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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Showing posts with label John Sullivan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Sullivan. Show all posts

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Molly Stark, Medford, and Myths

Gen. John Stark’s wife Elizabeth, nicknamed Molly, became a very popular historical figure during the Colonial Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

She served New Hampshire and (given the Battle of Bennington, though it was actually fought inside New York) Vermont as a local heroine. Anecdotes managed to portray her both as a gentle hostess and nurse and as a brave, hardy frontier woman.

Among those anecdotes was her own tale of watching Col. Stark climb Copp’s Hill at the end of the siege of Boston to be sure that the British had actually evacuated, as I quoted yesterday. In 1909 the Daughters of the American Revolution’s American Monthly Magazine recounted that story as it had appeared in the Stark family memoir. However, other books and periodicals retold the story in new ways.

The center of those retellings was Medford’s Royall House (shown above). Col. Stark appropriated that mansion in the spring of 1775 as his headquarters, though the details of his family’s story of that move are unreliable. I can’t tell how long Stark lived there. His regiment was eventually stationed on Winter Hill. Gen. George Washington’s letters and other documents show that Gen. Charles Lee and later Gen. John Sullivan used the Royall house as their headquarters later in the siege, but it had room for lots of officers. By bringing Molly Stark into the mansion full of military men, its guardians made both her and the site seem more domestic.

In retelling the story of how Mrs. Stark had watched her husband’s military action from afar, those authors took her off her horse and put her in (or on) the Royall House. In 1915 House Beautiful told its readers, “The steep, narrow staircase to the attic is called the ‘Molly Stark’ staircase, because it was up these steps she ran to watch the evacuation of Boston by the British.” Robert Shackleton’s Book of Boston (1916) stated:
In this house General Stark early made his headquarters; and his wife, pleasantly remembered as “Molly Stark,” watched from the roof the topmasts of the British ships, in the distance, as they moved out of the harbor at the evacuation of Boston.
That wasn’t precisely what the Stark family memoir had described Mrs. Stark watching, but at least it was on the same date.

Other authors changed the event. In Historic Shrines of America (1918), John T. Faris wrote:
Under the direction of Molly Stark the house maintained its reputation for hospitality, and she did her best to make the place the abode of patriotism. On the day when the British evacuated Boston she promised her husband to signal to him from the roof the movements of the enemy. Passing on with his soldiers to Dorchester Heights, he anxiously awaited the news sent to him by his faithful Molly.
The Continental Army moved onto the Dorchester peninsula on the night of 4-5 March, almost two weeks before the evacuation. Stark’s New Hampshire regiments weren’t involved; they were helping to hold the northern wing of the siege lines. And if it’s hard to imagine Molly Stark seeing the British fleet sail from Boston harbor, picture her signaling to her husband all the way over in Dorchester.

Meanwhile, in 1913 the Massachusetts Library Club Bulletin said of the Royall House, “It is rumored, but not confirmed, that Molly Stark watched the battle of Bunker Hill from its windows.” In March 1921 the Medford Historical Register noted a particular upper window as where, “it is said, Molly Stark looked anxiously on the eventful day of Bunker hill.” That was, of course, months earlier.

Obviously, I don’t think those disparate stories are reliable, and I’m still looking for solid evidence that Col. Stark’s wife visited him in the Royall House.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Looking for New Chemung

This month Binghamton University reported on some interesting work by its archeology faculty:
Experts from the Public Archaeology Facility recently took their shovels to a cornfield about 45 miles west of Binghamton, searching for evidence that could earn that site — the scene of a small but significant Revolutionary War battle — a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Four days of digging beneath the corn stubble yielded project director Michael Jacobson and his Binghamton University colleagues just a few modest items, including a charcoal smudge and the possible remains of a wooden post. But if test results show that those artifacts date from the late 18th century, that could be enough to convince National Register staff that the location of the Battle of Chemung should be preserved for further study.
Reading between the lines suggests that there might be as much interest in preserving that landscape from development as in its historical significance. As for that history:
Once home to the Village of New Chemung, the site is a few miles east of the better-known Newtown Battlefield. Historians often treat the Newtown and Chemung encounters as one event, although they occurred two weeks apart. . . .

The Continentals [under Gen. John Sullivan] stormed New Chemung on Aug. 13 [1779], only to find that all the occupants had fled. Heading west in pursuit, a detachment of soldiers encountered a group of Delaware warriors waiting in ambush about a mile away. The Continentals fought off the Delaware and then returned to New Chemung, where they burned the village to the ground.

To locate New Chemung in the landscape, the Binghamton archaeologists used a geographic information system (GIS) to lay an image of the Sullivan expedition’s official map over a present-day topographical map. They also used written accounts from the time of the battle, taken from Continental soldiers, loyalists and the Delaware, to pinpoint landmarks.

Finally, the archaeologists, guided by specialists from Ithaca College, walked the field with a magnetometer, a sensing device mounted on a cart. That exercise produced a printout that resembles a moonscape. The many dark splotches set against the gray background indicate disturbances in the soil that might — or might not — point to artifacts buried below.

