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.

Follow by Email


Monday, July 10, 2017

John Pigeon Becomes Massachusetts Commissary

As I wrote yesterday, in 1768 the Boston merchant and insurance broker John Pigeon retired to a farm estate in Newton. But in 1773, as he neared his fiftieth birthday, he became politically active in his new town. The next fall he was elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and became clerk of its committee of safety.

Starting in November 1774, that committee and the parallel committee on supplies secretly began to collect artillery for a provincial army outside royal control. Some seaside towns and the Boston militia train had already secured their ordnance. To gain control of that process, the committees had to contact the people holding those weapons, find others willing to loan guns they owned, and prepare them all for battle.

Pigeon worked not just at the provincial level but locally. On 2 Jan 1775 he presented his neighbors in Newton with two cannon (size and source unknown). Local historian Francis Jackson summarized the town meeting’s response this way:
Nathan Fuller, Amariah Fuller and Edward Fuller were chosen to obtain subscriptions to mount the two field pieces.

Voted, to raise men to exercise the field-pieces, and Captain Amariah Fuller, Captain Jeremiah Wiswall, and Major Benjamin Hammond, were chosen a committee for that purpose, and instructed them to raise a company of Minute Men, consisting of thirty-two men, besides the officers; and that said Minute Men meet once a week, during the Winter season, half a day, for exercise; and all that attend, shall be paid eight pence each.
With those actions, Newton was going to war.

On 22 February, the committee of safety made Pigeon its commissary of stores as well as its clerk. Of course, members put as little in writing as possible. For instance, on 17 April Pigeon wrote to the Worcester militia captain Timothy Bigelow:

The committee desired me to write you, to desire the favor of your company, next Wednesday, the 19th instant, at Mr. [Ethan] Wetherby’s, at the Black Horse, in Menotomy, on business of great importance.

Sir, your most humble servant,
J. PIGEON, Clerk.

P. S. The committee meet at ten o’clock.
Needless to say, that meeting didn’t take place. Pigeon was soon sending out more committee orders to move gunpowder, cannon, oatmeal, rice, and raisins around eastern Massachusetts.

The emergency of 19 April brought out the militia. (One chronicler wrote that Newton’s alarm signal was a shot from Pigeon’s cannon.) Over the next few weeks some of those men returned home while others stayed, unsure of their command structure or pay. Gen. Artemas Ward urged the congress to enlist soldiers for the rest of the year. Such an army also needed an administrative structure and a supply chain.

On 19 May the congress created the post of commissary general:
Resolved, That Mr. John Pigeon be, and he hereby is appointed and empowered, as a commissary for the army of this colony, to draw from the magazines, which are or may be provided for that purpose, such provisions and other stores as, from time to time, he shall find necessary for the army; and he is further empowered, to recommend to the Congress such persons as shall be necessary, and as he shall think qualified, to serve as deputy commissioners: and said deputy commissioners, when confirmed by the congress for the time being, shall have full power to act in said office, and are to be accountable to the commissary for their doings; also, said commissary is empowered to contract with, and employ, such other persons to assist him in executing his office, as shall be, by him, found necessary; and his contracts, for necessaries to supply the army, during the late confused state of the colony, shall be allowed; and the committee of supplies are hereby directed to examine, and if they find them reasonable, considering the exigencies of the times, to draw on the treasury for payment of the same.
Pigeon had already appointed four deputies at Roxbury, Medford, Watertown, and Waltham back on 7 May. The army had two big storehouses at Cambridge and Roxbury for the army’s two wings. In addition, Joseph Trumbull had arrived from Connecticut as that colony’s commissary. With New Englanders largely united behind the war and the region’s farmlands and roads safe from any British attack, food was not hard to find.

Pigeon also remained involved with the army’s armaments. On 24 June, the committee of safety assigned artificers to work “in Newton, in buildings of Mr. John Pigeon,” on cannon and other military stores. But by then, it appears, the job of commissary was proving too much for him.

COMING UP: Mr. Pigeon’s petulance.

No comments: