As a subscriber to J.L. Bell’s blog Boston 1775, and an admirer of his work, I am pleased to note that he has a book just out. Entitled The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, it tells the story of four cannons smuggled out of militia armories in Boston and transported by Patriots to Concord in an attempt to build an artillery force. It was to capture these that General Thomas Gage sent British troops in April of 1775 to Concord via Lexington. The troops were challenged by Patriot militiamen and engaged with them along the route from and back to Boston. This operation is generally regarded as the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The book launch on June 2 will be hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Kudos to Mr. Bell.
Coincidentally the U.S. Postal Service will be at the at the MHS to introduce a new stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1776.
I am taking a short respite, until March 31. This post and the next one are repeats: timely and interesting.
March 17, just past, was St. Patrick’s Day, but in Boston it is often called Evacuation Day, because it was on that day in 1776 that the British, having been besieged by the patriots for many months, withdrew their occupying forces from that city. Many Loyalists left with them. It is said that Bostonians sang this song as they departed: “The Tories with their brats and wives/Should fly to save their wretched lives.” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in Philadelphia:
A fine quiet night no allarms no Cannon. The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston, the more amaz’d I am, that they should leave such a harbour, such fortifications, such intrenchments, and that we should be in peaceable possession of a Town which we expected would cost us a river of Blood without any Drop shed. Shurely it is the Lords doings & it is Marvelous in our Eyes. Every foot of Ground which they obtain now they must fight for.
In December 1776, caught in the midst of military action in New Jersey by the Americans, the British, and the Hessians, MARGARET HILL MORRIS hoped that she, her sister and brother-in-law would be safe because they were Quakers. But this proved to be little protection. On the 20th a friend warned of advancing Hessians and advised Margaret “to put all things of gold & Silver out of thier way—& all linen too, or you’ll lose it.” To which Margaret responded “they pillaged none but Rebels—& we were not such, we had taken no part against them, &c— but that signified nothing, we should loose all &c. . . .
21th . . . more snow last Night. . . . get quite in the fidgets for News, send Dick to Town to collect some, he returns quite Newsless . . . W D [William Dillwyn, Margaret’s brother-in-law] —comes at last, tells us all we expected to hear, pleases us by saying we shall have timely notice of thier coming, gives a hint that the feeble & defenceless will find safety & protection, rank ourselves amongst the Number having no Man with us in the house—Determine not to be unprovided again, let them come, or not, as the Weather is now so cold, provisions will keep good several days—We pity the poor fellows who were obligd to be out last Night in the Snow. Repeat our Wishes that this may be a Neutral Island—quite sleepy—go to Bed, & burn a lamp all Night—talk as loud as usual & dont regard the creeking of the door—no Gondola Men listening about the Bank—before we retired to bed this Evening, an attempt was made to teach the Children to pronounce “Vicates” [Wie geht’s? or Hello] like a Dutch [Deutsch or German] Man. . . .
22nd . . . it is thought there will be an engagement soon. . . . We hear this afternoon that our Officers are afraid thier Men will not fight & wish they may all run home again. A peaceable Man ventured to Prophesy to day, that if the War is continued thro the Winter, the British troops will be scard at the sight of our Men, for as they Never fought with Naked Men, the Novelty of it, will terrify them & make them retreat, faster than they advanced to meet them, for he says, from the present appearance of our ragged troops, he thinks it probable, they will not have Cloaths to cover them a Month or 2 hence. . . .
24th. . . . We hear the Hessians are still at Holly, and our troops in possession of Church Hill a little beyond. The account of twenty-one killed the first day of the engagement and ten the next is not to be depended on, as the Hessians say our men run so fast they had not the opportunity of killing any of them. Several Hessians in town today. They went to Daniel Smith’s and inquired for several articles in the shop, which they offered to pay for. Two were observed to be in liquor in the street; they went to the tavern and, calling for rum, ordered the man to charge it to the king. We hear that two houses in the skirts of the town were broke open by the Hessians and pillaged.
26th—the Weather very stormy. . . . a Number of flat Bottom Boats gone up the River, we cant learn where they are going to.
In the next post Margaret learns what had happened on the 25th.
More on MARGARET HILL MORRIS, following on the previous post, as she dealt with events in December 1776 when she was living with her sister Sarah Dillwyn in Greenbank, New Jersey on the Delaware River. During this time British, Hessian, and American troops were active in the area which, along with patriot vessels on the river, gave ample reason for alarm even though her family were Quakers. She was especially concerned as she was harboring a Loyalist in the house.
