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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Thursday, May 13, 2021

“A Well Regulated Militia” at Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga has just opened an exhibit titled “A Well Regulated Militia: Citizen, Soldier, and State.”

The museum’s description says:
The militia, one of the most important institutions of American life for centuries, is today almost totally absent from American life. Throughout colonial and early national America, the militia formed the largest and often only means of defense. Regular military forces did not appear regularly until British regulars arrived during the French and Indian War, and even after the creation of the Continental and late[r] US Army, militia forces greatly outnumbered them.

For much of American history, the militia was thought to be more useful and more virtuous. Formed of the people themselves the militia represented the power of citizens that underlay the creation of the American Republic. Obligatory participation in the militia provided citizens with a means of defense and a critical role in the institutions of the state.

At its peak, the militia may have comprised as much as 10% of the US population, compared to well under 1% of the population serving in the National Guard today (the descendant of the militia).

This new exhibit explores this often misunderstood institution from its formation in the colonial period through its decline in the early 19th century. Despite being central to debates over the Constitution and American identity, the militia never truly represented all of “the people” and had a mixed record in military campaigns throughout our history.

Learning about the development of the American militia allows us to go beyond battles and campaigns and reflect on what our nation values, the obligations and benefits of citizenship, and who participates in American society.
From the photographs on the exhibit webpage, it seems to include a lot of nineteenth-century militia uniforms. As handsome as those are, I think it’s crucial to recognize that the essence of the Revolutionary-era militia was that it did not require uniforms.

Officers and companies that drew from the upper class, such as the Company of Cadets in Boston, could afford special matched outfits, and they certainly provided a more showy and military experience at drills and parades. But the strength of the militia was how it drew on nearly every able man in society, meaning mostly farmers and artisans. They were expected to come dressed as they were.

Militia service also had a social function. As I discuss in The Road to Concord, the local company was a community institution and potentially a ladder of class mobility. In nineteenth-century cities, militia companies became increasingly like social clubs, with less connection to either military preparation or government control.

By the late 1800s, for example, the organizational descendant of the Company of Cadets was known for its fundraising theatricals, and those theatricals were known for their cross-dressing men. (See Anne Alison Barnet’s Extravaganza King.) Even by the standards of nineteenth-century militia uniforms, that was showy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Preserving Red Jacket’s Peace Medal

This portrait shows the Seneca leader Red Jacket wearing the silver medal engraved with a symbolic picture of him meeting President George Washington in 1792.

In the early 1800s, Red Jacket faced pressures from both inside and outside his community. White settlers bought and encroached on the land in western New York that he had helped to negotiate for the Senecas. Many of his fellow Haudenosaunee were pushed west to Wisconsin, though he remained.

Red Jacket also adhered to his traditional religion, resisting the revivalist faith preached by Handsome Lake and the Christianity that his second wife and her children espoused. At his death, his family had him buried in a Christian cemetery.

When Red Jacket died in 1830, he left the medal to a nephew named James Johnson, another Seneca leader. According to an article in the 29 Oct 1865 New York Times:
In 1851, however, unknown to the Indians generally, some parties prevailed upon Johnson to part with it for a small consideration, to the New-York State Museum at Albany. In its transit it was intercepted by Col. Parker, then living at Rochester, New-York, who paid the consideration that Johnson expected for it.
Ely S. Parker (1828-1895) was also a Seneca, more distantly related to Red Jacket. He had studied the law but was prevented from taking the bar exam because he wasn’t white, so he then trained as an engineer.

According to the Times article about the medal:
Col. Parker retained it until 1852, when the principal sachemship of the the Senecas and the Six Nations having become vacant by the death of John Blacksmith, he was installed into the office and formally invested with the medal as an official badge.

Col. Parker has since retained the medal as an official medal, although it is not probable that it will be continued after his death, as the Indians are gradually abolishing the system of government by chiefs and adopting republican forms of government.
Parker himself wrote about the medal in 1891:
…at my installation as leading Sachem of the Iroquois Confederacy in 1851, I was formally invested with it by the master of ceremonies placing it about my neck, the speaker remarking the fact that it was given by the great Washington to my tribal relative, Red Jacket, and that it was to be retained and worn as evidence of the bond of perpetual peace and friendship established and entered into between the people of the United States and the Six Nations of Indians at the time of its presentation.
In late 1865, when that New York Times article appeared, Parker had arranged for the medal to be displayed at a jewelry store in New York. By then he was well known as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s adjutant, the man who wrote out the terms of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. When Grant became President, he made Parker the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Parker left the federal government after two years and started investing in the stock market. But his early returns were wiped out by the Panic of 1873. By then married with a daughter, Parker had to seek state and local government jobs that let him support his family. He died in poor straits in Connecticut in 1895.

Members of the Seneca nation prevailed on widow Minnie Parker to send her husband’s body to Buffalo for burial on what once was tribal land. At the same time, the Buffalo Historical Society convinced her to sell it the Washington Peace Medal—an ironic turn of events, given Parker’s action more than forty years earlier to keep the object out of the state museum.

The society has treated the artifact as a treasure in its Buffalo History Museum, and in 1919 it published a biography of Parker. However, as a symbol of peace between the U.S. government and the Seneca nation, passed along as an emblem of office, the engraved medal qualified as cultural patrimony of the tribe, not the property of any individual.

Last fall the Seneca Nation asked for the medal to be returned under the provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. This month the Buffalo History Museum delivered Red Jacket’s Peace Medal to the Senecas. It is now being held at the Onohsagwë:dé Cultural Center in Salamanca, New York.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A Washington Peace Medal for Red Jacket

Yesterday I described the conference between leaders of the Five Nations (Haudenosaunee or Iroquois) and of the U.S. government in Philadelphia in March and April 1792.

President George Washington addressed the gathering at one point, though he left the details to commissioner Timothy Pickering. The Haudenosaunee delegates chose Sagoyewatha or Red Jacket, a man known for his oratory, to deliver their main response.

At some point afterwards, the federal government commissioned a large silver medal showing Red Jacket and Washington interacting, as shown above. It is about seven inches tall and five inches across, but the metal is very thin and thus light. It says at the bottom, “George Washington / President / 1792.”

There are symbols of peace all over this design, at least in one direction. The Native man has dropped his hatchet and is smoking a peace pipe—but “a European/American style, long stem clay pipe, not a carved soapstone Indian pipe,” Will at Stories in Time has observed. Behind the men a farmer is plowing the land with an ox team in American style. Yet Washington still wears his military uniform and sword, not his civilian suit.

The other side of the medal is engraved with a version of the U.S. seal: thirteen stars, the motto “E Pluribus Unum,” and an eagle clutching both an olive branch and arrows.

The U.S. government gave this medal to Red Jacket as a reminder of his encounter with Washington in 1792. Some have interpreted that date to mean the medal was presented to Red Jacket at that Philadelphia conference, but there wouldn’t have been enough time to commission the engraving. I think it was created in the following years as a way to thank Red Jacket and to remind him of the promises made in that meeting.