At each of several spots that seemed most promising, the archaeologists dug a rectangular trench about 30 centimeters deep. In November, one of those test trenches produced the charcoal smudge, and another the traces of what perhaps was a post.
Newtown Battlefield is already a New York State park, as well as a federally recognized National Historic Landmark. There’s a push to add it to the National Park Service.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Web Exhibit about the Raids on Fort William & Mary

At the same time that Rhode Island’s preparations for war included moving cannon from Newport to Providence, where they would be beyond reach of the Royal Navy, the New Hampshire militia was taking similar but more dramatic action.

This website from the University of New Hampshire library preserves an exhibit on the militia raids on Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth’s harbor on 14-15 Dec 1774. The exhibit is largely based on chemistry professor Charles Lathrop Parsons’s The Capture of Fort William and Mary, published in 1903. It provides a good overview of this lesser-known event.

There are still some glitches in the online exhibit. The link labeled “The Gunpowder at Bunker Hill” leads instead to a letter from the governor; I haven’t found a webpage on powder. The webpage titled “Gentleman in Boston writing to a Mr. Rivitigton of New York” actually refers to James Rivington, printer of the Loyalist New York Gazetteer. That letter, as transcribed in American Archives, clearly did not endorse what had gone on in Portsmouth starting the night of 14 December:
With difficulty a number of men were persuaded to convene, who proceeded to the Fort, which is situated at New-Castle, an Island about two miles from the Town, and being there joined by a number of the inhabitants of said New-Castle, amounted to near four hundred men; they invested the Fort, and being refused admittance by the Commander of it [John Cochran], who had only five men with him, and who discharged several guns at them, scaled the walls, and soon overpowered and pinioned the Commander; they then struck the King’s colours, with three cheers, broke open the Powder House, and carried off one hundred and three barrels of Powder, leaving only one behind.

Previous to this expresses had been sent out to alarm the country; accordingly, a large body of men marched the next day from Durham, headed by two Generals; Major [John] Sullivan, one of the worthy Delegates, who represented that Province in the Continental Congress, and the Parson of the Parish [John Adams], who having been long-accustomed to apply himself more to the cure of the bodies than the souls of his parishioners, had forgotten that the weapons of his warfare ought to be spiritual, and not carnal, and therefore marched down to supply himself with the latter, from the King’s Fort, and assisted in robbing him of his warlike stores.

After being drawn up on the parade, they chose a Committee, consisting of those persons who had been most active in the riot of the preceding day, with Major Sullivan and some others, to wait on the Governour [John Wentworth], and know of him whether any of the King’s Ships or Troops were expected. The Governour, after expressing to them his great concern for the consequences of taking the Powder from the Fort, of which they pretended to disapprove and to be ignorant of, assured them that he knew of neither Troops or Ships coming into the Province, and ordered the Major, as a Magistrate, to go and disperse the people.

When the Committee returned to the body, and reported what the Governour had told them, they voted that it was satisfactory, and that they would return home. But, by the eloquent harangue of their Demosthenes [i.e., Sullivan], they were first prevailed upon to vote that they took part with, and approved of, the measures of those who had taken the Powder.

Matters appeared then to subside, and it was thought every man had peaceably returned to his own home, instead of this Major Sullivan, with about seventy of his clients, concealed themselves till the evening, and then went to the Fort, and brought off in Gondolas all the small arms, with fifteen 4-pounders, and one 9-pounder, and a quantity of twelve and four and twenty pound shot, which they conveyed, to Durham, &c.
Two opposing military forces facing off against each other (albeit one comprising only six men). The royal troops firing muskets and cannon, and the colonial militia storming a fortification and capturing the men inside (albeit with no killed or wounded on either side). Territory, gunpowder, and ordnance changing hands. The end of royal government in New Hampshire as Wentworth sought shelter and then departed for Boston. One might even think that a war had begun.

The Rev. John Adams, minister at Durham from 1748 to 1778, suffered from what we’d now call bipolar disorder, according to the description of the Rev. John Eliot:
For he was in his best days, and when he was not exposed to peculiar trials of his ministry, very much the sport of his feelings. Sometimes he was so depressed as to seem like a being mingling with the dust, and suddenly would mount up to heaven with a bolder wing than any of his contemporaries.
Local tradition says that he allowed some of the gunpowder from Fort William and Mary to be hidden under his pulpit. It probably seemed like a good idea at that moment.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gen. Washington’s “three Grand Divisions”

The day before Gen. George Washington wrote his letter asking Gen. John Thomas to stay with the Continental Army, he announced a new organization for those troops outside Boston. This was the first time the new commander-in-chief had changed how those forces operated, thus the first major exercise of his new authority.

Washington faced two short-term problems: the Boston and Charlestown Necks. Since the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British military controlled both those towns, well protected on their peninsulas. Washington feared that at any time the royal troops could charge out either isthmus, breaking through the Continentals’ lines. As soon as he and Gen. Charles Lee arrived in Massachusetts in early July 1775, their first priority was strengthening the fortifications at the base of those two necks.

Gen. Washington’s longer-term problem was strengthening the Continental Army as an institution. He wanted his soldiers, both officers and men, to think of themselves as protecting the united colonies, not as men from separate colonies committed only to officers they knew. Washington was also trying to soothe the hurt feelings that came from how the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had ranked the generals.

