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, October 12, 2016

The Goddard Boys and the Convention Army

Nathaniel Goddard was born in 1767, son of a Brookline farmer who would serve as wagon-master of the Continental Army during the siege of Boston. Nathaniel grew up to be a merchant in Boston and left recollections published in a 1908 biography by Henry G. Pickering.

Here’s a choice extract about how he and his brothers got to see the only British army to march through Massachusetts after April 1775:
About the middle of October, 1777, I being about ten years of age, news came of [John] Burgoyne’s surrender of his whole army to General [Horatio] Gates. Burgoyne’s army consisted in part of Hessians hired by England from a petty prince of Germany to fight her battles. We learned the day on which they were to pass through Watertown to Cambridge, where some of our troops were stationed.

Joseph, Benjamin, myself and Jonathan were digging potatoes in a piece of land called Woodward Meadow, when our father came out and told us that if we wished we might leave the potatoes and go to Watertown and see them pass. Joseph was about sixteen years old, Benjamin was eleven, I ten, and Jonathan seven. We were principally barefoot with long jackets and long trousers, and mostly had straw hats.

We started at the moment with all expedition for Watertown, and certainly we lost no time, but on arriving there we were informed that they had passed. We started again, running much of the way, Joseph ahead, Benjamin next, I next, and Jonathan in the rear almost out of sight but never quite so, with his straw hat in his hand, having little if any rim to it; he held on by the crown and certainly ran well for one of his age.

We followed the road down towards Cambridge and soon came up with the troops. They were sitting by the side of the road on the wall, the officers on horseback, and all guarded by American soldiers, some on the flanks, some in the rear, and, I believe, a few in front. Here was the greatest sight we had ever witnessed. When we came up with them they were eating their dinner, after which they again moved on and we followed them, passing through the lines and then waiting again for them to come up. There did not appear to be many lookers on till we reached Cambridge.

After the troops and prisoners had passed and got to their barracks, we started for home, following the road from thence to Brookline. . . . I never was so tired as when mounting Bradlee’s Hill. Suffice it to say that we all reached home safe, but tired enough. I well remember that on questioning us which road we took and where we went, the folks at home summed up the several distances and concluded that they amounted to between fifteen and sixteen miles, during which time we had nothing to eat and our breakfast had been very early.

The next day to our potatoes again.
After rereading that, I had to look up what happened to Jonathan, the littlest brother.

Jonathan Goddard was born in November 1769, so he was about a month short of eight years old when the prisoners came into Cambridge. But he survived that day to grow up and manage “a commodious hardware store” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in a brick building owned by his oldest brother John (who in the fall of 1777 was already up in that town studying medicine). Jonathan married in Portsmouth, but he died four years later, in 1807, without having had children.

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