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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Saturday, March 11, 2017

“Thare went 2100 on Dogster hill”

Joshua Gray (1743-1791) was born in North Yarmouth, in what is now Maine. His mother died when he was two, so he was raised in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, by his father’s sister, Hannah Mallett—supposedly because that town on Cape Cod was safer from attacks by aggrieved natives.

In 1766, Joshua married a local girl, Mary Hedge (1745-1822). A couple of years later the uncle who helped raise Joshua married Mary’s mother, both having been widowed. The uncle died a short time later, but for a while it was a tight little family. [Mary and I share common ancestors, so I’m part of the very extended family.]

When the Revolutionary War began, Joshua and Mary Gary had five children: Thomas, born in 1766 less than seven months after the couple’s marriage; Hannah; Sarah; Mary; and Phebe, born 10 Mar 1775 in the neighboring town of Barnstable.

That fall Joshua Gray was back in Barnstable, captain of a Massachusetts company guarding the town from attack by sea from July to December. In the winter of 1776, his militia company was called up to strengthen the siege lines around Boston. Capt. Gray was on duty during the Continental Army’s final push onto the Dorchester peninsula, which he described in letters to his wife:
Roxbaury Camp March 5: 1776

My Dear I Recevd your Letter 29 of Febury which in it I under stand that you and the children are all well which I Desiar to Beless god for and now Taken this opportunity to Let you No that Through marcy and Goodness of god I am a Live and well and I Desiar to Bless god for so gate a favur

march th 2 Day at night we Begain to fire Shot and Bumbard the Town of Borston and a Sunday Night Keep up the same fire

Munday morning I went on main Guarg In Roxbury Fort and at 7 at night Thair Begain a have fire and Bumbard on Both sides Bumbs and shot flue 6 and 7 at a time

the same Night Thare went 2100 on Dogster hill and att three aClock Nigt thay was Releved with 3000 and But a littel Damege Dun thare 2 men killed 5 or 6 wounded in the Whole of our Camps this Ends the 5 Day of march

march the 8, 1776 and Now we have got fortifyed on Dogster hill verey strong have Bulte to forts on Dogster hill and Cannan and Mortes Plast thair all Readey to Bumbard
(Ahem. That would be, “We have got fortified on Dorchester hill very strong; have built two forts on Dorchester hill, and cannon and mortars placed there all ready to bombard.”)
my Dear Keep up good Courrige hoping we shall Return home in Due time

I have some sick in my Company the men Names are as followes Lewies Thacher: Benoni Studley: Nathal. Hallet Miller Whilden has got a Bad Cofe/ at this Time

Dutey is werey Hard half of my People are on Dutey at a time —

and Now my Dear hoping these Lines will find you and The children all will and all friends give my Love to mother and Brother and Sister and all frinds Brother Hedge is well Brother hedge from Plymouth is hear Now and being in hast I must conclude you Loveing husband untill Death
And a few days later:
Roxbuary Camps March 11: 1776

My Dear The Tender Regards I have for you and the children wont Let me mis a oppertunity of Righting to you to Let you know that I am in health which I Desiar to Bless god for and hoping these Lines will find you and children the same my Dear

I understand by mr Baker That Thomas had the mumps and one of the Gales had Burnt her But Boath was Better

my Dear keep up good Corauge I hope I shall Return home in Due time

I would have Thomas see to things and not Let them sufer and Ezra [apparently a slave] and make him mind and Due his Dutey

Their was a havey Cannading Last Saturday Night which was 9[?] Instant thay firing to Dogster hill they kill four of our men at one shot and that was the most Damage we Recevid

our People Pickup [?] five or six hundred cannon Balls the Next Day

the shiping in Boston seems to be in a moving Postour one half is Gown Down Bilow the Castal

my Dear Right as ofen as you can couvantley so as I may hear from you so conclud your kind and Loving husband till Death

Joshua Gray

P.S. Remimber me to mother and to all frinds That Take Pains to aske after me.
On 17 March the British fleet sailed away. Four days later, Capt. Gray received orders to take his company onto the Dorchester peninsula to relieve others. He wrote to Mary that he expected to be discharged in early April and hoped she could “come you self” to meet him in Plymouth.

The Grays’ daughter Mary died in October 1776 at age three. They had two more girls and two more boys, all of whom lived well into the nineteenth century.

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