Thursday, December 29, 2011

Deborah Sampson: Woman Warrior of the American Revoultion

Illustration of Deborah Sampson
Despite the fact that women were not allowed to join the military until the 1940s, hundreds of women still fought as soldiers in the American Revolution. These women often disguised themselves as men and used aliases to avoid detection. Like the secret female soldiers in the Civil War, they were often young, poor, unmarried women looking to serve their country and earn money for their families.

One such soldier was a woman named Deborah Sampson from Plympton, Mass. Sampson, a direct descendant of the Mayflower pilgrim William Bradford, grew up in poverty. Like most children in poor families, she was hired out as an indentured servant until the age of 18. After she was released from indentured servitude, she worked as a local school teacher.

After the Revolutionary War broke out and the war raged across the colonies, Sampson decided to join the military. Disguising herself as a man, she attempted to enlist but was recognized by someone she knew. She tried again in 1782 and succeeded, enlisting in the Continental Army under the alias Robert Shurtliff.

Mustered in Worcester, the war had moved on to the New York area by the time she enlisted. Sampson fought as a light infantryman in the Hudson Valley where she was wounded in battle twice. She recovered from her wounds but came down with a deadly fever, prompting her doctor to move her to Pennsylvania for better treatment. It was there that her true identity was discovered. After Sampson recovered she was given a honorary discharge by General Knox and returned home to Massachusetts where she eventually married and had three children.

Statue of Sampson in front of the Sharon library
In 1797, Sampson published her memoirs detailing her time as a soldier in the war, titled "The Female Review." Following publication of the book, Sampson embarked on a public speaking tour throughout eastern New York and New England. During her performances, she dressed in her male uniform and performed maneuvers from the manual of arms.

Like many soldiers of the revolution, Sampson had difficulty trying to obtain a pension. After she campaigned unsuccessfully to secure a pension in 1790, she became discouraged and feared Congress would never award her any money for her role in the war. With the success of her memoirs and speaking tour, Sampson renewed her campaign and gained the support of Paul Revere, who visited her farm in 1804 and wrote a letter to Congress stating “I think her case much more deserving than hundreds to whom Congress have been generous.” The following year she was finally awarded a pension and eventually won a general service pension in 1821.

Sampson died of yellow mountain fever in April of 1827 and was buried in Rock Ridge cemetery in Sharon, Mass. After her death, several statues and monuments were erected in her honor in Sharon. Over a century later, the Massachusetts legislature named Sampson the official state heroine and declared May 23 “Deborah Sampson Day.”


“The Female Review”; Herman Mann, Deborah Sampson; 1797

Women and Children First: Nineteenth Century Sea Narratives & American Identity”; Robin Miskolcze; 2007

Women in the Military and Armed Conflict”; Helena Carreiras; 2008

Writing Early American History”; Alan Taylor; 2005

Massachusetts Historical Society: A Woman Soldiers in the Revolution

National Women's History Museum: Deborah Sampson

The Boston Massacre Victims

Engraving of the Boston Massacre
After five people were shot dead by British soldiers during the Boston Massacre in 1770, many patriot leaders used the tragedy to stir up hostility against the British government. Samuel Adams tugged at the heart strings of the public by holding a public funeral for the five victims and portraying them as martyrs of a brutal regime before burying them in Granary Burying Ground and erecting a marker “as a momento to posterity of that horrid massacre,” according to the book “Samuel Adams: The Life of an American Revolutionary.”

The irony was that many in the crowd outside the State House that night were poor, underprivileged minorities and immigrants often ignored in the hierarchy of Boston society. John Adams, hoping to downplay the image of a lawless city during the Boston Massacre trial, described the crowd as working class outsiders who were “most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs.” These words were a direct reference towards the very victims themselves; a rope maker named Samuel Gray, a teenaged apprentice named Samuel Maverick, an Irish immigrant named Patrick Carr, a "mulatto" seaman named Crispus Attucks and a young mariner named James Caldwell. Adams tried to discredit and blame the victims for the massacre, particularly Attucks, who's “mad behavior, in all probability, the dreadful carnage of that night is chiefly ascribed.” When the last victim, Patrick Carr, gave a deathbed confession forgiving the soldiers for their actions, Samuel Adams, unhappy that his martyr forgave his killers, called him an Irish “papist” who died in confession to the Catholic church.

