Sunday, August 19, 2018

Episode 058: Slavery and Liberty




In 1773 and 1774, the people of Massachusetts submitted numerous petitions in defense of their rights and natural liberties.  Among these petitions were several submitted by slaves asking for an end to slavery.  The Governor and legislature rejected these petitions out of hand, if they considered them at all.  So, by themselves, they have little significance.  But they are part of a larger effort by slaves to demand reconsideration of their status in society.

The petitions give me an opportunity to talk about the status of slaves and how the Revolution began to change things.  I haven’t really discussed slavery much at all so far, and was reluctant to address it now.  Today, of course, there is near universal agreement that slavery was a bad thing. But coverage of the topic is still controversial in that failure to condemn the institution with sufficient vehemence is taken by some as somehow supporting that system.  So for the record, I’ll say at the outset that slavery, especially as practiced in the Americas, was particularly unjust, wrong, and immoral in my opinion.  The other reason I was reluctant to address it is there some really good specialized studies of American slavery that is a whole category apart from the revolution itself. My brief discussion today barely scratches the surface of this interesting topic.

That said, there were a few slavery issues during the early 1770’s that deserve attention.  Therefore, I am using this episode as a brief overview of the slavery as it existed at the beginning of the war.

Slavery in the British Empire

Just as there is a consensus today that slavery is wrong, As the colonies developed, there seemed to be a consensus that there was nothing wrong with slavery.  Before the Revolution, we find rather little debate over the notion of emancipation just about anywhere.  Slavery existed as as common practice throughout most of the world.  Few even seemed to question the practice.

George Washington and slaves (from Newslea)
The British made use of slaves throughout their empire, as did the French, Spanish, and Dutch.  Although there was not an active slave trade in England itself, many British subjects brought slaves into England from various colonies and were able to hold them in bondage.  There were no explicit statutes authorizing slavery in England, but there did not seem to be any effort to prevent the practice either.

In North America, there are a few examples of Europeans enslaving other Europeans early in the period of colonization, but these were very rare and ended quickly.  Attempts to enslave Indians failed, because Indians kept locally could run away too easily.  Shipping them to other parts of the world resulted in them dying off quickly, often before they could be sold.  So, enslavement of Africans became the norm.  There are also many examples of Indian tribes enslaving both white and black captives.  But in most cases, slaves eventually either left or became a part of the tribe.  They typically did not remain slaves, nor did their children.

Most slaves coming to America ended up in the Caribbean Islands or South America.  Only a very small percentage, less than half a million, ever came to the British colonies of North America over the entire history of the American slave trade.  Only a small percentage of that small percentage went to New England.

The bulk of the slave trade when to South American and the
Caribbean (from National Endowment for the Humanities)
Even in New England though, slavery was not particularly controversial anywhere.  It was the norm.  Today we think of slavery as a terrible infringement of liberty, and rightly so.  But the notion that all people were born with fundamental rights, including liberty, was not a common conception during the pre-enlightenment era.  Most people were born to live the life of their parents.  If your father was a tenant farmer living on rented land, that was what you would do as well.  If not required by law, a poor freeman’s options for life were pretty limited. Most people had no education and lived on subsistence wages that gave them few opportunities to change their station in life.

Many of the terrible conditions we associate with slavery, inadequate food, clothing and shelter, the threat of physical abuse if one did not satisfy the demands of one’s master, the inability to change jobs, were all things that many supposedly free commoners also experienced.  As a practical matter in daily living standards, an unskilled commoner’s life was not that far removed from actual slavery.

The spread of enlightenment ideas in the 1700’s made the slavery question more complicated.  Enlightenment thinkers held that all men were born free, with certain natural rights, liberty among them.  Even poor working people had at least a limited choice in what work they did and for whom they worked, even if exercising those choices could be risky for them.  Slavery did not even offer those basic options. How then, could one justify one subset of men born into servitude without liberty and without having done anything to deserve their status?  For most, the answer seemed to be not to think about it too much.

For those, however, who did start to think about the basic rights of man and the notion that there were some basic universal rights, slavery stood in stark contrast to those notions.  Enlightenment ideas almost necessarily brought one to the conclusion that slavery could not exist in a just society.  Making that idea a reality though, was not something that would come quickly or easily.

Pennsylvania Quakers

The first sizable group in North America that really questioned slavery was the Society of Friends, mostly in Pennsylvania, also known as the Quakers.  Historians can point to religious debates among Quakers going back to the 1600’s.  Even among Quakers though, it was not until the 1740’s that they began as a group to end participation in the slave trade, and free their own slaves.  As late as 1738, a Quaker meeting in Pennsylvania disowned one of its members, Benjamin Lay, for protesting slave ownership among its members.  It was not until 1774 that Quakers categorically forbade members from owning slaves or participating in the slave trade.  By that time, Quakers were the largest group leading the effort to end slavery.  For them, it became a fundamental moral and religious issue that combined with their enlightenment thinking.

Pennsylvania Abolition Society Seal (from PA Abolition Soc.)
Other non-Quakers also joined the movement.  Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia native who had studied medicine in Edinburgh and Paris, returned to his home ready to challenge slavery.  In 1773, he published An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping.  Rush's work challenged the practice as incompatible with enlightenment principles.  The following year, Rush founded the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in Philadelphia, with most of its early members being Quakers.  On his return from London, Benjamin Franklin also joined, becoming an early outspoken advocate of abolition.  Even so, both Rush and Franklin owned slaves for part of their lives.  Even people who questioned the practice felt the need to make use of slaves at times.  It was that pervasive.

Philadelphia became an early center of abolition.  It would eventually become the first State to pass a law explicitly abolishing slavery in 1780.

New England

Massachusetts would become a center of abolitionist sentiment in the early 1800’s.  But before and during the Revolution, it continued to support the practice with only minority opposition.

When the colonists began asserting enlightenment philosophy as a defense of their rights against Parliament, many began to think about how these ideals squared with the practice of slavery.  As early as 1764 James Otis, in his pamphlet in opposition to the Sugar Act, seemed to go out of his way to include blacks among those entitled to the rights of liberty:  “...the colonists, black and white, born here, are free born British subjects, and entitled to all the essential civil rights of such..“  Otis, though, seems to have been in a very small minority who were willing to grant both black and white colonists the same rights.

