“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.

This was Thursday 20th April. About 9 o’clock A.M. I was told that the way over the neck was open’d for foot passengers, but no carriage was permited to cross the lines. I then determined to try if my feet would support me thro’, tho’ I trembled to such a degree, that I could scarce keep my feet in my own chamber, had taken no sustenance for the day, & very sick at my stomack. I tyed up a few things in my handkerchief, put on my cloak, & was just seting out upon my march, with Sally, & Lucinda, when I was told that carriages were allow’d to pass. By this time I was so faint that I was oblig’d to sit down. . . . I therefore besought Mr. Deming to git a carriage for me, & carry me off together with my frighted girls; & set me down anywhere out of Boston. He went forth, & over a while return’d & told me there was not a carriage of one kind or an other to be got for love or money — ah! can any one that has not felt it, know my sensation? Surely no. Mr. D.g thro himself into the easy chair, & said he had not strength to move another step. I expected to see Sally fall into hysterick fitts every minute, Lucinda holding herself up by any thing she could grasp. I bid her however git us some elixer drops, & when we had taken it in a little wine mix’d with water which happend to be boiling, I pray’d Mr. D.g once more to let us try to get off on foot. He said he would go presently & see me out, but positively he would come back again. There is no describing my sensations. This moment, I thot the crisis, “the very crisis” —. I had not walked out at the top of ye court since last October; I went down, & out to the edge of the street, where I saw, & spoke with several fri[ends] near as unhappy as myself—& in a few minutes light of a cha[ise], which I engaged to take me off when it returned from Roxbury, where it was going with women & children—This somewhat lightened me. Before this chaise return’d, Mr. D.g engag’d another & while we were waiting, I might have pack’d up many necessaries, but nobody had any business that day—there was a constant coming & going; each hinder’d ye other; some new piece of soldiary barbarity, that had been perpetrated the day before, was in quick succession brought in.—I was very ill—but to cut short, about 3 o’clock P.M. the Chaises return’d. . . . We set off immediately, Mr. D.g & I in one, Sally & Lucinda, with Jemmy Church to drive in the other. We were stop’d & enquir’d of wether we had any arms etc. by the First & Second centinals, but they treated us civilly, & did not search us. The third & last centinals did not chalenge us.—so we got safe thro’ ye lines. We had not resolv’d where to go. . . . We had got out of ye city of destruction; such I lookt upon Boston to be, yet I could not but lift up my desires to God that he would have mercy upon, & spare the many thousands of poor creatures I had left behind. . . . I was far from being elated with my escape. I remember my sensations but cannot describe ’em.

posted September 9th, 2013 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Boston, British soldiers, Deming, Sarah Winslow, Patriots, Resistance to British

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