Although the victims were normally considered the dregs of society, on the day of the funeral, shops were closed and church bells tolled while ten thousand people attended the funeral and watched as the victim's bodies were carried by horse-drawn hearse to Granary Burying Ground. Newspapers covered the funerals extensively, stating:
“The procession began to move between the hours of four and five in the afternoon, two of the unfortunate sufferers, viz. Messrs. James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks who were strangers, borne from Faneuil Hall attended by a numerous train of persons of all ranks; and the other two, viz. Mr. Samuel Gray, from the house of Mr. Benjamin Gray (his brother) on the north side the Exchange, and Mr. Maverick, from the house of his distressed mother, Mrs. Mary Maverick, in Union Street, each followed by their respective relations and friends, the several hearses forming a junction in King Street, the theatre of the inhuman tragedy, proceeded from thence through the Main Street, lengthened by an immense concourse of people so numerous as to be obliged to follow in ranks of six, and bought up by a long train of carriages belonging to the principal gentry of the town. The bodies were deposited in one vault in the middle burying ground. The aggravated circumstances of their death, the distress and sorrow visible in every countenance, together with the peculiar solemnity with which the whole funeral was conducted, surpass description.”

Marker for the Boston Massacre Victims
After the funeral, John Hancock, asked fathers across New England to tell their children the story of the massacre until “tears of pity glisten in their eyes, and boiling passion shakes their tender frames,” according to the book “Samuel Adams: A Pioneer in Propaganda.” Samuel Adams even arranged an annual celebration each year on the anniversary of the massacre, during which one patriot shouted “The wan tenants of the grave still shriek for vengeance on their remorseless butchers.” Residents in the North End also marked the occasion by placing illuminated images of the victims in their windows for passersby to see.

The reality is that as members of the lower class, if these victims had died under any other circumstances, their deaths would have been insignificant and overlooked. It was solely the political circumstances surrounding their death that led to their martyrdom and drew the attention of Samuel Adams and the public.


"Samuel Adams: the Life of an American Revolutionary"; John K. Alexander; 2002

"History of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770"; Frederic Kidder; John Adams; 1870

"Samuel Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda"; John C. Miller; 1936

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Was Samuel Adams an Embezzler?

Portrait of Samuel Adams by Copley
Although known as a brave patriot of the American Revolution, Samuel Adams was also a tax collector and bankrupt businessman who had been accused of embezzling public funds shortly before the revolution began.

Adams, a wealthy nobleman and cousin of John Adams, had a flair for politics that won him the position of tax collector for the city of Boston in 1756. Although he was a bad business man who had squandered the earnings from his father's business just a few years before, Adams was appointed to the job on account of his honesty and willingness to serve the city of Boston.

Adams' kindhearted nature made him a poor choice for the position. His easy-going disposition made him reluctant to hassle his delinquent taxpayers if they convinced him they couldn't afford to pay him. He listened sympathetically to stories of hardship and willingly put off collection of debts for extended periods of time. As a result, his accounts were often enormously short. He avoided detection by merging previous year's collections with the current year's to balance his books but this tactic only worked for so long.

Engraving of Sam Adams by Paul Revere
In 1764, his deficits were finally discovered, which by then amounted to seven thousand pounds. Despite his inefficiency as a tax collector, he was so well liked by the taxpayers and had such a reputation for honesty that they never accused him of stealing and reelected him for another year. Due to the town meeting being on the verge of bankruptcy, Adams was forced to file lawsuits against the delinquent taxpayers but the taxes were never collected.

Historian John C. Miller's book titled Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda, suggests that Adams stole the money and was saved solely by the political chaos of the Stamp Act controversy:

“His shortages grew alarming and to make matters worse, he began to take money for his own use from the funds he had collected for the town of Boston and Suffolk county...Just when Adams's prospects seemed blackest, news of the Stamp Act reached Boston and public attention was diverted away from his financial irregularities. Had not the British government attempted to raise a colonial revenue at this critical juncture of Sam Adams's career he might have stood trial for embezzlement.”

Portrait of Sam Adams as Governor in 1795
A few years later, in 1767, he did. After Sam Adams resigned as Tax Collector, he was working as a clerk for the House of Representatives when he was sued by the town treasurer for four thousands pounds worth of uncollected taxes. It is speculated that the lawsuit was a plan hatched by his Tory enemies, like Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson, to tarnish his reputation and keep him too busy to participate in his patriotic activities, such as leading the Sons of Liberty in protests against the British government.

