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, May 20, 2019

Two Prisoners of War Who Escaped

This series about redcoats in captivity after 19 Apr 1775 concentrated on the two men who gave depositions to provincial magistrates a few days after the battle.

One of those men, Pvt. John Beaton, died in captivity and was buried in Concord. The other, Pvt. James Marr, might have joined the Continental Army and entered American society. Some of the other soldiers held in the Concord jail with them did likewise.

But I left a couple of men still in the Concord jail at the end of 1775. The Rev. William Gordon talked to them in the spring. They signed a petition to the Massachusetts authorities seeking warmer clothing on 13 December, as shown above.

Fortunately, Dan Hagist of British Soldiers, American Revolution can come to the rescue again. He’s written blog entries about both men.

About Pvt. William McDonald, Don wrote:
McDonald was still in Concord’s jail on 6 December, when a list of the prisoners was made that indicated that his wife was still in Boston. This gave him strong incentive to get away. . . . Whatever the means, McDonald was back in Boston by 20 February 1776, when a British officer of the 40th Regiment wrote,
A grenadier of the 38th regiment, who was wounded and taken prisoner on the 19th of April (the affair at Lexington) has found means to make his escape. He says, there are many friends to Government who would be happy to get under the protection of our troops, but are apprehensive of failing in the attempt.
As Don’s posting reveals, McDonald’s story intersects with that of another British soldier, a man who had deserted from the army before the war, then tried to get back into besieged Boston and was confined by the provincial government. When he finally escaped with the help of Sgt. Matthew Hayes, another prisoner from 19 April who signed the petition above, the British army tried the man for desertion. McDonald was a witness at that trial.

And here’s the story of Pvt. Evan Davis who had been moved from Concord to Ipswich:
At dusk on 7 May 1777, after two years as a prisoner of war, Davis escaped with two fellow prisoners. It was almost three full weeks before they were advertised in the newspapers:
Deserted from the town of Ipswich, on Wednesday the 7th inst. between day light and dark, three prisoners of war, viz. Donnel McBean, a highland volunteer, of a sprightly make, dark hair, and ruddy countenance, about 21 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high. Ewen Davis, of slim stature, has lost the sight of one of his eyes, about 5 feet 10 inches high. And one Lile, a Highlander, a shoemaker, dark complexion, about 5 feet 6 inches high. Whoever shall take up said prisoners, and convey them to any goal within this State, shall have Five Dollars reward for each of them, and all necessary charges paid by Michael Farley, Sheriff.
[Boston Gazette, 26 May 1777]
Somehow, Evan Davis made his way back to his regiment. Most likely he was able to get to the British garrison in Rhode Island and from there sail to New York, but we have no details on his journey. On 24 August he was placed back into the grenadier company, just in time for British campaign to Philadelphia.
Thanks, Don!

I’ll leave off talking about prisoners of war for a while, but sooner or later we’re going to circle back to Sgt. Hayes.

No comments: