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, March 18, 2018

“Various reports have been current”

I came across this report from America in The North-British Intelligencer: or Constitutional Miscellany, published on 8 May 1776. It gives a sense of the difficulty that the British people, and the British government, faced gathering information about what had happened in New England two months before.

Wednesday arrived a mail from Boston, in New England, brought to Falmouth by the Lord Hyde packet boat, Capt. Jefferys, She sailed from thence March 25, and brought dispatches from General [William] Howe for Government, and several letters, since which various reports have been current;

on one hand it was given out, that the provincial army had erected a battery at Phipp’s Farm [in Cambridge], from whence they began to play upon the town with cannon and bombs, a fortnight before the forces left the place; that on this Gen. Howe found it necessary to attempt to dislodge them; but the wind blowing hard, he found it impracticable to land where he intended; he therefore the next day sent, a flag of truce to General [George] Washington, offering to evacuate the town immediately, leaving behind him his artillery, stores, &c. which request was granted, and the next day he embarked his troops, amounting to about 7000, with 1500 inhabitants, and made the best of his way to Halifax.—

On the other hand it was said, that General Howe, with the troops under his command, after having blown up the works, and taken under his protection the friends of Government, evacuated that place, without being molested by the provincials, and embarked on board the ships in the harbour, and that the vessel which brought this advice set sail before it was known to what part of America the General intended to direct his course; The provincials marched into Boston.

But on farther enquiry this day, a Gentleman of veracity informs us, that General Howe evacuated Boston on the 24th of March, by orders from home, after destroying the works and fortifications. Several men of war are left to block up the harbour, and to prevent any transports falling into their hands. He further says, that a large body of provincials, a little before they embarked, took possession of Noddle Island, and that the General had sent a detachment of 2000 men, who attacked and drove some off, killed a great number, and took the rest prisoners. It was not certainly known where the General intended to go to; but many thought to Virginia, which being a flat country, the men could act to more advantage than farther north, which was in general very hilly.
Each of these reports was partly accurate—but some much more than others.

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