The 22 July reorganization of the American army into “three Grand Divisions,” each containing two brigades, addressed all those problems. Washington didn’t explain his thinking at length, so I can’t even say for sure what his purpose was or whether this was all his idea. But this is the effect of the change.

On his northern wing at Winter Hill and Prospect Hill, facing off against the British troops in Charlestown, Washington placed Maj. Gen. Lee, Brig. Gen. John Sullivan of New Hampshire, and Brig. Gen. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island. Lee was the most experienced military man in the Continental forces, so he could bring along those young brigadiers, neither of whom had ever been in a war.

On the southern wing in Roxbury and Dorchester, protecting against a charge off the Boston Neck, Washington placed Maj. Gen. Artemas Ward, Brig. Gen. Thomas, and Brig. Gen. Joseph Spencer of Connecticut. Those officers were all war veterans, and Ward and Thomas had been the top New England commanders before Washington arrived, so he could trust them to handle whatever came up on the far side of the Charles River.

Finally, in the center at east Cambridge, Washington placed Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam, Brig. Gen. William Heath, and a brigadier to be named later. This division was to function as “also a Corps-de-Reserve, for the defence of the several posts, north of Roxbury, not already named.” Creating it had the added benefit of ensuring that Putnam didn’t oversee Spencer, who had objected to his former subordinate’s new rank, and Heath and Thomas needn’t have awkward discussions of their relative seniority.

As part of this reorganization, Washington assigned some of the many Massachusetts regiments to the northern wing even though it had no Massachusetts general. Soon he would mix in the new companies of riflemen from the south, assigning them to different brigades as needed. That was the start of Gen. Washington’s effort to meld regiments from different colonies/states into a single, national force.

TOMORROW: One last detail—does anyone remember Gen. Frye?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Col. Jonathan Burnham Wins the Siege Through Music

One of the more curious analyses of the siege of Boston comes from Jonathan Burnham (1728-1823), a colonel in the New Hampshire militia.

As many of the Connecticut troops prepared to go home in December 1775 at the end of their enlistments (as discussed back here), Gen. George Washington asked Massachusetts and New Hampshire to mobilize militia regiments for a couple of months to fill the gap. Burnham was in charge of bringing the New Hampshire troops down to the siege lines.

Decades later he published a folksy memoir which said:
In a few days the committee of safety that set at Portsmouth, in recess of Congress, sent for me to bear two letters, rec’d from Gen. Washington and Gen. [John] Sullivan. The contents that they expected the British would give them battle, and for the committee to send me to Mistic [Medford] with thirty one companies of New Hampshire Militia.

We marched that day and three days after were in Mistic with four companies from the fort, and twenty seven companies to follow on. The committee delivered me two letters to carry to the two Generals at Winter hill and Cambridge. I mounted my horse and rode to headquarters and delivered my letters. Washington smiles and says “New Hampshire forever” and orders Sullivan to mount his horse and ride with Col. Burnham to Mistic and open all your stores to New Hampshire Militia without weight or measure, And go to the good men in Mistic who will be glad of Col. Burnham’s men, for they are afraid that the British who burned Charlestown will come and burn Mistic And Says to Col. Burnham “do your best for the honor of Newhampshire and kill the British if they dare come.”

But they were affraid of my Brigade—Toward the last of January ’76 I received orders from Gen. Washington that he would meet Newhampshire Militia tomorrow at Winter hill to review them. I mounted my horse at 9 o’clock, Formed my Brigade and marched to Winter hill with my band of music, Fifty fifes and drums that the British might hear and see we were come to Winter hill to try our skill, Which gave the British a fright to quit Bunker hill in the night, and the British army and fleet made a quick retreat. And the Boston people were glad to see it.
As Burnham told it, the British military evacuated Boston not because Gen. William Howe had already convinced the government in London that there was no value in holding Boston, and not because of the cannon the Americans moved onto Dorchester Heights in March, but because of a parade of New Hampshire militiamen at the end of January. I’ll give Burnham the benefit of the doubt and suggest that he might have told this tall tale with a wink.

What does Col. Burnham’s story have to do with my talk tonight at the Concord Museum about the Ephraim Moors powder horn? I’ll present evidence that Moors was a young militia private who came to Massachusetts in one of those thirty-one New Hampshire regiments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gen. Charles Lee’s Recruiting Tactics

This is another extract from the diary of Pvt. Simeon Lyman of Connecticut, stationed on the north wing of the Continental siege lines in the fall of 1775. Although it says nothing about the powder horn Lyman carved in October, I think it has a direct connection to the military career of horn-carver Ephraim Moors, as I’ll discuss at the Concord Museum on Thursday.

The Connecticut soldiers’ enlistments were due to run out in early December. Gen. George Washington and his field commanders were worried that the departure of those men would leave the army too weak to contain the British inside Boston. They wanted those men to reenlist for the new year, or at least to stay until the arrival of fill-in militia regiments. And they weren’t above using any tactic to get the men to agree.

