British soldiers

“Boston . . . busily employd in communicating the Infection”

Having returned to Cambridge from Concord, HANNAH WINTHROP wrote to her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN in July 1776. She described the condition of her home, the reopening of Harvard, and life in Boston after the British evacuation (pictured) on March 17.

Last Saturday afternoon we went into Boston the first time since our removal from Concord . . . . Our Barrack or Wigwam, or whatever name you may please to give it, when you see it unornamented with broken chairs & unleggd tables with the shatterd Etcetteras, is intirely at your service. . . . we breath as sweet an air as ever Cam [bridge], afforded, the peacefull shades & meandring river conspire to give us delight. The Sons of Harvard who are collected here seem to be as well Settled & as happy as if they had not known an interruption, with zeal they are attending the Philosophic Lectures.

What an unexpected Blessing! the change from the din of arms & the shrill Clarion of war. Come my Friend taste & see if your too much dejected spirits will not revive in this Salubrious Soil. . . .

As to Political matters, Consonant to my natural ingenuity they appear rather gloomy, but the Settlement of these important points I hope an opportunity for, when you make me happy & indulge me with Laying our Political heads together.

The reigning Subject is the Small Pox. Boston has given up its Fears of an invasion & is busily employd in
communicating the Infection. Straw beds & cribs are daily carted into the Town. That ever prevailing Passion of following the Fashion is as Predominant at this time as ever. Men Women & children eagerly Crouding to innoculate is I think as modish, as running away from the Troops of a barbarous George was the last Year. . . .

But ah my Friend I have not mentioned the Loss I have met with which lies near my heart the death of
my dear Friend the good Madam Hancock, A powerfull attachment to this life broken off, you who knew her worth can Lament with me her departure. Ah the incertainty of all Terristrial happiness. . . .
Yours in Affection
Hannah Winthrop

The British forces, threatened by cannon mounted on Dorchester Heights, left Boston in March 1776 for Nova Scotia. Many Loyalists departed as well; some blacks and Native Americans joined them. Those inhabitants who remained faced the scourge of smallpox. The disease had once again become widespread in 1775. George Washington, concerned for his troops, had advised them not to associate with Bostonians leaving the city during the siege. When the British evacuated they left behind their soldiers infected with the disease, which further fueled the outbreak. Washington sent an occupying force of 1,000 troops who had already had smallpox and were therefore immune. Many fearful residents sought to be inoculated, a precaution strongly recommended by Benjamin Franklin, in spite of possibly serious complications. Hannah Winthrop, rather scornfully, termed this surge of interest “modish.” In 1777, Washington ordered that new recruits who had not had smallpox be inoculated. It was one of the most important decisions he made as commander of the Continental Army.

The correspondence between Hannah Winthrop and Mercy Otis Warren is at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The letter in this post can be read in its entirety HERE. The illustration of the British evacuation is a German woodcut c. 1776. It is at the Library of Congress. The title page of Zabdiel Boylston’s An Historical Account of the Small-pox Inoculated in New England is from Wikimedia Commons.

Some British Camp Followers on Trial

An article I would like to recommend to your attention appears in The Journal of the American Revolution —WOMEN ON TRIAL: BRITISH SOLDIERS’ WIVES TRIED BY COURT MARTIAL by Don N. Hagist. It is a reminder that British soldiers in America during the Revolution frequently married American women. It also describes the lives of camp followers, in this case wives, who followed their men on marches and campaigns. The particular women that the author writes about are those who were accused of committing certain crimes; they were tried at court martials and were either acquitted or punished. An interesting read.

posted March 2nd, 2018 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers

” . . . . I think we may call our Jaunt an agreeable one”

New York City was occupied by the British from 1776, when George Washington’s campaign against the British failed, until 1783, the end of the war. In September 1776, a terrible fire, suspicious in origin, broke out and destroyed almost a quarter of the city. Large numbers of residents had already fled to avoid being caught in the fighting. (See post called “this deplorable cyte”.) Most Patriots departed when the the British occupied the city, while a few stayed to try to hold on to their property. Loyalist refugees flocked in as did escaped slaves who thought to obtain their freedom by fighting for the British. New York City became the command center of British military and political operations in North America. The wealthy and well connected, including British officers, restored a semblance of the social scene which featured plays and parties, dinners and dances.

On occasion members of certain families were allowed by the authorities to visit friends and relatives in New York City under a white flag of truce. CATHERINE ALEXANDER and her mother were granted this privilege. Catherine was the daughter of William Alexander, a major general in the American army who was called “Lord Stirling” because of his claim (never validated) to be a Scottish earl and Sarah Livingston. (Sarah’s brother was William Livingston, governor of New Jersey.) The couple had two daughters, Mary and Catherine. In 1776 Lord Stirling was in White Plains, following the American defeat in New York City. His wife and daughter Catherine called “Lady Kitty” joined him there and the two women obtained permission to enter New York City to visit the elder daughter Mary and her husband Robert Watts who were resident there, living quietly and trying to be neutral. “Lady Kitty” wrote the following letter to her father from New Jersey where she was visiting the family of her uncle William Livingston which had relocated from Elizabethtown to Persippany for safety’s sake. It gives some indication of what life was like in New York City during the British occupation.

