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, July 28, 2015

“Redcoats and Rebels” Returns to Sturbridge, 1-2 August

This weekend, 1-2 August, Old Sturbridge Village hosts what’s become the largest military reenactment in New England, its annual “Redcoats and Rebels” event.

Though the village normally portrays the 1830s, on this weekend its fields become a pair of military camps during the War for Independence. Nearly a thousand reenactors portray troops from America, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Spain, as well as civilians accompanying them.

Daytime events on the schedule include:
  • Tours of the Crown and American camps
  • Drilling and inspection of the troops
  • Mock battles and skirmishes
  • “School of the Soldier” training demonstrations
  • Musket drilling with kids
  • Cannon demonstrations, not with kids
  • Martial music
  • 18th-century Fashions in the Press featuring military and civilian clothing
  • Camp laundry
  • Scouting technique demonstrations 
  • Battlefield hospital, with smallpox inoculations and treatment of the wounded
  • Soldiers’ daily life, including delivery of uniforms, pay calls, and prisoner exchanges
  • 18th-century baseball
  • “Service for the Troops”
  • 18th-century dances
  • Interactive miniature war gaming
On Saturday evening, the village will stay open three extra hours until 8:00 P.M. so visitors can walk through the camps at twilight. These hours will also include a reading of the letters of John and Abigail Adams at 6:00 and an artillery barrage, presumably not at 6:00.

Old Sturbridge recommends visitors buy tickets online ahead of time because this is one of the site’s most popular events.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fight in Boston Harbor: A Vexillological Footnote

During last week’s investigation of the conflicting accounts of the June 1776 fight in Boston harbor that ended with the capture of troop transport ships from Scotland, Boston 1775 reader Peter Ansoff sent a message with some additional information. So I’m happily running it as a guest blog entry.

The schooners involved in the capture of the Scottish transports were not actually privateers, but the armed vessels commissioned by Gen. George Washington to prey on British commerce. One of them, the Hancock, was commanded by Samuel Tucker, who later served with distinction in the Continental Navy. Commodore Tucker wrote a short sketch of the affair in 1818, which was published in John H. Sheppard’s biography of Tucker in 1868:
The first cruise I made was performed in January 1776, and I had to purchase the small arms to encounter the enemy with money from my own pocket, or go without them; and the consort mentioned above [his wife] made the banner I fought under: the field of which was white, and the union was green, made therein in the figure of a pine tree, made of cloth of her own purchasing and at her own expense. These colors I wore in honor of the country—which has so nobly rewarded me for my past services—and the love of their maker, until I fell in with Colonel Archibald Campbell…
This is one of only two first-hand descriptions of “Pine Tree” flags carried by Washington’s cruisers, the other being the well-known flag of Capt. Sion Martindale’s brig Washington, captured by the British in December 1775.

Tucker’s description is different from the modern conception of the Pine Tree flag, in that the pine tree is in a union (or canton, a small rectangle in the upper hoist corner), rather than in the middle of a plain field. Tucker’s description is a bit puzzling. The white field and the green union are clear enough, but what color was the pine tree in the union? Or does his phrase “made therein” simply suggest a small green pine tree in the upper hoist corner of the flag, without a defined union? There is also no mention of the “Appeal to Heaven” motto that appeared on the Washington’s flag and is standard on modern Pine Tree flag replicas.

Tucker then recounts the capture of the troop ships George and the Annabella:
About ten P.M. a severe conflict ensued, which held about two hours and twenty minutes. I conquered them with great carnage on their side, it being in the night, and my small barque, about seventy tons burden, being very low in the water, I received no damage in loss of men, but lost a complete set of new sails by the passing of their balls; then the white field and the pine tree union were riddled to atoms. I was then immediately supplied with a new suit of sails and a new suit of colors, made of canvas and bunting of my own prize goods.
Unfortunately, this is no clearer with respect to what the “pine tree union” looked like.

Nor was Tucker’s phrase “I conquered them” clear that his Hancock was not the only ship in the battle with the George and Annabella, nor (by all other accounts) the biggest, most effective American ship during the final confrontation. But Capt. Seth Harding’s 1776 report had left Tucker and his colleagues out, so maybe Tucker figured this was only fair.