The U.S. government issued many medals like this, now called “Washington Peace Medals.” They came in three sizes, with Red Jacket’s being one of the largest. At the same time the young republic was also commissioning medals for European diplomats, as were other nations. While the medals for other countries’ ambassadors were always seen as tokens of gratitude, Washington’s administration appears to have expected Native leaders who accepted such gifts to pledge loyalty.

Spain accused the U.S. of using such medals to bribe Native leaders who owed their principal allegiance to the Spanish Empire. In June 1793 Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson addressed that accusation by writing:
4. Giving medals and marks of distinction to the Indian Chiefs. . . . This has been an antient Custom from time immemorial. The medals are considered as complimentary things, as marks of friendship to those who come to see us, or who do us good offices, conciliatory of their good will towards us, and not designed to produce a contrary disposition towards others. They confer no power, and seem to have taken their origin in the European practice of giving medals or other marks of friendship to the negotiators of treaties, and other diplomatic Characters, or visitors of distinction.
Jefferson was being disingenuous, as was often the case. Just the month before, President Washington had told leaders of the Wabash and Illinois Indians:
…as a further token of my regard for you, I present each with a Medal, which you must wear as a sign of your attachme⟨n⟩t to the United States.
Red Jacket did help conclude the Treaty of Canandaigua, which guaranteed his Seneca nation more land in the western part of New York state. Though he saw that property wheedled away in the following decades, he still supported the U.S. of A. in the War of 1812 and continued to wear this medal until his death in 1830.

TOMORROW: Preserving Red Jacket’s medal.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Exchange between President Washington and Red Jacket

During George Washington’s first term as President, the War Department had primary responsibility for dealing with the Native nations living on land that the young U.S. of A. claimed.

Sometimes this went very badly, as in the Harmar Campaign of late 1790 and Battle of the Wabash in November 1791. Those were utter defeats of the small U.S. army in the Northwest Territory by a confederacy of Miamis, Shawnees, and Delawares. They made it imperative for President Washington’s administration to forge better relations with nearby Indian nations.

The Haudenosaunee or Iroquois was an ancient confederation which had split during the Revolutionary War but formed again afterward. Some of the Stockbridge community had moved into western New York and allied with them. The U.S. government wanted this confederation to serve as intermediaries with the other Native nations further west.

In March 1792, a delegation of about fifty Haudenosaunee men arrived in Philadelphia for talks with the U.S. government. Timothy Pickering handled the negotiations, with Secretary of War Henry Knox watching over his shoulder.

On 23 March, President Washington himself spoke to the delegation. At the end of his remarks he delivered a “large White belt” to the visiting diplomats.

On the same day, Washington wrote to the Senate to confirm his main goal was “that the chiefs should be well satisfied of the entire good faith and liberality of the United States…conditioned on the evidence of their attachment to the interests of the United States.” Feeling his way within the U.S. Constitution, he asked Senators for their “advice” on whether the Congress would agree to this provision:
The United States, in order to promote the happiness of the five nations of indians, will cause to be expended ann[u]ally the amount of one thousand five hundred dollars, in purchasing for them clothing, domestic animals and implements of husbandry, and for encouraging useful artificers to reside in their Villages.
On 31 March, a Seneca leader named Sagoyewatha or Red Jacket replied to Washington’s speech. As reported by the War Department, Red Jacket held up Washington’s belt and proffered another in returned. He declaimed:
The President of the thirteen fires, while continuing his Speech made also this remark. That in order to establish all his words for the best good of Your nation & ours—we must forget all the evils that were past, and attend to what lies before us, and take such a course as Shall cement our peace, that we may be as one.

The President again observed, That it had come to his ears, that the cause of the hostilities now prevailing with the Western Indians, was their persuasion that the United States had unjustly taken away their lands. But he assured us this was not the case. That it was not the mind of any of his Chiefs to take any land on the whole Island without agreeing for it. . . .

Now Brother, which you continue to hear in behalf of the United States let all here present also open their ears, while those of the five nations, here present Speak with one voice. We wish to see Your words verified to our Children & Childrens children. You enjoy all the blessings of this life: to you therefore we look to make provision that the same may be enjoyed by our Children. This wish comes from our hearts. but we add, that our happiness cannot be great if in the introduction of your ways, we are put under too much constraint.
Within the Seneca nation, Red Jacket was a traditionalist. He wanted the Senecas to be able to continue to live and worship as they had, not pressuring into adopting European ways. But all the Haudenosaunee at that conference wanted the Americans to respect their territories and independence.

In April, the Senate approved Washington’s proposal for annual grants to the Haudenosaunee. While this is sometimes labeled as a treaty, it was internal U.S. legislation, not signed by Indian delegates. Washington passed the news along, and Knox and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson formally affirmed the promise.

The 1792 meeting led to another conference two years later, when Pickering negotiated the Treaty of Canandaigua. Red Jacket was among the Haudenosaunee leaders who signed that document. It promised “perpetual peace and friendship,” affirmed Native land claims, and tripled the annual payment. The last provision is the only one the U.S. of A. has faithfully observed; each year the federal government supplies $4,500 worth of cloth to the Haudenosaunee.

TOMORROW: A remembrance of the 1792 meeting.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Some Podcast Episodes to Sample

I’m sure everyone reading this has sampled several early American history podcasts. There really is a plethora of them, from both individuals and institutions.

Here are a few recommendations of individual podcast episodes that I recently found interesting. They may have slipped by because they appeared in the series unaccountably not devoted to the history of the early America or Boston.

History Extra’s Matt Elton spoke with Jeremy Black about Sir Robert Walpole, who served as prime minister of Great Britain from 1721 to 1742. Prof. Black presented the case that Walpole, the first man to hold that power (even before the term “prime minister” became codified) is still the greatest. Other historians will speak up for other prime ministers, but since this series is linked to the 300th anniversary of Walpole coming to power, he does seem to have a head start.

On the BBC’s In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg conversed with Kathleen Burk of University College London, Frank Cogliano of the University of Edinburgh, and Michael Rapport at the University of Glasgow about the Franco-American Alliance of 1778, what led up to it and what results it produced for all the parties involved. The end of that treaty of amity in the 1790s raised the question of whether the young republic had made an agreement with the nation of France or simply its monarchy. For pragmatic and perhaps temperamental reasons, Washington chose to interpret the situation in the second way.

On Mainely History, host Ian Saxine and Prof. Andrew Wehrman discussed the controversies of smallpox inoculation, not just in Maine but also not neglecting that district. Wehrman notes that by the late 1700s colonial Americans understood the benefits of inoculation, but they also recognized that it carried risks both to individuals an to surrounding communities, so they were ready to protest inoculation efforts that seems risky or inequitable.

The Library Company of Philadelphia’s Talking in the Library series shared a 2020 talk by Prof. Sally Hadden about two rising young attorneys in federal Boston—Harrison Gray Otis and Christopher Gore. Both represented Loyalists trying to regain the rights to their property, and they used that business to build their own wealth before going into politics.

All of these podcasts are available through multiple platforms and apps, so you should be able to find them by search. But I’ve included direct links in each description for people who prefer that route.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

“At the time the said Horse and Sulky was furnished”

The challenges of managing Lt. Col. Abijah Brown drew me away from the episode that initially drew my attention to him—Col. Richard Gridley’s 1786 request to the Continental Congress to reimburse him for the cost of a horse killed at Bunker Hill.

Brown had provided Gridley with that horse while they were both working for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s army in the spring of 1775. It’s unclear whether it was his horse or one he borrowed from someone else with a promise of compensation.

At the end of the war, Brown asked the Massachusetts government to give him the price of the dead horse. When the state declined, he sued Gridley for that sum, recovering damages in court. Gridley then petitioned the Confederation Congress.

Back on 14 June 1775, the Continental Congress had started the process of taking command of that army besieging Boston. That change became official at the highest level on 2 July when Gen. George Washington arrived in Cambridge and presented his commission to Gen. Artemas Ward.

British artillery fire killed Col. Gridley’s horse on 17 June—after the Congress had voted to assume responsibility for the New England army but before it could actually do so. So what did that mean for reimbursing the colonel?

The Confederation Congress appointed a committee to consider the details. Those officials were:
Those gentlemen reported:
On the above Memorial the Board observe that Colonel Gridley was not an Officer in the Service of the United States, at the time the said Horse and Sulky was furnished by Major Brown.

That by the Application made to the State for payment, it appears that the Person who furnished the said Horse and Sulky did not conceive it a proper charge against the United States.

The Board are therefore of Opinion, that the Claim of the Memorialist cannot be allowed, without establishing a precedent which would subject the General Treasury to a multitude of Claims, with which the Union are not chargeable, and submit to the Judgment of Congress the following Resolve:

That the Claim stated in the Memorial of Colonel Richard Gridley, cannot be admitted as a proper charge against the United States.
I can’t help but think that both levels of government—Massachusetts and the Continental Congress—would have been more generous toward Gridley if they had had any actual funds to spend. Because unquestionably Brown had supplied the horse for military use, and Gridley had lost it in an important battle.

But the mid-1780s was just the wrong time to ask American governments for money.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Commanding Lt. Col. Abijah Brown

As I related yesterday, Lt. Col. Abijah Brown chose not to reenlist in the Continental Army for the year 1776. He remained in Waltham as the army moved south.

But Brown remained active in the Massachusetts militia. As much of a headache as he was to work with, Brown really was committed to the Patriot cause. And he appears to have been capable. Within a couple of years he resumed his work in the Waltham town government as well.

It looks like authorities who had dealt with Brown before might have learned to be really strict with him, to leave him as little wiggle room as possible.

For instance, in late 1776 Brown led some Massachusetts militia troops north to Lake Champlain, but then balked at further orders. On 10 September, Gen. Horatio Gates, who no doubt recalled how Brown had escaped serious punishment a year earlier during the siege of Boston, wrote from Fort Ticonderoga to Lt. Col. Philip Van Cortlandt:
On receipt of this you will immediately order Lieutenant-Colonel Abijah Brown (who is now at Skenesborough) to this post. If he offers to make any hesitation or delay, you will instantly put him under an arrest and send him down under a good guard.
There might be a sad backstory to that conflict. Two days after that letter, Lt. Brown’s teen-aged son, Abijah, Jr., died at Skenesborough (now Whitehall).

In the spring of 1778 Lt. Col. Brown mustered militiamen for another mission to upstate New York. He wrote to the Massachusetts General Court about those troops needing arms. On 9 June the legislature resolved:
On the Petition of Colo. Abijah Brown praying that a number of militia-men mentioned in his petition, who are now on their march to join their regiment at North River, may be supplied with Fire Arms and accoutrements.

Resolved that the Board of War be, and they hereby are directed to deliver to said Colo. Brown twenty-two Fire Arms and accoutrements for the use of said men, he giving security to said Board of War that said Fire Arms and accoutrements shall be returned in good repair at the expiration of their tour of duty; and that there be stopped out of each one’s wages who shall so receive Fire Arms, the sum of ten shillings for the use of the same, unless any one or more shall choose to purchase said Fire Arms and accoutrements, in which case the Board of War are directed to sell to such as choose to purchase and give them a receipt for their payment.
Evidently some people thought that law wasn’t strong and specific enough to ensure the state would be fully repaid. The next day, the General Court resolved:
WHEREAS some doubts have arisen with respect to the Resolve on the Petition of Lieut. Colo. Abijah Brown of the 9th instant, for solving of which it is

Resolved that the Board of War be directed without delay to deliver to Lieut. Colo. Abijah Brown, twenty-two Fire Arms and accoutrements compleat for the use of that number of men belonging to the regiment of militia from this State, commanded by Colo. [Thomas] Poor; and that the Board of War take an obligation of Lieut. Colo. Brown for the return of the arms and accoutrements aforesaid in good order, at the expiration of the term for which said regiment is raised, and also said Brown’s obligation for ten shillings for the use of each Fire Arm and accoutrement delivered as aforesaid, as also to pay the said Board of War for each of the said arms and accoutrements as may be deficient, or that may be purchased by any of the men, such price as they shall determine, and that the Board of War be directed to set the price of said Fire Arms and accoutrements previous to their being delivered out.
Abijah Brown lived to the age of eighty-one, dying in 1818 at the home of a widowed daughter in Lincoln.

TOMORROW: Back to Col. Gridley’s horse.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Court Martial of Lt. Col. Abijah Brown

In October 1775, for the second time in a half a year, Patriot authorities met to formally judge the behavior of Waltham’s Lt. Col. Abijah Brown.

The first time was in late May, when a committee of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress assessed reports that Brown was badmouthing that body because he didn’t like the orders he had received.

The second time, the judges were Continental Army officers assembled for a court martial, and Brown faced the charge of “endeavouring to defraud the Continent, in mustering two Soldiers, whom he at the same time employed in working upon his farm.”

That board’s judgement, as reported in Gen. George Washington’s general orders for 7 October, was:

The Court having duly considered the evidence, are of opinion, that Lieut. Col. Brown is not guilty of any fraud, in endeavouring to have Harrington and Clarke muster’d, in the manner he did: But the Court are of opinion, that Col. Brown is guilty of employing Harrington for fourteen days, and Clarke for eighteen days, out of Camp, upon his own business; yet are inclined to think it was done rather thro’ Ignorance, than a fraudulent intent, and therefore adjudge that he be fin’d Four Pounds, lawful money, for the said offence.
Brown appears to have deployed the George Costanza “Was that wrong?” defense. And once again, the official verdict was that Brown had done what he was accused of doing but didn’t deserve serious punishment.

The commander-in-chief felt he had to abide by that verdict, but he made clear that he wasn’t pleased:
The General orders Lt Col. Brown to be released, as soon as he has paid his fine to Dr [Isaac] Foster, Director of the hospital, who will apply it to the use of the sick, in the General hospital, under his care—

The General hopes, the Stigma fixed on Lieut. Colonel Brown by the above sentence, will be a sufficient warning to all Officers, not to be guilty of the like offence, especially as the General is confident, no General Court martial will, for the future, admit a plea of Ignorance, in excuse of so atrocious a crime.
For the adjutant general, Horatio Gates, the outcome of this court martial showed the need for wider reform:
Much regulation is wanted in the Continental Articles of War, as in many Instances they have been found to give too Discretionary a power to the Members who compose Genl Courts Martial, a very Flagrant instance having happen’d lately in the trial of Lieut. Colo. Abijah Brown.
At the time, Washington, Gates, and other commanders were busy reorganizing the Continental Army for the new year and trying to convince men to reenlist. Col. Benjamin Rugggles Woodbridge evidently indicated that he would not return in 1776. But that didn’t open a position in his regiment for Lt. Col. Brown.

Instead, on 3 November a council of war ranked Brown as sixth in seniority among the lieutenant colonels but then assigned him to a regiment under Loammi Baldwin (shown above), still a lieutenant colonel himself but to be commissioned on 1 January as the most junior colonel in the new army.

Brown ultimately declined to reenlist. Gen. Washington and his headquarters staff probably weren’t sad to see him go.

TOMORROW: One more march.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Lt. Col. Abijah Brown in the Fight

After Lt. Col. Abijah Brown and his Waltham company reported to the Massachusetts army at Cambridge in late May 1775, there was a question of what regiment they should belong to.

As of 19 April, Brown was a major in Thomas Gardner’s Middlesex County militia regiment. But the militia wasn’t the same as the newly forming, enlisted-through-December Massachusetts army. Gardner already had his top officers: Lt. Col. William Bond and Maj. Michael Jackson. They were officially commissioned on 2 June.

Brown ended up as lieutenant colonel in Col. Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge’s regiment, drawn otherwise from western Massachusetts and still getting organized. Woodbridge (1739-1819, shown here) was a wealthy bachelor physician from South Hadley. He needed companies to fill an entire regiment and justify his rank as colonel, and Brown needed a regiment where he could be lieutenant colonel.

It took until 21 June before the committee of safety thought Woodbridge’s eight companies were ready for a commission. As of 29 July Gen. George Washington still deemed that regiment to be among the four “most deficient” in the Continental Army.

Brown was officially listed as joining Woodbridge’s regiment on 17 June. That became an issue months later when he came to collect his pay. According to the Continental Army records, he had worked only six and a half months in 1775, but Massachusetts records show the committee of safety had set him to work a month earlier than that, and he probably showed up in Cambridge on 21 May.

Brown pressed his case to the Massachusetts General Court, which on 31 Aug 1776 resolved:
That there be paid out of the publick Treasury to Colonel Abijah Brown, nine pounds, for twenty seven days’ service as Lieutenant-Colonel in Colonel Woodbridge’s Regiment, it appearing he was made up in the muster-roll of said Regiment so much short of the time he was in cervice.
This is an example of Brown’s persistence in seeking what he wanted.

Though not yet official, Woodbridge’s regiment fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June. As it crossed the peninsula into Charlestown, the companies split up and rushed forward to different parts of the line. There are few sources about what Woodbridge’s men did on that day, but they were definitely in the fight.

At the end of September, Col. Woodbridge’s regiment was stationed “at west side of Prospect Hill on the road leading from Charlestown River to Monotomy.”

How well was Lt. Col. Brown getting along with his regimental commander? Gen. Washington’s general orders for 29 Sept 1775 include this item:
A Court of enquiry to sit this afternoon at three ’OClock to examine into the Complaint of Lt Col. Abijah Brown of the 25th Regt against Col. Ruggles Woodbridge—Col. [John] Glover president, Col. [Ebenezer] Bridge, Major [Daniel] Wood, Major [William Raymond] Lee and Major [John] Durgee [Durkee], members.
Unfortunately, that record doesn’t say what Brown’s “Complaint” was. Since Col. Woodbridge remained in the army for the rest of the year, even sitting on other court-martial boards, the court appears to have ruled in his favor.

That proceeding was followed by another reported on 7 October:
Lieut. Col. Abijah Brown tried at a late General Court martial, whereof Col. [Daniel] Hitchcock was presdt—for “endeavouring to defraud the Continent, in mustering two Soldiers, whom he at the same time employed in working upon his farm
TOMORROW: The verdict, and the generals’ opinion of the verdict.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

“The secret resentment of designing persons”

In late May 1775, the Massachusetts committee of safety received a message from Abijah Brown of Waltham reporting that he had delivered three cannon to Watertown as ordered, and that he was their “most obedient and most humble servant.”

But the committee also received a report co-signed by five Waltham selectmen that Brown was bad-mouthing them and Gen. Artemas Ward as the equivalent to “a set of idiots and lunaticks.”

Perhaps even more disturbing, Brown was reportedly saying things like:
that the [Massachusetts Provincial] Congress had no power to do as they did; for all the power was and would be in the Army; and if the Congress behaved as they did, that within forty-eight hours the Army would turn upon the Congress, and they would settle matters as they pleased; that there would be nothing done but what would be done by the Army
Notably, Brown lumped Gen. Ward in with “the Congress” instead of “the Army.” It would be interesting to know what he might have meant by this rant—was he pining nostalgically for the situation only a few months earlier, when locally appointed town committees and militia companies were organizing rebellion with no provincial authority telling them what to do? Or did he just want to keep those three cannon? 

The committee of safety, with Benjamin White of Brookline in the chair, decided that “any determination on this case is out of the department of this committee” and passed it up to the whole congress. They added a wish “that you may be furnished with such light as may enable you to determine thereon as to you in your wisdom.” So good luck, gentlemen.

The lead signatory of the report, Jonas Dix, was himself a member of the provincial congress. Earlier in the year, Brown had led an effort to disqualify him from that post. Presumably he was happy to share all that he had heard back in Waltham.

The legislature appointed a committee led by Dr. Richard Perkins of Bridgewater to consider the matter. On 27 May he reported back. Notably, he addressed the “complaint against lieutenant colonel Brown.” The Waltham warning had referred to “Abijah Brown, who calls himself Lieutenant-Colonel,” casting doubt on his rank. So by using that title the committee recognized Brown as a high-ranking officer in the state army.

Dr. Perkins said:
That after a full hearing of the allegations and proofs for and against said Brown on the complaint of some unknown person through the selectmen of Waltham to this honorable Congress we are of the sentiment that an unhappy controversy has existed in said town relating to public affairs in which said Brown had exerted himself very earnestly in favor of the cause of liberty by which means he had disgusted several persons who have since endeavored therefor to censure and stigmatize him as being an officious busy designing man

and unhappily it appears that Mr Brown has associated in taverns indiscriminately with many persons in discourse with whom he at some times had inadvertently expressed himself which he would not strictly justify himself in

And that it is evident those disaffected antagonists of Mr Brown’s had taken the advantage of his halting purely from revenge and the committee adjudge from the whole of the evidence for and against said Brown that he is injuriously treated by the secret resentment of designing persons and that he ought to be reinstated to the esteem and countenance of every friend to the liberties of this country
The official ruling, in sum, was that some of Lt. Col. Brown’s neighbors (Dix?) were out to get him—and that he had helped them along by running off at his mouth. Would that scare be enough to make him toe the line in future?

