Warren, Mercy Otis

“the Charlestown Conflagration”

HANNAH WINTHROP, distressed and heartsick over the treatment of Bostonians by British General Gage after Lexington and Concord, shares her feelings with her friend and long-time correspondent MERCY OTIS WARREN. In a letter of 17 August 1775, Hannah describes the sad plight of the many Boston residents who chose to leave the city during the British occupation. She also alludes to the burning of Charlestown by the British in order to rid it of American snipers during the Battle of Breed’s Hill, known more commonly by the name of the adjacent Bunker Hill, 17 June 1775. The British eventually won the battle in this the first major confrontation between British and American forces, but at a staggering cost: suffering many more casualties—lives lost and soldiers wounded—than the Americans. A Pyrrhic victory.

. . . . my heart Bleeds for the people of Boston my Blood boils with resentment at the Treatment they have met with from Gage. Can anything equal his Barbarity, Turning the poor out of Town without any Support, those persons who were posses of any means of Support Stopped & Searchd, not Sufferd to Carry anything with them? Can anything equal the distress of parents separated from their Children, The tender husband detaind in Cruel Captivity from the Wife of his Bosom she torn with anxiety in fearfull looking for & expectation of Vengance from the obdurate heart of A Tyrant, Supported by wicked advisers? Can a mercifull Heaven look on these things & not interpose? Is there not a day of retribution at hand? Should these things Continue what a horrid Prospect would a Severe Winter afford? how many must fall a Sacrifice to the unrelenting rigours of Cold & want? be ye cloathd & be ye warmd will be of little Efficacy to the trembling bared limbs or the hungry Soul of many a one who once livd in Affluence. . . .

You kindly enquire after my Sister, I have seen her but once since the Charlestown Conflagration, She is poorly accomodated at Stoneham, I found her & my Brother Mason Too much affected with their Loss. I really think their prospects peculiarly discouraging. He has been out of business for a Twelve month past, a Large Family to provide for. He advanced in life & losing his habitation by the hands of as barbarous an enemy as ever appeard on the theatre of life, to torment mankind. Where is the Historic page that can furnish us with such Villainy. The Laying a whole town in ashes, after repeated promises that if they would protect their troops in their return from Concord, it should be the last place that should suffer harm. How did they give shelter to the wounded expiring Soldiers & their houses, their beds were prepard to receive them, the women readily engagd in pouring balm in to their wounds, making broths & Cordials to Support their exhausted spirits, for at that time the Softer Sex had not been innured to trickling blood & gaping wounds. Some of the unhappy Victims died, they gave up the . . . ghost Blessing the hands that gave relief, and now in return for this kindness, they take the first opportunity to make 500 householders miserable, involving many a poor widow & orphan in one common ruin. Be astonished o heavens at this & let the inhabitants of america tremble to fall into the hands of such a merciless foe!. . .

I now write from the Solitude of Andover, & the reducd & humble life, yet by no means is my firm persuasion Staggerd in the glorious Cause we are Struggling in, the Cause of Virtue truth & justice. Your Faith, that the united Efforts will be Blest with Success animates me. I catch a spark of that heavenly flame which invigorates your breast. Knowing your Faith has a permanent Foundation & your acquaintance with those in the Cabinet must enable you to form a better Judgment than those who have not those advantages . . . .

Read the entire letter HERE. The print is titled “An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17, 1775 by Bernard Romans, a Dutchman to who worked as a surveyor and cartographer for the British. He joined the American side when the war began. In the illustration the Battle of Breed’s Hill is depicted on the left; in the center is Charlestown afire; on the right is Boston. This is a somewhat different perspective than is usually seen. The print is in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg.

” the grand Artillery of Heaven”

HANNAH WINTHROP and her husband were able to move back into their house in Cambridge after having fled to Andover following the battles of Lexington and Concord. MERCY OTIS WARREN paid a visit to her friends for which Hannah sent a letter expressing her thanks in June 1775. Hannah included a description of lightning bells in this paragraph which is of special interest.

With a painfull anxiety I parted with my dear Friend Mrs. Warren last thursday evening, & very soon found the rising Sable Cloud predicting a Rougher Scene than those happy moments afforded us in the warm Effusions of reciprocal Friendship with which the day had blest us. We had a convincing display of the Utility of pointed Conductors by the ringing of our Lightning Bells which I wish you had seen, though to some persons it appears in a Presumptous light for mortals to meddle with the grand Artillery of Heaven.

