Part 6 out of 7
Alarmed at the powerful influence of these assemblages, government issued
an act prohibiting them after the 1st of August. The act was evaded by
convoking the meetings before that day, and _keeping them alive_
indefinitely. Gage was at a loss how to act. It would not do to disperse
these assemblages by force of arms; for, the people who composed them
mingled the soldier with the polemic; and, like their prototypes, the
covenanters of yore, if prone to argue, were as ready to fight. So the
meetings continued to be held portinaciously. Faneuil Hall was at times
unable to hold them, and they swarmed from that revolutionary hive into old
South Church. The liberty tree became a rallying place for any popular
movement, and a flag hoisted on it was saluted by all processions as the
emblem of the popular cause.
Opposition to the new plan of government assumed a more violent aspect at
the extremity of the province, and was abetted by Connecticut. "It is very
high," writes Gage, (August 27th,) "in Berkshire County, and makes way
rapidly to the rest. At Worcester they threaten resistance, purchase arms,
provide powder, cast balls, and threaten to attack any troops who may
oppose them. I apprehend I shall soon have to march a body of troops into
The time appointed for the meeting of the General Congress at Philadelphia
was now at hand. Delegates had already gone on from Massachusetts. "It is
not possible to guess," writes Gage, "what a body composed of such
heterogeneous matter will determine; but the members from hence, I am
assured, will promote the most haughty and insolent resolves; for their
plan has ever been, by threats and high-sounding sedition, to terrify and
MEETING OF THE FIRST CONGRESS--OPENING CEREMONIES--ELOQUENCE OF PATRICK
HENRY AND HENRY LEE--DECLARATORY RESOLUTION--BILL OF RIGHTS--STATE
PAPERS--CHATHAM'S OPINIONS OF CONGRESS--WASHINGTON'S CORRESPONDENCE WITH
CAPT. MACKENZIE--VIEWS WITH RESPECT TO INDEPENDENCE--DEPARTURE OF FAIRFAX
When the time approached for the meeting of the General Congress at
Philadelphia, Washington was joined at Mount Vernon by Patrick Henry and
Edmund Pendleton, and they performed the journey together on horseback. It
was a noble companionship. Henry was then in the youthful vigor and
elasticity of his bounding genius; ardent, acute, fanciful, eloquent.
Pendleton, schooled in public life, a veteran in council, with native force
of intellect, and habits of deep reflection. Washington, in the meridian of
his days, mature in wisdom, comprehensive in mind, sagacious in foresight.
Such were the apostles of liberty, repairing on their august pilgrimage to
Philadelphia from all parts of the land, to lay the foundations of a mighty
empire. Well may we say of that eventful period, "There were giants in
Congress assembled on Monday, the 5th of September, in a large room in
Carpenter's Hall. There were fifty-one delegates, representing all the
colonies excepting Georgia.
The meeting has been described as "awfully solemn." The most eminent men of
the various colonies, were now for the first time brought together; they
were known to each other by fame, but were, personally, strangers. The
object which had called them together, was of incalculable magnitude. The
liberties of no less than three millions of people, with that of all their
posterity, were staked on the wisdom and energy of their councils.
[Footnote: Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, p. 224.]
"It is such an assembly," writes John Adams, who was present, "as never
before came together on a sudden, in any part of the world. Here are
fortunes, abilities, learning, eloquence, acuteness, equal to any I ever
met with in my life. Here is a diversity of religions, educations, manners,
interests, such as it would seem impossible to unite in one plan of
There being an inequality in the number of delegates from the different
colonies, a question arose as to the mode of voting; whether by colonies,
by the poll, or by interests.
Patrick Henry scouted the idea of sectional distinctions or individual
interests. "All America," said he, "is thrown into one mass. Where are your
landmarks--your boundaries of colonies? They are all thrown down. The
distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New
Englanders, are no more. _I am not a Virginian, but an American._"
[Footnote: J. Adams' Diary.]
After some debate, it was determined that each colony should have but one
vote, whatever might be the number of its delegates. The deliberations of
the House were to be with closed doors, and nothing but the resolves
promulgated, unless by order of the majority.
