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, March 18, 2011

Richard Carpenter “Returned from his Captivity”

Yesterday we left the barber Richard Carpenter “still confined in one room at Halifax” with many other American prisoners in September 1776.

A year earlier, his wife Elizabeth had been confined another way, giving birth to their third child, Samuel. I assume she was also confined in army-occupied Boston because the baby was baptized by the Rev. Andrew Eliot, the only Patriot-leaning Congregationalist minister who stayed in town through the siege.

The Carpenters’ previous two children, Richard, Jr., and Elizabeth, had been baptized in Boston’s Presbyterian meeting by the Rev. John Morehead (shown above, courtesy of the Presbyterian Heritage Center), but that society went into abeyance after Morehead died and the war began.

The 15 January 1777 New England Chronicle brought that family good news:

Mr. Richard Carpenter, of this Town, who was under Sentence of Death in this Metropolis last Winter, by Order of General Gage, and ever since detained a Prisoner, and treated in the most barbarous Manner, is it said, made his Escape from the Enemy, at New-York, about a Fortnight since.
Shortly afterward that same column of the newspaper said that Consider Howland had arrived in Boston from New York, having been freed on parole. Since Howland was one of the prisoners being held with Carpenter the previous September, I suspect he brought the news of the barber’s freedom.

Carpenter may not have escaped, however. He may have been released in a prisoner exchange. The 27 February New England Chronicle ran this story from Baltimore, where the Continental Congess was meeting:
On the first instant, Mr. Walter Cruise, belonging to Captain Dowdle’s Virginia Rifle Company, who was taken at Charlestown neck (near Boston) the 29th of June [actually July], 1775, arrived in this city, being exchanged, after a tedious and cruel imprisonment of 17 months; Mr. Richard Carpenter, came with him.

The integrity of these BRAVE and unfortunate MEN, who, though Europeans, treated with disdain, during their confinement, the promises of persons sent to intice them into the British service, will, it is hoped, recommned them to the attention of those in power.
Maybe other documents will surface to confirm how Richard Carpenter became free. For him and his family, the manner of his release probably didn’t matter. On the Carpenter family records page (now owned by the New England Historic Genealogical Society) is this notice:
Richard Carpenter Senior Returned from his Captivity in Feby 1777—after being Nineteen Months absent from his family During which time he was under sentance of Death for Fritning the Generals Gage How Burgoin & Clinton and twenty two British Regiments in the town of Boston but through the goodness of Almighty God I am now Clear of them all
But there was still a war on.

TOMORROW: “The attention of those in power.”

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