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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Monday, January 21, 2008

Records from Col. Scamman’s Regiment

A Boston 1775 reader has alerted me to Seth Kaller’s offering of documents from Capt. Samuel Leighton’s provincial company during the siege of Boston. The document dealer’s description says:

The present papers primarily illustrate the administration and supply of Captain Samuel Leighton's Company in the 30th Regiment of Foot commanded by Colonel James Scamman. They include a 44 page Book of Accounts kept by Leighton, recording pay receipts and meetings with soldiers, 3 “Returns,” 4 muster rolls for the company in July–September 1775, 15 receipts for guns, and 12 pay receipts for the company.
Leighton’s company was involved in the fight for Hog Island.

Col. Scamman (also spelled Scammon) interests me because of what he did during the Battle of Bunker Hill—or rather what he didn’t do. He was ordered to take his regiment into action on the hill. Instead, he stopped on Lechmere Point in east Cambridge, where Maj. Scarborough Gridley of the artillery was trading ineffectual shots with a British warship in the Charles River and Col. John Mansfield was also holding his regiment.

On 12 July 1775, Gen. George Washington’s general orders included this item:
A General Court Martial of the Line to sit at Head Quarters, in Cambridge, to morrow morning at Nine OClock, to try Col. Scammons of the Massachusetts Forces accused of “Backwardness in the execution of his duty in the late Action upon Bunkers-hill”. The Adjutant of Col. Scammon’s regiment, to warn all Evidences [i.e., witnesses], and persons concern’d to attend the court.
Scamman argued that he had thought his orders to march “to the hill” meant Cobble Hill on Lechmere Point, not Bunker Hill, and he had sent a message to Gen. Israel Putnam asking if his men were needed in Charlestown.

On 18 July, Washington announced that Scamman had been acquitted. The colonel then accused Ens. Joshua Trafton of “abusive Language, to the said Colonel Scammons while under Arrest,” but Trafton was also acquitted. Gridley, Mansfield, and other American officers weren’t so fortunate in their courts-martial. However, Washington and his command didn’t bring Scamman into the Continental Army when they reorganized at the end of 1775.

In February 1776, Scamman had the record of his trial published in the New-England Chronicle, apparently to uphold his reputation. That November, he petitioned the Massachusetts Council this way:
whereas his conduct has been called in question respecting the Battle of Charlestown in June 1775 wherein the Disposition made was such as could render but Little prospect of success and he being willing to shew his Country that he is ready at all Times to risque his Fortune and Life in defence of it would readily engage again in the service thereof and begs leave to inform your Honours that he has no doubt that he can raise a Regiment immediately for the service of the Continent and therefore prays to be indulged with a Commission for that purpose...
It doesn’t look like Scamman’s request was ever granted.


Bruce McDonald said...

As Joshua Trafton's proud descendant, I must report his feud w/Scammons didn't end there. Their paths crossed again resulting in a 2nd courts martial for Trafton. He was charged with "offering to strike his Colo (Scammons) and for Disobedience of Orders" (Parentheses mine). "The Court have intimated that they were influenced by some favourable Circumstances – Disobedience of Orders being amongst and most attrocious of all military Crimes and deisres that the Conduct of Ensign Joshua Trafton however he may have been provoked may never be drawn into a Precedent as there are certain Modes by which Inferior Officers may obtain Redress of Grievances without proceeding to any unjustifiable Acts of Violence."

Precedent was of utmost importance this being just a few months into the Continental Army's existence. But the "favourable circumstances" included Trafton's "urging" Scammons on towards Breed's Hill when his commanding officer hesitated. (I believe Scammon's public embarrassment at this "urging" was the motivation behind Trafton's 1st courts martial). The young army needed men who wanted to fight but it was imperative Trafton be punished. He was sentenced on August 25, 1775: "to be Confined to his Tent 3 Days."

Scammons was quickly drummed out of service while Joshua Trafton was quickly promoted to Lieutenant & upon discharge had the rank of Captain. The above quotes are from the Orderly Book of Jeremiah Foggs of Enoch Poor's New Hampshire Regiment.

Derek "A Staunch Whig" Beck said...

I've seen more references to this man as Scammans with an "s" at the end. JL, do you have other evidence? If so, can you share? Want to make sure I get it right.

J. L. Bell said...

Eighteenth-century spelling being what it was, I’ve seen the name written both ways, sometimes in the same source. (And as the first comment above shows, with an O instead of a second A.)

I chose “Scamman” since it seemed to appear in the most sources and would be found by the most searches.

Derek "A Staunch Whig" Beck said...

Thanks JL!