Fortunately, Adams won his case with the help of his old friend James Otis, who was the attorney representing the town treasurer. But Otis had no power over the appellate bench who overturned the ruling and ordered Adams to pay a reduced sum of fourteen hundred pounds. Adams was given several extensions to raise the money over a number of years. These extensions were contested by Foster Hutchinson, brother of Thomas, who drew up petitions demanding immediate payment from Adams. Finally, in 1772, the court decided the funds could not be collected in full and accepted the small amount Adams did raise, mostly borrowed money for his friend John Hancock, and wrote off the rest.

Tax commissioner Andrew Oliver accused Adams of embezzlement and suggested he only escaped punishment by convincing Hancock to help him: “in the same manner that the Devil is represented seducing Eve, by constant whispering at his ear...” which allowed him to “commit his ravages on the government until he undermined the foundations of it, and not one stone had been left upon another,” according to the book titled "The Founding of a Nation"

Despite his enemies best efforts, Adams continued with his political activities, such as organizing the Boston Tea Party, and later became Governor of Massachusetts in 1794.


Samuel Adams: Son of Liberty, Father of Revolution; Benjamin Irvin; 2002

Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda; John C. Miller; 1936

The Founding of a Nation: a History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776; Merrill Jensen; 1968

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Stamp Act

Newspaper announcement of the Stamp act
The Stamp Act was a law passed by Parliament in March of 1765 taxing all paper used to print materials in the colonies. The act required that all printed materials be printed on paper embossed with an official revenue stamp. These materials included magazines, newsletters, legal documents and newspapers.

The tax was intended to raise money for troops stationed along the Canadian border after the British victory in the French and Indian War. The government decided to keep troops in the area after the war to prevent having an idle standing army at home. Parliament felt that since colonists would benefit the most from the protective presence of the soldiers, they should pay for the cost.

The colonists strongly opposed the stamp act. Many felt it was a blatant attempt to make money off the colony. Since they had no legal representation in Parliament at the time the act was passed, the colonists argued that the act violated their rights as English citizens by taxing them without their consent. Although the price of the stamps was actually very little, the colonists worried that if they allowed this law to happen, there would be plenty more to follow.

Reaction against the Stamp Act
Many of the colonies, including Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, protested the act. Colonial assemblies formed a Stamp Act Congress, passing a declaration deeming the stamp act a violation of their rights as citizens. Virginia lawmaker Patrick Henry, in a blatant act of treason, spoke out publicly against the law and King George III in the Virginia House of Burgesses, reportedly declaring: "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ....may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!"

Political groups, such as the Sons of Liberty, held protests that often turned violent and destructive. That summer, the Boston Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, looted the office and home of tax commissioner Andrew Oliver, burned down his stable along with his coach and chaise, hung an effigy of Oliver from the Liberty tree on Boston common, looted the mansion of the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, and tarred and feathered tax collectors.

As a result of the Sons of Liberty's activities, many of the tax collectors resigned their positions before the act even became law on November 1st of that year. The tax was officially repealed on March 18, 1766 but at the same time Parliament passed the accompanying Declaratory Act. This act defended the government's authority to pass laws on the colonies and paved the way for Parliament to pass more laws such as the Townshend Act.


Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda; John C. Miller; 1936

PBS: The Stamp Act Riots & Tar and Feathering Colonial Williamsburg

Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Adams

Portrait of John Adams by Stuart
John Adams is one of the most notable patriots of the American Revolution. A Harvard-educated lawyer, farmer and U.S. ambassador, he later became the second President of the United States after serving as George Washington's Vice President.

Born on October 30 in 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams was the son of Deacon John Adams and Susanna Boylston of Braintree. The Adams family was an old English family descending from Mayflower pilgrim John Alden. John Adams was also the cousin of Samuel Adams.

Although John Adams intended to join the ministry like his father, after graduating from Harvard he instead started practicing law in Boston in 1758. In 1764, Adams met and married a minister's daughter from Weymouth named Abigail Smith, who had a reputation for being an independent, well-read and educated woman. Together they had six children.

During the 1760s, John Adams became a visible member of the resistance movement against the British government. He fully opposed Parliament's plans to tax the colonies with the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act and wrote a dissertation justifying opposition against these acts. Despite his hostility towards the British government, Adams agreed to represent the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre in 1770. With his help, most of the soldiers were found not guilty and the two who were convicted escaped the death penalty. Although representing the soldiers made him temporarily unpopular in Boston, Adams felt it was the right thing to do.

Depiction of Abigail Adams
In 1774, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts delegation where he nominated George Washington to command the newly created Continental army and selected Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. Adams himself was chosen to write the Massachusetts Constitution, which effectively ended slavery in the state. He later served as an ambassador in Europe, alongside Benjamin Franklin, raising funds and supplies for the revolution and eventually negotiating a peace treaty between the United States and Britain.

