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, March 17, 2020

The Troops’ Schedule for “embarkation for the castle”

One of the great things about the Sestercentennial of the Boston Massacre earlier this month is that I got to hear questions and new perspectives I could investigate.

In the coming days I’ll go back over some of those points, starting with the question of when the 29th and 14th Regiments moved out to Castle Island.

As described here, after simultaneous meetings of the town and the Massachusetts Council on the afternoon of 6 March, Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and Lt. Col. William Dalrymple acceded to Bostonians’ demand to send all the troops from central Boston to Castle William.

This season I saw tweets saying that the troops went to the Castle “before sunset” on 6 March, or “Less than a week after the Boston Massacre,” which would have been 12 March.

The Boston Whigs would have welcomed such speed. But moving hundreds of men, their equipment, and their families took more than a few hours or even a week. In fact, the 14th dawdled so long that the town meeting complained, repeatedly.

Because soldiers of the 29th did the shooting on King Street, everyone agreed they should leave town—for their own safety as well as to calm the public. The diary of merchant John Rowe records their departure within a week:
March 10. – Yesterday two companies of the 29th went to the Castle, and four companies more went this day; still a military watch.

March 12. —The remainder of the 29th went to the Castle this day; still a military watch.
By “military watch,” Rowe meant that a Boston-based militia was patrolling the town in force to keep the peace.

Decades later, John Adams wrote to his old clerk, William Tudor, about the departure of some soldiers, probably from the 29th:
William Molineaux was obliged to march side by side with the commander of some of these troops: to protect them from the indignation of the people, in their progress to the wharf of embarkation for the castle—

Nor is it less amusing that lord north, as I was repeatedly & credibly informed in England, with his characteristic mixture of good humour & sarcasm ever afterwards call’d these troops by the title of “Sam Adams’s two regiments.”
I’d like another source for that last line, but at least Adams gives us some hint of how he supposedly came to be privy to Lord North’s remark.

The ongoing presence of the troops was an issue at the town meeting held on 12-13 March, summarized here. There was already a “Committee of the Town now sitting at the Representatives Chamber” in the Town House addressing that issue. It looks like that those men were Molineux, Adams, John Hancock, William Phillips, Dr. Joseph Warren, Joshua Henshaw, and Samuel Pemberton. They reported to the meeting as a whole:
That they had attended the Business alotted them by the Town, Night and Day, and done every thing in their power by their repeated applications to Collo. Dalrymple to expedite the removal of the Troops, that the 29 Regiment was already Gone, and the Collo. had assured them that the 14th. Regiment should begin to follow them this Day, and that no time should be lost in removing them
The meeting sent those same men back to the colonel with the message “that this Town have now waited Seven Days, for the removal of the 14 & 29th Regiments agreable to his express promise made in presence of the Lieut. Governor his Majesty’s Council and ye. Committee of the Town to remove the same with the utmost dispatch.”

The committee returned with Dalrymple’s promise “that between Thursday Night and Fryday Morning not one of the 14th. Regiment, except himself, would remain here.”

But when the town meeting reconvened on Friday morning, 16 March, there were still some troops in town. It looks like Dalrymple was dragging his feet, hoping to give his superior in New York, Gen. Thomas Gage, time to send explicit orders about what to do.

The men at Faneuil Hall “Voted, that a Committee be sent to the Committee of the Town meeting at the Town House, to know from them whether all the Troops had left us.” Yes, that was a committee to communicate to another committee.

Molineux came “and informed the Town that he had this Morning been with Collo. Dalrymple to know how far he had proceeded in sending away the Troops, when he had assured him that the whole of what remained would be embarqued in four Boats by One O’Clock, when they would immediately go down to Castle Island.”

Rowe’s diary confirms that Dalrymple fulfilled that promise by the end of that Friday: “All the 14th regiment are gone to the Castle, the last of them this day.”

So it took ten days from the royal officials’ agreement to remove all the troops from Boston until they were actually gone.

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