Lyman wrote:

December, Friday, 1th. We was ordered to parade before the general’s door, the whole regiment, and General [Charles] Lee and General [John] Solivan came out, and those that would not stay 4 days longer after their enlistments was out they was ordered to turn out, and there was about 3 quarters turned out and we was ordered to form a hollow square, and General Lee came in and the first words was “Men, I do not know what to call you, [you] are the worst of all creatures,” and flung and curst and swore at us, and said if we would not stay he would order us to go on Bunker Hill and if we would not go he would order the riflemen to fire at us, and they talked they would take our guns and take our names down, and our lieutenants begged of us to stay and we went and joined the rest, and they got about 10 of their guns, and the men was marched off and the general said that they should go to the work house and be confined, and they agreed to stay the four days, and they gave them a dram and the colonel told us that he would give us another the next morning, and we was dismissed. There was one that was a mind to have one of his mates turn out with him, and the general see him and he catched his gun out of his hands and struck him on the head and ordered him to be put under guard.

Saturday, 2th. I was on quarter guard in the morning. They was paraded before the colo[nel’s] door and he gave us a dram, and then they read some new orders to us and they said that we must not go out of our brigade without a written pass from our captain, and before night there was a paper set up on the general’s door not to let the soldiers have any victual if they would not stay 3 weeks longer, and they said that they was 50 miles in the country, and some was mad and said they would not stay the 4 days, and the paper was took down as soon as it was dark, and another put up that General Lee was a fool and if he had not come here we should not know it.
When Lee had arrived in Massachusetts in July, he was welcomed as a celebrated military expert. He was still the most respected professional soldier in the army, soon to be detailed to Newport and New York to oversee defenses there. So that message from the Connecticut men was a bold show of disrespect. But of course he was accusing soldiers who had served their promised time of being no better than deserters.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Major Box in Brooklyn

Maj. Daniel Box, once a sergeant in the British army who released himself on his own recognizance, became quite prominent in the Continental Army in the summer of 1776.

As a military administrator, he was a brigade-major for Gen. Nathanael Greene’s brigade, and then for Gen. John Nixon’s. He also laid out fortifications to defend New York. By June 1776, “Fort Box” stood alongside Fort Greene and Fort Putnam in Brooklyn. On 26 August, Gen. John Sullivan made Box his interim adjutant general.

And the next day, the British army swept past the American lines in the Battle of Brooklyn. They drove the Continentals off Long Island, coming close to trapping most of those troops. Capt. Stephen Olney of Rhode Island wrote:
Had it been left to the British Generals to make a disposition of our troops, it is a chance if they would have made it more advantageous to themselves, and but from their tardiness they might have taken our main fort. All that seemed to prevent it was a scarecrow row of palisades from the fort to low water in the cove, which Major Box had ordered set up that morning.
The Americans withdrew to Manhattan and tried to hold that island. In September, Box had his run-in on the Harlem plains with Ens. Matthew Macumber, as he described back here.

On 30 September, Greene’s orders stated: “Major Box is appointed & requested in conjunction with the Engineers of this Department & Col. [Thomas] Bull to oversee & forward the fortifications at Fort Constitution.” That encampment on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River was also called Fort Lee, the name that stuck. In early October, Box was still spending all his time there. On 16 Nov 1776, the British army swarmed over Fort Washington and captured all of Manhattan.

Gen. William Howe and his troops then chased the American army south through New Jersey. In December 1776, Maj. Daniel Box fell off a horse at Neshaminy Ferry, Pennsylvania, badly breaking his arm.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Major Box?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

General Lee Slept Here

As I described back here, when Gen. Charles Lee first came to Cambridge, he and Gen. George Washington shared the Wadsworth House near Harvard College for about a week. On 7 July, a Massachusetts Provincial Congress committee talked with Lee alone about housekeeping needs, suggesting he was about to set up his own quarters.

Lee probably didn’t need much. Since landing in America in October 1773, he had lived as if he were on a permanent campaign, traveling from one colony to another with his dogs, books, and Italian manservant, Guiseppi Minghini.

Lee’s letters in early July came from “Head-Quarters,” and on 20 July he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush from “Cambridge.” Washington split his army into brigades two days later, assigning Lee to command the northern wing.

Lee’s next surviving letter, dated 27 July, went to Robert Morris from “Winter Hill.” From 12 August to 9 December, he datelined his letters from the “Camp on Winter Hill.” Is that change significant? It might suggest a move closer to camp, or it might mean nothing.

Our best clue about where Lee lived in late 1775 actually comes from after he left Massachusetts to design defenses for New York. On 19 Feb 1776, Washington wrote to Gen. John Sullivan, one of Lee’s brigadiers:
I am a little surprizd, and concern’d to hear of your Moving to Colo. [Isaac] Royals House. I thought you knew, that I had made a point of bringing General Lee from thence on Acct. of the distance from his Line of Command, at least that he should not Sleep there. The same reasons holding good with respect to yourself, I should be glad if you could get some place nearer, as I think it too hazardous to trust the left Wing of our Army without a General Officer upon the spot in cases of immergency. I do not wish you to return to your old House, any other tolerably convenient will satisfy me, and I am sure be pleasing to yourself, as I know you would not easily forgive yourself if anything wrong shd. happen for want of your presence on any sudden call.
Unfortunately, there’s no documentation of when Lee moved out of the Royall House in Medford, or where he moved next. Instead, we have tradition and guesswork.

