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, February 14, 2017

Through the Roof at the Fraunces Tavern Museum, 23 Feb.

On Thursday, 23 February, I’ll make my New York debut with a talk about The Road to Concord at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in lower Manhattan.

I’ll speak about the race for artillery in Massachusetts in the late summer and fall of 1774, which spread to the other New England colonies in December and finally brought on war in April 1775.

Doors will open at 6:00 P.M., and the presentation will start at 6:30. Admission is $5 for museum members, $10 for others.

The Fraunces Tavern has its own link to the struggle over artillery—an event in New York in August 1775. Until then, the royal authorities and radical Patriots had coexisted on the island, with the city government anxious to tamp down any hostilities.

On 25 June, for example, both Continental general George Washington and royal governor William Tryon received excited public welcomes. They came onto Manhattan Island from different sides, and their audiences represented the different political sides.

But in August, Gov. Tryon and the city’s remaining redcoats went aboard H.M.S. Asia, a sixty-four gun warship in the harbor. That left the city in the hands of the Patriots. The merchant John Lamb had been a Whig leader before the war. In mid-1775 he secured a military commission from the New York Provincial Congress—and military weapons from a British army storehouse.

I’ll quote from Isaac Q. Leake’s biography of Lamb:
…a resolve having been passed by the Continental Congress, to provide cannon for the armament of the forts ordered to be constructed in the Highlands, the Provincial Congress deemed this sufficient warrant to direct the removal of the cannon from the battery in the city [at the southern tip of Manhattan].

Captain Lamb was ordered to this service, and on the 23d August, with his company, assisted by a part of a corps of independents of the command of Col. [John] Lasher, and a body of the citizens, proceeded in the evening to execute the order of the Congress.

Some intimation must have been given to Captain [George] Vandeput, the commander of the Asia (a line of battle-ship stationed off the Battery), of the intended movement; for upon the arrival of the military, they found a barge and crew, lying on their oars, close under the Fort. A detachment of observation was accordingly stationed on the parapet, to watch the proceedings of the enemy, with orders to return the fire if attacked. As soon as the artillery was in motion, a false fire [signal rocket] was signaled from the boat; and immediately afterwards, a musket was discharged at the citizens, who returned it with a volley.

The barge retreated to the ship, with several killed and wounded, and when out of the range of fire from the Asia, three guns from the ship were discharged in quick succession. The drums on the Battery beat to arms, and were answered by a broadside from the Asia, of round and grape; and the fire was rapidly repeated for some time.

Meanwhile the cannon were moved off with great deliberation; and all that were mounted, twenty-one pieces, were safely carried away. Three men were wounded on the Battery; and some damage was done to the houses near the Fort, and at Whitehall.
One of those houses was the Sign of the Queen’s Head, an inn operated by Samuel Fraunces. The cannon ball that crashed through the roof of Fraunces’s tavern was preserved as late as 1894, but then disappeared before 1900. I don’t expect to see it.

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