The image above is merely symbolic of the pine tree flag since we don’t even know what the pine looked like, much less the rest of the flag.

Thanks again, Peter!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Remembering Revere in Revere

The city of Revere on Boston’s North Shore was named after Paul Revere in 1871, just a decade after Henry W. Longfellow’s poem turned the silversmith into a historical celebrity.

This weekend Revere Beach is hosting its annual International Sand Sculpting Festival. To launch the event, all the professional sculptors collaborated on a construction called “The Spirit of Massachusetts.” The detail above shows Revere, his horse, and the spire of the Old North Church, along with some other Boston landmarks.

I don’t know how well this sculpture or the others will fare in today’s weather, but I wanted to highlight that public art before it’s washed away.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hannigan on Slavery in Concord, 28 July

On Tuesday, 28 July, the Concord Museum will host a talk by John Hannigan titled “‘She Ought to be Set at Liberty’: Slavery and Freedom in 18th-Century Massachusetts.”

Hannigan is earning his Ph.D. in History at Brandeis University. I’ve enjoyed his eye-opening presentations on African-American soldiers in the first Continental Army, how the war affected slavery in New England and vice versa.

It looks like this talk will be about how slavery was woven into the fabric of life in eighteenth-century New England. As the museum’s event description acknowledges, Concord is more used to celebrating its links to abolitionism, not slavery. Town histories even praised the Loyalist lawyer Daniel Bliss because he wrote an anti-slavery tombstone for John Jack, shown here.

But the past decade has brought new attention to the wider experience of slavery in the region with such projects as Elise Lemire’s Black Walden, the Robbins House, and the exhibit this talk comes in conjunction with, “Thomas Dugan, Yeoman of Concord” (described here).

Hannigan’s talk is scheduled for 6:00-7:00 P.M. Admission is $5 for museum members, $10 for everyone else. Reservations are required; to make them, visit the museum website or call 978-369-9763, ext. 216.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Matching Up the Stories of the Fight in Boston Harbor

Last week I started quoting lengthy passages from an 1835 United Service Journal article about the capture of ships carrying men of the 71st Regiment of Foot in Boston harbor, said to be extracted from letters that a young Scottish officer wrote to his sister.

This week I quoted reports of that event written in 1776 by various participants, including the commander of those Crown forces. Some salient details match, but others are far off.

For example, Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell wrote about how a cannon shot from a shore battery was his first clue that Boston was no longer in British hands:
As we stood up for Nantasket road, an American battery opened upon us; which was the first serious proof we had that there could scarcely be many of our friends at Boston…
The 1835 account echoes that moment with more drama:
The men were clustering in the forecastle, and the officers leaning over the taffrail, with glasses turned towards the town, when a flash from the battery on the island, followed by an instantaneous report, caused us to look up. We had scarce done so, when a ball, after touching the water once or twice in its course, buried itself in a swell of the sea, just under our stern. We stared with astonishment one upon another, for the signal—if such it was—had been very awkwardly managed; but ere a Word had been exchanged, another and another gun was fired, the shots from which passed some ahead, some far over, and one right through the shrouds, so as to cut away several of the ratlins. “This is a rough reception,” said our commanding officer; “and devil take me if I don’t see into it.”
(When first quoting that passage I assumed the battery was part of Castle William, but it doesn’t have to be. The letter from a Massachusetts artillery officer specified it was on “point alderson,” or Point Allerton in Hull. Nearby Fort Revere, on a site first fortified in 1776 and decommissioned in 1947, is shown above.)

But the 1835 account is entirely missing what must have been a significant part of the Scottish ships’ voyage: four small American privateers had chased them toward Boston all the previous day. Campbell refers to that engagement, counting casualties from it. So does the artillerist’s letter and even Capt. Seth Harding’s battle report (though he left out the role of those ships in the final capture).

Instead, the 1835 account says that after that first shot from the battery, the two Scottish troop ships were attacked by ”a numerous flotilla, consisting of schooners, launches, and row-boats of the most formidable size, put off from the town.“ No contemporaneous report agrees with that.