Advertisement for the sale of slaves,
Boston Gazette, 1768
(from Adverts 250)
Despite these very early and tentative first steps toward abolition, slavery remained a common practice throughout New England.  At some level, whites had to maintain the threat of brutal punishment to keep slaves in line.  In 1775, citizens of Charlestown passed by the gibbeted remains of a slave named Mark.  The slave had been hanged, twenty years earlier for attempting to kill his master.  His body remained on display for decades as a warning to other slaves.  Slavery in New England was pervasive, even if the population percentage of slaves remained much lower than the southern colonies.  Many wealthy men on both sides of the political debate on taxes owned slaves.  Even John Hancock owned slaves.

I also want to mention a largely forgotten event in New York in 1741, where colonists literally burned at the stake 17 slaves, and hanged 17 others who were accused of participating in acts of arson around town.  Again, colonists felt the need to use terror, with the absolutely horrific act of burning men to death, even with little evidence that they were guilty of the crimes accused, as a way of keeping order.  Some level of terror was critical to maintaining the slave system.

By this time, all slaves were of African descent, but not everyone of African descent was a slave.  a few Africans arrived in America as free men.  Most of these came as sailors on merchant vessels.  Others purchased their freedom or were the children of free blacks.

One of the problems for slave owners was motivating slaves to work.  Punishments might get a minimum of effort, but a motivated worker will put in extra effort.  Some owners promised slaves their eventual freedom if they met certain performance goals.  There are several notable cases in New England regarding contract disputes between a slave and master over freedom.  Courts did seem to allow slaves to bring such suits, and often awarded freedom to the slave.

Free blacks in New England tended to have the same rights as any other free men.  They participated in the militia.  In fact, some masters permitted their slaves to serve in the militia as well.  One of the militiamen wounded at Lexington was a slave named Prince Estabrook.

Despite these tentative first steps, Massachusetts was not ready to end slavery altogether.  In 1767, the colonial legislature considered bills to end slavery and the slave trade, but rejected both.  In 1771 the legislature finally passed a bill banning importation of slaves into the colony, but Gov. Hutchinson refused to sign the bill into law.

Around this same period, we see tracts being circulated more often, to end slavery or the slave trade.  If a majority was not yet ready to make the change, the debate was beginning happen.  In 1773, a group calling itself the “Sons of Affrica” petitioned Gov. Hutchinson to end the slave trade.  The Governor received another petition early in 1774 before leaving the colony.  He did not act on either of them.  When Gov. Gage arrived, he received another similar petition in the summer of 1774.  He also ignored it.

The calls for liberty and notions that colonists were at risk of becoming slaves themselves was almost laughable to the men and women held in actual slavery by these same colonists. Caeser Sarter, a Massachusetts colonist who has purchased his own freedom from slavery years earlier, wrote in a call to free the slaves in 1774 “I need not point out the absurdity of your exertions for liberty when you have slaves in your houses.”

Phillis Wheatley (from Britannica)
Another slave, Phillis Wheatley, who had a very kind and encouraging master, wrote a book of poems, while living as a slave in Boston.  Her master allowed her to travel to Britain to obtain subscriptions to get her book published.  While there, she met with Lord Dartmouth, Benjamin Franklin, and leading anti-slavery advocates to discuss the issue.  The presence of a literate slave like Wheatley went a long way toward eliminating the racist notion that blacks were somehow inherently inferior and therefore not worthy of the same basic rights that enlightenment thinkers said belonged to all men.

As I mentioned, some black men, both free and slaves, served in various New England militia.  Unlike southern colonists, New Englanders did not seem concerned about a slave uprising, probably because slaves remained a relatively small percentage of the population.

When the New England militia came together to form the Provincial Army following Lexington and Concord, many of those bearing arms against the British were African American.  Black and white troops were not segregated as happened in later generations.  Black and white men served together side by side in the same units.

Just after the Boston Tea Party, the Town Meeting of Medford, Massachusetts issued resolves like many other towns.  Medford’s resolves though included several pointing out the hypocrisy of fighting for fundamental liberties while denying those same basic rights to others.  While it would still take years to enact, the abolition movement followed closely behind the logic that sparked the Revolution.

Massachusetts would also end slavery in 1781, following a court case that held the Constitution of 1780 had outlawed slavery when it declared that all men had a right to liberty.

Southern Views

In the South, where slave populations were much larger, the issue of slavery seemed harder to reform.  Virginia had essentially banned slave trade in 1772 by placing a prohibitive tariff on the importation of new slaves.  I’ve read some arguments that this had more to do with economic and social issues than moral ones.  Planter elites did not want smaller planters purchasing lots of cheap slave labor that would compete with their own plantations.

Still, many colonial leaders in Virginia, Washington and Jefferson among them, began to talk more about the implications of slavery in light of their views on liberty.  Clearly they were uncomfortable with the contradiction, even if they were not ready to lose their fortunes through immediate abolition.

In the South, where slaves often outnumbered free men, there was always the fear of a slave revolt.  A primary purpose of the militia was its capability of putting down such a revolt.  Typically, freed blacks could not participate in militia drills.  When the patriots in Virginia began forming their own militias, they permitted black freemen to participate, but not to carry guns.  They could serve as drummers or in other non-combat roles.

When hostilities broke out, Royal Gov. Lord Dunmore threatened to foment a slave uprising against the Patriots.  He would follow through on that threat in the fall of 1775 when he issued a Proclamation offering freedom to slaves who fled their masters to fight for the British.  I plan to get into that in more detail in a future episode.  But even in the spring of 1775, Dunmore made threats that made the Patriot planter class very nervous.

Somerset v. Stewart

South Carolina had the largest percentage of slaves in its population.  Ironically, the colony’s support for slavery may have helped drive it into support for Independence.  In 1771, a Boston customs official named Charles Stewart went to London with his slave James Somerset.  Somerset tried to use the trip as an opportunity to escape into freedom.  Stewart recaptured his slave and decided to ship him off to Jamaica where he would be sold.

Lord Mansfield
(from Accessible Archives)
Several anti-slavery activists in London helped Somerset to get his case before a friendly judge.  The Judge, Lord Mansfield, ruled that it was illegal in England for a man to sell a slave abroad as punishment for escaping service.  Therefore, he granted Somerset his freedom.  Based on the limited reasoning of the case, it would have been perfectly legal for Stewart to have recaptured his slave, taken him back to Massachusetts, and then sold him there.  So it was of rather little benefit to most slaves seeking freedom. The case, however, gained notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic.  Many slaves and masters in America mistakenly took it to mean that if they traveled to England with their slaves, they could be emancipated there.

Slave owners in South Carolina, therefore, grew nervous that Parliament might simply decide to emancipate their slaves in the colonies as well. Many slave owners became more inclined to fight for the rights of colonial governments to control their own internal affairs.  They wanted to see Parliament’s authority limited and therefore sided with the Patriot faction.