After returning home from Europe, Adams served two terms as George Washington's Vice President and was elected president himself in 1796. During his presidency, Adams was heavily criticized by his enemies such as Alexander Hamilton. He signed the controversial Alien and Seditions Acts in 1798, which imposed strict rules and regulations against immigrants and made it a crime to publish false or scandalous material against the president. Adams also built up the army and navy between 1798 and 1800 to prepare for a possible naval war with France, known as the Quasi-war, but ended the conflict peacefully.

Portrait of John Quincy Adams
In 1800, John Adams lost reelection to his old friend Thomas Jefferson and retired to his farm in Massachusetts. Adams suffered some personal tragedies when his son Charles died from complications of alcoholism in 1800, his daughter Abigail died of breast cancer in 1813 and his wife Abigail died of typhoid in October of 1818.

About 12 years after leaving office, Adams finally revived his old friendship with Thomas Jefferson and the two remained friends until their deaths. Years later, his son John Quincy Adams became president in 1825.

John Adams died of heart failure at the age of 91 on July 4, 1826. His last words were “Jefferson lives”, not knowing that Jefferson had died just a few hours before him. John Adams was buried in Hancock cemetery but later moved to the Church of Presidents in Quincy, Mass.


John Adams: David G. Mcullough

White House: John Adams John Adams

Monday, December 5, 2011

When Christmas Was Banned in Boston

When the Puritans came to the New World in 1620, they brought with them their strict ways, their religious views and their distaste for Christmas. Although Christmas was widely celebrated in Europe as a Christian holiday marking the birth of Jesus Christ, Puritans saw it as a false holiday with stronger ties to Paganism than Christianity. Known for being pious and reserved, Puritans also took a dislike to the drinking and dancing associated with the holiday.

After the Puritans left the old world, they decided to leave these holiday traditions behind. Instead of feasting and giving gifts, Puritans commemorated Christmas by praying, reflecting on sin and working instead of resting.

William Bradford
The Puritans even forced non-Puritan colonists, such as the Presbyterians, to work on Christmas. William Bradford recorded in his journal a disagreement that ensued in 1621 between him and some newly arrived non-Puritan colonists in the Plymouth plantation on Christmas day:“One the day called Chrismasday, the Gov r caled them out to worke, (as was used,) but the most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on that day. So the Gov r tould them that if they made it mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. … [Later] he found them in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr and some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and tooke away their implements, and tould them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others worke. If they made the keeping of it mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly.”

On May 11, 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature even went so far as to officially ban Christmas and gave anyone found celebrating it a fine of five shillings. The legislature stated the ban was needed “For preventing disorders arising in severall places within this jurisdiceon, by reason of some still observing such ffestivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonnor of God & offence of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.”

Scene from "A Christmas Carol"
The ban remained in place for 22 years until it was repealed after a new surge of European immigrants brought a demand for the holiday in the late 1600s. Even though the ban was lifted, Christmas was not warmly embraced by the Puritans and it remained a dull and muted holiday over two centuries later.

In the early 1800s, a religious revival spurred a renewed interest in Christmas. The holiday became popular again in the South, but it was slow to catch on in New England. In 1830, Louisiana was the first state to make Christmas a holiday. Other states followed suit and Christmas soon became popular again, especially during the Civil War. In 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” Later that year, the Massachusetts legislature finally made Christmas an official holiday in the state. Finally, in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday, thus officially ending the Puritan war on Christmas.


The Day; Christmas Was Once Banned in Boston; December 1971,3635821

American Heritage; When Christmas Was Banned in Boston; Dana Marriott

Massachusetts Travel Journal: When Christmas Was Banned in Boston

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Paul Revere

Portrait of Revere by Copley, circa 1768
Paul Revere was a silversmith and patriot in the American Revolution. He is most famous for alerting local militia of the approaching British forces shortly before the battle of Lexington and Concord.

Born in the North End of Boston in December of 1734, Revere's father was Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot immigrant who later changed his name to Paul Revere to fit in with the other English immigrants in the city. Revere's mother was Deborah Hichborn, a daughter of a local artisan family.

Paul Revere served as an apprentice in his father's goldsmith shop. After his father died when Paul Revere was 19 years old, he took over his father's shop and became responsible for his large family. At age 21, Revere volunteered to fight in the French and Indian War at Lake George in New York and was appointed second lieutenant in the colonial artillery. He soon returned to civilian life and married Sarah Orne in 1757. Together they had eight children. Three of Paul and Sarah's daughters later married into Abraham Lincoln's family.