The 1835 account says the British troops, once they realized their commanders had to surrender, destroyed their equipment to ensure it didn’t fall into Yankee hands:
our soldiers no sooner found themselves below, than they ran to the arm-racks. In five minutes there was not a musket there of which the stock was not broken across. The belts, cartouchboxes, and bayonets likewise were caught up, and all, together with the fragments of the firelocks, were cast into the sea.
When American authorities searched the George, they found “31 small-arms,” “361 black shoulder belts; 74 bundles and 1 bag gun straps;” “7 bundles leather bullet pouches; 3 cartouch boxes;” and “2 bags with belts and knapsacks.”

So the troops captured on that ship didn’t destroy everything, but that does seem like a small number of muskets for so many soldiers. Gen. George Washington’s aide-de-camp Samuel Blachley Webb wrote in July that the commander-in-chief thought as much: “he is surprized that out of upwards of 400 Prisoners only 73 Arms have been sent on, as he supposed every man must have his Arms with him”.

However, so far I’ve found no statement from Massachusetts explaining that the prisoners had destroyed most of their arms. Webb seems to have suspected that local authorities had requisitioned those weapons for their own forces rather than sending them south to the Continental Army. So Massachusetts officials did have a reason to explain.

Finally, the 1835 story describes the American attackers’ last act this way:
they plundered the transport of everything contained in it, whether of public property or belonging to individuals; and finding on examination that it would not float, they summed up all by setting it on fire.
But an advertisement from 1776 show that within a couple of months all three of the captured troop ships were up for auction at Hancock’s Wharf. No period source indicates that the Americans burned any of those vessels.

As a result of those discrepancies with the fight in Boston harbor, the event of the 1835 narrative that prompted the most contemporaneous records, I’ve reluctantly concluded that the United Service Journal articles aren’t a reliable source. Not just the narrator’s flight from captivity and the Indian ambush in darkest Connecticut (which always seemed like a romance), but also the British officers listening to the Declaration of Independence and even their difficulties training the new Highlander soldiers aboard ship.

It’s possible that some 71st Regiment officer’s letters or anecdotes were the basis for those articles. But any eyewitness memories have been so built up with additional detail and drama—whether extrapolated, drawn from published sources, or made up—that it’s impossible to separate out what’s authentic from what’s wishful. Which is too bad, because those articles contain some really good storytelling.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dividing the Prizes from Scotland

In June 1776, Gen. Artemas Ward wrote to his commander-in-chief, Gen. George Washington, with news of the fight in Boston harbor:
P.S. June 17. I have just received information that the Continental Privateers have taken and brought into Nantasket in this Harbour a Ship and a Brig from Glasgow with two hundred and ten Highland troops on board, with their baggage; the Ship mounted six carriage guns, and fought the Privateers some time before she struck, we had four men wounded, the Enemy had three privates killed and a Major, and eight or ten men wounded. The prisoners are coming up to Town among whom is a Colonel. Any further particulars that may be of importance I shall forward as soon as I can learn them.
This was news not just because of the prisoners, but because of the military supplies on those ships. The Continental Army had first claim on those useful supplies.