David Margrett Escapes

Word of the fighting in Lexington and Concord, and word from London that officials might consider fomenting a slave uprising among the patriots raised existing fears to near panic among the white elite in South Carolina.

David Margrett, a free black preacher based in Savannah Georgia, had been preaching to slaves in the Charleston area for some time.  Margett had lived in England, and had convinced an aristocrat to finance his ministry in America.  Margrett liked to preach on Exodus particularly, and the struggle of the Jews to escape slavery in Egypt.  Local whites did not like this uncomfortable topic.  Fears over a possible revolt led locals to decide it would be best to hang him.  Fortunately for Margrett, he got advance warning and was able to flee back to England.  Other prominent blacks were not so fortunate.

Hanging Thomas Jeremiah

In the 1800s, South Carolina, along with most other southern States, passed laws to prevent free blacks from living in the State.  They feared that a free black population might eventually form the leadership of a slave revolt.

But in 1775, no such laws existed, and a very small number of free blacks lived in South Carolina.  One of them was Thomas Jeremiah, a pilot in Charleston Harbor who prospered and began to acquire a small fleet of ships.  He even owned a few slaves of his own, to help run his growing enterprise.

None of this helped him though when two slaves accused him of encouraging them to rebel.  There is almost no record of Jeremiah’s trial or the evidence against him, but it appears to be extremely scant.  Several prominent white men of Charleston, including Patriot leader Henry Laurens and the Royal governor William Campbell thought he was unfairly railroaded.

Under South Carolina law, even though Jeremiah was a free man with property, as soon as he was accused of a crime, his race required that he be tried in slave court.  There, he was considered guilty until he could prove himself innocent.  He had no right to an attorney nor even to compel witnesses in his favor to appear.

Unsurprisingly, the court found him guilty.  No appeals were allowed, and he hanged.  The Governor considered offering clemency, but decided against it after his advisors warned that releasing Jeremiah would only result in his being lynched.

So while New England and the mid-atlantic colonies were at the very beginnings of a movement to apply notions of liberty to black slaves, the deep south’s fear of a slave uprising caused them to move in the opposite direction, seeing blacks as a threat to their way of life rather than brothers in the cause of liberty.

Obviously, this issue would only grow over time.

- - -

Next Episode 59: Taking Fort Ticonderoga (Available Aug. 26, 2018)

Previous Episode 57: Regulars and Provincials


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Further Reading

Web Sites 

Rediker, Markus "The Quaker Comet Was the Greatest Abolitionist You’ve Never Heard Of" Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2017: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/quaker-comet-greatest-abolitionist-never-heard-180964401

An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping:
http://www.recoveredhistories.org/pamphlet1.php?catid=140

Mark and Phillis Executions, 1755: http://www.celebrateboston.com/crime/puritan-mark-and-phillis-executions.htm

Orrison, Rob A Negro Man" Prince Estabrook of Lexington:  
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/04/15/a-negro-man-prince-estabrook-of-lexington/

Phillis Wheatley: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/phillis-wheatley

The Rise and Fall of the Slave Trade in Massachusetts By Cliff Odle (Two Parts)

https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/educational-resources/article-rise-and-fall-of-slave-trade-part1.shtml

https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/educational-resources/article-rise-and-fall-of-slave-trade-part2.shtml

Anti-Slavery before the Revolutionary War by Sylvia R. Frey
https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/origins-slavery/essays/anti-slavery-before-revolutionary-war

African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts (Mass Historical Soc):
https://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/index.php?id=61

For petitions in Massachusetts to end slavery:
http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/fourpetitionsagainstslavery.html

Somersett v. Stewart: http://www.accessible-archives.com/2012/11/case-of-somersett-from-freedoms-journal

David Margrett (PDF): http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/42818/1/WRAP_Lockley_9670721-hi-160114-margrettblackatlantic.pdf

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King's Bench 1772-1774, Dublin: James Moore, 1790 (contains opinion in Somerset v. Stewart).

Hargrave, Francis, An Argument in the Case of James Sommersett, London: self-published 1772.

Moore, George Historical notes on the employment of Negroes in the American Army of the Revolution, New York: C.T. Evans, 1862.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Davis, David B. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999.

Glibert, Alan Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2012.

Harris, J. William The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty,  New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2009.

McManus, Edgar Black Bondage in the North, Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1973.

Nash, Gary The Unknown American Revolution, New York: Viking Press, 2006.

Warren, Wendy New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, New York: Liveright, 2016.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Episode 057: Regulars and Provincials




With blood spilled at Lexington and Concord, the colonists now needed their long dreaded standing army to besiege the British in Boston.  I thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at how the British and Provincial armies compared.

Life of a British Regular

In 1775, the British military was the envy of the world.  The navy probably got more respect that the army.  By European standards, the army alone was not particularly outstanding, certainly nowhere close to the largest.  But a long tradition of combat experience had made the army a well organized and effective force to assert British policy.

The regular army of 1775 had its roots in the English Civil War, a century earlier.  Like today, the army was divided into officers and enlisted men. The divide between the two groups was even greater than it is today.

British Light Infantry
(from British Battles)
Officers, for the most part, came from the aristocracy.  Some officers served in Parliament.  Many more had brothers, fathers, or cousins in important government positions.  Most officers obtained their rank by buying them.

To the modern audience, buying a military rank might seem like a form of corruption.  But there were valid policy reasons for the practice.  It ensured that officers were men of wealth and property, not the sort who might someday be inclined to start a revolution against the aristocracy.  It also served as a bond on the officers to do their duty.  If an officer behaved badly, he could be discharged from the army.  He would lose his commission entirely, without the chance to sell it.  Selling a commission at the end of a career could also provide a retirement bonus for the retiree.  This is where we get the term “selling out” though the phrase has taken on a much more negative connotation and meaning today.

The cost of a commission depended on rank and varied widely.  But even for the lowest commissions, the cost would be more than an average laborer could earn in a decade.

To avoid having the officer corps filled with incompetent but wealthy dilettantes, several reforms during the 1700’s tried to put some restrictions on the sales of commissions, including setting maximum prices for such sales based on the rank.  In the 1770’s an officer would typically offer the commission to the most senior officer of a lower rank in his regiment.  If that officer could not afford to purchase it, the officer would sell to the next senior officer.  Even with the reforms, money and connections often allowed some officers to push past their peers for faster promotion, without regard to merit.  Some aristocrats even purchased commissions for their young children, so that they would have seniority by the time they were actually ready to serve in active duty.

