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, May 02, 2016

The Rev. David McClure’s 20th of April

Here’s another extract from the diary of the Rev. David McClure as the Revolutionary War began.

The last installment left the minister at the home of Joseph Mayo, a militia officer in Roxbury.
At the dawn of day, the Major & I mounted our horses, & rode to Roxbury street, anxious to know what had been done. The town was still as a grave yard, the people from the thick settled part, having moved out. A few militia men only, I saw there.

Determining to see what had been done on the rout of the enemy, I rode to Watertown, & from thence came on the road leading to Lexington. I went almost to the meeting house, where the first american blood was wantonly spilt, but the rain necessitated me to return. Dreadful were the vestages of war on the road.

I saw several dead bodies, principally british, on & near the road. They were all naked, having been stripped, principally, by their own soldiers. They lay on their faces. Several were killed who stopped to plunder, & were suddenly surprised by our people pressing upon their rear.

I went into a house in Menotomy, where was a stout farmer, walking the room, from whose side a surgeon had just cut out a musket ball, which had entered his breast, & glancing between the ribs, had lodged about half way to his back. He held the ball in his hand, & it was remarkable, that it was flattened on one side by the ribs, as if it had been beaten with a hammer. He was a plain honest man to appearence, who had voluntarily turned out with his musket, at the alarm of danger, as did also some thousands besides on that memorable day.

In the same room, lay mortally wounded, a british Officer, Lieut. [Edward] Hull, a youthful, fair & delicate countinance. He was of a respectable family of fortune, in Scotland. Sitting on one feather bed, he leaned on another, & was attempting to suck the juice of an Orange, which some neighbour had brought. The physician of the place had been to dress his wounds, & a woman was appointed to attend him. His breaches were bloody, lying on the bed.

I observed that he had no shirt on, & was wrapped in a coating great coat, with a fur cap on his head. I inquired of the woman, why he was thus destitute of cloathing? He answered, “when I fell, our people (the british) stripped off my coat, vest & shirt, & your people my shoes & buckles.” How inhuman his own men!

I asked him, if he was dangerously wounded? he replied, “yes, mortally.” That he had received three balls in his body. His countenance expressed great bodily anguish. I conversed with him a short time, on the prospect of death & a preperation for that solemn scene, to which he appeared to pay serious attention. He lived about a week, & the people conveyed his body in a Coffin to Charlestown ferry, where I happened to be present, & a barge from the Somerset, took it to Boston.
According to Abram English Brown’s Beneath Old Roof Trees, Lt. Hull of the 43rd Regiment was wounded at Concord’s North Bridge and then again during the British withdrawal. He was taken into the nearby house of young farmer Samuel Butterfield, and Butterfield’s wife Elizabeth cared for him and a less seriously wounded man from Framingham, Daniel Hemenway. Hull died on 2 May, and his body was sent in to Boston as McClure reported.

Hemenway survived to lobby the Massachusetts government to pay his medical bills and support. According to the petition that Ellen Chase transcribed in her Beginnings of the American Revolution, the ball that went through Hemenway’s chest also hit his thumb and “broak the bone to shivers.”
Not far from this house, lay 4 fine british horses. The people were taking off their shoes. One informed me, that a waggon loaded with provisions was sent from Boston, for the refreshment of the retreating army, under an escort of 6 Granidiers. They had got as far as this place, when a number of men, 10 or 12, collected, and ordered them to surrender. They marched on, & our men fired, killed the driver & the horses, when the rest fled a little way, & surrendered. Another waggon sent on the same business, was also taken that day. It was strange that General [Thomas] Gage should send them through a country, in which he had just kindled the flames of war, in so defenceless a condition.
Several sources describe the capture of those wagons, one usually credited to David Lamson and the “Old Men of Menotomy.” The fleeing soldiers reportedly surrendered to Ruth Batherick.
Saw 3 regulars, in beds in a house in Cambridge, one of them mortally wounded. Conversed with them on their melancholy situation. One of them refused to answer, and cast upon me a revengeful look. Perhaps he was a papist, & his priest had pardoned his sins. The houses on the road of the march of the british, were all perforated with balls, & the windows broken. Horses, cattle & swine lay dead around. Such were the dreadful trophies of war, for about 20 miles!


Charles Bahne said...

Thanks for posting these excerpts, John, they're quite interesting. I'm wondering, though, is this a true diary, written contemporaneously, or does it include some later comments by Rev. McClure? The tone of the language, notably the frequent use of the term "british" (generally not capitalized, though) makes me think that it was at least edited at a later date.

Can you provide a citation? Is the full document available online?

Thanks in advance, John.

J. L. Bell said...

McClure definitely wrote his long commentary about the outbreak of the war some time after the event. As you can see on this page spread, McClure went from brief descriptions of daily activities to a long, unbroken description of his experiences that filled multiple pages in the published edition. He returned to the short entries in late 1775 after settling in Portsmouth for a while. It seems likely that McClure wrote out his memories or notes from 19-20 April in those months.

Some paragraphs from McClure's account were published in the Massachusetts Historical Society Publications, evidently from a torn copy he might have shared with someone else. McClure's diary, including his travels as a missionary, was published in a limited edition in 1899 by Franklin B. Dexter, who also edited the Rev. Ezra Stiles's diary.

J. L. Bell said...

Here's the extract from the Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings in 1879.