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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Wednesday, September 07, 2022

“A Letter, which was thrown into both the Camps”?

As I’ve peered at that September 1774 newspaper item allegedly alerting British soldiers to the troublemakers in Boston, I’ve been trying to figure out if it contains any internal clues about its source.

One detail is that the New-York Gazetteer said the letter was “thrown into both the Camps.” (In the Boston Evening-Post, where the printers were trying to save lines, that was changed to “thrown into the Camps.”)

What two army camps in Boston did the original publication refer to? In that period Bostonians usually spoke of there being only one camp:
  • “LOST in the Rear of the Camp on the Night of the 24th of July…,” said an advertisement in the 11 August Massachusetts Spy.
  • The Evening-Post’s 5 September report on the “Powder Alarm” said Benjamin Hallowell “ran on foot to the camp,” and then a local was “observing the motion in the camp.”
  • The same issue said the army had strengthened the guard on the Neck with “an additional number of Men from the Camp.”
  • That same day, the Boston Post-Boy reported the execution of Pvt. Valentine Duckett “in the rear of the Camp.”
  • On 6 October the Massachusetts Spy described picking up a document “under the great tree near the camp.”
Longer references make clear that “the Camp” was on the Common.

To be sure, other soldiers were camping elsewhere. According to the 11 August Boston News-Letter, the 52nd Regiment of Foot had just arrived from New York and “encamped on Fort-Hill.” But I found no newspaper references to a ‘camp on Fort Hill,’ nor any mention of ‘the camps’ in Boston aside from the article in question.

Therefore, whoever wrote this text appears to have had some knowledge of Boston in the late summer of 1774, specifically that different parts of the British army were camped at different places, but that person wasn’t speaking like a Bostonian.

TOMORROW: The missing name.

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