British Grenadier
(from Boston 1775)
Not all officers were wealthy.  Many who entered service did so because they were the younger brothers in an aristocratic family, meaning they would inherit nothing.  While the family might support that younger brother’s career, his children and children’s children might also decide to enter service.  As distance grew between the military line and the family line that inherited all the wealth, family support became less likely.  An officer’s salary would not allow him to save enough money to buy a promotion.  Many officers stagnated in junior positions of ensign or lieutenant for decades, mostly because they could not afford to buy a position in the next grade.

During wartime, when officer deaths might open up a great many positions, promotion would sometimes be possible without costs.  Many officers engaged in conspicuous acts of daring during battle in hopes it might get them a battlefield promotion, saving them a fortune.

Top officers, full colonels and generals, did not have to purchase their commissions.  Top ranks received commissions directly from the King, approved by the ministry.

At the other end of the social ladder, enlisted men were considered the lowest of the low. Almost all of them came from the peasant class of unskilled laborers.  A large number of them came from particularly oppressed regions including Ireland and Scotland. At this time, enlistments were limited to Protestants.  Although within a few years, wartime demands allowed the enlistments of some Catholics.  Large numbers of soldiers entered the ranks after being found guilty of a crime. Enlistment in the army often avoided a death sentence.

Unscrupulous military recruiters enlisted many other soldiers.  They would get young, naive, and often drunk men to agree to an enlistment in exchange for a small amount of money.  Sometimes, recruiters would use fraud, getting a potential recruit to “take the King’s shilling” a down payment on the signing bonus for enlistment.  One commonly mentioned technique would be to buy the potential recruit a beer, and to put a shilling secretly in the bottom of the mug.  If the recruit drank the beer and the shilling touched his lips, that was considered to be acceptance of enlistment.

British Recruiter (from British Battles)
In some cases, the army did not even bother with fraudulent recruitment.  It simply impressed soldiers.  That is essentially kidnapping.  Press gangs would grab young men and force them into the army. Impressment was more common in the navy than the army, but both services used it at times.

Once enlisted, a soldier typically would serve for life, although some enlistments limited terms to a mere 21 years. Occasionally soldiers who had become too old, infirm, or injured to serve in active duty would be granted dismissal with a pension. But these were small minority. Most military enlistments ended in death or desertion. During wartime, the army would sometimes recruit for shorter terms.  For example, once London determined it needed thousands of soldiers to put down the rebellion in America, it recruited for three year enlistments.

In today's modern military, officers typically have a healthy respect for the enlisted men serving under them. In 18th century Britain, this was most certainly not the case. With few exceptions, officers treated their soldiers with contempt, or at best condescension. However recruited, enlisted men lived much like slaves.  Soldiers would do their duty and follow orders because they knew officers would punish them if they behaved otherwise.

A soldier's flogging (from Irish Garrison Towns)
Punishments were frequent and brutal, for even minor infractions. A common punishment was a public lashing, which could range from dozens of lashes to thousands, depending on the severity of the crime and the depravity of the officer making the decision.  Compare this with Massachusetts which limited lashes to a maximum of 39.  Colonists were horrified at the cruelty of military punishments.

Officers also used other painful or humiliating punishments.  It was not uncommon for a soldier to die from a punishment that was not necessarily meant to be fatal.  The army also handed out the death penalty frequently and for relatively minor offenses, including petty theft.  Any attempt to desert, especially in time of war, typically called for the death penalty.  While commanders could show clemency and set aside a death penalty, executions were common.

Pay for both officers and enlisted men was inadequate.  Many officers came from independent wealth and could afford to finance their lifestyles independently of military pay. Some officers enhanced their pay by ripping off their own soldiers.

An infantry private earned 8 pence a day, though soldiers never saw that much.  Regimental officers would deduct money for food, uniforms, and other necessities. Regimental paymasters would deduct money for their services.  After deductions, which varied widely by regiment, a private could expect to receive about 18 to 20 pence per week.  That is roughly about $15 a week in today’s inflation adjusted money.

In some cases, depending on officers and the duties they required, enlisted men could supplement their pay by taking jobs in the local community. Some also supplemented their meager food rations by growing their own vegetables or by fishing.

Any supplemental work, of course, took the backbench to their primary duties. Soldiers typically spent about 3 hours a day grooming themselves, polishing their buttons and weapons, powdering their wigs, and taking care of their uniforms. Failure to do so could subject them to punishment.  Drill, guard duty, fatigue duty, and numerous other requirements filled out their days. Leaving enlisted men to their own devices only left them time to get drunk or in fights.

Looking good was of prime importance.  Smelling good was not a requirement. Soldiers rarely bathed, and wore the same clothes everyday. Despite having their pay docked for a clothing allowance, uniforms often had to last as long as two years before they would get a replacement.

Enlisted soldiers did get married. Wives received a food allowance, but little else from the army. Many women earned extra money washing clothes, cooking food, or other domestic chores for officers or civilians. Children received a food allotment as well. However, the child's allotment only lasted until age 14. At that time a boy had the option of enlisting himself and joining the regiment as a soldier, or he would have to leave camp. Similarly a girl would be expected to get married to someone in the regiment at age 14, or she too would have to leave camp.

British Camp Followers (from tvtropes)
When a regiment shipped to a new location, the army would not always pay for the transport of wives and children.  For most enlisted men, this meant they would have to leave their families behind.  Some records show that a regiment would sometimes transport a few wives but not all, leaving it to officers to decide which men got to bring their wives and which would be separated.  If a soldier died in battle, his widow and children were often left to fend for themselves.  The government often would not even pay for their travel home from enemy territory.

Despite terrible treatment, regulars often did take pride in their regiments.  Many regimental leaders went to great lengths to remind their men of the heroic acts of those who had served in the regiment before them in prior wars.  Regiments carried these badges of honor and encouraged current soldiers to live up to that reputation.  Many enlisted men worked hard to earn promotion to corporal or sergeant, which provided them a little more money and prestige.  Non-commissioned officers were responsible for the behavior of their men.  If the private got in trouble, his NCO could be demoted back to private as well.

As a result of the terrible treatment, enlisted men often did not always feel a strong patriotic loyalty to the army or Britain in general.   Desertions were common, and not just for fear of battle.  Many soldiers simply wanted a better life after experiencing the rigors of the regular army.  Prisoners captured in battle often frequently gave up intelligence to the enemy, sometimes even agreeing to fight for the enemy in hopes of securing better treatment for themselves.