TOMORROW: Of course not.

(I couldn’t find Dr. Richard Perkins’s gravestone to stand in for a portrait, so the stone above is for his wife Mary [1735-1779]. She was John Hancock’s older sister. Richard and Mary were also stepsiblings, his widowed father having married her widowed mother.)

Monday, May 03, 2021

“Representing the General and Committees as a set of idiots”

As I related yesterday, in April 1775 the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety ordered Abijah Brown of Waltham to prepare three cannon for use.

Then, about three weeks later, the congress ordered him to deliver those three guns to Watertown.

That wasn’t the congress’s first dealing with Brown. Back in February, the rebel legislature had to consider “A petition of Abijah Browne and others, setting forth the irregularity of the choice of Jonas Dix, Esq., to represent the town of Waltham in this Congress.”

Other Waltham men led by Leonard Williams sent a petition supporting Dix (1721-1783, gravestone shown above courtesy of Find a Grave). Obviously, there was some sort of argument going on in Waltham. It might even have been over politics.

The congress decided to stay out of it. It decided that even if the first petition’s complaints were all true, they were “not sufficient to disqualify Jonas Dix.” So he remained in his seat, in power, with a (further?) reason to dislike Abijah Brown.

Those circumstances set the stage for another message to the congress, printed in Force’s American Archives, that followed the orders to Brown to hand over the cannon:
Whereas a number of the inhabitants in and about Waltham, in the County of Middlesex and Province aforesaid, having a deep sense of their obligations to the Honourable Committee for their services, upon information given, look upon themselves in duty bound, to represent to them in this publick manner, the repeated and publick insults and abuses that the Honourable Committee and Congress are from day to day treated with by one Abijah Brown, who calls himself Lieutenant-Colonel, who, from time to time, and in different company, in the most publick manner upon the road, and in publick houses, where company of strangers or town’s people are on any occasion assembled, taking such opportunity to declare, though in such profane language that we must be excused from repeating, viz: that the Congress had no power to do as they did; for all the power was and would be in the Army; and if the Congress behaved as they did, that within forty-eight hours the Army would turn upon the Congress, and they would settle matters as they pleased; that there would be nothing done but what would be done by the Army; and with respect to the General [Artemas Ward] and Committee, that they had no more right or power to give their orders to remove the cannon and stores from Waltham, than one John Stewart, who is a poor unhappy man, that is non compos mentis; hereby representing the General and Committees as a set of idiots and lunaticks, in order to lessen and bring into contempt the power and authority of the Province, at this very important day.

This conduct from one assuming rank in the Army, in and about Head-Quarters where the Army is, and his reasons for such conduct, we leave every one to judge for himself, &c.

We therefore would bumbly pray that your Honours would be pleased to take into your consideration this very dangerous matter, before it is too late, and before the seeds of discord and mutiny have taken too deep root, and take such steps to put an end to it, as well as to him, with regard to his being any way concerned in the Army, as your Honours in your wisdom shall see fit.

Abner Sanders, John Sanders, Jedediah White, Peter Ball, Eleazer Bradshaw, &c., of Waltham, and Captain Abijah Child, now in the Army, stand ready, upon any day ihat your Honours may appoint, to appear and give your Honours the fullest proofs of what is here set forth, though this is but in part.

Jonas Dix,
Nath’l Bridge,
Josiah Brown,
John Clark,
Selectmen of Waltham.
Abijah Brown was clearly upset about being ordered by the Massachusetts army command to hand over the cannon he had been working on.

And Jonas Dix was clearly thinking Brown shouldn’t be in the Massachusetts army at all, especially at a lieutenant colonel’s rank.

TOMORROW: The congress plays referee.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

How Maj. Abijah Brown Went to War

Abijah Brown was born in Watertown in 1736, and on 24 May 1758, at the age of twenty-one, he married Sarah Stearns of Waltham.

Their first child, Abijah, Jr., was born in Watertown the following March. By the next year they had moved to Waltham, where Sarah gave birth to:
  • Edward (1760)
  • Anna (1763)
  • Elizabeth (1765)
  • Jonathan (1767)
  • Abner (1769)
Abijah Brown became involved in town politics as a selectman and meeting moderator. He served on committees to respond to the Boston committee of correspondence, draft instructions for the town’s legislators, and attend the Middlesex Convention of late August 1774.

Brown was also active in the town militia company, rising to captain in 1773 and major at the start of the war. According to Henry Bond’s Family Memorials (1855), he was “one of the first to ascertain the proposed march of the British upon Concord and was active in giving the alarm.” I’m not sure what that means because most histories say that Waltham never got word about the British march on 19 April and had to catch up to its neighbors.

Contemporaneous evidence leaves no doubt that Brown was militarily active in the first weeks of the war. On 28 April the Massachusetts committee of safety declared “Major Brown appointed to give such repairs to the cannon at Waltham, as may be judged proper.” Three days before the committee had ordered that “three Cannon now at Marlborough, be brought to the Town of Waltham, and mounted on carriages prepared for them, till further orders.” 

In this period Maj. Brown probably supplied Col. Richard Gridley, the commander of the artillery regiment, with a horse and sulky so he could move around the siege lines as quickly as possible, overseeing fortifications and gun emplacements.

On 17 May the committee of safety issued new orders:
That the three pieces of cannon, with the stores, now at Waltham, be immediately removed to Watertown, near the bridge, by the advice of the general [Artemas Ward], and that Mr. Elbridge Gerry, one of the Committee of Supplies, be desired and empowered to remove the same.
Where did that leave Maj. Brown? On 19 May he wrote back to the committee:
Agreeable to your order I have removed the cannon under my care at Waltham, to the Town of Watertown, and have delivered them to the Committee of Correspondence for the same Town; and shall have my company in readiness to march to Cambridge to-morrow morning.

I am, gentlemen, with much respect, your most obedient and most humble servant…
TOMORROW: But was he? Was he really?

Saturday, May 01, 2021

“The Horse so furnished was Killed at the Battle”

Yesterday I discussed Richard Gridley’s petitions to the post-war Continental Congress to keep compensating him for the loss of his Crown pension from the previous wars.

Both Gridley and the Congress were caught in the 1780s economy, when there was a postwar depression and both Continental and state notes had lost value.

Here’s an extract from the Congress’s records on 24 July 1786, shedding light not only on the retired colonel’s financial straits but also the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he was wounded.

Samuel Osgood, Walter Livingston, and Arthur Lee were tasked with assessing a “Memorial of Richard Gridley of the State of Massachusets” asking to be paid for a very particular reason:
the Memorialist states, that in the month of May, 1775, being then acting under a Commission of the State of Massachusets, as Colonel of a Regiment of Artillery, he was furnished with a Horse and Sulky, for the purpose of conveying himself and his Surveying Instruments, to such Places as the Public Service should require, by Major Brown who was employed to provide the Army with such Articles as they might want.

That the Horse so furnished was Killed at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, and the Sulky (being kept in the Public Service ’till the Year 1780) rendered altogether useless.