Lee didn’t help by referring to his quarters only with a facetious nickname. In October, the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap recorded hearing about a letter the general had written from “Hobgoblin Hall.” On 10 December, Lee invited Abigail Adams to dine with him at that “Hobgoblin Hall.” (She declined.) And on 21 Jan 1776, Lee’s other brigadier, Gen. Nathanael Greene, wrote to him that
Mr. Eustace lodges at Hobgoblin Hall, he says by your Order—should be glad to know your pleasure in the matter.
(Someday I’ll write more about young John Skey Eustace, and what brought him to Cambridge.)

Nineteenth-century authors said that Lee’s “Hobgoblin Hall” was the Royall House. If so, the general must have continued to use that mansion for work and dinner parties, perhaps because of “the distance from his Line of Command,” but he slept closer to the front. Alternatively, the house where Lee moved after the Royall House might have been his “Hobgoblin Hall,” and the historians guessed wrong.

That building closer to Winter Hill, nineteenth-century histories said, was the old farmhouse now called the Oliver Tufts House in Somerville. During the Revolution, it was reportedly the home of John Tufts (1754-1839) or his father Peter (1728-1791). The old photograph above shows that building about a century ago, after it had been expanded and moved “a few rods” from its original location. Charles Bahne alerted me to this new photograph. And here’s a whole website about the house, based on those later histories.

Similarly, Greene was said to have used the house of Samuel Tufts (1737-1828) as his headquarters. (That man’s wife was, incidentally, a half-sister of little Joel Adams.) That building doesn’t survive. I don’t think anyone’s identified where Sullivan lived before he moved into the Royall House so briefly.

I wish I could find contemporaneous documents confirming that the Tufts men arranged for the generals, the Provincial Congress, or the Continental Army to use their houses. But the best information available suggests that Gen. Lee slept in, in turn, the Wadsworth House in Cambridge, the Royall House in Medford, and the Oliver Tufts House in Somerville.

Friday, June 24, 2011

General Folsom and General Sullivan

Yesterday I quoted the New Hampshire general Nathaniel Folsom’s complaint to the government back home about Col. John Stark refusing to acknowledge his authority in late June 1775. (Image of the Stark statue here courtesy of the webcomic The Adventures of Brigadier General John Stark.)

Stark had been on the siege lines for about two months by that point. He had arrived as a militia captain, but his regiment reorganized itself as part of the New England army, and he apparently felt he answered directly to Gen. Artemas Ward.

Then for some reason Stark decided he would recognize Folsom’s authority. On 1 July, the New Hampshire government replied to Folsom’s good news:
It gives us great Pleasure to find by yours of 26 [sic] last month that a reconciliation had taken place between you & Col. Stark: We doubt not you’ll use your utmost endeavours to keep up a good Harmony among the Troops
One day later, Gen. George Washington arrived from Philadelphia with commissions for all the Continental Army generals. And representing New Hampshire in that group was…John Sullivan.

Sullivan and Folsom had been their colony’s representatives to the First Continental Congress. Sullivan went back for the second, which put him in great position to point out that (as far as the Congress knew when it was drawing up commissions) there was no general from New Hampshire, and he was available. Hint, hint.

On his first full day in Cambridge, Gen. Washington acknowledged Folsom’s presence in his general orders:
It is ordered that Col. [John] Glover’s Regiment be ready this evening, with all their Accoutrements, to march at a minutes warning to support General Falsam of the New Hampshire forces, in case his Lines should be attack’d.
After all, Washington had met Folsom as a peer at the first Congress. He couldn’t just ignore the man. But he didn’t have a Continental commission for him. Awkward.

Sullivan arrived in Massachusetts on 10 July. Ten days later, Washington told the Congress that “General Folsom proposed…to retire.” Apparently the New Hampshire officers had worked out some arrangement among themselves, which doesn’t show up in any official document.

Folsom returned to New Hampshire, where in August the colony’s legislature voted to make him the sole general of its militia. Sullivan and Stark remained with the Continental Army.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

General Folsom and Colonel Stark

On 29 May 1775, the New Hampshire Provincial Congress chose Nathaniel Folsom to command all its forces in the war against the Crown—which consisted of two regiments. Folsom arrived on the siege lines outside Boston on 20 June, three days after those regiments had fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. And immediately he found trouble.

On 23 June, Folsom wrote back to the New Hampshire government from Medford:
In my Letter to you yesterday I acquainted you that on my arrival here I Imediately waited on the Capt. General [Artemas Ward]; he then Order’d me to make return to him of the Two Regiments, viz. Colo. [John] Stark’s & Colo. [James] Reed’s, of their Situation and Circumstances; on my return here I sent orders to the Two Colos. to make return of their respective Regiments to me.

Colo. Reed Imediately obey’d the order but Colo. Stark repeatedly and at last absolutely refused to comply. I am well inform’d by Mr. Stark’s best friends that he does not Intend to be under any subordination to any Person appointed by the Congress of New Hampshire to the general command of the New Hampr Troops. I have tried all conciliatory methods both by Personal Conversation and the mediation of Friends, but without effect.