For example, the ship George was inventoried on 22 June and found to contain:
20 fusees; 31 small-arms; 6 kegs bullets and shot; 6 bundles paper for cartridges; part of a bag flints; 2 kegs part filled with cartridges; a cask containing a few books and 1 bundle bedding; 2 trunks and 2 portmanteaus; 1 black trunk; 1 bundle; 1 black canteen; 1 red bundle; 1 chest; 1 portmanteau; 3 casks porter; 1 cask hams; 3 casks bottled wine; 7 hogsheads and part of a hogshead rum; 361 black shoulder belts; 74 bundles and 1 bag gun straps; 1 field bed and 2 bundles binding; 4 markees; the Quartermaster’s camp equipage; Colonel [Archibald] Campbell’s ditto; a bundle ditto not directed; 3 field tents and materials; 6 bundles tent poles for markees; 12 bundles common tent poles; 7 bundles leather bullet pouches; 3 cartouch boxes; 6 kegs bullets and shot; 23 camp tents; a remnant of ticklenburg; 1 cask and 2 bundles tent-pins; 1 cask tin canteens, and 69 loose; 10 tin pans; 23 camp kettles; 1 package tent stools; 82 canvass knapsacks; 199 hair knapsacks; a bale containing 80 blankets; a bale containing 50 watch-coats; 1 box black plumes; 4 bundles soldiers’ clothing; 1 bundle stockings; 3 pair shoes; 2 bags with belts and knapsacks; 2 pieces plaid; 7 bonnets; 2 pieces and part of a piece duffel; 144 soldiers' blankets; 33 beds; 85 pillows; a bale of brown paper; 44 hatchets; 1 bundle twine; 1 cask sheathing nails; 2 casks five-penny nails; 1 set small weights; 2 iron spades; part of a cask currants; 15 barrels pease; 6 barrels flour; 2 barrels barley; 9 barrels pork; 27 barrels beef; 19 kegs butter; 15 barrels oat meal; 2 tierces and part of a tierce vinegar; 2 barrels herring; 1 bag rice; 74 bags bread; 14 hogsheads bread; water cask.
Washington’s aide Samuel Blachley Webb asked the Continental agent in Massachusetts to send “From Ship George All the Fuzees, Small Arms & Bayonetts, Shoulder Straps, Gun Straps—Leather Bullet pouches, hair knapsacks, Canvass Knapsacks, Belts, Flints, Marquees, and Soldiers Tents, Common Tent Poles, Tin Canteens, Camp Kettles, Blankets, Watch Coats, Soldiers Cloathing, Stockings[,] Black Plumes.”

The rest of the cargo and the ships themselves were to be auctioned off, as announced in the 15 August New-England Chronicle. The proceeds were to be divided up between the local government and the captains and crews involved in capturing them.

However, as Jackson Kuhl explained in this Journal of the American Revolution article:
Everything else was sold but because the transports were Royal Navy[-leased] ships, the money first had to flow through the office of the naval agent in Boston, where it evaporated — used to pay for expenses of the Continental navy. Neither the state of Connecticut nor the men of Defence ever saw a penny of it.

So afterwards, Captain [Seth] Harding, along with Governor [Jonathan] Trumbull and the Council of Safety, made a very conscious decision not to strike military targets but instead to pursue merchant ships.
That’s one of the results of a privateering and prize system: it creates incentives for warships to seek the biggest profits rather than the biggest military benefits.

TOMORROW: Assessing the evidence.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

“A tolerable cannonade ensued”

Here’s yet another contemporaneous account of the capture of British troop transports in Boston harbor in June 1776, this time from the ranking army officer aboard those ships: Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell (shown here).

Campbell’s letter to his commander, Gen. William Howe, was printed in several American newspapers that year and then reprinted in British magazines. He regretfully reported:
On the 16th of June, the George and Annabella, transports, with two companies of the 71st regiment of Highlanders, made the land of Cape Anne, after a passage of seven weeks from Scotland, during the course of which we had not an opportunity of speaking to a single vessel that could give us the smallest information of the British troops having evacuated Boston.

On the 17th, at daylight, we found ourselves opposite to the harbour’s mouth of Boston; but from contrary winds, it was necessary to make several tacks to reach it. Four schooners, which we took to be pilots, or armed vessels in the service of his Majesty (but which were afterwards found to be four American privateers, of eight carriage-guns, twelve swivels and forty men each), were bearing down upon us at four o’clock in the morning. At half an hour thereafter, two of them engaged us; and, about eleven o’clock, the other two were close along-side.

The George transport, on board of which Maj. [Robert] Menzies and I, with 108 men of the second battalion, the adjutant, the quartermaster, two lieutenants, five volunteers, were passengers, had only six pieces of cannon to oppose them; and the Annabella, on board of which was Capt. [George] MacKenzie, together with two subalterns, two volunteers, and 82 private men of the first battalion, had only two swivels for her defence.

Under such circumstances, I thought it expedient for the Annabella to keep ahead of the George, that our artillery might be used with more effect and less obstruction. Two of the privateers having stationed themselves upon our larboard quarter, and two upon our starboard quarter, a tolerable cannonade ensued, which, with very few intermissions, lasted till four o’clock in the evening, when the enemy bore away, and anchored in Plymouth harbour. Our loss upon this occasion was only three men mortally wounded on board the George, one man killed, and one man slightly wounded, on board the Annabella.