To give proper dignity and solemnity to the proceedings of the House, it
was moved on the following day, that each morning the session should be
opened by prayer. To this it was demurred, that as the delegates were of
different religious sects, they might not consent to join in the same form
Upon this, Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said: "He would willingly join in
prayer with any gentleman of piety and virtue, whatever might be his cloth,
provided he was a friend of his country;" and he moved that the reverend
Mr. Duché, of Philadelphia, who answered to that description, might be
invited to officiate as chaplain. This was one step towards unanimity of
feeling, Mr. Adams being a strong Congregationalist, and Mr. Duché an
eminent Episcopalian clergyman. The motion was carried into effect; the
invitation was given and accepted.
In the course of the day, a rumor reached Philadelphia that Boston had been
cannonaded by the British. It produced a strong sensation; and when
Congress met on the following morning (7th), the effect was visible in
every countenance. The delegates from the east were greeted with a warmer
grasp of the hand by their associates from the south.
The reverend Mr. Duché, according to invitation, appeared in his
canonicals, attended by his clerk. The morning service of the Episcopal
church was read with great solemnity, the clerk making the responses. The
Psalter for the 7th day of the month includes the 35th Psalm, wherein David
prays for protection against his enemies. "Plead my cause, O Lord, with
them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.
"Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for my help.
"Draw out, also, the spear, and stop the way of them that persecute me. Say
unto my soul, I am thy salvation," &c., &c.
The imploring words of this psalm, spoke the feelings of all hearts
present; but especially of those from New England. John Adams writes in a
letter to his wife: "You must remember this was the morning after we heard
the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect
upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that psalm to be read
on that morning. After this, Mr. Duché unexpectedly struck out into an
extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present.
Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervor,
such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so eloquent and
sublime, for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts
Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon
every body here." [Footnote: John Adams' Correspondence and Diary.]
It has been remarked that Washington was especially devout on this
occasion--kneeling, while others stood up. In this, however, each, no
doubt, observed the attitude in prayer to which he was accustomed.
Washington knelt, being an Episcopalian.
The rumored attack upon Boston, rendered the service of the day deeply
affecting to all present. They were one political family, actuated by one
feeling, and sympathizing with the weal and woe of each individual member.
The rumor proved to be erroneous; but it had produced a most beneficial
effect in calling forth and quickening the spirit of union, so vitally
important in that assemblage.
Owing to closed doors, and the want of reporters, no record exists of the
discussions and speeches made in the first Congress. Mr. Wirt, speaking
from tradition, informs us that a long and deep silence followed the
organization of that august body; the members looking round upon each
other, individually reluctant to open a business so fearfully momentous.
This "deep and deathlike silence" was beginning to become painfully
embarrassing, when Patrick Henry arose. He faltered at first, as was his
habit; but his exordium was impressive; and as he launched forth into a
recital of colonial wrongs he kindled with his subject, until he poured
forth one of those eloquent appeals which had so often shaken the House of
Burgesses and gained him the fame of being the greatest orator of Virginia.
He sat down, according to Mr. Wirt, amidst murmurs of astonishment and
applause, and was now admitted, on every hand, to be the first orator of
America. He was followed by Richard Henry Lee, who, according to the same
writer, charmed the house with a different kind of eloquence, chaste and
classical; contrasting, in its cultivated graces, with the wild and grand
effusions of Henry. "The superior powers of these great men, however," adds
he, "were manifested only in debate, and while general grievances were the
topic; when called down from the heights of declamation to that severer
test of intellectual excellence, the details of business, they found
themselves in a body of cool-headed, reflecting, and most able men, by whom
they were, in their turn, completely thrown into the shade." [Footnote:
Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry.]
The first public measure of Congress was a resolution declaratory of their
feelings with regard to the recent acts of Parliament, violating the rights
of the people of Massachusetts, and of their determination to combine in
resisting any force that might attempt to carry those acts into execution.
A committee of two from each province reported a series of resolutions,
which were adopted and promulgated by Congress, as a "declaration of
colonial rights." In this were enumerated their natural rights to the
enjoyment of life, liberty, and property; and their rights as British
subjects. Among the latter was participation in legislative councils. This
they could not exercise through representatives in Parliament; they
claimed, therefore, the power of legislating in their provincial
assemblies; consenting, however, to such acts of Parliament as might be
essential to the regulation of trade; but excluding all taxation, internal
or external, for raising revenue in America.