Hannah is describing an approaching storm with flashes of lightning. She makes reference to lightning rods, the “pointed Conductors” advocated by Benjamin Franklin to ground lightning and render it harmless. These tall pointed metal rods were usually attached to a house’s chimney. (There was disagreement over whether the rods should be pointed or blunt. Franklin preferred pointed.) In the Winthrop house the rods were connected to a set of bells activated by the discharge of electricity from the lightning which caused clappers to move back and forth between two oppositely charged bells. In this way Franklin converted electrical energy into mechanical energy. Hannah’s husband was a scientist and astronomer so it stands to reason that he would be interested in these “Lightning Bells.” For more complete explanations of how these worked see this article and this article.

Note Hannah’s comment that many people frowned on this sort of experimentation with lightning believing it was not for mortals “to meddle with the grand Artillery of Heaven.”

Read the entire letter by Hannah HERE. The illustration is from this ARTICLE.

posted April 19th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on ” the grand Artillery of Heaven”, CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Warren, Mercy Otis,Weather,Winthrop, Hannah Fayerweather

“the roads filld with frighted women & children”

HANNAH WINTHROP continued her letter to MERCY OTIS WARREN in May of 1775 describing the flight from Concord to a place of safety. She is saddened by the closure of Harvard and the disruption of education for its students. She fears for the library and worries that her husband will not be able to continue his work in astronomy.

Thus with precipitancy were we driven to the town of Andover, following some of our acquaintance, five of us to be conveyd with one poor tired horse & Chaise. Thus we began our [pilgrimage] alternately walking & riding, the roads filld with frighted women & children Some in carts with their tallest furniture, others on foot fleeing into the woods but what added greatly to the horror of the Scene was our passing thro the Bloody field at Menotomy which was strewd with the mangled Bodies, we met one Affectionate Father with a Cart looking for his murderd Son & picking up his Neighbours who had fallen in Battle, in order for their Burial.

I should not have chose this town for an Asylum, being but 20 miles from Seaports where men of war & their Pirates are Stationed, but in being fixd here I see it is not in man to direct his steps. As you kindly enquire after our Situation, I must tell you it is Rural & romantically pleasing. Seated in a truly retired spot, no house in sight, within a mile of Neighbours, thinly settled, the House decent & neat stands
under the shade of two venerable Elms on a gently rising, one flight of steps with a View of a spacious meadow befour it, a Small Rivulet meandering thro it, the grassy Carpet interspersd with a Variety of flowery shrubs, several little mounts rising in the Conic form intersected with fertile spots of waving grain. The Horizon bounded with a thick wood as if nature intended a Barricade against the Canonade of some formidable despot. But here all is perfect Silence, nothing is heard but the melody of the groves & the unintelligible Language of the Animal Creation. From the profound stillness & serenity of this Woody region I can almost persuade myself we are the only human inhabitants of Creation, & instead of Losing my fondness for Society I shall have a higher relish for the pleasures of friendly Converse & Social endearments, tho the Family we live with are very obliging.

But alas the gloomy appearance of mortal things sets the Vanity of the Clearest demonstration before me, nor can I forbear to drop a tear over that Seminary which has been the glory of this Land, and Lamenting those walls early dedicated to the Study of Science & Calm Philosophy Instead of the delightful harmony of nature nothing but the din of arms & the Clarion of War. the Youth dispersd, the hands of their preceptors sealed up, those fountains of knowledge the Library & Apparatus entirely useless & perhaps may fall into those hands whose highest joy would be to plunge us into darkness & Ignorance that we might become fitter Subjects for Slavery & Despotic rule, my partner wishes some attention might be paid to these important Treasures. Oh shall we ever be restord to that peacefull abode, that happy roof where retird from all the glitter & noise of the gay & busy world my Consort would joy to finish his mortal life in investigating the great Temple of the Skies & adoring the Divine Architect of Heaven & quietly quitting this Lower Creation.

When I think of the Sufferings of my Friends in Boston I am ashamed that my inconvenience should have such an undue effect upon me. I blush that I have so little Fortitude to encounter the Struggles we must expect to meet before the unnatural Campaign is over. I must Confess I sometimes Indulge Fears which excite mirth rather than Sympathy in my Philosoper. I have not seen our Son Since his return from Sea. It is a satisfaction that our Sons possess that love of Liberty which will engage them in the Cause of their Bleeding Country. It would give me great pleasure to pay you a Visit in your hospitable abode of peace & Elegance, but the Length of the journey & the uncertainty of the times forbid it. It would add Inexpressible pleasure to us to see you in our Rural retirement, then might I profit by your Example of Equanimity & patience in times of Affliction. We are now cut off from all our Living, but those divine intimations in that Sacred Book which have been the Consolation of Many an Exild one must be our Support. pray Let me hear from you as often as possible.