As my orders were for the port of Boston, I thought it my duty, at this happy crisis, to push forward into the harbour, not doubting I should receive protection, either from a fort, or from some ship of force stationed there for the security of our fleet.

Toward to close of the evening, we perceived the four schooners that were engaged with us in the morning, joined by the brig Defence, of sixteen carriage-guns, twenty swivels, and 117 men; and a schooner of eight carriage guns, twelve swivels, and 40 men, got under way, and made towards us. As we stood up for Nantasket road, an American battery opened upon us; which was the first serious proof we had that there could scarcely be many of our friends at Boston; and we were too far embayed to retreat, especially as the wind had died away and the tide of flood not half expended.

After each of the vessels having twice run aground, we anchored at George’s Island, and prepared for action; but the Annabella, by some misfortune or other, got aground so far astern of the George, we could expect but a feeble support from her musketry.

About eleven o’clock, four of the schooners anchored right upon our bow, and one right astern of us. The armed brig took her station on our starboard tide, at the distance of 200 yards, and hailed us to strike the British flag.

Although the mate of our ship, and every sailor on board, the captain only excepted, refused positively to fight any longer, I have the pleasure to inform you, that there was not an officer, non-commissioned officer, or private man of the 71st, but what stood to their quarters, with a ready and cheerful obedience. On our refusing to strike the British flag, the action was renewed, with a good deal of warmth on both sides; and it was our misfortune, after the sharp combat of an hour and a half, to have expended every shot that we had for our artillery.

Under such circumstances, hemmed in, as we were, with six privateers, in the middle of an enemy’s harbour, beset with a dead calm, without the power of escaping, or even the most distant hope of relief, I thought it my duty not to sacrifice the lives of gallant men wantonly in the arduous attempt of an evident impossibility.

In this unfortunate affair, Maj. Menzies and seven private soldiers were killed; the quartermaster and twelve private soldiers wounded. The Major was buried, with the honours of war, at Boston.
Campbell’s account agrees in notable details with the Connecticut captain Seth Harding’s, quoted yesterday: both men said the serious engagement began at 11:00 P.M. and continued for ninety minutes. Campbell also mentioned shots from “an American battery,” as described in the Massachusetts artillery officer’s letter quoted on Monday.

It’s striking that Capt. Harding’s report to the Connecticut government said nothing about those shore guns. He also wrote nothing about other American ships being a factor in the fight on the night of 18-19 June, though both Col. Campbell and the artillerist said five schooners were involved. Of course, Harding was gearing up to claim the British ships as prizes, and he wanted the maximum share.

TOMORROW: More of the paper trail.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

“Upon which an Engagement began”

Yesterday’s account by a Massachusetts artillerist of a battle with British troop transports in Boston harbor mentioned “a fine privateer Brigt. commanded by Capt. Harding of New Haven.”

That brig had actually been commissioned and equipped by the colony of Connecticut. Its captain was Seth Harding (1734-1814), a native of Eastham, Massachusetts, who had also spent time sailing from Nova Scotia.

Harding’s name appeared as “Seth Harden” when the 24 June 1776 Norwich Packet printed his 19 June report from Boston to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull:
I SAILED on Sunday last from Plymouth---soon after we came to sail, I heard a considerable Firing to the Northward---in the Evening fell in with four armed Schooners, near the Entrance of Boston Harbour, who informed me they had been engaged with a Ship and Brig, and were obliged to quit them.---

I soon after came up into Nantasket Road, where I found the Ship and Brig at an Anchor. I immediately fell in between the two, and came to Anchor about eleven o’Clock at Night. I hailed the ship, who answered, from Great-Britain.---

I ordered her to strike her Colours to America.

They answered me by asking what Brig is that?

I told them the Defence.

I then hailed him again, and told him I did not want to kill their Men, but have their Ship I would at all Events; again desired them to strike; upon which the Major (since dead) said yes, I’ll strike, and fired in a Broadside upon me, which I immediately returned; upon which an Engagement began, which continued three Glasses [i.e., ninety minutes], when the Brig and Ship both struck.