What separated a professional army from others was its courage in battle.  It is not natural for men to stand in line shoulder to shoulder and calmly walk forward as people shoot at them.  But that was the only way to bring concentrated fire against an enemy and win the field.  If a soldier fell, no one would stop to help him.  Soldiers would simply close ranks and continue on.  Following orders and calmly doing one’s duty under fire was possible only from months or years of drill followed by battlefield experience.

British Regiment of Foot (from British Battles)
Success in battle also required fire control.  When someone is shooting at you, the natural instinct is to shoot back.  Inexperienced soldiers would often want to fire from hundreds of yards away.  The inaccuracy of muskets at that time made hitting even a line of men at that distance quite improbable.  Reloading could waste 20-30 seconds.  Also, stopping to fire during an advance could break up the line and lead to chaos.  Experienced soldiers knew to maintain lines at all costs.  They would march to just within firing range, maybe 50 yards, wait for an enemy to fire, then charge the line so they could attack hand to hand before the enemy could reload.

Field officers had to lead by example.  They ignored enemy fire and calmly ordered soldiers to advance across the battlefield. Showing any reaction to enemy bullets flying around one was considered an act of cowardice that would quickly turn a line of soldiers into a fleeing rabble.  Officers and men standing in line, apparently unconcerned by incoming fire and returning fire at a rapid rate of three rounds per man per minute would hopefully quickly convince the other side to retreat, thus granting a battlefield victory.

Modern armies attempt to adhere to the motto of “no man left behind.”  Modern soldiers even go to great efforts to remove the bodies of their dead before leaving a field of battle.  There was no such concept in the armies of the 1770’s.  Soldiers frequently left dead and wounded behind.  There was more of an effort to rescue wounded officers.  But the thinking in an 18th century army was that soldiers were expendable.  Compassion for a comrade in battle was a weakness that would quickly weaken the line as a fighting force.  After a battle, soldiers would make some effort to help the wounded when possible.  But it was not the primary concern that it is in most modern armies.

The British army had no professional medical corps to tend to the wounded, nor did it have any organized religious corps for the men.  After a battle, commanding officers would try to do their best for the dead and wounded.  But too often, the dead and wounded simply were not a priority.

The Provincial Army

The new Provincial army of New England had evolved from the British militia system that had existed since the first British colonists landed in North America.  Almost all free men between the ages of 16 and 50 served in local militias.  Royal governors granted commissions to officers.  Everyone in the militia had to supply their own arms and ammunition, and usually show up for drill four times each year.  In times of war, or imminent war, militia might drill more frequently.

Militia would sometimes fight local battles on their own, often against Indians.  Other times, they would supplement and fight alongside regulars when fighting came to their colony.  Sometimes militia would travel with regulars to neighboring colonies, but this was not the norm.  Militia typically remained close to home, fighting when needed and quickly returning to civilian life when hostilities ceased or fighting moved to another theater.  Militia might also capture runaway slaves, or when needed in rare instances, put down a slave rebellion.  At a time when professional police did not exist, militia might also provide law enforcement functions when needed, capturing suspected criminals or restoring order when it became too much for the sheriff.

Militia in battle (from Journal of American Revolution)
When the colonies began to break with Britain, they could not rely on royal governors to appoint officers.  In the republican spirit of the times, enlisted men voted for their officers and NCO’s.  If an officer failed to meet the men’s expectations, they could dismiss him and elect someone else.  As a result, patriot officers were on much friendlier terms with the enlisted men.  The men lived and worked together.  An officer might be in command of his brother, son, or cousins.  This made the chain of command far less certain.  An officer could punish a soldier for doing something everyone thought wrong, such as stealing or shirking duty.  But if the consensus was that an officer was too overbearing or exacted too harsh a punishment, he could find himself out of a job.

A great many officers did not get overly concerned about presentation.  Most soldiers wore civilian clothing and did not seem terribly concerned about keeping their camps, clothes, or even themselves very clean.  As there were almost no women present at the siege of Boston, the men had no one to clean and sew for them.  As a result, they wore clothes for weeks or months until the filthy rags literally fell off them.  Some officers did require their men to maintain themselves with good appearance, but these seem to be more the exception than the rule.

General officers received appointments from the Provincial Congress.  By the summer of 1775, all the colonies had provincial congresses operating in opposition to royal authority.  Each colonial Congress, though, had its own army.  The Massachusetts Provincial Congress called for a New England Army of 30,000 to besiege Boston after Lexington and Concord, with just under half coming from Massachusetts.  Three other armies, from New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island joined the siege of Boston.  There was, however, no way to force officers and men from one colony to obey orders from a leader in another.  Officers had to convince units that orders made sense and were reasonable.

The result was chaos.  Top officers would meet in conference to try to coordinate strategy, but there was no top down command structure nor any real enforcement of discipline.  Units could come and go at will.  Many soldiers after a few days or weeks wanted to return home for planting season, or maybe just to get their clothes cleaned.  Entire companies might decide they had better things to do and simply leave. Leaders eventually convinced a core of units to commit to remaining on duty until the end of the year.  That helped a little, but many continued to come and go despite their agreement.

Militiaman
(from Hist of Am. Wars)
That enlisted men thought they had a say in things proved greatly frustrating for many officers.  But it also meant that the committed soldiers were there to fight for reasons beyond mere obedience to a superior.  They would often fight aggressively or take their own initiative without orders.  This meant that soldiers or junior officers could second guess orders that made little sense given what was in front of them at the moment.  Sometimes, this could lead to chaos.  But given the inexperience of many general officers, this disobedience often benefited the cause.

Most units also came from the same town.  Since they elected their officers, they often already had a longstanding shared respect for their leaders.  Good behavior came about from the fact that your fellow soldiers were your friends, neighbors, and even relatives.  A soldier would not want to develop a reputation as a coward or shirker among his peers.  These informal relationships helped to keep the Provincial soldiers in line.

Most New England militia had participated in at least weekly drills for the prior year, anticipating the need for a fight.  As a result, the militia in 1775 were much better trained that most traditional militia, though still not as well trained as the regulars.

While a more professional Continental Army would develop over time, in the spring of 1775, the small highly professional British Army in Boston faced a much larger group of amateurs surrounding them.  Some Patriot officers had experience fighting in combat during the French and Indian war.  Many though, had no practical experience in combat.  They had drilled militia.  Some had read a few books on military strategy.  Very few had much if any any practical experience.

What held everyone together was the shared view that they needed to stand up against British tyranny.  Unlike British enlisted regulars, patriot soldiers voluntarily put themselves under the command of their officers in order to further the cause of protecting their freedom.  They each had a personal motivation to further the cause.

