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, January 11, 2023

“She was surprised by the firing of the king’s troops”

Last month Alex Cain at Historical Nerdery rounded up four accounts from women who had all-too-close encounters with British troops during the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Those are all stories preserved in the women’s own words, not questionable latter-day legends like Lydia Barnard.

Those accounts survive because:
  • Hannah Adams and Hannah Bradish described experiences that the Patriots could present to the world as atrocities, and therefore wrote down and spread around in 1775.
  • Mary Hartwell and Anna Munroe lived long enough to be among the few people to remember 1775, making other people more interested in hearing and recording their stories.
Here’s a taste of Hannah Bradish’s account:
about five o’clock on Wednesday last, afternoon, being in her bed-chamber, with her infant child, about eight days old, she was surprised by the firing of the king’s troops and our people, on their return from Concord. She being weak and unable to go out of her house, in order to secure herself and family, they all retired into the kitchen, in the back part of the house. She soon found the house surrounded with the king’s troops; that upon observation made, at least seventy bullets were shot into the front part of the house; several bullets lodged in the kitchen where she was, and one passed through an easy chair she had just gone from.
After the battle, Bradish reported finding many things missing, “which, she verily believes, were taken out of the house by the king's troops.”

Cain notes that the Rev. David McClure also wrote about seeing houses like Bradish’s along the battle road in Menotomy shot up with musket balls. Indeed, people can see the physical evidence of those shots in the Jason Russell House, as shown above.

But did the British muskets do all that damage? With a finite amount of ammunition, would the regulars have fired so many balls into a house with no one firing back from inside? Or might a lot of those bullets have come from provincial militiamen firing at the redcoats they saw around that house?


Anonymous said...

I wonder if anyone ever took the stairs apart to retrieve the bullets.

J. L. Bell said...

Joel Bohy, Dr. Douglas Scott, and colleagues studied the Jason Russell House bullet holes a couple of years ago, as reported here.