In this Engagement I had nine wounded, none killed; the Enemy had 18 killed, and a Number wounded-----My officers and Men behaved with great Bravery, no Men could out do them.---We took out of the above Vessels two hundred and ten Prisoners, among whom is Colonel [Archibald] Campbell, of General Frazer’s Regiment of Highlanders---the Major [Robert Menzies] was killed.-------

Yesterday a Ship was seen in the Bay, which came towards the Mouth of the Harbour, upon which I came to sail with four Schooners in Company; we came up with her, and took her without any Engagement; there were on board about one hundred and twelve Highlanders.
Harding continued to have success commanding privateers for Connecticut. In 1778 he received a commission in the Continental Navy, where his luck was not so shining.

TOMORROW: Yet another battle report from 1776.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fight from the Other Side

For the past few days I’ve been quoting an 1835 account written from the perspective of a young British officer captured in Boston harbor in June 1776.

That article names “Colonel Crofts” as the American official who took charge of him and his fellow prisoners. I wondered if that was Thomas Crafts, colonel in charge of Massachusetts’s artillery force (show here).

As it happens, we also have an “Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Colony Train, at Nantasket, under the Command of Col. Crafts, to his Friend in Boston, June 17, 1776,” describing that capture from the opposite direction. It was published in the 20 June 1776 Continental Journal.

Before quoting that, I should mention that Crafts’s regiment was stocked with Boston businessmen active in prewar politics, so the opening of the letter drops a lot of familiar names:
My dear Friend,

I promis’d to give you a short account of our transactions—We embarked with a part of Col. [Thomas] Marshall’s and [Josiah] Whitney’s Regiment late on Thursday evening for the lower harbour, under the Command of Major [Paul] Revere. The whole expedition directed by General [Benjamin] LINCOLN, Capt. [James] Swan for Petticks Island, Major Revere and Capt. [Thomas] Melvill for Nantasket: Capt. [Joseph] Balch for Hoff’s Neck and Capt. [Jonathan W.] Edes for Moonhead, and Capt. [Edward] Burbeck of the Continental Train with 500 men for Long-Island Head.—
The troops’ first mission was to fire cannon at the British warships still hanging around the harbor. They drove off that force, leaving no one to warn incoming British ships that the port had changed hands.
On Sunday afternoon we saw a ship and a Brigt. standing in for the Light-House channel, chased and fir’d upon by 4 privateers, who frequently exchang’d broad sides. We suppos’d them to be part of the Scotch fleet, got every man to his quarters, and carried one 18-pounder to point alderson, on purpose to hinder their retreat, should they get into the road, opposite where we had 3 18 pounders. About 5 o’clock the privateers left them and stood for the southward, when the ship and Brig crouded all their sail for the channel.

Our orders were not to fire till the last got a breast of us. In tacking she got aground just under our cannon; when we hail’d her to strike to this Colony: They refus’d, and we fired one 18-pounder loaded with round and cannister shot, when she struck and cried out for quarters. We order’d the boat and captain on shore, and then fired at the ship; but being quite dark, we suppos’d she had struck. By this time the privateers came up. A Capt. of the Highlanders, in the Brigt’s boat came on shore. Sometime after the ship got under way, and stood for the narrows; when a fine privateer Brigt. commanded by Capt. [Seth] Harding of New Haven, (who we hear came in this bay on purpose to meet our old friend Darson) and 5 Schooners gave chase.

The Brig came a long side, when a hot engagement ensu’d which lasted three quarters of an hour, when the ship struck. The Brigt floating took the advantage of the confusion and attempted to follow, both supposing the enemy in possession of Boston. We found them from Scotland, with highlanders to join General Howe. The ship had on board 114, the Brigt. 74. The former lost in the engagement Major Menzies, 8 privates, and 13 wounded. The latter 1 killed by the privateers in the day:—The privateer Brigt, had 3 wounded, one suppos’d mortally.
The mention of Maj. Robert Menzies’s death confirms that this was the same ship and the same fight.

TOMORROW: Capt. Harding’s luck.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Escape from Connecticut?

