly, & did not search us. The third & last centinals did not chalenge us.—so we got safe thro’ ye lines. . . .Lewis? Who’s Lewis? The name never appears before in the document, and never again. He doesn’t seem to be the “lad.” I suspect Lewis was a family servant, possibly enslaved. Lucinda, mentioned above, definitely was enslaved.
Which road will you take said Mr. Deming? Give the horse the rane; was my answer. The horse took thro’ Roxbury Street, ye way he had but a little before pass’d. When we were by the Gray-hown, a lad who came out of Boston wth us, & who generally kept by our side, tho’ sometimes before us, run up to our chaise wth a most joyful countenance & cry’d, Sir, Sir; Ma’m, here are the cannon—Our cannon are coming—just here upon the road, heres a man told me so, who has seen ’em. The matter of his joy was terror to me, I only said, to Lewis go home to your father, & let our horse go, so we parted.
The “Gray-hown” was the former Greyhound tavern, owned by John Greaton, at the corner of modern Washington and Vernon Streets. It became a provincial checkpoint during the siege.
Of course, what really caught my eye was that unnamed lad’s excitement about “Our cannon.” That reflects the Patriots’ pleasure at having artillery to fight the British army. The same guns made Sarah Deming worry about the damage they could do to the people and houses in Boston.
It seems worth noting that while Deming described meeting “little parties, old, young, & middle aged, some with fife & drum,” as she proceeded through Roxbury, she never described actually seeing those cannon. I suspect it took longer to deploy them, fully equipped and mounted, than the Patriots had thought.