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, March 21, 2007

Where Did the Fifth Regiment Live?

A colleague from the reenacted His Majesty’s 5th Regiment of Foot asked me where the original unit lived in Boston in 1774-76. After nosing around, I thought that inquiry shed a little light on the challenge of finding quarters for troops in a less than friendly town. And of course I’m always desperate grateful for stuff to blog about.

On 4 July 1774, Boston merchant Joshua Green wrote in his almanac diary (now at the New England Historic Genealogical Society): “The 38th: regiment landed & encamp’d on ye: common.” The next day he added: “The 5th: ditto.” So the regiment first lived in their tents on Boston Common.

They were still there on 8 August, when Col. Percy wrote to a friend in Surrey:

As Gen. Gage is obliged by orders to reside at Salem, I have the honour of commanding the Troops encamped here, wh[ich] consist of the 4th., 5th., 23d., 38th., & 43d. Regts., besides 3 cos. of artillery, who have with them 4, 12-pounders 12, 6-pounders & 4 howitzers.
Gage had to be in Salem as royal governor; the ministry in London had told him to convene the provincial legislature there as a way to punish Boston after the Tea Party. Gage returned to Boston in late August and very shortly lost all practical authority outside that town.

More regiments arrived in Boston in autumn 1774, and the New England winter was approaching. Capt. W. Glanville Evelyn of the 4th Regiment wrote to his father on 31 Oct 1774:
As it was found difficult to furnish quarters for so many men, it was resolved (to avoid extremities) to build barracks on the Common, where we are encamped; for some regiments timber was provided, and the frames pretty well advanced, when they thought proper to issue their orders to the carpenters to desist from working for the troops, upon pain of their displeasure. And one man who paid no attention to their order, was waylaid, seized by the mob, and carried off, and narrowly escaped hanging.

However, the Government have procured distilleries and vacant warehouses sufficient to hold all the regiments, and our own artificers, with those of the men-at-war, and about 150 from New York and Halifax, are now at work upon them, and we hope to get into them in ten days or a fortnight.
Indeed, on 15 Nov the young Patriot printer John Boyle wrote in his journal of events, published in the NEHGS’s Register:
This day the Troops broke up their Encampments in the Common, &c. and are gone into Houses, Stores, &c in different parts of the Town, Vizt.
4th. (or King’s own) Regt. at Lechmere’s Distill-House at New-Boston [i.e., the west part of town]
5th. Coffin’s Distill-House, South-End.
10th. Long-Lane. 18th. (or Royal Irish) Back-Street.
23d. (or Royal Welsh Fuzileers) and 39th. near Fort-Hill.
43d: Sloane’s Distill-House and Gould’s Store, Back-Street.
52d. From Liberty-Tree to the Fortification [on Boston Neck].
59th. Doane’s Stores in King-Street.
64th. To remain at Castle-William.
47th: Near the Market. 65th. Town-Dock.
Regt. of Marines, North-End.
Regt. of Artillery, Griffin’s Wharf [site of the Tea Party].
There were many underused warehouses in Boston because the port was closed to traffic from Europe, the Caribbean, and other distant ports. There were also many underused distillery buildings because the molasses-producing Caribbean colonies had started to distill their own rum for export, cutting out the New England processors. The rum business was already in a doldrums, it appears, before the Revolutionary turmoil—though not for want of local demand.

Those barracks were for the enlisted ranks only. British army officers rented rooms for themselves in private homes and inns.

TOMORROW: The myths and realities of the Quartering Act.


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