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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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Death of Daniel Phelps

Yesterday I quoted a nineteenth-century account of how Daniel Phelps of Stockbridge was accidentally shot during a drill by a reckless fellow militiaman on 8 May 1775.

We have a contemporaneous account of what followed from the diary of the Rev. David Avery (1746-1818, shown here) of Gageborough, later renamed Windsor, who had also come to the siege of Boston from western Massachusetts:
8 [May]. Monday. Prayed with R[egimen]t.—About 3 o’cl’k Mr. Phelps of Capt. [Thomas] William’s company was wounded in his Breast and Lungs by an accidental discharge of a musket by Mr. ———— Yale of Col. [John] Patterson’s company as he was exercising.

Dr. [Isaac?] Foster & others attended him but found the wound to be mortal.—Mr. Phelps appeared to be very calm & patient—had a good sense of God’s gov’t & ye Equity of Providence.—

Ys’day Four guns were discharged in ye camp & endangered men’s lives. One out of our window—One at ye Piquit guard. Two others hurt. An awful day!

Mr. Phelps died. I closed his eyes—& gave a word of exhortation to ye spectators.

Our Reg’t attended Mr. Phelps funeral. Capt. Williams’ company under arms reversed. I prayed before ye Regiment marched in procession.
Avery also wrote home on 12 May saying:
Mr. Phelps was wounded on Monday, at 3 P. M. He very quietly fell on sleep at about 6 P. M, Wednesday [10 May]. Thus expired the flower of our army. Yesterday he was interred in the Cambridge burying-yard in a very decent and respectable manner. I had the greatest satisfaction and comfort in his death, for he appeared to die in the triumphs of faith…
The chaplain added that Phelps’s brothers Jacob (probably born 1753, listed in a genealogy as Jabez but in state military records as Jacob) and Hezekiah (born 1756) were with him when he died.

With such a loss, the Rev. Mr. Avery was right to complain about how inexperienced soldiers shooting their guns in camp “endangered men’s lives.” Despite their militia training, those men had limited experience being around loaded guns all the time and were on edge at the start of the war. Accidental shootings continued.

Of the younger Phelps brothers, Jacob was the fifer in Capt. Williams’s company while Hezekiah marched with a company from Great Barrington. Jacob would not survive the war, dying at Skenesborough, New York. Hezekiah served several more short stints in the army or Massachusetts militia, married Ruth Dudley, and reportedly died in 1810.

TOMORROW: The man who shot Daniel Phelps.


Brooke Harlowe said...

Following up on your post, I wanted to take a look at Rev. Avery's diary. The original is in the Connecticut Historical Society. However a reference from the Princeton University library, which holds some of Rev. Avery's papers, indicates that the Princeton and CHS collections were microfilmed.

I can't seem to find a reference in Worldcat to any library that holds a copy of the microfilm.

Where might I be able to access Rev. Avery's diary? Do I need to make a road trip to Hartford?

J. L. Bell said...

A transcription of the diary was published in the D.A.R.’s American Monthly Magazine in 1900. That can be read here.

That transcription may not be totally accurate, so scholars might wish to check the original. But it’s definitely handier for most of us than a trip to Hartford.