That Major Browne having applied to the State of Massachusets for the payment of the said Horse and Sulky, was refused payment, and that in consequence he commenced a Suit against the Memorialist and has recovered Judgment for Fifty Pounds Lawful Money of Massachusets, which Sum he has been obliged to Pay.
I knew identifying “Major Brown” would be a challenge because that surname was so common and men’s ranks changed quickly between 1774 and 1776. Plus, Gridley’s 1986 petition might have referred to the man by a rank he attained later than the moment he discussed.

In the end, I’m guessing that “Major Brown” was Abijah Brown (1736-1818) of Waltham, who did have the rank of major in early 1775 before becoming a lieutenant colonel that fall.

I have two reasons for pointing to that Abijah Brown out of the crowd of Browns (and indeed the smaller crowd of Abijah Browns) in Massachusetts in 1775. First, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress did ask Maj. Brown of Waltham to work on supplies for Gridley’s artillery regiment. Second, Abijah Brown was a cranky, pushy man who seems like just the sort to sue a septuagenarian over a horse killed in battle eleven years earlier.

TOMORROW: Meeting Maj. Brown.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Col. Gridley’s Half-Pay

Last year I wrote two postings about Maj. Scarborough Gridley’s attempt to wring some money from the Continental government after he was cashiered from his own father’s regiment in September 1775.

In the same period Scar Gridley’s father, Col. Richard Gridley, was also seeking more pay.

Though promoted to the post of the Continental Army’s Chief Engineer in fall 1775, Col. Gridley had stayed behind in New England at the end of the siege of Boston. And Gen. George Washington was fine with that. He had lost respect for the colonel and preferred his new artillery commander, Henry Knox. Gridley finally retired at the end of 1780.

Back in April 1775, when Col. Gridley agreed to come out of retirement to work for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, he asked that rebellious legislature to make up for the likely loss of his half-pay pension from the Crown. Once he retired again, the colonel expected that the Continental Congress would start paying the equivalent of that pension since it had taken charge of the army raised in Massachusetts.

In February 1781 the Congress “recommended to the State of Massachusetts to make up to Richard Gridley the depreciation of his pay as engineer at sixty dollars per month…and charge the same to the United States.” It promised to pay the colonel “four hundred and forty-four dollars and two-fifths of a dollar per annum” as a pension. Samuel Huntington transmitted that news to Massachusetts governor John Hancock.

Two years later, however, Gridley reported to Robert Morris “that upon his application to the said State they granted and paid the depreciation by giving their notes, and also made him a grant for the sum of £182 10/ Massachusetts currency, being for eighteen months half pay; and that he had received a warrant on the Treasurer of the State for the said sum, but that he had not received any money upon it.” Gridley had received only government notes, which were rapidly losing their value.

At that time, lots of other retired officers were complaining about their pay as well. Legislators had made more explicit promises to Col. Gridley than the rest, “as he abandoned his British half pay on an agreement made by Congress to indemnify him therefor.” The Congress recognized that difference. But basically they couldn’t do much about it.

TOMORROW: Beating a dead horse.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bahne on “Cradle of Liberty,” 5 May

For folks intrigued by Ens. Henry DeBerniere’s map of the Massachusetts countryside in early 1775, I hope you caught the comments from Charles Bahne about it—particularly sites I couldn’t identify.

In addition to being a practiced tour guide and teacher, Charlie has a degree from M.I.T. in Urban Planning and an interest in transportation routes and maps, so he’s just the guy to tackle mysteries like the “Nineteen Mile Tavern.”

Next week, Charles Bahne will teach an online class on the topic “Cradle of Liberty: How Boston Started the American Revolution” through the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

This is a single two-hour webinar, and the description says:
The first shots of the American Revolution, fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, were the culmination of a decade and a half of political unrest in and around Boston. Why was Massachusetts such a fertile ground for the seeds of rebellion? This class will explore how events and issues such as the Writs of Assistance, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party set the stage for the War for Independence. The roles of James Otis, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Thomas Hutchinson will all be discussed.
This online event will take place on Wednesday, 5 May, from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. Registration costs $50. Space is limited.

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education is the present owner of the house from which William Brattle launched Gov. Thomas Gage’s move against the provincial gunpowder storehouse on 1 Sept 1774 and, inadvertently, the “Powder Alarm” of the following day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Can America Rock Again?

Earlier this month the Washington Post pubished Prof. Paul Ringel’s essay about Schoolhouse Rock, A.B.C.’s interstitial Saturday morning cartoon, and how it handled the nation’s history.

Ringel wrote:
“Schoolhouse Rock,” the animated Saturday morning children’s television series that ran on ABC mostly from 1973 through 1979 (though there were also new episodes in 1995-1996 and 2009), has reached millions of viewers over the past half-century. . . .

Its history-centered season, “America Rock,” ran from September 1975 through July 1976, as the United States was celebrating its bicentennial. Not surprisingly, the show adopted a celebratory rather than a critical perspective on the nation’s past, focused almost exclusively on White people’s stories and predominantly on men. . . .

These interpretations were a product of “Schoolhouse Rock’s” limited budget and cautious ideological mandate. ABC launched the program in response to criticism from grass-roots organizations like Action for Children’s Television about the excessive commercialism of Saturday morning television, and then handed the project to its advertising firm with no funding for support from educators or historians. Any hint of ideological controversy made the network executives skittish; an episode titled “Three Ring Government” was shelved due to fear that its comparison of the U.S. government to a circus would offend the FCC.

The representations that emerged from this process also exemplified “America Rock’s” less obvious shortcoming: its broader pattern of presenting historical narratives of progress without conflict. These episodes relied on an outdated model of history that honored the past without investigating it. When “No More Kings” presented an American Revolution with no actual warfare, and “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage” explained that female suffragists “carried signs and marched in lines, until at long last the law was passed,” they overlooked the struggles required to bring about these transformative changes. Instead they suggested that people merely had to set their mind to the task and it was done.

The approaching 50th anniversary of “Schoolhouse Rock” offers a ripe opportunity to bring these sorts of lessons to television. The program’s three-minute format seems particularly suited to online viral culture, and to young viewers’ growing preferences for watching videos online.

As young people grow up in an era of heightened disinformation, amid a battle over the nation’s history, bringing them the best version of that history—one that teaches them to think critically—will be crucial to raising the next generation of U.S. citizens. A remixed “Schoolhouse Rock” that helped to achieve this goal could enhance the program’s already formidable legacy.
A longer version of Ringel’s article was published in The Public Historian. It also discusses Liberty’s Kids and The Time Warp Trio, two more recent attempts to explore history through television cartoons for kids.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

“A view or plan of the battle of Bunker’s hill”

On 10 May 1816, the Wilkesbarre Gleaner newspaper, published by Charles Miner, announced a discovery about the Battle of Bunker Hill, more than forty years earlier.

According to a reprint in Niles’s Weekly Register the following month, it said:
I stepped into the house of a friend the other evening, and he told me, that in rummaging over some old drawers he found a curiosity. It was indeed very interesting and curious, to me at least, I dare say it would be so to you, reader.