The further the British officer’s story printed in the United Service Journal in 1835 goes on, the more melodramatic and less credible it becomes.

At first the narrative sticks pretty closely to the documented experiences of the officers of the 71st Regiment. They were still prisoners in Boston at the end of 1776. But with the Continental Army suffering reverses and rumors that Gen. Charles Lee was being treated badly in Crown custody (he wasn’t), their conditions changed. Instead of letting Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell walk around Boston on parole, the Massachusetts authorities sent him out to the county jail in Concord—conditions he complained about to Gen. George Washington.

The experiences of Campbell’s subalterns are less well documented. This account says that the narrator and a fellow captured officer, “Captain Menzies,” were marched out to Lexington, ”a pretty village, built round a large green or common, in which were a church, an inn, and a blacksmith’s forge.” The two men had already started to talk about escaping.
We had…gone so far as to provide ourselves with disguises; with sailors’ dresses, rough jackets and trousers, such as were worn by the fishermen along the coast, and would therefore, we trusted, some day or another, do us good service. Havresacks also had been procured, in which a change of linen and provisions might be stowed away; and, above all, we had purchased, with a view of guarding against the worst, clasp-knives, with blades six inches in length.
Confined upstairs in that Lexington inn (we know there was more than one tavern in the town, but let’s assume it was Buckman’s Tavern, shown above), the officers got the lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal in their guard drunk over dinner.
It was now past midnight; and the silence which prevailed elsewhere gave notice that the people of the house, and probably the troops on duty, were all fast asleep. . . . Menzies passed on tiptoe towards the door, into the staple of which, so as to keep the latch from being lifted, he quietly thrust a knife. Meanwhile I stole to the window, and threw it open.

The night was as dark as pitch; so dark indeed, as to render fruitless every endeavour to ascertain how far we were from the ground. There was not a star in the heavens; and over the village swept a low moaning wind, the sure prelude to a storm. In some respects all this was in our favour: the excessive darkness would help to baffle pursuit were we fairly in flight, and the wind would probably drown whatever noise we might make in descending. But to descend in total ignorance both of the spot which was to receive us and of the position of the sentinels, whom we could not doubt the officer had planted, was what we should have hesitated about doing had a less urgent necessity driven us on.
The author makes the jump, and in good literary fashion the narrative breaks there, to resume in the following issue.

The second installment of this account (which is the third in the magazine’s “Traditions of the American War of Independence” series) picks up from that moment with the narrator realizing he’s badly hurt his ankle. He and Menzies hide from pursuers in the woods, get separated crossing a deep stream and reunited, and overpower a suspicious rural couple. There are long passages on the narrator’s despair about his ankle and the experience of being alone in the forest. There’s a great deal of male bonding between the narrator and Menzies.

Alas, we have Lt. Col. Campbell’s letter listing all the officers who fell into the Bostonians’ hands in June 1776, and that list includes no captain named Menzies. (Maj. Robert Menzies died in the fight when the transport ships were captured.) So our author has either forgotten his companion’s name, disguised his identity, or made it all up.

Other details defy confirmation. The account quotes from a paper describing the two escapees for American pursuers: “One considerably taller than the other; dressed in frieze jackets and trowsers; supposed to pass themselves off as seafaring men.” I’ve found no runaway ad with those phrases, but the account doesn’t say that was a published advertisement, and it’s easy to excuse the author from remembering the exact words.

Likewise, the geography remains murky. The narrator apparently thought he was in Connecticut soon after escaping, yet mentions “Holleston,” “Providence River,” and “Daubeny.” Are those odd details the result of imperfect knowledge and memory, or was the writer just making things up?

And then things get really weird. The narrator and Menzies are recaptured by American “riflemen,” along with an old man named Simcoe accused of being a Loyalist. With the narrator’s ankle still painful, he’s put into a wagon for the ride back to Boston. But then Indians and the Loyalist’s son burst from the woods to rescue them, killing and scalping all the American guards. Finally, the narrator and Menzies make it to New York. By that point, it seems more clear, whoever was penning the account was simply looking to entertain a British readership.

And was that the only point of this account all along?

TOMORROW: Back to the fight in Boston harbor.