Although Paul Revere's silversmith shop was successful and his work was sought after, the economic depression before the American Revolution hit his business hard and he was forced to supplement his income by working as an engraver, a courier and also as a dentist.

An important step in Paul Revere's life was when he joined the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew in September of 1760. Here he met patriot activists such as Joseph Warren, James Otis and John Hancock and soon became involved in the activities of the American Revolution.

The Green Dragon Tavern
Paul Revere also joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of political militants who organized protests against British forces. The Sons of Liberty were responsible for dumping millions of dollars worth of tea into Boston harbor during the Boston Tea Party in 1765. The group would often meet at the Green Dragon Tavern, a pub owned by his mason lodge, to hash out their plans.

 Unlike many other patriot activists at the time, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Paul Revere was not a member of the noble class and aside from his activities in the mason lodge, his limited education and vocation as an artisan prevented him from traveling in the same social circles as many of the other activists.

Tragedy struck when Revere's wife died in childbirth in 1773, leaving him a widower with a newborn and many children to care for. He remarried later in the year to a woman named Rachel Walker, with whom he had eight more children.

It was Revere's job as a courier for the Boston Committee of Public Safety and his involvement in the mason lodge that led to his famous ride. On the night of April 18, 1775, fellow lodge member Dr. Joseph Warren instructed Revere, as well as William Dawes, to ride to Lexington and warn John Hancock, Samuel Adams and local militia of approaching British forces. Along the way, Revere and Dawes met local physician Samuel Prescott, who decided to join them. The ride was later immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled Paul Revere's Ride.

Revere also wrote his own account of his famous ride and his eventual capture by British troops: "When we had got about half way from Lexington to Concord, the other two stopped at a house to awake the men, I kept along. When I had got about 200 yards ahead of them, I saw two officers as before. I called to my company to come up, saying here was two of them, (for I had told them what Mr. Devens told me, and of my being stopped). In an instant I saw four of them, who rode up to me with their pistols in their bands, said ''G---d d---n you, stop. If you go an inch further, you are a dead man.'' Immediately Mr. Prescot came up. We attempted to get through them, but they kept before us, and swore if we did not turn in to that pasture, they would blow our brains out, (they had placed themselves opposite to a pair of bars, and had taken the bars down). They forced us in. When we had got in, Mr. Prescot said ''Put on!'' He took to the left, I to the right towards a wood at the bottom of the pasture, intending, when I gained that, to jump my horse and run afoot. Just as I reached it, out started six officers, seized my bridle, put their pistols to my breast, ordered me to dismount, which I did. One of them, who appeared to have the command there, and much of a gentleman, asked me where I came from; I told him. He asked what time I left. I told him, he seemed surprised, said ''Sir, may I crave your name?'' I answered ''My name is Revere. ''What'' said he, ''Paul Revere''? I answered ''Yes.'' The others abused much; but he told me not to be afraid, no one should hurt me. I told him they would miss their aim. He said they should not, they were only waiting for some deserters they expected down the road. I told him I knew better, I knew what they were after; that I had alarmed the country all the way up, that their boats were caught aground, and I should have 500 men there soon. One of them said they had 1500 coming; he seemed surprised and rode off into the road, and informed them who took me, they came down immediately on a full gallop. One of them (whom I since learned was Major Mitchel of the 5th Reg.) clapped his pistol to my head, and said he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not tell the truth, he would blow my brains out. I told him I esteemed myself a man of truth, that he had stopped me on the highway, and made me a prisoner, I knew not by what right; I would tell him the truth; I was not afraid.”

Portrait of Revere by Stuart, circa 1813
After the war began, Paul Revere served as a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Train of Artillery and commanded Castle Island in the harbor. Paul Revere's military career was unremarkable and ended with the failed Penobscot expedition in 1779 during which he disobeyed orders and was charged with insubordination, ordered to resign command of Castle Island, was dismissed from the military and placed temporarily under house arrest. Revere was eventually acquitted.

After the revolution, Paul Revere expanded his business and began exporting his goods to England. He also ran a small hardware store until 1789 and ran his own foundry where he made bolts, spikes and nails for local ships such as the U.S.S. Constitution. Revere also produced cannons and cast bells. In 1801, he opened the first copper rolling mill in America and created copper sheeting for the hull of the U.S.S. Constitution and the dome of the Massachusetts States House in 1803.