The common law of England was claimed as a birthright, including the right
of trial by a jury of the vicinage; of holding public meetings to consider
grievances; and of petitioning the king. The benefits of all such statutes
as existed at the time of the colonization were likewise claimed; together
with the immunities and privileges granted by royal charters, or secured by
The maintenance of a standing army in any colony in time of peace, without
the consent of its legislature, was pronounced contrary to law. The
exercise of the legislative power in the colonies by a council appointed
during pleasure by the crown, was declared to be unconstitutional, and
destructive to the freedom of American legislation.
Then followed a specification of the acts of Parliament, passed during the
reign of George III., infringing and violating these rights. These were:
the sugar act; the stamp act; the two acts for quartering troops; the tea
act; the act suspending the New York legislature; the two acts for the
trial in Great Britain of offences committed in America; the Boston port
bill; the act for regulating the government of Massachusetts, and the
"To these grievous acts and measures," it was added, "Americans cannot
submit; but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a
revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found
happiness and prosperity, we have, for the present, only resolved to pursue
the following peaceable measures:
"1st. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation
agreement, or association.
"2d. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial
to the inhabitants of British America.
"3d. To prepare a loyal address to his majesty."
The above-mentioned association was accordingly formed, and committees were
to be appointed in every county, city, and town, to maintain it vigilantly
Masterly state papers were issued by Congress in conformity to the
resolutions: viz., a petition to the king, drafted by Mr. Dickinson, of
Philadelphia; an address to the people of Canada by the same hand, inviting
them to join the league of the colonies; another to the people of Great
Britain, drafted by John Jay, of New York; and a memorial to the
inhabitants of the British colonies by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia.
[Footnote: See Correspondence and Diary of J. Adams, vols. ii. and ix.]
The Congress remained in session fifty-one days. Every subject, according
to Adams, was discussed "with a moderation, an acuteness, and a minuteness
equal to that of Queen Elizabeth's privy council." [Footnote: Letter to
William Tudor, 29th Sept., 1774.] The papers issued by it have deservedly
been pronounced masterpieces of practical talent and political wisdom.
Chatham, when speaking on the subject in the House of Lords, could not
restrain his enthusiasm. "When your lordships," said he, "look at the
papers transmitted to us from America; when you consider their decency,
firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make
it your own. For myself, I must declare and avow that, in the master states
of the world, I know not the people, or senate, who, in such a complication
of difficult circumstances, can stand in preference to the delegates of
America assembled in General Congress at Philadelphia."
From the secrecy that enveloped its discussions, we are ignorant of the
part taken by Washington in the debates; the similarity of the resolutions,
however, in spirit and substance to those of the Fairfax County meeting, in
which he presided, and the coincidence of the measures adopted with those
therein recommended, show that he had a powerful agency in the whole
proceedings of this eventful assembly. Patrick Henry, being asked, on his
return home, whom he considered the greatest man in Congress, replied: "If
you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, is by far the
greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment,
Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on that floor."
How thoroughly and zealously he participated in the feelings which actuated
Congress in this memorable session, may be gathered from his correspondence
with a friend enlisted in the royal cause. This was Captain Robert
Mackenzie, who had formerly served under him in his Virginia regiment
during the French war, but now held a commission in the regular army, and
was stationed among the British troops at Boston.
Mackenzie, in a letter, had spoken with loyal abhorrence of the state of
affairs in the "unhappy province" of Massachusetts, and the fixed aim of
its inhabitants at "total independence." "The rebellious and numerous
meetings of men in arms," said he, "their scandalous and ungenerous attacks
upon the best characters in the province, obliging them to save themselves
by flight, and their repeated, but feeble threats, to dispossess the
troops, have furnished sufficient reasons to General Gage to put the town
in a formidable state of defence, about which we are now fully employed,
and which will be shortly accomplished to their great mortification."