- - -

Next Episode 58: Slavery and Liberty

Previous Episode 56: The Shot Heard Round the World


Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Also, see the very bottom of this page to see how you can support this Podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.  Thanks, Mike Troy



Visit http://www.amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://pod.amrevpodcast.com> for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading

Web Sites: 

A Soldier of the King: http://www.americanrevolution.org/britsol.php

Join the British Army (Student project on 18th Century Enlistment) http://umich.edu/~ece/student_projects/soldier/index.html

Garrison Life in the 18th Century: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/garrison-life-18-century.php

Officers in the 17th and 18th Centuries: http://www.historynet.com/league-of-gentlemen-officers-of-the-17th-and-18th-centuries.htm

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Abbatt, William (ed) Memoirs of Major-General Heath, New York: William Abbatt 1901 (originally published by William Heath, 1798).

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776,  Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Curtis, Edward E. The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1926

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, 1924.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926.

Frothingham, Richard History of the Siege of Boston, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1903.

Williamson, John A Treatise of Military Finance, London: The Military Library,  1796.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Berkovich, Ilya Motivation in War: The Experience of Common Soldiers in Old-Regime Europe,  Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017, 2017,

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Chandler, David (ed) Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hogg, Ian V. and Batchelor, John H. Armies of the American Revolution, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc. 1975 (book recommendation of the week).

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Spring, Matthew H. With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783, Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2010


Urban, Mark The Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution, New York: Walter & Co. 2007.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Episode 056: The Shot Heard 'Round the World




Last week, we finished the Battles of Lexington and Concord with thousands of angry militiamen chasing the exhausted remnants of Col. Smith’s column and Gen. Percy’s relief column into Charlestown.

The Siege Begins

As the sun rose on April 20th 1775, the day after the fighting, Gen. Gage found Boston surrounded by thousands of hostiles, with more arriving every hour.  As word of the events of April 19 spread, local militia units traveled from all over New England to participate in the siege.  Gage found his army heavily outnumbered.

British ships with cannon in the harbor, and a well entrenched artillery at Boston Neck, kept the militia from overrunning the city and capturing the army.  But the British were bottled up with nowhere to go unless they left the city by sea.  For the next year, the two parties would remain facing one another, with neither side able to take out the other.  The siege of Boston had begun.

Whig Political Cartoon showing Scotsman responsible
for the occupation of Boston (from Digital Commonwealth)
Gen. Artemas Ward, who had lay sick in bed on April 19, rode to Cambridge, the command center for the Provincial Army.  Ward assumed command from Gen. Heath.  None of the Provincial generals had ever commanded more than a regiment.  Many had only drilled in peacetime militia units and read books about military affairs.  Now they had to attempt to figure out how to organize the disorganized militia units into an army.  They set up entrenchments in front of Charlestown Neck and Boston Neck and tried to figure out what to do with the stream of volunteers who arrived with each passing day.

Inside Boston, Gen. Gage initially agreed to allow anyone to leave Boston who wished to do so.  This prevented any insurrection inside the city, and also reduced the demand on food and resources.  In an age before refrigeration and modern food preservation techniques, the city relied on fresh food deliveries from the countryside. With those now cut off, city residents had to survive on salted meat and other provisions that naval vessels shipped to Boston.

Gage also required all civilians surrender their guns, whether leaving or not.  Even though Bostonians had been secreting large numbers of guns out of the city for months, Gage managed to collect another 2500 guns and 1000 bayonets from the locals.

Artemas Ward (from Wikimedia)
After a few days, Gage started making it more difficult for anyone to leave town. First he would not allow them to take their property with them.  A few days later, he required passes to leave town.  Those passes became increasingly difficult to obtain.  Tories had raised concerns that without any patriots in town, the militia might be more likely to bombard or burn the town.

Gage did allow civilians to enter the city.  While far more exited than entered, any remaining loyalists in the colony sought protection in Boston, now that loyalty to the crown was considered treason in the rest of the colony.

No Patriot leaders dared return to Boston, except one that is.  Benjamin Church announced that he would go into the city to collect medical supplies.  His comrades thought it was suicide.  Of course, they did not know Gen. Gage was paying Church to spy on his friends and neighbors.  Church met with Gage in Boston and discussed the situation before returning to the American lines.  Paul Revere’s wife gave Church a note to give to her husband.  The note said she was sending £125 to him in Church’s care since he was stuck out in the country with nothing but the clothes on his back.  We know about the note because decades later it was discovered among Gen. Gage’s papers.  No word on what happened to the money.  Church returned from Boston with a good story about being taken in for questioning and then released.

Marshfield Rescue

Gage did have to take one offensive action.  A few months earlier, a group of Tories in Marchfield had asked for protection.  Gage had deployed 100 regulars to the town.  The day after Lexington, patriots came looking for these isolated regulars.  Although over 1000 militia surrounded the town, they did not have the resolve to storm the British lines.  Gen. Ward ordered Gen. John Thomas to take 1100 more men and artillery from Roxbury to Marshfield to attack or capture this small force.

Fortunately, for the regulars, Gen. Gage acted faster.  He requested Admiral Graves send a rescue party up the river to retrieve his men.  Graves sent three small ships to Marshfield on the morning of April 20th. The regulars boarded and returned to Boston before the militia attacked.

Spreading the Word

In Boston, British officers prepared reports on the events of Concord raid and wrote letters to friends and family back home.  Some criticized the colonists for their refusal to face the regulars in a line of battle, instead firing from behind defenses and mostly running when attacked.  Others though, gained a new respect for the locals.  Lord Percy, had dismissed the militia weeks earlier, saying they would run from the field if he even drew his saber from its scabbard.  Now, after watching the provincials stand under fire, advance on the regulars, and inflict heavy casualties, he had to reassess his views.  These people would not be easily conquered.

Thomas Gage (from Wikimedia)
Gen. Gage collected reports from his officers and prepared his own report for London.  For whatever reason, Gage decided to downplay the events to his superiors.  His report to Lord Dartmouth covers the facts only briefly, as do the reports of his subordinate officers.

Patriot leaders wanted to make sure their version of events reached a wider audience.  Even before the British returned to Boston, leaders sent riders out on the afternoon of April 19, spreading the news of regulars firing on the militia in Lexington.  They wanted their side of the story to reach people first.  Since Paul Revere was busy with other matters, Isaac Bissell served as the primary messenger, carrying the news to Connecticut where additional express riders carried the Massachusetts reports to other colonies.

