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 24, 2017

Lt. Martin Hunter Sent to Coventry in Boston

Lt. Martin Hunter did not have an enjoyable Christmas in 1775.

That wasn’t just because he was besieged in Boston with the 52nd Regiment and the rest of Gen. William Howe’s British forces. Having already experienced the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill before he turned eighteen, Hunter was presumably pleased that the fighting had reached a stalemate.

But the lieutenant wasn’t feeling jolly enough to participate in his fellow officers’ holiday revelry on 24 December. Decades later, as a knighted general, Hunter wrote in his memoirs:
On the evening of Christmas Day I was sent to Coventry for not singing, as I was desired. I was kept in Coventry three days, not a member of the mess speaking to me.
The 1793 slang dictionary Blackguardiana defines the term “To send to Coventry” this way:
a punishment inflicted by officers of the army, on such of their brethren as are testy, or have been guilty of improper behaviour, not worthy the cognizance of a court martial. The person sent to Coventry is considered as absent; no one may speak to him, or answer any question he asks, except relative to duty, under penalty of being also sent to the same place. On a proper submission, the penitent is recalled, and welcomed by the mess, as just returned from a journey to Coventry.
After three days, it appears, Hunter’s comrades thought he was sufficiently sorry. He later wrote, “I never refused to sing again.”

(The picture above is a 1752 view of Coventry from the London Magazine, available from Lindisfarne Prints.)


Anonymous said...

Did he not want to sing because he felt sick? Or was there some other reason?

J. L. Bell said...

Looks like Hunter was just a teenager who didn’t feel like singing that night.