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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Sunday, May 28, 2017

“Curnul putnum Com & ordered us down”

Here’s the rest of Pvt. James Stevens’s account of his Andover company’s fight along the Chelsea shore on this date in 1775.

When we left Stevens on the night of 27 May 1775, the Royal Navy schooner Diana had run aground near the ferry landing on the north side of Boston harbor.
Sunday ye 28 this morning a bout day thay [i.e., British sailors] come with thare barjes to bord the sconer

Curnul [Israel] putnum Com & ordered us down to the whoife & we fired so that thay retreted back to the sloup

our men run down & fired [i.e., set fire to] the sconer & it burnt very fast

the slup begun to to of [“to tow off”]

in about three qurters of a our after it was sot on fire the magersene Blod up [give it a minute…it’ll come…“magazine blowed up”!] & blod out some plunder

thay fired from Nodles oiland on us sun about an our hy

we are retreted back to our packs & gout our Brekfust

the slups drad of to Boston

there was of our men wounded fore & non cild [“none killed”!]

after the fier was gon down the men went & got out the plunder out of the rack [“wreck”]

in the afternune there come down about fore hundred men to relieve us & there was of us about a hundred & twenty men of us

tords night thay got tems & cared a lode of to Cambridge

we staid all night

Munday ye 29 this morning we went down to the sconer & got out som more of the plunder we staed about while the afternune & then set of for Cambridg we got up to Cambridg about dusk being very much feteged
News of this small but clear victory arrived in Philadelphia just as the Continental Congress was considering the New England colonies’ invitation to take control of their army. The reports of Putnam’s aggressive leadership during the fight prompted the Congress to make him a major general, moving him above more senior colleagues such as John Thomas and Joseph Spencer. That caused kerfuffles for Gen. George Washington to sort out when he arrived in Cambridge in July.

As it turned out, the fight off Chelsea was the last Continental victory Putnam got to see. He remained with the army until he suffered a stroke in 1779, but he was never again present for a win.


Unknown said...

General Putnam was present and conspicuous, according to both Joseph Reed and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Greene, at the Battle of Harlem Heights, September 16, 1776. This is generally referred to as the very first military victory of American Armed Forces in its history.

J. L. Bell said...

I consider the Battle of Harlem Heights to be a draw. Americans then reported a victory, and many American historians have echoed that, but others agree with my conclusion. The armies’ positions didn’t change significantly, they suffered about equal casualties, and the British resumed pushing the Continentals around just a month later.

Gen. Israel Putnam was undoubtedly prominent and active in that fight, as he was in every battle he was near. His personal bravery can’t be doubted. The skirmish over Noddle’s Island was an obvious example of him leading from the front, and his aggressive approach succeeded. It didn’t have such good results elsewhere.