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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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Rev. David McClure’s 19th of April

The Rev. David McClure (1748-1820) was a native of Newport who grew up in Boston, a childhood friend of Henry Knox.

McClure became a student and protégé of the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, received a degree from Yale in 1769, and as a missionary traveled as far west as Fort Pitt.

On 19 Apr 1775, McClure was back in Boston to preach in the Presbyterian meetinghouse as an interim minister. He wrote a detailed account of that day, evidently combining immediate impressions with later commentary. The entry begins:
While at breakfast, at my brother William’s at the South End, a neighbour came in, & said the Regulars had marched into the Country, & killed several men at Lexington. I went into the street & found the inhabitants in great perplexity and fear. They were unwilling to believe the report: but about 10 O’Clock, it was confirmed by a Mr. Pope, just returned from Lexington, who saw the men dead there, said to be 7 or 8.

About 11 O’Clock, Lord Peircy’s brigade marched out of town, with 2 field pieces, to reinforce Col. [Francis] Smith, who, it was said, was driven by the militia, & was hastily retreating. I stood in the street as they passed. They all appeared, except a few officers, to be young men, & had never been in action. Not a smiling face was among them. Some of them appeared to have been weeping. Their countenances were sad. Some of those poor fellows never returned.

Apprehensive that the town was soon to be shut, in the afternoon, with melancholy forbodings of the issue of this day’s awful tragedy, I got my horse & rode to Charlestown ferry, hoping to get out that way. There were some hundreds of the inhabitants there, and among them some of the ministers of Boston, wishfully looking over to the other side, & longing to get out of their once beloved town, where order, peace & righteousness once dwelt, but now murderers. A British Man of War [H.M.S. Somerset] lay in the river, & a barge from her met the ferry boat, crowded with passengers, & ordered it back. The fears of the people there waiting, were greatly excited by this unwelcome circumstance.

I turned about, with a resolution to try to get out at the neck leading to Roxbury, which the british had strongly fortified. Rode by several barracks; saw the soldiers paraded, under arms, and officers pale & running or riding from one barrack to another. It was thought, that they were under apprehension of the inhabitants rising on the remains of the troops now left in Boston; & no doubt, had the inhabitants been prepared, they could have made [Gen. Thomas] Gage & all his men in Boston, prisoners & shut up the town, and those who were without, with Peircy and Smith must have submitted to the militia, who were rapidly collecting from all the towns around; and thus, perhaps, an end would have been put to the war as soon as it was began. But providence was pleased to order it otherwise; & this small movement of the day, was necessary to begin that train of events, which extended through a long & distressing war, & which finally seperated the Colonies of America, from the Mother country. Thus, in his sovereign power & goodness, the Most High divides to the nations their inheritence, & seperates the sons of Adam.

I passed some tories in the street, who seemed to enjoy the confusion, & were calling to each other, “What think ye of the Congress now?”

At the neck, I passed the guards & centinels of the british, bowing to them, as I rode, although with no very pleasant feelings towards them, expecting every moment to be stopped, but they suffered me to pass, and I rejoiced to find myself in Roxbury, & beyond the reach of their arms.
I’ll return to McClure’s diary periodically.

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