Paul Revere continued to work well into his old age before he finally retired at the age of 76. He became a widower again in 1813 when his wife Rachel died after a short illness. Five years later, Paul Revere died of natural causes on May 10, 1818 at 83 years of age and was buried in Boston's Granary Burying Ground.
Paul Revere's Grave in Boston

A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere; Jayne E. Triber

The Paul Revere House: Paul Revere Biography

America's Homepage: Paul Revere's Account of His Midnight Ride to Lexington

Monday, November 28, 2011

Battle of Bunker Hill

"The Battle of Bunker hill" by Howard Pyle, circa 1897
The Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place on June 17, 1775 in Charlestown, was one of the most significant battles during the Siege of Boston. The battle started after colonists heard British forces were planning to send troops to occupy the hills surrounding Boston. To prevent this, Colonel William Prescott and his men marched to nearby Breed's Hill, although they originally intended to go to Bunker Hill, on the night of June 16 and hastily built a large earthen fortification.

It is not known exactly why the troops ended up on Breed's hill but some historians speculate that Prescott either got the two hills confused or decided that since Breed's hill was closer to the harbor it gave his troops a better position to attack the British ships from. Despite the fact that the battle took place on Breed's Hill, it still came to be known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Colonel Prescott troops consisted of 2,400 men, including General Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, General Israel Putnam and my ancestor, General Henry Burbeck, who helped make ammunition for the battle alongside his father Lieutenant-Colonel William Burbeck.

When the British military saw the fortification on the hill in the early morning light, their ships opened fire on it but did not cause much damage. As British infantry soldiers arrived in Charlestown village, they found themselves under sniper fire from the village. In an attempt to clear out the snipers, British troops set fire to the town and burned it to the ground.

At about 3 p.m., British General Thomas Gage ordered his 3,000 troops to meet at the base of the hill, clad in their bright red coats and carrying heavy equipment and bayonets, and charge towards the colonists through the open fields on the hillside.

As the colonists watched their slow advance, Colonel Prescott, realizing his men were low on ammunition, reportedly gave his famous order “Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” As the soldiers came into range, the colonists opened fire. They successfully drove the British troops back down the hill twice before they advanced a third time, just as the colonists ran out of ammunition. The battle was then reduced to close combat during which the British finally took control of the hill. Defeated and defenseless, the colonists retreated back up the Charlestown peninsula to Cambridge.

The colonists suffered most of their casualties, including the death of Joseph Warren, not during the battle but during the retreat. The exact whereabouts of Warren after the battle was unknown but when he failed to reappear after the retreat, the colonists assumed he was killed in action. Warren had in fact died from a shot through the head and British soldiers buried him on the hill in a shallow grave with another colonist. His body was later dug up and identified by Paul Revere who recognized Warren's two false teeth that he had installed earlier in the year, according to the book "Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill."

"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill" by Trumball, circa 1786
The last colonist to die during the battle was Major Andrew McClary who was hit by cannon fire from a frigate in the harbor while retreating through Charlestown neck, the narrow land bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland. McClary was thrown a few feet in the air by the cannon fire before landing dead, face down on the ground. Fort McClary in Kittery, Maine was later named after him.

By the end of the three hour battle, 226 British soldiers, including a large number of officers, and 115 colonists lay dead and several hundred more were wounded. About 30 colonists, most of whom were mortally wounded and couldn't physically escape, were captured. Although the British technically won the Battle of Bunker Hill, their heavy losses during the battle bolstered the colonist's confidence and encouraged them to continue fighting.
The Bunker Hill Monument commemorating the battle was erected in 1827


"Decisive Day: The Battle of BunkerHill"; Richard M. Ketchum; 1962

"History of the Siege of Boston"; Richard Frothingham; 1849

The Freedom Trail: Bunker Hill

The Library of Congress: The Battle of Bunker Hill

The American Revolution: The Battle of Bunker Hill

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Timeline of the American Revolution

