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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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elkanah Watson and the Lexington Alarm in Providence

I previously quoted the part of Elkanah Watson’s Men and Times of the Revolution in which he described his military training as a schoolboy in Rhode Island.

Watson, born in 1758, was still a teenager when the Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred. He was a clerk working for John Brown in Providence. Here’s how Watson described the colony’s response to that news:
The intelligence of the march upon Lexington reached Providence in the afternoon of the 19th of April, 1775. Our five companies flew to arms. The whole population was convulsed by the most vehement excitement. We were unprovided with cartridges, and were compelled to defer our march till morning. I spent the most of that night with many of our company [Independent Company of Cadets under Col. Joseph Nightingale], in running bullets and preparing ammunition.

We mustered early the next morning, and marched for the scene of action. The royal governor, [Joseph] Wanton, issued a proclamation, which was little regarded, interdicting our passing the colony line, under the penalty of open rebellion. Capt. [Nathanael] Green, afterwards the celebrated Gen. Green, with his company of Warwick Greens, and Capt. [James] Varnam, afterwards a revolutionary general, with his Greenwich Volunteers, marched with us at the same time towards Lexington.

We had advanced six miles amid the cries and tears of women, every road we passed enveloped in a cloud of dust from the march of armed men, hastening onward, when an express met us, with the information that the regulars had been driven back into Boston.
Watson misremembered some facts. Greene wasn’t a captain in charge of a company but a private in the company Varnum commanded, the Kentish Guards. The “Warwick Greens” and “Greenwich Volunteers” may just have been bunches of guys in that independent militia company.

Gov. Wanton didn’t issue a proclamation forbidding Rhode Island troops from entering Massachusetts, though Rhode Islanders clearly believed they were taking a risk to do so.

Furthermore, there’s reason to doubt that Watson’s company marched into Massachusetts as he described.

TOMORROW: Another Rhode Islander’s recollections.


Don N. Hagist said...

The Kentish Guards were named for Kent County, in which Warwick was and is a principal town. Their uniform coats, as far as we can tell, had green lapels, cuffs and collars. "Warwick Greens" may very well have been a nickname for them, using the lapel color to distinguish them from other Rhode Island independent companies.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Don! That makes sense.

Watson moved out west from Rhode Island long before he wrote his memoir, and I think that affected the reinforcement of his memories.