In the days that followed, the Provincial Congress received reports or took depositions of people involved in the day’s events.  A committee of nine took 97 depositions over the next three days.  We know much of Paul Revere’s efforts on those days because of the report he wrote for Congress.  Many of these reports ended up in the Journals of the Continental Congress.  Committees of Correspondence sent copies to all the other colonies via express riders.

Patriots thought it critical that they get out their side of the story first.  The events of the day could be painted as out of control colonists attacking soldiers who simply marched down the road, or the regulars terrorizing the colonists who merely defended themselves.  Who fired first at Lexington  became an important point of contention.  The colonists claimed the regulars fired first, while the British officers all claimed that someone fired at the soldiers before they returned fire.

The leaders in Massachusetts wanted to convince the other colonies to join them in the fight.  If the others believed Massachusetts had provoked an unjustified fight, they might be left on their own.

Reaction Around the Country

Word of Lexington and Concord reached the surrounding New England colonies first.  Many militia from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire rushed to Boston to assist their neighbors in the siege against the regulars.

New York had been leaning loyalist, with many patriot leaders on the defensive.  News of the battle gave patriot leaders the chance to seize the initiative.  Isaac Sears, head of the New York Sons of Liberty, assembled a mob, which broke into the city armory and stole over 500 muskets.  The now-armed mob went in search of prominent tories.  One was the president of King’s College, later Columbia University.  The old Rev. Myles Cooper lectured on the importance of class distinction and the adherence to Anglicanism as the State religion.  He had condemned most patriot activities not just as bad politically, but as a deep moral sin.

Rev. Myles Cooper
(from Hamilton exhibition)
Fortunately, for Cooper, when the mob came for him, one of his students used his charm with the mob to turn them away.  The student, Alexander Hamilton, was already part of the Patriot cause, and knew many of those in the mob.  His efforts that night gave Cooper enough time to flee to a naval vessel in New York Harbor.  From there Cooper headed back to England.  Hamilton decided to drop out of school and become an artillery officer in the new Continental Army.  He would go on to inspire the face on the ten dollar bill, as well as a hip-hop musical.  He did a few other things too, which I’ll discuss in future episodes.

Sears and his mob went after a few other leaders in New York City that night, but all had fled or remained in hiding.  They had to satisfy themselves with marching through the streets of the city.  Patriot fervor swept the city and the colony generally over the next few weeks.  The New York Assembly dissolved, to be replaced by a patriot Provincial Congress.  The small contingent of regulars in the city had to take refuge on navy vessels in the harbor.  New York City fell completely under patriot control.

News reached Philadelphia a short while later.  The city, which had hosted the First Continental Congress and was weeks away from hosting the Second, remained divided.  There were the traditional loyalists and patriots.  There were also large religious communities, including the influential Quakers, as well as German speaking communities which held deeply pacifist views, opposed to any war.

Quaker societies had already expelled several prominent members for involvement in the Patriot movement.  Quakers were not only pacifists but strongly opposed any attempts to create rifts in the established order.  Support for the Patriot cause though, was already creating rifts within the Quaker community itself.

Pennsylvania also had some influential loyalists.  Joseph Galloway who had been a voice of moderation at the First Continental Congress, spent much of the winter trying to discourage the radical influence that he expected at the Second Congress.  Galloway found himself increasingly siding with the loyalist camp.  He saw the patriot cause moving headlong into treason.  Gov. Penn also worked with Galloway to get the colony to submit its own petitions to the King, rather than acting collectively through the Continental Congress.

Word of Lexington and Concord immediately changed the dynamic in Pennsylvania.  Patriot leaders seized the opportunity to create new militia units.  Unlike its neighbors to the north and south, largely pacifist Pennsylvania did not have the near universal participation in local militia.  News of fighting in New England, however, inspired thousands of men to arm and drill.  A meeting of 8000 Patriots in Philadelphia unanimously resolved to form a militia to protect their “Property, Liberty and Lives.”

Arthur St.Clair (from Wikimedia)
Outside of Philadelphia, especially in the west, Patriot sentiment grew stronger as well.  For example, on May 16, a small town near Pittsburgh passed the Hannastown Resolves. The Resolves established an active militia with the intent of fighting any British soldiers entering the colony.  The people of Hannastown, led by Arthur St. Clair, who we’ll hear more of later, vowed to fight until Parliament repealed all the controversial laws.  They asserted that Parliament did not have the right to tax the colonies and had to put things back to the way they were before the Stamp Act.  Many other small towns passed similar measures.

Philadelphia did not see the radicals rampaging through the streets, harassing tories, as happened elsewhere.  But the events of Lexington and Concord definitely set the colony toward active preparation for war.  Patriot voices grew louder, loyalists quieter, and preparations for armed conflict grew more intense.

When word of the fighting reached Baltimore, local Patriots took control of the city arsenal, seizing arms and ammunition, much like what happened New York.  The Royal Governor in Maryland had not tried to call a session of the legislature in over a year, and had already essentially ceded control of the colony to the Assembly of Freemen at the Annapolis Convention.  The Patriots now took military control as well as civil control of the colony.

Virginia had already begun to shift to a war footing even before news of the fighting in Massachusetts reached the colony.  The Governor, Lord Dunmore, had dissolved the House of Burgesses the year before after they called for a day of fasting and prayer in response to the Boston Port Act.  Patriot leaders were already organizing their militia for the coming contest.  Early in the morning of April 21, less than two days after Lexington, but before word had arrived, Dunmore ordered the Royal Marines to seize all the powder in the Williamsburg powderhouse and store in aboard a navy ship.

That alone was sufficient cause for Patrick Henry to march on Williamsburg at the head of militia companies determined to challenge the Governor.  Dunmore was already packing to flee when a messenger brought word of the fighting in Massachusetts.  The news only reinforced his desire to get his family to the safety of a navy ship before the militia reached town.  The incident over the powder got resolved a few weeks later when the Governor agreed to pay the cost of the powder.  After things settled, the powder was returned, though kept under guard.  Dunmore issued an order for Henry’s arrest, though Henry was then away at Congress in Philadelphia.

By coincidence, when word reached Mt. Vernon a week after the battle, George Washington was there with a house guest, retired British officer Charles Lee.  Within days, both men would be headed to Philadelphia, separately, with each in contention to be named Commander and Chief of the new Continental Army.

The two men were the same age and had both fought together, along with Gage, under General Braddock in the Battle of the Monongahela, two decades earlier.  After Washington hung up his uniform, Lee went on to fight in more engagements.  He received a wound in the first attempt to take Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga.  He then fought in Europe for several years.  After being denied a promotion, Lee became staunch Whig, opposing the British government.  In 1773 he moved to America where he purchased a large plantation in Virginia.  Now, with the outbreak of war, he saw an opportunity to put his skills to use for his adopted homeland.