The French and Indian War
October 1763:
The Proclamation of 1763
March 1765:
The Quartering Act of 1765
March 1766:
The Stamp Act repealed
The Declaratory Act
June 1767:
The Townshend Revenue Act
October 1768:
British troops arrive in Boston to enforce customs laws
March 1770:
June 1772:
The Gaspee Affair
May 1773:
The Tea Act
December 1773:
March 1774:
Boston Port Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
May 1774:
Administration of Justice Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
Massachusetts Government Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
June 1774:
Quartering Act of 1774, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
Quebec Act, part of the "Intolerable Acts"
April 1775:
The Rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes
The Battle of Lexington
"The shot heard 'round the world" takes place at the Battle of Concord.
George Washington takes command of the Continental Army
The Siege of Boston begins
June 1775:
The British win the Battle of Bunker Hill
January 1776:
Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" published
March 1776:
The British evacuate Boston
The Siege of Boston ends
July 1776:
Declaration of Independence ratified by Congress
August 1776:
The British defeat the Americans in the Battle of Long Island.
September 1776:
The British occupy New York City
December 1776:
Washington crosses the Delaware and captures Trenton from Hessians
January 1777:
The Americans win the Battle of Princeton
July 1777:
The Americans lose Fort Ticonderoga to the British
Marquis De Lafayette arrives in Philadelphia
September 1777:
The British win the Battle of Brandywine
October 1777:
The British win the Battle of Germantown
The British occupy Philadelphia
Americans capture Burgoyne and his army at Saratoga, NY
November 1777:
The British capture Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania
December 1777:
Washington's army spends winter at Valley Forge
February 1778:
The United States and France sign the French Alliance
June 1778
The British abandon Philadelphia and return to New York
June 1779:
Spain declares war on Great Britain
May 1780:
British troops capture Charleston, SC
October 1781:
American and French troops win the Battle of Yorktown against the British
December 1782:
British troops leave Charleston, SC
September 1783:
The United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris
November 1783:
British troops leave New York City
December 1783:
George Washington resigns as Commander and returns to private life
August 1786 - January 1787
Shay's rebellion squashed by state militia
September 1787:
U.S. Constitution signed
June 1788:
U.S. Constitution adopted after New Hampshire ratifies it
December 1791
United States Bill of Rights ratified


US History: Timeline of the American Revolution

PBS: Timeline of the Revolution

The Boston Massacre

Depiction of the Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre was a riot that began when a group of 50 citizens gathered outside of the State house on the night of March 5, 1770 to protest the large presence of British soldiers in the city. The soldiers had been sent to Boston to protect customs commissioners as they enforced the recent, and highly unpopular, Townshend acts, which placed an import tax on goods such as tea, glass, paper and other products from England.

The massacre began when the group started to hassle the lone sentry, Private White, standing on guard outside of the State house. When a citizen named Edward Garrick insulted the soldier's commanding officer, White left his sentry box and hit Garrick in the face with his rifle, enraging the crowd even further. As the crowd swelled, Captain Thomas Preston arrived with 13 more soldiers to reinforce Private White but could not control crowd or persuade them to leave.

Obituary for massacre victim Patrick Carr
The citizens began to throw snowballs, stones and rocks at the soldiers. Witnesses say when a sentry named Private Montgomery was struck in the face with a stick, he fired his gun into the crowd. More objects were thrown and more shots were fired. When the skirmish was over, three people lay dead: an escaped slave, named Crispus Attucks, who worked as a sailor on a whaling ship, a rope maker named Samuel Gray and a mariner named James Caldwell, and eight others were wounded. Two of the wounded, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr, later died of their injuries. Samuel Adams held funerals for the victims who were then buried in Granary Burying Ground where they remain today.

Within a few hours of the massacre, Captain Preston and the soldiers were jailed. Knowing the danger they faced, Captain Preston prepared his account of the events, which was published in a London newspaper called the Public Advertiser the following month and then republished in newspapers throughout Boston:

...The Mob still increased, and were more outrageous, striking their Clubs or Blud-geons one against another, and calling out, 'come on, you Rascals, you bloody Backs, you Lobster Scoundrels; fire if you dare, G-d damn you, fire and be damn'd ; we know you dare not ;' and much more such Language was used....While I was thus speaking, one of the Soldiers, having received a severe Blow with a Stick, stept a little on one Side, and instantly fired, on which turning to and asking him why he fired without Orders, I was struck with a Club on my Arm, which for some-time deprived my of the Use of it ; which Blow, had it been placed on my Head, most probably would have destroyed me. On this general Attack was made on the Men by a great Number of heavy Clubs, and Snow-Balls being thrown at them, by which all our Lives were in imminent Danger ; some Persons at the same Time from behind calling out, 'Damn your Bloods, why don't you fire?' Instantly three or four of the Soldiers fired, one after another, and directly after three more in the same Confusion and Hurry....The Whole of this melancholy Affair was transacted in almost 20 Minutes. On my asking the Solidiers why they fired without Orders, they said they heard the Word "Fire," and supposed it came from me. This might be the Case, as many of the Mob called out "Fire, fire," but I assured the Men that I gave no such Order, that my Words were, "Don't fire, stop your Firing:"