"Permit me," writes Washington in reply, "with the freedom of a friend (for
you know I always esteemed you), to express my sorrow that fortune should
place you in a service that must fix curses, to the latest posterity, upon
the contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is impossible)
accompanies it, execrations upon all those who have been instrumental in
the execution. ... When you condemn the conduct of the Massachusetts
people, you reason from effects, not causes, otherwise you would not wonder
at a people, who are every day receiving fresh proofs of a systematic
assertion of an arbitrary power, deeply planned to overturn the laws and
constitution of their country, and to violate the most essential and
valuable rights of mankind, being irritated, and with difficulty
restrained, from acts of the greatest violence and intemperance.
"For my own part, I view things in a very different point of light from the
one in which you seem to consider them; and though you are led to believe,
by venal men, that the people of Massachusetts are rebellious, setting up
for independency, and what not, give me leave, my good friend, to tell you
that you are abused, grossly abused. ... I think I can announce it as a
fact, that it is not the wish or interest of that government, or any other
upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for
independence; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them
will ever submit to the loss of their valuable rights and privileges, which
are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which,
life, liberty, and property, are rendered totally insecure.
"These, sir, being certain consequences, which must naturally result from
the late acts of Parliament relative to America in general, and the
government of Massachusetts in particular, is it to be wondered at that men
who wish to avert the impending blow, should attempt to oppose its
progress, or prepare for their defence, if it cannot be averted? Surely I
may be allowed to answer in the negative; and give me leave to add, as my
opinion, that more blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry
are determined to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet
furnished instances of in the annals of North America; and such a vital
wound will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself
cannot cure, or eradicate the remembrance of."
In concluding, he repeats his views with respect to independence: "I am
well satisfied that no such thing is desired by any thinking man in all
North America; on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest
advocates for liberty, that peace and tranquillity, upon constitutional
grounds, may be restored, and the horrors of civil discord prevented."
[Footnote: Sparks. Washington's Writings, vol. ii., p. 899.]
This letter we have considered especially worthy of citation, from its
being so full and explicit a declaration of Washington's sentiments and
opinions at this critical juncture. His views on the question of
independence are particularly noteworthy, from his being at this time in
daily and confidential communication with the leaders of the popular
movement, and among them with the delegates from Boston. It is evident that
the filial feeling still throbbed toward the mother country, and a complete
separation from her had not yet entered into the alternatives of her
On the breaking up of Congress, Washington hastened back to Mount Vernon,
where his presence was more than usually important to the happiness of Mrs.
Washington, from the loneliness caused by the recent death of her daughter,
and the absence of her son. The cheerfulness of the neighborhood had been
diminished of late by the departure of George William Fairfax for England,
to take possession of estates which had devolved to him in that kingdom.
His estate of Belvoir, so closely allied with that of Mount Vernon by
family ties and reciprocal hospitality, was left in charge of a steward, or
overseer. Through some accident the house took fire, and was burnt to the
ground. It was never rebuilt. The course of political events which swept
Washington from his quiet home into the current of public and military
life, prevented William Fairfax, who was a royalist, though a liberal one,
from returning to his once happy abode, and the hospitable intercommunion
of Mount Vernon and Belvoir was at an end for ever.
GAGE'S MILITARY MEASURES--REMOVAL OF GUNPOWDER FROM THE ARSENAL--PUBLIC
AGITATION--ALARMS IN THE COUNTRY--CIVIL GOVERNMENT OBSTRUCTED--BELLIGERENT
SYMPTOMS--ISRAEL PUTNAM AND GENERAL CHARLES LEE, THEIR CHARACTERS AND
STORIES--GENERAL ELECTION--SELF-CONSTITUTED CONGRESS--HANCOCK PRESIDENT--
ADJOURNS TO CONCORD--REMONSTRANCE TO GAGE--HIS PERPLEXITIES--GENERALS
ARTEMAS WARD AND SETH POMEROY--COMMITTEE OF SAFETY--COMMITTEE OF
SUPPLIES--RESTLESSNESS THROUGHOUT THE LAND--INDEPENDENT COMPANIES IN
VIRGINIA--MILITARY TONE AT MOUNT VERNON--WASHINGTON'S MILITARY
GUESTS--MAJOR HORATIO GATES--ANECDOTES CONCERNING HIM--GENERAL CHARLES
LEE--HIS PECULIARITIES AND DOGS--WASHINGTON AT THE RICHMOND CONVENTION--
WAR SPEECH OF PATRICK HENRY--WASHINGTON'S MILITARY INTENTIONS.