As it has been the mode of some distinguished Patriots on the other side the water in their Late letters to a person of my acquaintance in these perilous times not to affix any Signature to them but that of Sentiment & Affection, so in humble imitation after offering my partners & my best Affection to you & Coll. Warren
I Subscribe Yours Unalterably

Read the entire letter HERE. The engraving of Amos Doolittle’s “The engagement at the North Bridge in Concord, 1775” is a focal point of the gallery at the Museum of the American Revolution dedicated to the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

“the horrors of that midnight Cry”

HANNAH WINTHROP continued her correspondence with MERCY OTIS WARREN, sharing news of the occupation of Boston by the British: “Loads of english goods…the fortifying of Boston neck, [and] the huge canon now mounted there,” that has led to the move from their house in Cambridge to a “humble habitation at Concord.” In a letter written at some point in May 1775 she describes in considerable detail the battles that occurred in the previous month at Lexington and Concord.

. . . . [S]ince we were dispossest of our earthly enjoyments, all nature has seemd to be reversd, & with it the weakned mind of your friend renderd incapable of attending to those pleasures which made life agreable. Nor can she yet forget, nor will old Time ever erase the horrors of that midnight Cry, preceeding the Bloody Massacre at Lexington, when we were rousd from the benign Slumbers of the season, by beat of drum & ringing of Bell, with the dire alarm, That a thousand of the Troops of George the third were gone forth to murder the peacfull inhabitants of the Surrounding Villages. A few hours with the dawning day Convincd us the Bloody purpose was executing. The platoon firing assuring us, the rising Sun must witness the Bloody Carnage. Not knowing what the Event would be at Cambridge at their return of these Bloody ruffians, and seeing another Brigade dispatchd to the Assistance of the former, Looking with the ferocity of Barbarians, It seemd Necessary to retire to some place of Safety till the Calamity was passd. My partner had been a fortnight Confind by illness. After dinner we set out not knowing whither we went, we were directed to a place Calld fresh pond about a mile from the town, but what a distressd house did we find there filld with women whose husbands were gone forth to meet the Assailiants, 70 or 80 of these with numbers of Infant Children, Crying and agonizing for the Fate of their husbands. In adition to this scene of distress we were for Some time in Sight of the Battle, the glistening instruments of death proclaiming by an incessant fire, that much blood must be shed, that many widowd & orphand ones be Left as monuments of that persecuting Barbarity of British Tyranny. Another uncomfortable night we passd, some nodding in their chairs, others resting their weary limbs on the floor. The welcome harbinger of day gave notice of its dawning light but brings us news it is [?] to return to Cambridge as the enemy were advancing up the river & firing on the town, to stay in this place was impracticable, methinks in that hour I felt the force of my Mother Eves Soliloquy on being driven out of Paradise. . . .

In the next post, Hannah describes fleeing from the scenes of battle and finding a refuge for herself and her husband.

The two letters in this post can be found at the Massachusetts Historical Society HERE and HERE. The illustration of Concord is at the Library of Congress.

“command the attention of the mother and the wife”

A few days late with this post in honor of Women’s History Month (March). It is important to note that many women were politically active during the formation of this nation. HANNAH FAYERWEATHER WINTHROP and MERCY OTIS WARREN were but two. Both women, though giving lip service to the notion that women should occupy themselves with the domestic sphere, believed that they ought to be involved in resisting the British and concerned with establishing a new and independent nation.

Hannah, a dedicated correspondent, was married to John Winthrop, a noted astronomer and professor of mathematics and natural history at Harvard. Mercy was raised in Barnstable on Cape Cod and lived in Plymouth with her husband James Warren who was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, became its speaker, and later was chosen President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Mercy wrote essays, poetry, and dramas attacking British authority. In 1805 she published The History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution.

In the following two letters Hannah and Mercy discuss recent events, including the Boston Tea Party, that they believe will lead to a break between the colonies and Britain. Mercy notes that she and Hannah are blessed with understanding husbands who support their involvement in political affairs. Hannah wrote to Mercy on the first of January 1774. Mercy replied later that month with a long letter in which she envisions a new nation based on equitable principles and respect for the natural rights of its citizens.

