Deming, Sarah Winslow

“the crisis, the very crisis”

Sarah Winslow Deming, the aunt of Anna Green Winslow (see post), was living in Boston in April 1775, with her husband Captain John Deming, his niece Sally, and her slave Lucinda. It was a time of confusion: the British had occupied Boston and, after Lexington and Concord, virtually sealed off the city preventing many patriot inhabitants from moving out. Sarah and her family opted to flee. In June, writing from Providence, Rhode Island, to her niece Sarah “Sally” Coverly, she described the situation in Boston in April and the difficulties they encountered in their flight. The siege finally ended when Washington fortified Dorchester Heights and aimed cannon brought from Fort Ticonderoga at the British ships anchored in Boston Harbor. The British evacuated their forces on March 17, 1776, and sailed for Nova Scotia. In reading this account a reminder: “ye” means “the”.

[Providence, Rhode Island, ca. June 18, 1775] My Dear Niece
I was very unquiet from the moment I was inform’d that more troops were coming to Boston. ‘Tis true that those who had winter’d there, had not given us much molestation—but, an additional strength, I dreded, & determined if possible to git out of their reach, & to take with me as much of my little interest as I could. Your unkle D. was very far from being of my mind, from which has proceeded those difficulties which peculiarly related to myself—but I now say not a word of this to him; we are joint sufferers, & no doubt it is Gods will it should be so.

Many a time have I tho’t that could I be out of Boston, together with my family, & friends, I could be content with the meanest fare, & slenderest accomodations. Out of Boston, out of Boston at almost any rate—away as far as possible from the infection of small pox, & the din of drums & martial Musick as its call’d, & horrors of war—but, my distress is not to be described—I attemet not to describe it. . . .

The monday following, April 17th I was told that all the boats belonging to the men of war were lauch’d on Saterday night, while the town inhabitants were sleeping except some faithful watchmen—who gave the intelligence. . . .

On tuesday eveng, 18 April we were inform’d that the companies above mention’d were in motion, that the Men of War boats were row’d round to Charlestown Ferry, Bartons Point & bottom of ye Common, that the soldiers were run thro’ the streets on tip toe (the moon not having arrisen) in the dark of ye eveng that there were a number of hand cuffs in one of the boats, which were taken in at the long wharf, & that two days provision had been cook’d for ’em on board one of ye transport ships lying in ye harbor. That whatever other business they might have, the main was to take possession of the bodies of Messrs Adams & Handcock, whom they & we knew where were lodg’d. We had no doubt of the truth of all this. And, that express’s were sent forth both over the neck & Charlestown Ferry to give our Friends timely notice that they might escape. N. B. I did not git to bed this night till after 12 o’clock, nor to sleep till long after that, & then my sleep was much broken, as it had been for many nights before.

Early on Wednesday the fatal 19th April, before I had quited my chamber, one after another came runing up to tell me that the kings troops had fired upon & killed 8 of our neighbors at Lexington in their way to Concord. All the intelligence of this day was dreadfull. Almost every countenance expressing anxiety & distress. But description fails here. I went to bed about 12 this night having taken but little food thro’ the day; having resolv’d to quit the town before the next setting sun, should life, & limbs be spar’d to me. Towards morning, I fell into a sound sleep from which I was waked by Mr. D.g between 6, & 7 o clock informing me that I was Genl. Gage’s prisoner—all egress, & regress being cut off between the town & country. Here again description fails. No words can paint my distress—I feel it at this instant (just 8 weeks after) so sensibly, that I must pause before I can proceed.

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” … a daughter of liberty … “

In 1770, Anna Green Winslow was a twelve-year-old boarding with her aunt Sarah Winslow Deming in Boston, where she had been sent to attend school by her parents. (Her father was commissary of the British forces in Nova Scotia.) She kept a journal intended for them in which she reports on her friends, dances, her studies, the weather, and fashions. Seemingly undeterred by the political turmoil around her, she nevertheless boasts about wearing homespun (a response by patriotic women to the Stamp Act) in one of her charming and newsy entries.

Feb. 21 Thursday. … I purchas’d with my aunt Deming’s leave, a very beautiful white feather hat, that is, the out side, which is a bit of white hollond with the feathers sew’d on in a most curious manner white & unsullied as the falling snow, this hat I have long been saving my money to procure for which I have let your kind allowance, Papa, lay in my aunt’s hands till this hat which I spoke for was brought home. As I am (as we say) a daughter of liberty I chuse to wear as much of our own manufactory as pocible. …

Feb. 22d.—Since about the middle of December … we have had till this week, a series of cold and stormy weather—every snow storm (of which we have had abundance) except the first, ended with rain, by which means the snow was so hardened that strong gales at N W soon turned it, & all above round to ice, which this sevennight was from one to three, four & they say, in some places, five feet thick, in the streets of this town … I have spun 30 knots of linning yarn, and (partly) new footed a pair of stockings for Lucinda [Mrs. Deming’s slave], read a part of the pilgrim’s progress, coppied part of my text journal (that if I live a few years longer, I may be able to understand it, for aunt sais, that to her, the contents as I first mark’d them, were an impenetrable secret) play’d some, tuck’d [ate heartily] a great deal (Aunt Deming says it is very true) laugh’d enough, & I tell aunt it is all human nature, if not human reason. And now, I wish my honored mamma a very good night.

You’ll find other references to homespun here and here.

This excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 1, page 21.

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