In consequence whereof I this afternoon again waited on the Capt. General at Head Quarters to take his order on the matter; he requested me to advise with the Committee of Safety of New Hampr on the Business, as Colo. Stark has received no Commission yet from you, he thinks he does not properly come under his cognizance. Gentlemen, it is I trust unnecessary to hint to you that without a Proper subordination it will be absolutely Impossible for me to Execute the Trust you have Reposed in me; in my last conversation with Mr. Stark, he told me he could take his Pack and return home (and meant as I suppose to Lead his men with him.) I represented to him the dishonorable part he would thereby act towards both Colonies.

I have since made Enquiry & find he would not be able to Lead off many more than the supernumerors of his Regiment, it still consisting of 13 Companys. I think a Regiment might be form’d of the men who have been under his command without his being appointed to the Command of ’em.

I must do the Justice to Letn. Col. [Isaac] Wyman to say he has behaved prudently, Courageously and very much like a Gentleman, and I think I could recommend him to the command as soon as any Person I know.
Just as things were looking interesting, two days later Folsom reported:
In my letter of the 23d Instant I informed you that Col. Stark refused subordination to my orders. But yesterday he made such submission as induces me to desire you to pass over said Letter, so far as it relates to him, unnoticed.
Why did Stark change his mind? I have no idea.

TOMORROW: How long did Gen. Folsom stay in command?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

“What we had so bravely won”

Here’s Gen. John Sullivan’s account, in a 19 Mar 1776 letter to John Adams, of warily investigating British fortifications in Charlestown two days earlier, after seeing the British soldiers going aboard ships:

I then took my Horse, & rode down to Charlestown Neck, where I had a clear view of Bunker Hill. I saw the Sentrys standing as usual with their Firelocks shouldered, but finding they never moved, I soon suspected what Regiment they belonged to; and upon taking a clear view with my Glass found they were only Effigies set there by the flying Enemy.

This convinced me that they were actually fled, for if they meant to Decoy us, they would have taken away every appearance of man. By this time, I was joined by Colo. [Thomas] Mifflin, who, with my Brigade Major agreed to go up, sending two persons round the works to Examine whether there was any of them in the Rear of the works, while we went up in the front. I, at the same time sent for a strong party to follow us on to the Hill, to assist us in running away (if necessary).

We found no person there & bravely took a fortress Defended by Lifeless Sentries. I then brought on the Party to secure what we had so bravely won, & went down to the other works where we found all abandoned, but the works not injured in any part. We hailed the ferry Boat, which came over & Informed us that they had abandoned the Town.

We then gave Information to the General [Washington], who ordered me with the Troops under my Command to take possession of Charlestown, & General [Israel] Putnam with 2000 men, to take possession of the works in Boston; and on Monday morning His Excellency made his Entry into Boston, & Repaired to Mr. [John] Hancock’s House, where we found his Furniture left without Injury or Diminution.
Gen. Henry Clinton had used Hancock’s Beacon Hill mansion as his quarters, which spared it from being looted.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Provincial Army Moves Forward

Two days ago, I quoted Capt. John Barker of the King’s Own (4th) Regiment on how on 26 Aug 1775 the Continental Army had started to entrench Ploughed Hill in Charlestown, one rise closer to the British lines. That advance was led by Gen. John Sullivan (shown here), and involved 1,000 men in a “fatigue party” to do the digging and 2,400 soldiers to guard them.

The Royal Artillery started to reply on the 27th, and kept up their fire for several days, as recorded by Boston selectmen Timothy Newell.

27th Sabbath. Cannonading from the lines at Charlestown on new works—a nearer approach, also much firing of small arms.

29th. Several bombs from Do. [i.e., Charlestown] on Do. [new works] in the night.

30th. Do. in the night—Do. Bombarding from the lines on Bunkers Hill.

1st Sept. Do. almost constant firing from the Centinels at each other. New works arise upon the Neck by the Provincials who approach very near.
Augustus Mumford, the adjutant of Col. James Mitchell Varnum’s regiment, and another soldier had their heads shot off in this barrage. They thus became the first men from Rhode Island to die in the war.

The Continental artillery used a nine-pounder cannon and other guns to take out some of the British floating batteries, as Gen. Sullivan proudly described in his letter to the New Hampshire Committee of Safety (which historian Richard Frothingham noted should be dated 29 August instead of 29 July.)
on Saturday morning,...I was preparing to take possession of Ploughed Hill, near the enemy's encampment at Charlestown. This was done on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning a heavy cannonading ensued, which lasted through the whole day.

The floating batteries and an armed vessel attempting to come up and enfilade us as I expected, I opened a battery which I had prepared on purpose; cut away the sloop’s foresail; made her shear off; wounded one floating battery, and sunk another yesterday. They sent round a man-of-war to Mistick River, drew their forces from Boston, formed a long column, and prepared to come out; but finding our readiness to receive them, declined the combat.

Last evening they began to throw bombs, but have as yet done no damage. Their cannon has been more successful, having killed three or four. . . .

The powder you write for, gentlemen, it is impossible to obtain at present. We have had but six tons from the south ward, which is but half a pound per man for our army, and what we had before was a shocking store. We hope for some every day...
Sullivan said the army didn’t have enough gunpowder to send some north to New Hampshire, but he was certainly using what was available.