The rumor of the cannonading of Boston, which had thrown such a gloom over
the religious ceremonial at the opening of Congress, had been caused by
measures of Governor Gage. The public mind, in Boston and its vicinity, had
been rendered excessively jealous and sensitive by the landing and
encamping of artillery upon the Common, and Welsh Fusiliers on Fort Hill,
and by the planting of four large field-pieces on Boston Neck, the only
entrance to the town by land. The country people were arming and
disciplining themselves in every direction, and collecting and depositing
arms and ammunition in places where they would be at hand in case of
emergency. Gage, on the other hand, issued orders that the munitions of war
in all the public magazines should be brought to Boston. One of these
magazines was the arsenal in the north-west part of Charlestown, between
Medford and Cambridge. Two companies of the king's troops passed silently
in boats up Mystic River in the night; took possession of a large quantity
of gunpowder deposited there, and conveyed it to Castle Williams.
Intelligence of this sacking of the arsenal flew with lightning speed
through the neighborhood. In the morning several thousands of patriots were
assembled at Cambridge, weapon in hand, and were with difficulty prevented
from marching upon Boston to compel a restitution of the powder. In the
confusion and agitation, a rumor stole out into the country that Boston was
to be attacked; followed by another that the ships were cannonading the
town, and the soldiers shooting down the inhabitants. The whole country was
forthwith in arms. Numerous bodies of the Connecticut people had made some
marches before the report was contradicted. [Footnote: Holmes's Annals,
ii., 191.--Letter of Gage to Lord Dartmouth.]
To guard against any irruption from the country, Gage encamped the 59th
regiment on Boston Neck, and employed the soldiers in intrenching and
In the mean time the belligerent feelings of the inhabitants were
encouraged, by learning how the rumor of their being cannonaded had been
received in the General Congress, and by assurances from all parts that the
cause of Boston would be made the common cause of America. "It is
surprising," writes General Gage, "that so many of the other provinces
interest themselves so much in this. They have some warm friends in New
York, and I learn that the people of Charleston, South Carolina, are as mad
as they are here." [Footnote: Gage to Dartmouth, Sept. 20.]
The commissions were arrived for those civil officers appointed by the
crown under the new modifications of the charter: many, however, were
afraid to accept of them. Those who did soon resigned, finding it
impossible to withstand the odium of the people. The civil government
throughout the province became obstructed in all its operations. It was
enough for a man to be supposed of the governmental party to incur popular
Among other portentous signs, war-hawks began to appear above the horizon.
Mrs. Cushing, wife to a member of Congress, writes to her husband, "Two of
the greatest military characters of the day are visiting this distressed
town. General Charles Lee, who has served in Poland, and Colonel Israel
Putnam, whose bravery and character need no description." As these two men
will take a prominent part in coming events, we pause to give a word or two
Israel Putnam was a soldier of native growth. One of the military
productions of the French war; seasoned and proved in frontier campaigning.
He had served at Louisburg, Fort Duquesne, and Crown Point; had signalized
himself in Indian warfare; been captured by the savages, tied to a stake to
be tortured and burnt, and had only been rescued by the interference, at
the eleventh hour, of a French partisan of the Indians.
Since the peace, he had returned to agricultural life, and was now a farmer
at Pomfret, in Connecticut, where the scars of his wounds and the tales of
his exploits rendered him a hero in popular estimation. The war spirit yet
burned within him. He was now chairman of a committee of vigilance, and had
come to Boston in discharge of his political and semi-belligerent
General Charles Lee was a military man of a different stamp; an Englishman
by birth, and a highly cultivated production of European warfare. He was
the son of a British officer, Lieutenant-colonel John Lee, of the dragoons,
who married the daughter of Sir Henry Bunbury, Bart., and afterwards rose
to be a general. Lee was born in 1731, and may almost be said to have been
cradled in the army, for he received a commission by the time he was eleven
years of age. He had an irregular education; part of the time in England,
part on the continent, and must have scrambled his way into knowledge; yet
by aptness, diligence and ambition, he had acquired a considerable portion,
being a Greek and Latin scholar, and acquainted with modern languages. The
art of war was his especial study from his boyhood, and he had early
opportunities of practical experience. At the age of twenty-four, he
commanded a company of grenadiers in the 44th regiment, and served in the
French war in America, where he was brought into military companionship
with Sir William Johnson's Mohawk warriors, whom he used to extol for their
manly beauty, their dress, their graceful carriage and good breeding. In
fact, he rendered himself so much of a favorite among them, that they
admitted him to smoke in their councils, and adopted him into the tribe of
the Bear, giving him an Indian name, signifying "Boiling Water."