The thing referred to was a view or plan of the battle of Bunker’s hill, taken by a British officer at the time, who was in the engagement. The execution was in a style of uncommon neatness; and as far as it was possible for me to judge, extremely and minutely accurate.

The references were numerous and particular. The place of landing of the British was laid down—each regiment numbered—the artillery and light infantry particularly designated—the precise line of march pointed out—the situation of the American posts of defence, even to a barn, and the particular force that attacked the barn, laid down.

The place of the greatest carnage or loss of the British—the two vessels that were moored to annoy our people—the battery that played upon our fortifications—the line of retreat and the situation of the craft stationed to cut off our troops, the situation of the commanding officer of the British; and indeed every thing that could tend to give a full and clear idea of the situation and movements of the parties.

On looking over this map deep and strong emotions were excited—pride at the glorious defence made by our undisciplined American yeomanry, against the best regular forces of the old world—patriotism, by considering the spirit and devotion of our militia in defence of freedom and their country—pity for the suffering of the number who fell, and admiration of the dauntless spirit of the assailants and the assailed.

At the same time it was impossible to repress the smile, half in anger and half in mirth at the repetition of the word “Rebels” which occurred so often in the delineation. It brought to our minds the battle of the kegs, where the frequent use of the odious and contemptible expression is so handsomely ridiculed.

This probably is the only accurate plan of that memorable battle, in existence. It ought certainly to be engraved, and the copies multiplied, together with a correct account of the engagement, and to be in the possession of every friend to the liberties of the country.
Publishers were intrigued. Some made inquiry and discovered the man who possessed the hand-drawn map was Jacob Cist of Wilkes-Barre, a postmaster, artist, naturalist, and promoter of anthracite coal (shown above).

A man named I. A. Chapham copied Cist’s map and brought it to Philadelphia, where an engraving firm produced prints for the February issue of the Analectic Magazine. Here’s a digitized image from the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

The next month, the Port Folio published a second engraving copied from the competing magazine with red marks overlaid to show corrections by Gen. Henry Dearborn, a veteran of the battle. Here’s an image of that map. Dearborn’s accompanying article ignited a feud with descendants of Gen. Israel Putnam and others that lasted for years.

The publication of the Analectic engraving revealed the name of the British officer who had sketched the map: Lt. Henry DeBerniere, misidentified as an officer of the 14th (rather than 10th) Regiment.

The manuscript sketch doesn’t survive. Neither does any clue about how DeBerniere’s sketch came into the hands of Jacob Cist. He was born in Philadelphia in 1782, and we know DeBerniere was in that city with the British army in 1777-78. Had the officer left the sketch behind, just as he had left his written manuscripts in Boston?

Cist also worked for the U.S. Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., from 1800 to 1808 before settling in Wilkes-Barre. Did he collect the map as a curiosity? Was he really just “rummaging over some old drawers” when he realized what it was?

The provenance will remain a mystery. Similarly, we have no idea how the historian Peter Force came by DeBerniere’s map of the Massachusetts countryside now in the Library of Congress collection. But Lt. DeBerniere’s map has been one of the main sources for every printed map of the Battle of Bunker Hill since 1818.

COMING UP: The post-Revolutionary career of Henry DeBerniere.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Lost DeBerniere Manuscripts

On 30 June 1775, Ens. Henry DeBerniere was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the 10th Regiment of Foot.

Nine months later, on 17 March 1776, he evacuated Boston with the rest of the British military.

That departure was rushed enough that Lt. DeBerniere left behind some of his papers, which locals eventually found. Exactly which locals remains a mystery.

In 1779 the printer John Gill issued a collection of those documents, described on the title page as “Left in town by a British Officer previous to the evacuation of it by the enemy, and now printed for the information and amusement of the curious.”

That title page (shown here) rendered the ensign’s name as “D’Bernicre.” Which is only one of the many ways it was spelled at the time.

The documents in that booklet were:
  • Gen. Thomas Gage’s orders to DeBerniere and Capt. William Brown to scout the countryside—thus giving the publication the title General Gage’s Instructions.
  • DeBerniere’s detailed and dramatic narrative of how he and Brown visited Worcester, Framingham, Marlborough, and Weston, barely making it back home in a snowstorm.
  • A much shorter report on the officers’ similar trek to Concord.
  • DeBerniere’s account of the expedition to Concord and the return to Boston under fire on 19 April.
  • A list of the casualties from that action, naming each killed or wounded officer but giving simple body counts for the enlisted men.
The Massachusetts Historical Society has shared scanned and transcribed pages here.

The year before Gill published, the Massachusetts General Court had passed laws banishing Loyalists and empowering the state to confiscate their property. Citizens who read DeBerniere’s narratives could easily recognize the Loyalists who offered them assistance. Most had left the country, but Isaac Jones of Weston was still at the Golden Ball Tavern. By then, though, he had apparently worked his way back into his neighbors’ graces.

The Massachusetts Historical Society reprinted the text of John Gill’s booklet in a volume of its Collections series in 1815, which is how it shared material before the internet.

That reprint was probably the source for another version of the story told in the voice of Brown and DeBerniere’s servant and published as The Journal Kept by Mr. John Howe While He Was Employed as a British Spy; Also, While He Was Engaged in the Smuggling Business by Luther Roby in 1827.

There was a young printer named John Howe working in Boston in 1775. A Sandemanian and partner of Margaret Draper in the last months of the Boston News-Letter, he evacuated Boston at the same time as Lt. DeBerniere. Eventually he settled in Nova Scotia, and his son became an important figure in early Canadian politics. So he wasn’t the “John Howe” narrating that “Journal.”

In fact, the “Journal” was just a hyped-up version of DeBerniere’s original report, using all the dramatic bits and adding to them, eventually reaching the point of implausibility. Nonetheless, extracts can seem credible, and many authors have been fooled into thinking that 1827 publication is an authentic historical source.

TOMORROW: Another DeBerniere manuscript, and another mystery.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ens. DeBerniere’s Last Trip to Concord

Ens. Henry DeBerniere went back to Concord on the British army expedition of 18-19 April.

Indeed, DeBerniere probably served as a close advisor to the mission’s commander, Lt. Col. Francis Smith (shown here). The young officer had been to the town the previous month, had learned about the cannon at James Barrett’s farm, and was in Smith’s own 10th Regiment.

After the column reached central Concord, DeBerniere led Capt. Lawrence Parsons of the 10th Regiment with “six light-companies” farther across the North Bridge to Barrett’s. The ensign wrote afterward, “we did not find so much as we expected, but what there was we destroyed.”

The serious action, DeBerniere came to learn, was back at the bridge, where Capt. Walter Sloane Laurie of the 43rd, whom he called “Capt. Lowry,” and three companies “were attacked by about 1500 rebels.” (As usual, people tended to overestimate the enemy’s numbers.)

In that fight, “three officers were wounded and one killed” along with three soldiers DeBerniere didn’t name. He counted Lt. Edward Hull of the 43rd as “killed.” In fact, Hull was merely wounded at the bridge but wounded again while riding in a carriage to Boston. He finally died in provincial custody on 2 May, which suggests that DeBerniere wrote his account at least two weeks after the battle.