In contrast, Gen. George Washington emphasized the need for gunpowder in a letter to the New York Provincial Congress the next day:
Our Situation is such, as requires your immediate Assistance and Supply in that Article. We have lately taken Possession of a Hill considerably advanced towards the Enemy, but our Poverty prevents our availing ourselves of any Advantage of Situation. I must therefore most earnestly intreat, that Measures may be taken to forward to this Camp, in the most safe and expeditious Manner whatever Amunition can be spared from the immediate and Necessary Defence of the Province.
Washington wrote much the same to the Continental Congress on the 31st, describing the advance and the British barrage, but not the cannon fire from his own army. Describing that detail as Sullivan had done might have made his desire for more gunpowder seem less urgent.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Gen. Washington "did not utter a word for half an hour"

On 5 Aug 1775, Gen. John Sullivan, a former delegate to the Continental Congress from New Hampshire (shown here), sent an urgent letter to that body about a supply crisis its army had suddenly become aware of:

General [George] Washington has, I presume, already written you on the subjects of this letter. We all rely upon your keeping both the contents of his letter and mine a profound secret.

We had a general council the day before yesterday, and, to our great surprise, discovered that we had not powder enough to furnish half a pound a man, exclusive of what the people have in their horns and cartridge-boxes.

This situation we are reduced to by the Massachusetts Committee [of Safety?] making a return to General Washington of four hundred and eighty-five casks on his arrival, which he supposed were then on hand. To his surprise, he found that it was what was provided last winter, and that there is now on hand but thirty-eight barrels; which, with all the powder in the other magazines, will not furnish have a pound per man.

The General was so struck, that he did not utter a word for half an hour. Every one else was also astounded.
Sullivan asked all other colonies to send their gunpowder supplies to the army around Boston, saying, “Should this matter take air before a supply arrives, our army is ruined.” In other words, if the British military were to learn how little gunpowder the American troops had, they might well try to break through the siege lines and scatter the provincial forces.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Peterborough Accuses Rev. Morrison

As early as July 1770, when there was some sort of embarrassing incident at John Taggart’s house (perhaps the incident recalled in yesterday’s post), the Peterborough Presbyterian church started to think they’d chosen the wrong minister in the Rev. John Morrison. On 18 June 1771 a Presbytery met in Peterborough to consider the congregation’s complaints. Extracts from the minutes of that meeting survive, which provide glimpses—but only glimpses—of the problem.

There were seven charges. Two involved intemperance, or sloppy drunkenness, at the homes of Taggart and Col. Stephen Holland. The committee of judges found Morrison guilty on both counts, though the first was “not so highly aggravated” as the second.

The next two charges involved “Profane swearing.” The committee felt Morrison was guilty in the first incident. As for the second, “a Single evidence [i.e., witness] appeard and for the Reasons offered the committee saw fit to indulge the evidence not to swear.” Perhaps the first charge was so clear that the committee didn’t need to consider the second. Perhaps they knew one witness wasn’t enough.

Another charge was “Buying a poor mans vote.” The committee decided, “Tho there was some inexpediency yet nothing unlawful and consequently nothing censurable.” This may have been a vote within the church rather than a civil vote.

Skipping ahead, the seventh charge was “Baptizing a Child contrary to our Constitution,” and the committee declared “there is nothing to support the sd. Charge.”

Now for the real controversy: the sixth charge was “Immodest conversation and Deportment” on fifteen separate occasions:

  • Agnes Mitchel described one incident—the committee ruled it “not proved.”
  • Whatever happened at Taggart’s house in 1770 made the charge “evident by his [Morrison’s] own confession.”
  • Elisabeth Miller described behavior on two occasions that the committee agreed would warrant the charge, but there was no second witness to support her testimony.
  • Witnesses ”Stone & Wilson” described another incident, but the committee decided it was “nothing that amounted to the shadow of a proof.”
  • Another person described Morrison telling some story which the committee agreed “was unbecoming ministerial gravity,” but again that was the only witness.
  • William Gilchrest testified, but his “Character” and “his Evidence being wholly unsupported by any corroborating Circumstances” meant the committee gave him little weight.
  • Another witness “the Committee thought proper to sett aside” for unspecified reasons.
  • John Mitchel and his wife testified about yet another event, but the committee felt they “declared nothing to support the Charge.”
  • For the ninth incident, “Unanimously agreed that this Article if made evident is an instance of immodesty but is not judicially proved.”
  • Articles 10 through 14 “supported by no Evidence,” in part because a witness named John Dicks did not appear.
  • On the last charge “respecting immodest Conversation & Deportment the Committee unanimously find him guilty.”
So of fifteen incidents the committee basically delivered judgments of guilty in three, the Scottish verdict of “not proven” in three more, and acquittals in the rest. It also appears that the committee chose to keep some witnesses’ names off its record.

The judges concluded:
that in a Number of Articles tho not supported by such Proof as the Gospel requires yet some of them are attended with such Circumstances as to render the facts very suspicious—they would therefore in the bowels of Christ earnestly intreat the Revd. Mr. Morrison by every consideration that is weighty with impartial strictness to animadvert his Conduct...[and] to endeavour to humble himself in the dust before a Heart searching & holy God & to fly speedily to the Blood & righteousness of Jesus Christ for pardon & cleansing.