Grave of Boston Massacre victims
Fearing the soldiers would not get a fair trial, Governor Hutchinson delayed the trial until the fall in order to give the citizens of Boston time to calm down. John Adams, Robert Auchmuty Jr., and Josiah Quincy Jr. served as the soldier's lawyers while Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Quincy served as the prosecution. Preston's trial began in October and within a few days he was found, surprisingly, not guilty. The remaining soldiers were tried in November. Six of the soldiers are found not guilty and two were convicted of manslaughter. The soldiers narrowly escaped the death penalty through a legal loophole that exempted clergymen, including men with the ability to read or recite biblical passages, from secular courts, and their thumbs were branded with the letter “M”, for manslaughter, to prevent them from using the loophole again.

Tension between British soldiers and colonists settled in Boston after the trails, at least temporarily. Samuel Adams successfully campaigned to turn March 5 into a day of mourning marked with commemorative speeches each year, which continued until 1784. In 1887, a marker dedicated to the victims of the massacre was placed on the exact spot where Crispus Attucks fell. Due to construction and urban renewal projects, the Boston Massacre marker was moved many times over the years but still remains in the general area where the massacre occurred.
Captain Preston's published account of the massacre

The Freedom Trail: The Boston Massacre

The Massachusetts Historical Society: The Boston Massacre

U.S. History: The Boston Massacre

Thursday, October 27, 2011

John Proctor: First Male Accused Witch

Depiction of the Salem Witch Trials
John Proctor was a successful farmer and the first male to be named a witch during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

When the hysteria first began in Salem village, Proctor believed the young girls accusing many of the villagers of witchcraft were frauds and liars. He spoke openly against the accusations and scoffed at the idea of witchcraft. When his own young servant, Mary Warren, began having fits and behaving strangely, Proctor beat the girl in an attempt to get her to behave.

It wasn't until Proctor's wife Elizabeth, who was pregnant at the time, was accused of witchcraft and questioned in April that his own witchcraft accusations came out. His accusers, Abigail Williams and Mary Walcott, stated that Proctor's spirit tormented them and pinched them. Mary Warren confirmed the accusations by stating that he beat her and forced her to touch the Devil's book. After Proctor and his wife were jailed, Mary Warren recanted her story and told the court the other girls were lying. When the girls turned on her and accused her of witchcraft, she changed her story again and said she was lying about lying.

Although Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" depicts Abigail Williams and John Proctor as lovers, it is unlikely this occurred since Proctor was 60 years old and Williams was 11 at the time of the hysteria and there is no evidence that they even knew each other before the trial.

Written testimony of Abigail Williams against John Proctor
Knowing the danger he and his family were in, Proctor wrote a letter to the clergy of Boston pleading with them to appoint different judges or move the trials to Boston where he felt they would get a fair trial. In his letter, he described the torture used against the prisoners and declared that the accused were innocent victims:

The innocency of our Case with the Enmity of our Accusers and our Judges, and Jury, whom nothing but our Innocent Blood will serve their turn, having Condemned us already before our Tryals, being so much incensed and engaged against us by the Devil, makes us bold to Beg and Implore your Favourable Assistance of this our Humble Petition to his Excellency, That if it be possible our Innocent Blood may be spared, which undoubtedly otherwise will be shed, if the Lord doth not mercifully step in....If it cannot be granted that we can have our Trials at Boston, we humbly beg that you would endeavour to have these Magistrates changed, and others in their rooms, begging also and beseeching you would be pleased to be here, if not all, some of you at our Trials, hoping thereby you may be the means of saving the sheeding our Innocent Bloods, desiring your Prayers to the Lord in our behalf, we rest your Poor Afflicted Servants, JOHN PROCTER , etc.”

John Proctor's Salem Witch Trials Memorial marker
His letter did have an effect on the clergy and changes were made to the types of evidence that could be presented at the trial, but not in time to save Proctor's life. John Proctor and his wife were both convicted of witchcraft on August 5, 1692. The couple were sentenced to the gallows but Elizabeth's sentence was delayed until the birth of her child.

John Proctor was hanged at Gallows hill on August 19 along with George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs Sr., Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey, who was the wife of Giles Corey. Elizabeth was eventually released from jail after the hysteria died down in 1693.


The Crucible; Arthur Miller; 1952

University of Virginia: The Salem Witch Trials

University of Missouri-Kansas City: John Proctor

Discovery: John Proctor