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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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fighting on Noddle’s Island and Hog Island

Toward the end of May 1775, the British military inside Boston and the provincial militiamen outside started fighting harder for control of the natural resources in Boston harbor. First came the British raid for hay on Grape Island. Then, as described by Boston selectman Timothy Newell’s diary, the provincials moved to destroy resources the redcoats might seize from an island to the east:

May 27th. Our People set fire to hay and a barn on Noddle’s Island; a number of Marines went over.

Our People Retreated over to Hog Island, the troops following, by being decoyed by our People down to the water, who then fired and the action continued all night (though very dark) also a Man of War schooner firing their cannon continually upon them which towards morning catch’t aground upon Winesimet ferry ways. Our people boarded her and finally burnt her

This action seems without a parallel, that, notwithstanding several hundred of the Kings Troops and the schooners were engaged all night and it is said 100 were wounded and fell—not the least hurt happened, except to three wounded of our People, who were commanded by General Putnam. The Lord manifestly appears on our side, and blessed be his glorious name forever.
In addition to Israel Putnam, Dr. Joseph Warren took part in this fighting as a volunteer. But most of the fighting was done by ordinary Massachusetts farmers.

Donald Haskell has posted his ancestor Caleb Haskell’s account of the skirmish, from the perspective of a Newburyport militiaman:
Today a party of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire forces, about 600, went over to Noddle’s Island to bring off some cattle. The enemy landed on the island, and pursued our men till they got back to Hog Island, at which time an armed schooner, belonging to the enemy came to their assistance, and to prevent our people from leaving Hog Island—which she could not effect. Our people put a heavy fire of small arms upon the barges. Capt. Foster came with two field pieces and began to play upon the schooner, which soon obliged them to quit her. She then caught on Winnisimot ferry ways. Our people set fire to her and burned her to the water. We saved all that was not burned. We took four pieces of cannon, a number of swivels and some clothing, and brought all the cattle off both islands. In the engagement we had not one killed, and but three wounded, and those not mortally.
The Winnisimet Ferry went from the North End of Boston to Chelsea. It’s no longer possible to visit Noddle’s Island and Hog Island in Boston harbor. Thanks to landfills, they’ve become part of the mainland, and are known today as the neighborhood of East Boston.


monalisa said...

Hi, thanks so much for you artical. I have come across a lot of papers and one is a Petition by Henry H. Williams for losses on Noodles Island. And the Capt. Foster, I have several papers of his. Again thanks, Mona Lisa

Anonymous said...

Having just read "Decisive Day - The Battle of Bunker Hill" by Richard Ketchum, I have found a number of errors.

On this battle of Hog's Island, , pp. 68-9; p. 72, he claims the militia were led by Col. John Nixon and makes no reference to Stark. Could this be another error of the book's? (For I've seen no other support for this claim.)

Ketchum also refers to the HM sloop Briannia's involvement. However, I found, as my only reference, a NOAA website on HMS Cerberus claiming that "She played a crucial role in the first amphibious assault of the war, the so-called Battle of Noddle’s Island." Any ideas on what ships were involved, and what they were doing? (see the NOAA website reference)

Thanks for your insights!

J. L. Bell said...

Ketchum followed the diary of Cpl. Amos Farnsworth, which says: “Friday, May ye 26. At night I and about ten of our company marched with a party of men, betwixt two and three hundred, for Noddle’s Island, headed by Col. Nixon. We marched through Mystic, Malden and Chelsea.”

The provincial Committee of Safety’s plan for those islands, issued 14 May, gave responsibility to “the committees of correspondence and selectmen of the towns of Medford, Maiden, Chelsea and Lynn,” and told them to draw on “the regiment now at Medford.”

The committee’s report on the battle didn’t name specific units, just “a Party of the Massachusetts Forces together with a Party of the new Hampshire Forces.” I sense that was typical of the collective mentality of those months.

The only reference to a specific regiment that I found just now is that on 28 May, Gen. Ward commended the troops under Col. Ephraim Doolittle for “the late Action at Chelsea.”

The sloop Britannia attended the Diana, the schooner that ran aground, if I read my Naval Documents of the American Revolution correctly. The Cerberus sent marines and three-pounders ashore to get into the fight, according to its log. The Glasgow, Somerset, and Mercury also sent men into or towards the fight.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. On the log of Cerberus, is this published somewhere? Or did you obtain a copy from the UK National Archives? (If so, I wonder if you'd consider publishing them on your blog?)

Also, just to verify, Stark was indeed in the fight on the Island, as several sources claim, right?

Anonymous said...

One more thought: where might I find the "Naval Documents of the American Revolution". Thanks!

J. L. Bell said...

There are extracts from the Cerberus log and those of other Royal Navy ships in the first volume of the Naval Documents of the American Revolution. That’s what I consulted.

As for Gen. John Stark and this battle, I actually didn’t come across his name in orders or reports about this battle from the time. His regiment is recorded as camping at Medford on the day after the Committee of Safety’s orders to the local committees. And Gen. William Sumner, who gathered a lot of material and memories on the Revolution, wrote in the 1800s that Stark led the action. So right now I can’t point to definite evidence that Stark was in charge, but neither can I say that anyone else was.

Looking at the Massachusetts Provincial Congress records makes me think that Nixon’s regiment was involved in the first fights off Chelsea before being relieved by Doolittle’s regiment on 28 May. Doolittle’s men then managed to bring the cannons off the grounded schooner, which probably earned them their commendation from Gen. Ward.

J. L. Bell said...

The Naval Documents is a series of booked assembled and printed by the U.S. government. I think the project started in the Kennedy administration. (He was, after all, a Navy man.)

The first volumes are probably out of print but available through used-book dealers. The latter volumes may still be on sale through the government printing office. A gentleman named Bart Reynolds gifted me his copy of volume 1 some years ago, and I’m starting to feel the need for volume 2.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights. I've found the Naval book is at my library, so I'll be stopping by there at some point to check it out. Happy Holidays!

Derek "A Staunch Whig" Beck said...

I've now signed up for an account, and would like to add this post to link it to these previously anonymous comments by me...