In Charleston, South Carolina, patriots had already swung into action before receiving word of Lexington and Concord.  The legislature had been fighting with the Royal Governor for years.  In early 1775, the South Carolina Provincial Congress began meeting after the Governor refused to call the colonial legislature into session.  On April 17, the Congress decided to intercept incoming official correspondence to the Governor.  They received Lord Dartmouth’s orders to all the colonies to begin using more aggressive force to put down any rebellious activities.  To prevent this, the Congress took control of the three arsenals around Charleston, seizing all the royal arms, ammunition, and gunpowder.

All of this happened before they received the news of Lexington and Concord.  On May 8, a ship brought a newspaper from New England which described the battles.  With that news, the Provincial Congress approved the creation of two regiments of soldiers and a squadron of rangers, about 2000 men altogether, to support the Patriot cause.

Across the Continent, the fighting at Lexington and Concord forced everyone to pick a side.  It became nearly impossible for most people to remain neutral or try to stay out of it.  The only question in many colonies outside of New England was whether they would decide the violence had gone too far and remain loyal to the King, or join their fellow colonists in a united opposition to British tyranny.  The upcoming Second Continental Congress would be where many colonial political leaders would have to go on the record in choosing a side.  We will get into that discussion in a future episode.

Informing London

But before we get to the Second Continental Congress, I want to speak to news of Lexington and Concord in London.

Gen. Gage had spent a few days collecting reports from his officers and writing his own.  He sent his reports to London on April 24 aboard the Sukey, a slow moving commercial vessel.  Meanwhile the Provincial Congress wanted to get their side of the story to London first.  They hired the ship Quero, Captained by Richard Derby, a member of the Provincial Congress.  The Quero left the port of Salem on evening of April 28th four days after the Sukey.  Unlike the Sukey, the Quero travelled without freight, trying to speed across the Atlantic and arrive first.

Derby successfully avoided British ships patrolling the American coast and raced his ship across the ocean.  Derby next had to avoid having his documents seized before they could be published.  Rather than sail into London, Derby docked in Southampton and travelled overland to London.

London Chronicle reports on
Lexington: May 30, 1775
(from Journal Amer. Rev.)
He had instructions to deliver the information to Benjamin Franklin, the colonial agent in London.  By this time though, Franklin was back in Pennsylvania, having left London for good in March.  Derby soon made contact with Arthur Lee, another colonial agent, who got the documents to the Mayor of London, and steadfast supporter of the colonies, John Wilkes.  The story almost immediately hit the newspapers.  The King, Lord North and Lord Dartmouth had to discover the outbreak of hostilities along with the rest of the public, reading the colonists’ side of the story in the London Evening Post.

Dartmouth attempted to summon Derby for more information.  However, probably out of concern for his arrest, Derby slipped out of London on June 1.  He had prearranged for his ship to leave Southampton and meet up with him in Falmouth, probably to avoid any government orders that might have been sent to Southampton to prevent his ship from leaving.  Derby returned to Salem, leaving his ship even before it docked on July 19, so that he could report his completed mission to the Provincial Congress.

It took nearly two more weeks for the Sukey, containing Gen. Gage’s reports to reach Lord Dartmouth’s desk on June 10.  By that time, everyone in London was well acquainted with the Patriot version of events.  Gage’s reports largely confirmed the events of the day, other than his claim that the militia had fired first at Lexington.

With blood spilled there was no more consideration of compromise in London.  Dartmouth wrote to Gage on July 1, saying in part:
From the moment the blow was struck, and the Town of Boston invested by the rebels, there was no longer any reason to doubt of the intention of the people of Massachusetts-Bay to commit themselves in open rebellion. The other three New-England Provinces have taken the same part, and in fact all America (Quebeck, Nova-Scotia, and the Floridas excepted) is in arms against Great Britain, and the people involved in the guilt of levying a war against the King in every sense of the expression. In this situation every effort must be made, both by sea and land, to subdue the rebellion.
Dartmouth also chided Gage about the fact that the rebels had delivered their reports to London well in advance of his.  He suggested that “in any future event of importance, it will be thought proper … to send your dispatches by one of the light vessels of the fleet.”

The Patriots won the first round of propaganda, both in the colonies and England.  Winning a war though, would require not only convincing the world that their cause was just, but that the colonies could defeat the British Empire in a clash of arms.

- - -

Next Episode 57: Regulars and Provincials

Previous Episode 55: British Retreat from Lexington and Concord


Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  If you are not in a position to help, please continue to enjoy at no cost.  Also, see the very bottom of this page to see how you can support this Podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.  Thanks, Mike Troy


Visit http://amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.


Visit https://pod.amrevpodcast.com for free downloads of all podcast episodes.


Further Reading:

Web sites: 

Works by Ray Raphael (as discussed in the podcast booknotes): http://www.rayraphael.com

Hanna’s Town Resolves: http://story-of-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/04/hannas-town-resolves.html

Ruppert, Bob "A Fast Ship from Salem Carrying News of War" Journal of the American Revolution, 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/04/a-fast-ship-from-salem-carrying-news-of-war

Narrative of the Excursion and Ravages of the King’s Troops (1775) (The Provincial Congress’ Publication of events at Lexington and Concord, including witness depositions):
http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=627&mode=dual&img_step=1

Mott, Frank L. "Newspaper Coverage of Lexington and Concord" The New England Quarterly, 1944 (PDF): http://readingsinjournalism.pbworks.com/f/F.%20Mott,%20Newspaper%20Coverage%20of%20Lexington%20and%20Concord.pdf

Letter from Dartmouth to Gage, July 1, 1775: http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A90002

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 2, 1904 (pages 24-44 contain eyewitness testimony of the battles of Lexington and Concord).

Abbatt, William (ed) Memoirs of Major-General Heath, New York: William Abbatt 1901 (originally published by William Heath, 1798).

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776,  Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926.

French, Allen The Siege of Boston, New York: Macmillan, 1911.

Frothingham, Richard History of the Siege of Boston, Boston: CC Little & J. Brown, 1851.

Frothingham, Richard Life and times of Joseph Warren, Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1865.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Murdock, Harold Late News of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops, Cambridge: Press at Harvard College, 1927.

Rantoul, Robert The cruise of the "Quero"; how we carried the news to the king, 1900.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Ketchum, Richard Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York, New York: Henry Holt & Co. 2002.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015. (Book Recommendation of the Week)

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

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