I have made several attempts to perform an injunction [request], laid on me by my dear Pappa, in a letter to Genl. Maxwell but have always been interrupted, or entirely prevented by some trivial accident which tho’ important enough to prevent my writing are scarce worth mentioning to you, Coll. Livingstons [Brockholst, Kitty’s cousin, son of William Livingston] going to camp at last furnishes me with an opportunity of acquainting you with every thing that my memory retains of our Jaunt to N.York.

In the first place we had the satisfaction of being civilly treated by the British officers, one indignity indeed we receiv’d from Genl. Grant who order’d a Serjeant to conduct the Flag to town instead of an officer but we were so happy at getting permission to go on that we readily excused his want of politeness in that instance—our acquaintances in town were also, in general, very polite to us: many indeed were remarkably attentive—but whether it proceeded from regard to themselves or no, is hard to determine—the Truth is, they are a good deal alarmed at their situation, & wish to make as much interest as possible on our side. [T]he sentiments I really believe of a great number have undergone a thorough change since they have been with the British Army as they have had many opportunities of seeing flagrant acts of injustice & cruelty which they cou’d not have believed their freinds capable of; if they had not been witnesses to, & which convinces them that if they conquer we must live in abject slavery.

Mamma has I suppose mention’d to you the distressed situation, in which we found poor Mary, the alarms of the Fire & explosion added to her recent misfortune kept her for several days in a very weak state—but we had the satisfaction to leave her perfectly recovered. [T]he Child she now has is one of the most charming little creatures I ever saw— & by all accounts more likely to live than either of the others. Mr. Watts, I was very glad to find is among the number of those who are heartily sick of British Tyranny, & as to Mary, her political principles are perfectly Rebellious.

[S]everal Gentlemen of your former acquaintance in the British Army made particular enquiries after you . . . .

Upon the whole I think we may call our Jaunt an agreeable one, tho’ it was checkered with several unlucky circumstances[,] for my own part I liked it so well that I cou’d wish to repeat it in a few months if my Sister does not get permission to pay us a Visit—I left Mamma very well two days ago [at the family home in Basking Ridge, New Jersey] to pay a Visit to the Governors Family who sent the Coll down with an absolute command to fetch me—they all beg to be remember’d to you but believe me to be my dear Pappa with greater sincerity your
very affectionate D[aughte]r. C Alexander
Persipany Septr 6th. 1778

The New-York Historical Society, W. Alexander Papers, vol. II, #95, written in a small neat hand and including the red wax seal. The portrait is of Kitty after she had married William Duer in 1779. Source: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Lady Catherine Duer (Lady Catherine Alexander, daughter of Lord Stirling)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 19, 2018. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-2b5b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

posted January 18th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Alexander, William, Lord Stirling,British soldiers,Duer, Catherine Alexander "Lady "Kitty",New Jersey,New York

Cannons and Concord

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.

“A fine quiet night no allarms no Cannon.”

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:

Sunday Noon [Braintree 17 March 1776]Being quite Sick with a voilent cold I have tarried at Home to day; I find the fireing was occasiond by our peoples taking possession of Nook Hill, which they kept in spite of the Cannonade, & which has really obliged our Enemy to decamp this morning on board the Transports; as I hear by a mesenger just come from Head Quarters. Some of the Select Men have been to the lines & inform that they have carried off [every] thing they could possibly take, & what they could not they have [missing] . . . many articles of good Household furniture having in the course of the week come on shore at Great Hill [Hough’s Neck], both upon this & Weymouth Side, Lids of Desks, mahogona chairs, tables &c. Our People I hear will have Liberty to enter Boston, those who have had the Small pox. The Enemy have not yet come under Sail, I cannot help suspecting some design which we do not yet comprehend; to what quarter of the World they are bound is wholy unknown, but tis generally Thought to New york. Many people are Elated with their quitting Boston, I confess I do not feel so, tis only lifting the burden from one shoulder to the other which perhaps is less able or less willing to support it. To what a contemptable situation are the Troops of Britain reduced! I feel glad however that Boston is not distroyed. I hope it will be so secured & guarded as to baffel all future attemps against it—I hear that General Howe said upon going upon some Eminence in Town to view our Troops who had taken Dorchester Hill unperceived by them till Sun rise, “My God these fellows have done more work in one Night than I could make my Army do in three months” & he might well say so for in one Night two forts & long Breast Works were sprung up besides several Barracks. 300 & 70 teems were imployed most of which went 3 load in the Night, beside 4000 men who worked with good Hearts.

Monday morning
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.

Abigail’s letter can be found on page 42-43 of In the Words of Women.

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