12th—The people of the gallies [Americans], Suspecting that some troops were yet either conceald in Town or in the Neighborhood of it, have been very Jealous of the inhabitants, who have been often alarmd with reports, that the City [Philadelphia] woud be Set on fire, Many have gone in haste & great distress into the Country, but we still hope, no Mischief is Seriously intended—A Number of Men landed on our Bank this Morning, & told us it was thier settled purpose to set fire to the Town—I begd them not to set my house afire—they askd which was my House, I showd it to them, & they said they knew not what hinderd them from fireing on it last Night, for seeing a light in the Chambers, they thought there were Hessians in it, & that they pointed the Guns at it Several times, I told them my Children were Sick, which obligd me to burn a light all Night—Tho they did not know what hinderd them from fireing on us, I did, it was the Guardian of the Widow & the Orphan, who took us into his Safe keeping, & preservd us from danger, oh—that I may keep humble, & be thankful for this, as well as other favors Vouch safed to my little flock—
13th—This day we began to look a little like ourselves again. The troops were removd some miles from Town as we heard. . . . but the Suspicions of the Gondola Men still continued, & search was made in & about the Town for Men distinguishd by the Name of Tories. . . . There was no appearance of the formidable Hessians. . . . some of the Gentlemen who entertaind the foreigners were pointed out to the Gondola Men—2 Worthy inhabtants were seizd upon & dragd on board—from the 13th to 16th we had various reports of the advancing & retireing of the Enemy—Parties of Armd Men rudely enterd the Houses in Town, & diligent search made for Tories, the 2 last taken releasd & sent on Shore.
About noon this day, (the 16) a very terrible account of thousands coming into Town—& now actually to be seen on Gallows Hill—My incautious Son [John] catchd up the Spy Glass, & was running to the Mill to look at them. I told him it wd be liable to misconstruction, but he prevaild on me to let him gratify his curiosity, & he went, but returnd much dissatisfyd, for no troops coud he see. As he came back poor Dick took the glass & resting it against a tree, took a view of the fleet—both of these was observd by the people on board, who suspected it was an Enemy that was watching thier Motions— They Mannd a boat & sent her on Shore—aloud knocking at my door brought me to it—I was a little flutterd & kept locking and unlocking that I might get my ruffled face, a little composd. At last I opend it, & half a dozen Men all Armd, demanded the keys of the empty House—I asked what they wanted there they said to Search for a D—-d tory who had been spying at them from the Mill—the Name of a Tory so near my own door seriously alarmd me—for a poor refugee [Dr. Jonathan Odell] dignifyd by that Name, had claimd the shelter of my Roof & was at that very time conceald, like a thief in an Auger hole*—
I rung the bell violently, the Signal agreed on, if they came to Search—& when I thought he had crept into the hole—I put on a very simple look & cryd out, bless me I hope you are not Hessians—say, good Men are you the Hessians? do we look like Hessians? askd one of them rudely—indeed I dont know; Did you never see a Hessian? no never in my life but they are Men, & you are Men & may be Hessians for any thing I know—but I’ll go with you into Col Cox’s [Colonel John Cox] house, tho indeed it was my Son at the Mill, he is but a Boy & meant no harm, he wanted to see the Troops—so I marchd at the head of them, opend the door, & searchd every place but we coud not find the tory—strange where he coud be—we returnd; they greatly disapointed, I pleasd, to think my house was not Suspected—the Capt smart little fellow Named Shippen [William Shippin] said he wishd he coud see the Spy glass—S D [Sarah Dillwyn] produced it—& very civilly desird his acceptance of it, which I was sorry for—as I often amusd myself in looking thro it—they left us, & Searchd [other] houses—but no tory coud they find.
*a secret, windowless room entered through the back of a closet; a warning bell, activated by a knob near the front door, hung nearby.
†John Cox, a Philadelphia businessman, owner of Batsto (site of an iron furnace), which supplied the Continental Army with cannon shot and bomb shells, kettles, etc. He and his wife Esther Bowes Cox were also friends of Esther DeBerdt Reed.
Margaret Hill Morris’s account continues in the next post.
Continuing the account of MARGARET HILL MORRIS of events during December 1776 when she and her children were living with her sister in the small town of Greenbank, New Jersey on the Delaware River, where British, Hessian and American troops were active:
11th. After various reports from one hour to another of light-horse approaching, the people in town had certain intelligence that a large body of Hessians were come to Bordentown, and we might expect to see them in a few hours. About 10 o’clock in the morning of this day, a party of about 600 men [American militia] marched down the main street. As they passed along, they told our doctor and some other persons in the town that a large number of Hessians were advancing and would be in town in less than an hour. . . . On the first certainty of their approach, J. L. [John Lawrence] and two or three others thought best, for the safety of the town, to go out and meet the troops. He communicated his intention to one of the [American] gondola captains, who approved of it and desired to be informed of the result.