And with respect to the agrieved the Committee would be free to advise them with like earnestness as it is a very critical Time in Peterburgh to take heed to their spirits & while they are justly offended at their Ministers Crimes to beware of a spirit of Bitterness or personal hatred
The Presbytery then suspended Morrison for ten weeks. At another meeting on 29 August 1771, those elders restored Morrison to his pulpit.

But that didn’t satisfy the congregation. They retained attorney John Sullivan (shown above) and on 27 Nov 1771 petitioned the New Hampshire legislature to release them from their contract with Morrison. That petition accused him of “profane swearing, Drunkenness, Immodest Actions & conversation & other Lew’d wicked & Disorderly behaviour Quite unbecoming the christian character.” Thirty-four men signed this petition, including some named Mitchel, Miller, and Willson.

On 14 Dec the New Hampshire Council received the petition and sent it to the lower house, the Assembly. Those legislators voted to summon Morrison to a hearing on 15 Jan 1772. But four days later the Council disagreed. Sullivan understood they thought “it was a matter more proper for the Spiritual Courts.”

Sullivan then supplied a new document to clarify that the Presbytery had already met, and reviewing its findings, throwing in all the charges that committee had dismissed for lack of multiple witnesses. He wrote:
Though a Presbytery may Restore a Minister To his Standing yet they can by no means Reconcile the minds of a people to a profane Drunken & Debauched Minister nor Can they look upon themselves as Injoying their Religious Liberties while they are Compellable To Support Such a person.
On 20 Dec the Council decided that “the Selectmen of Peterborough” should be brought in. The Assembly disagreed, and finally voted to dismiss the petition—apparently to let the parties work it out among themselves.

Sullivan submitted another long document on 30 Dec (which I haven’t seen). Morrison finally resolved the dispute in March 1772 by resigning from the pulpit.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Where Was the "Shot Heard Round the World"?

I've decided to start an irregular series of postings called "Myths of Lexington and Concord." By "Lexington and Concord" I mean the conflict between the British army and the militias of Massachusetts on 19 April 1775, which started with shooting on Lexington Green, restarted with a skirmish at the North Bridge in Concord, and then became a running battle all the way along the British withdrawal from Concord to Charlestown—hence the alternate term "Battle Road."

And by "myth" I mean "Something which someone somewhere has written down, which I can treat as conventional wisdom to be debunked, thus making what I write seem more original and important." Promising to debunk myths is a valuable tool in marketing history books, or indeed almost any sort of nonfiction.

So my first myth will be the "shot heard round the world." What shot does that phrase refer to, and does the shot deserve such phrase?

There's no question of what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he wrote his "Concord Hymn" in 1836:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Emerson lauded the militia companies from Concord, Acton, and Lincoln who marched down on the North Bridge. But of course Emerson had a dog in that fight. He was a Concord boy. His grandfather, the Rev. William Emerson, had turned out with the Concord militia that day, and would later die of disease while on campaign. And he wrote his hymn for the dedication of a monument in Concord. Of course Emerson said that what happened in Concord was most important!

But already there were folks in Lexington who felt their town deserved more credit. American historians had always pointed to the deaths of several Lexington militiamen at dawn on 19 April as the war's first casualties. In 1775, Massachusetts wanted to portray the British regulars as violent oppressors, so provincial leaders were careful not to publish much evidence of their preparations for a military conflict or of any forceful resistance to the British column before Concord. But fifty years later the men of Lexington got tired of being portrayed as mere victims. They began to insist loudly that they had fired back at the redcoats.

Thus, argued Elias Phinney in his 1825 pamphlet History of the Battle at Lexington, his town deserved credit for making the first forcible resistance to the British army. He published several depositions from survivors to support that claim. Nonsense, answered Concord minister Ezra Ripley; in A History of the Fight at Concord (1827), he published other depositions to show that the Lexington men had done little or no damage to the British column. Thus, by the late 1800s both towns claimed to be the site of the real "shot heard round the world."

And those aren't the only claims about when and where the war started. Ray Raphael argues in The First American Revolution that Massachusetts's political revolution took place in the summer and fall of 1774 as crowds of citizens stifled all royal authority in most of the province—several months before any shooting. People in Salem suggest that military hostilities between the British and Americans began there, with the confrontation between companies of the 64th regiment and locals on 26 Feb 1775. But that face-off turned into a face-saving compromise between Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie and the local elite; no one at Salem wanted to start a war.

So what's my answer as to where the Revolutionary War started?

Portsmouth, New Hampshire
On 14-15 Dec 1774, companies of New Hampshire militia under current and future Continental Congress delegates John Sullivan (shown above) and John Langdon attacked Fort William & Mary in Portsmouth harbor. The five-man British squad in the fort under Capt. John Cochran fired cannon at the intruders, but were overwhelmed by numbers. Nobody was killed or wounded. The provincials removed cannon, powder, and other supplies from the fort to use later.

Why do I consider that the first shot of the Revolutionary War? For the first time British and American military units deliberately confronted each other and used deadly force to seize territory (temporarily) and ordnance (permanently). The London government could not have overlooked the raid on Fort William & Mary; it was an act of rebellion and civil war.

So if I truly believe that, why did I name my blog "Boston 1775" instead of "Portsmouth 1774"? Um. Er. Oops, out of time for today. More myths tomorrow!