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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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Queen Street Writing School Closes for War

Yesterday’s post was about the sudden end of lessons at Boston’s South Latin School when the Revolutionary War began on 19 Apr 1775. What happened at that school’s disdained rival, the Writing School on Queen Street taught by Master James Carter? Here’s the experience of a boy who was probably expecting to graduate from that school in the summer of ’75, from a profile of printer, newspaper publisher, and Federalist politician Benjamin Russell (1761-1845, shown here):

On the morning of the memorable Nineteenth of April, 1775, it became known throughout the town that a detachment of the British troops had crossed the ferry [i.e., left town by crossing the Charles River] the night before, and were on their march to Concord, intending to destroy the military stores at that place. About eight o’clock, another detachment, under Lord Percy had paraded in Tremont-street, and were immediately in motion, towards Roxbury. The whole town was in agitation.

As soon as the customary morning prayer had been offered in the school,...Master Carter said,—“Boys, the war’s begun, and you may run.”

Russell, with several other boys near his age, followed the detachment through Roxbury and Brookline to Cambridge. The troops proceeded on towards Concord, with the intent of aiding and supporting the detachment, which preceded them the night before. The boys spent the day, amusing themselves, on Cambridge common, intending to follow the soldiers into Boston on their return.

The bridge over Charles River in Cambridge was taken up, or rendered impassable, during the day, and when the British army returned from their expedition about dusk, there was no way of getting into Boston but by the ferry. The boys from Boston attempted to follow them, but found it impracticable, and they were thus shut out from their homes.

All intercourse between Boston and the country was prohibited by orders of the British commander, and his orders were rigidly enforced. Russell and his companions were unprovided with the means of subsistence, and had no resource but to solicit food and shelter, which were provided for them by the selectmen and other citizens of Cambridge.

The militia of New-England soon began to assemble from all directions, and several of these vagrant lads attached themselves to the officers,—not by regular enlistment, but informally, as waiters, or errand-boys, performing various services of usefulness and convenience. In this way Russell hung around the army, for more than three months, having no intercourse with his parents.
Remind me someday to mention whether Ben Russell ever reunited with his family.

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