The gentlemen went out, and though the Hessian colonel spoke but little English, yet they found that, upon being thus met in a peaceable manner on behalf of the inhabitants, he was ready to promise them safety and security, to exchange any messages that might be proper with the gentlemen of the galleys [commanders of the American naval vessels]. In the meantime he ordered his troops to halt. They remained in their ranks between the bridge and the corner of Main Street, waiting an answer from on board. J. L. and T. H. [T. Hulings] went down to report what had passed, and told Captain Moore [leader of the American militia] that the colonel had orders to quarter his troops in Burlington that night, and that if the inhabitants were quiet and peaceable and would furnish him with quarters and refreshment, he would pledge his honor that no manner of disorder should happen to disturb or alarm the people. Captain Moore replied that, in his opinion, it would be wrong in such a case to fire on the town, but that he would go down and consult with the [American] commodore and return an answer as soon as might be.
Accepting the offer of Loyalist Dr. Jonathan Odell to act as an interpreter (both men spoke French), the Hessian colonel gave these instructions.
He desired the doctor to tell the gentlemen of the town to the same purport as above, with this addition: that he expected there would be found no persons in the town in arms; nor any arms, ammunition, or effects, belonging to persons that were in arms against the king, concealed by any of the inhabitants; that if any such effects were thus secreted, the house in which they were found would be given up to pillage; to prevent which it would be necessary to give him a just and fair account of such effects, which account he would forward to the general, and that if we acted openly and in good faith in these respects, he repeated his assurances, upon the honor of a soldier, that he would be answerable for every kind of disorder on the part of his troops. They remained in profound silence in their ranks, and the [Hessian] commandant with some of his officers came into town as far as J. L.’s, where they dined, waiting the [American] commodore’s answer.
A mini-flotilla of American war vessels patrolled the Delaware River during the winter of 1776-1777. Morris often described them. In the illustration of armed vessels on Lake Champlain in October of 1776 are examples of both galleys and gondolas. GALLEYS, such as the Washington (second from left) were round-bottomed, two-masted vessels, designed to be rowed or sailed, carrying up to ten long guns. GONDOLAS, such as the New York (third from right) were narrow flat-bottomed, single-masted boats, also designed to be rowed or sailed, carrying a small number of guns. (The vessel at center is the schooner Royal Savage.)
. . . [T]he commodore had received intelligence of a party of Hessians having entered Burlington . . . and had ordered up four galleys to fire on the town wherever any two or three persons should be seen together. Captain Moore met and hailed them . . . but the wind was so high that he was not heard or not understood. The four gondolas came up, and the first of them appearing before the main street, J.L., T.H.,and W.D. went down upon the wharf and waved a hat—the signal agreed on with Captain Moore for the boat to come ashore and give the commodore’s answer in peace. To the astonishment of these gentlemen, all the answer they received was first a swivel shot. Not believing it possible this could be designedly done, they stood still, and J.L. again waved his hat and was answered with an 18 pounder. Both these fires, the gondola people have since told us, were made with as good aim as could be taken, as they took it for granted it was at the Hessians they fired. However, as it was impossible to conjecture that such conduct could have happened or to suspect such a mistake, ’tis no wonder the town was exceedingly alarmed, looking upon it in the light of a cruel as well as unprovoked piece of treachery.
Upon this news, the [Hessian] commandant rose calmly from table, and his officers with him went out to eight or ten men who had come to the door as a small bodyguard. He turned to the doctor as he went into the street and said he could easily dispose of his people out of the possibility of danger, but that much mischief might be done to the town and that he would take a view of the gondolas and see what measures might be necessary on his part, but that he should be sorry to be the occasion of any damage or distress to the inhabitants. He walked down the street and sent different ways three sentinels in Indian file together to view and report to him what they saw.
These being now and then seen at different times induced the people on board [the naval vessels] to believe that the houses were full of Hessians, and a cannonade was continued till almost dark in different directions, sometimes along the street, sometimes across it. Several houses were struck and a little damaged, but not one living creature, either man or beast, killed or wounded. About dark the gondolas fell down a little way below the town, and the night was passed in quiet.
While all this tumult was in town, we, on our peaceful bank, ignorant of the occasion of the firing, were wondering what it could mean, and unsuspecting of danger, were quietly pursuing our business in the family, when a kind neighbor informed us of the occasion and urged us to go into the cellar as a place of safety. We were prevailed on by him to do so, and remained there till it ceased.