Charlestown, MA

“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.

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