I wrote to my dear friend Mrs Warren Novr the 10th . . . but have not heard whether it was receivd. I have been with impatience wishing to know the cause of this interval of Silence. . . .

I have no news of a domestick kind to tell you, we go on in the same little peacefull Circle as usual Varied with alternate sickness & health, sometimes Amused, sometimes astonishd with Viewing Events which happen in the great World. . . . Yonder, the destruction of the detestable weed, made so by cruel exaction, engages our attention. The Virtuous & Noble resolution of America’s Sons in defiance of threatned desolation & misery from arbitary Despots. demands our highest regard may they yet be endowd with all that firmness necessary to Carry them thro all their difficulties till they come off Conquerors . . . .

We hope to see a good account of the Tea Cast away on the Cape. The Union of the Colonies, the firm & sedate resolution of the People is an Omen for good unto us. And be it known unto Britain, even American daughters are Politicians & Patriots and will aid the good work with their Female Efforts. . . .
I subscribe
Your affectionate
Hannah Winthrop

To Madam H Winthrop

When I took up my pen I determined to leave the field of politicks to those whose proper busines it is to speculate and to act at this important crisis; but the occurrences that have lately taken place are so alarming and the subject so interwoven with the enjoyments of social and domestic life as to command the attention of the mother and the wife who before the contest is decided may be called to weep over the manes of her beloved sons, slain by the same sword that deprived of life their intrepid and heroic Father. And Who in these modern days, has arrived at such a degree of Roman virtue as not to grudge the costly sacrifice? I tremble for the event of the present commotions;- there must be a noble struggle to recover the expiring liberties of our injured country; we must re-purchase them at the expence of blood, or tamely acquiesce, and embrace the hand that holds out the chain to us and our children. Much interested in the success of the conflict — I feel myself unequal to the combat yet hope the women will never get the better of that disinterested regard to universal happiness which ought to actuate the benevolent mind. Heaven give us strength to sustain the shock, if this country should be compelled to the last appeal – and forbid that anything in your conduct or my own should countenance the opinions of those who explode every generous principle, deny the existence of patriotism and ridicule all pretences to public virtue. How derogatory to the human character are these ideas! Yet we daily see too many instances of a sordid selfish spirit prompting men to act diametrically opposite to the welfare of society, even where there had been heretofore some pretences to integrity. Whether the Patriots of the present day will be able to effect their laudable designs in our time is very uncertain, yet I trust they will lay the foundation deep and that future generations will not be wanting to themselves, but will maintain and support the priviledges to which they are entitled both by nature and compact By the spirit, firmness, and the happy union in similar measures, which animates the extensive colonies . . . . It appears to me that every step the infatuated Britons have been taking, is but a means of hastning the grandeur and glory of America;- yet still the fears of a fatal interruption of private and social enjoyment often fill my mind with gloomy apprehensions. . . . I wish to see America boast in her turn of science and of Empire,- of Empire not established in the thraldom of nations but on a more equitable base, on such an exalted plan that while for mutual security, the authority of rulers is acknowledged, they may neither be prompted by avarice or ambition to infringe the natural rights of their fellow-men;- nor debase their own species by requiring abject and unworthy submissions, where there is little distinction but what arises from the imperfection of human nature which makes it necessary to submit to some subordination. Though such an happy state, such an equal government, may be considered by some as an Utopian dream; yet you and I can easily conceive of nations and states rising to the highest consequence under more liberal plans than are pointed out by the marble-hearted despots of ancient or modern times. But I expatiate no longer on the prospects of public distress nor dwell on the painful sensations of the human heart in this day of general perplexity, when the hero and the patriot are alternately exhilerated or depressed by the varying aspects of the political Hemisphere;- nor shall I make an apology for touching on a subject a little out of the line of female attention, as we are both happily united to such companions as think us capable of taking part in whatever affects themselves. As for that part of mankind who think every rational pursuit lies beyond the reach of a sex too generally devoted to folly, their censure or applause is equally indifferent to your sincere friend
M Warren

Hannah Winthrop’s letter can be found HERE. The whole of Mercy Otis Warren’s letter can be viewed HERE. Winthrop’s portrait in oil on canvas is by John Singleton Copley done in 1773. It is at the MetropolitanM Museum of Art in New York City. The bronze sculpture of Warren stands in front of the court house in Barnstable on Cape Cod.

posted April 2nd, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on “command the attention of the mother and the wife”, CATEGORIES: Boston Tea Party,Resistance to British,Warren, Mercy Otis,Winthrop, Hannah Fayerweather

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