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 04, 2015

A Civilian Casualty in the Bombardment of Boston

A few months back Boston 1775 reader Boyan Kurtovich sent me a question about whether any civilians were killed or wounded during the American artillery assault on British-occupied Boston in March 1776.

Early in the bombardment, on 3 March, Lt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment wrote, “Very remarkable no hurt was done as the most of their Shot and Shells fell in the Town.” (Back on 23 Sept 1775 Barker had noted Capt. William Pawlett of the 59th being wounded during breakfast.) Likewise, selectman Timothy Newell wrote, “tho’ several houses were damaged and persons in great danger, myself one, no one as I can learn received any hurt.”

But that luck didn’t hold the next day. Newell recorded:
4th March. Monday — soon after candle light, came on a most terrible bombardment and cannonade, on both sides, as if heaven and earth were engaged. Five or six 18 and 24 lb. shot struck Mr. Chardon’s house, Gray’s, Winnetts,—our fence &c.—

Notwithstanding, the excessive fire till morning, can’t learn any of the Inhabitants have been hurt, except a little boy at Mr Leaks, had his leg broke—it is said some of the soldiery suffered.
The merchant Peter Chardon’s house appears to have been on the corner of what became Chardon and Cambridge Streets. (Chardon was reconfigured into New Chardon Street in the Government Center development of the 1960s.) Those cannonballs probably came from the Continental battery at Lechmere’s Point. That house burned down in January 1778.

The next day the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary:
All night Both sides kept a Continuall Fire. Six men of the 22nd. are wounded in a house at the So. End. One Boy lost his Leg.
That’s probably the same unfortunate boy, and we can hope Rowe heard an exaggerated rumor about the extent of his injury.

In his 1849 history of the siege of Boston, Richard Frothingham wrote that “one shot wounded six men in a regimental guard-house.” He didn’t cite a source for that statement, but it fits with Rowe’s remark and probably referred to the men of the 22nd. Frothingham didn’t mention the boy, and I haven’t found a trace of him elsewhere.


Dr. Sam Forman said...

John, it is a "long shot," but it is possible that one of the surviving account books of physicians who remained in Boston during the Siege - Drs. James Lloyd and perhaps Perkins - record the identity and treatment of the boy and possibly some British military casualties if their regimental surgeons were not readily at hand. Lloyd's and Perkins account books are at Harvard's Countway Center for the History of Medicine on the Longwood campus.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for that suggestion. I'm not convinced that “Mr Leaks” is the right transcription for that phrase since I can’t locate someone of that name in Boston, but I haven’t looked at the original document.