During that exchange of fire at the bridge, Parsons, DeBerniere, and those six companies were still up at Barrett’s farm, searching. The ensign wrote of the local militia:
they let Capt. Parsons with his three companies return, and never attacked us; they had taken up some of the planks of the bridge, but we got over; had they destroyed it we were most certainly all lost; however, we joined the main body.
Actually, Laurie’s men had taken up planks of the bridge. But it’s true that those provincial companies didn’t try to cut off the search party, waiting until all the British forces had left the center of Concord before attacking. (Parsons reported that at least one of the soldiers killed at the bridge was “scalped,” but DeBerniere said nothing about that.)

Elsewhere in Concord, Ens. DeBerniere noted, that “Capt. [Mundy] Pole of 10th regiment…knock’d the trunnions off three iron 24 pound cannon and burnt their carriages.” These guns were the only provincial artillery left in Concord, possibly because they belonged to the town and possibly because they were just too darn big to move.

DeBerniere’s report continued with a description of the British withdrawal under fire; “there could not be less than 5000…rebels,” he now guessed.
we at first kept our order and returned their fire as hot as we received it, but when we arrived within a mile of Lexington, our ammunition began to fail, and the light companies were so fatigued with flanking they were scarce able to act [as flankers], and a great number of wounded scarce able to get forward, made a great confusion;

Col. Smith (our commanding-officer) had received a wound through his leg, a number of officers were also wounded so that we began to run rather than retreat in order—the whole behaved with amazing bravery, but little order; we attempted to stop the men and form them two deep, but to no purpose, the confusion increased rather than lessened:

At last, after we got through [into] Lexington, the officers got to the front and presented their bayonets, and told the men if they advanced they should die: Upon this they began to form under a very heavy fire
Finally Col. Percy arrived with fresh troops and two field-pieces. That changed the balance of power, and the regulars resumed withdrawing east in more orderly fashion. But there was heavy fighting in Menotomy:
out of these houses they kept a very heavy fire, but our troops broke into them and killed vast numbers; the soldiers shewed great bravery in this place, forceing houses from whence came a heavy fire, and killing great numbers of the rebels.
Around seven o’clock, DeBerniere wrote, the army column reached Charlestown. There the soldiers “took possession of a hill that commanded the town,” the soon-to-be-famous Bunker’s Hill. The town’s selectmen, who were strong Whigs but didn’t want their homes consumed by fire and sword, sent a message to Col. Percy saying
if he would not attack the town, they would take care that the troops should not be molested, and also they would do all in their power for to get us across the ferry;

the Somerset man of war lay there at that time, and all her boats were employed first in getting over the wounded, and after them the rest of the troops; the piquets of 10th regiment, and some more troops, were sent over to Charlestown that night to keep every thing quiet, and returned next day.
Thus ended Ens. DeBerniere’s third and last journey into the Massachusetts countryside.

COMING UP: DeBerniere’s papers.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Concord “fit for ENCAMPMENTS”

When Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere first ventured out into the Massachusetts countryside in civilian clothes, from 23 February to 2 March 1775, their focus was Worcester.

Gen. Thomas Gage’s spy on the provincial congress’s committee of safety and supplies, Dr. Benjamin Church, had told him that the Patriots were collecting most of their cannon in Worcester.

Brown and DeBerniere confirmed that. They also confirmed that the people of Middlesex and Worcester Counties were on high alert, with multiple people suspecting correctly that they were army spies.

During that first trip the officers also visited Weston, Framingham, and Marlborough. It wasn’t until their next scouting mission starting on 20 March that they visited Concord. That was after some local person started sending Gen. Gage secret messages about James Barrett gathering cannon for the congress in that town, as I relate in The Road to Concord.

Because Concord is such a prominent feature on the hand-drawn map from the Library of Congress collection that I’ve been discussing, DeBerniere must have drawn it after the second foray.

The map is also notable for what its text says about Concord, as shown above:
This Town is well Inhabited and on an entire plain

a Shire Town and great thorough-fare, the roads wide and fit for
That label indicates that some officers in the British army in Boston were thinking about occupying Concord for at least one night.

In the end, of course, Gage decided on a one-day expedition, in and out, using a road not on this map.

TOMORROW: Ens. DeBerniere’s second visit to Concord.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Dots on the Ensign’s Map

Yesterday I started to discuss a hand-drawn map from the Library of Congress that Ed Redmond has identified as likely coming from British army spy Ens. Henry DeBeniere weeks before the march to Concord.

That map marks several individual homes. Some of those are places where DeBerniere and his fellow scout, Capt. William Brown, visited on their two treks into the Massachusetts countryside in early 1775.

Others aren’t mentioned in the officers’ report but were the estates of Loyalists, and therefore potential safe houses or places for troops to camp.

Here’s a list of all those marked properties:

“Hatch’s”: Nathaniel Hatch of Dorchester, Loyalist.

“Davis’s”: This site is a bit of a mystery. My best guess is that this is Dr. Jonathan Davies, who bought half of the old Auchmuty estate in the 1750s. Unlike almost all the other homeowners named on the map, Davies wasn’t a Loyalist. Another possibility is that this is the house of Aaron Davis, which ended up on the front lines of the siege.

“Auchmuty’s”: Robert Auchmuty of Roxbury, attorney and Vice Admiralty Court judge, Loyalist.

“Hollowel’s”: Benjamin Hallowell, Jr., in Jamaica Plain, Commissioner of Customs.

“Comm. Loring”: Joshua Loring, Sr., in Jamaica Plain, Loyalist. His mansion remains as the Loring-Greenough House.

“Mr. Fanuil”: Benjamin Faneuil, merchant, Loyalist.

“Mr. Greenleaf”: I’m guessing this home was managed by Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf, who normally lived in Boston. In 1765 his daughter Hannah married John Apthorp, who inherited his father’s Little Cambridge mansion. John and Hannah Apthorp sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, for his health in late 1772, but their ship was lost at sea. Sheriff Greenleaf became the guardian for their young children, and thus probably the custodian of the Apthorp property. Sheriff Greenleaf was seen as a stalwart of the royal government before the war, but he remained in Boston after the siege.

“Brewers”: Jonathan Brewer’s tavern on the Watertown-Waltham line. Unlike the other people named on the map, Brewer was a Whig, as DeBerniere wrote in his report. But the officers did make a memorable stop there, so it was worth mapping.

“Major Goldthwaits”: Joseph Goldthwait of Weston, Loyalist.

“Colonl: Jone’s”: Isaac Jones of Weston, a Loyalist before the war and a supporter of the Continental Army during it. Brown and DeBerniere used his Golden Ball Tavern as a base, and it’s still standing.

“Doctor Russell”: Dr. Charles Russell of Lincoln, Loyalist. His house survives in altered form as the Codman House.

“Nineteen Mile Tavern”: This establishment appears to be in Sudbury, but I haven’t found any mention of such a place. The most famous surviving tavern in Sudbury is the Wayside Inn, but this appears to have been closer to the center of town.

TOMORROW: The map’s proposition.