At the battle of Ticonderoga, where Abercrombie was defeated, he was shot
through the body, while leading his men against the French breastworks. In
the next campaign, he was present at the siege of Fort Niagara, where
General Prideaux fell, and where Sir William Johnson, with his British
troops and Mohawk warriors, eventually won the fortress. Lee had, probably,
an opportunity on this occasion of fighting side by side with some of his
adopted brethren of the Bear tribe, as we are told he was much exposed
during the engagement with the French and Indians, and that two balls
grazed his hair. A military errand, afterwards, took him across Lake Erie,
and down the northern branch of the Ohio to Fort Duquesne, and thence by a
long march of seven hundred miles to Crown Point, where he joined General
Amherst. In 1760, he was among the forces which followed that general from
Lake Ontario down the St. Lawrence; and was present at the surrender of
Montreal, which completed the conquest of Canada.
In 1762, he bore a colonel's commission, and served under Brigadier-general
Burgoyne in Portugal, where he was intrusted with an enterprise against a
Spanish post at the old Moorish castle of Villa Velha, on the banks of the
Tagus. He forded the river in the night, pushed his way through mountain
passes, and at 2 o'clock in the morning, rushed with his grenadiers into
the enemy's camp before daylight, where every thing was carried at the
point of the bayonet, assisted by a charge of dragoons. The war over, he
returned to England, bearing testimonials of bravery and good conduct from
his commander-in-chief, the Count de la Lippe, and from the king of
Portugal. [Footnote: Life of Charles Lee, by Jared Sparks. Also, Memoirs of
Charles Lee; published in London, 1792.]
Wielding the pen as well as the sword, Lee undertook to write on questions
of colonial policy, relative to Pontiac's war, in which he took the
opposition side. This lost him the favor of the ministry, and with it all
hope of further promotion.
He now determined to offer his services to Poland, supposed to be on the
verge of a war. Recommendations from his old commander, the Count de la
Lippe, procured him access to some of the continental courts. He was well
received by Frederick the Great, and had several conversations with him,
chiefly on American affairs. At Warsaw, his military reputation secured him
the favor of Poniatowsky, recently elected king of Poland, with the name of
Stanislaus Augustus, who admitted him to his table, and made him one of his
aides-de-camp. Lee was disappointed in his hope of active service. There
was agitation in the country, but the power of the king was not adequate to
raise forces sufficient for its suppression. He had few troops, and those
not trustworthy; and the town was full of the disaffected. "We have
frequent alarms," said Lee, "and the pleasure of sleeping every night with
our pistols on our pillows."
By way of relieving his restlessness, Lee, at the suggestion of the king,
set off to accompany the Polish ambassador to Constantinople. The latter
travelled too slow for him; so he dashed ahead when on the frontiers of
Turkey, with an escort of the grand seignior's treasure; came near
perishing with cold and hunger among the Bulgarian mountains, and after his
arrival at the Turkish capital, ran a risk of being buried under the ruins
of his house in an earthquake.
Late in the same year (1766), he was again in England, an applicant for
military appointment, bearing a letter from king Stanislaus to king George.
His meddling pen is supposed again to have marred his fortunes, having
indulged in sarcastic comments on the military character of General
Townshend and Lord George Sackville. "I am not at all surprised," said a
friend to him, "that you find the door shut against you by a person who has
such unbounded credit, as you have ever too freely indulged in a liberty of
declaiming, which many invidious persons have not failed to inform him of.
The principle on which you thus freely speak your mind, is honest and
patriotic, but not politic."
The disappointments which Lee met with during a residence of two years in
England, and a protracted attendance on people in power, rankled in his
bosom, and embittered his subsequent resentment against the king and his
In 1768, he was again on his way to Poland, with the design of performing a
campaign in the Russian service. "I flatter myself," said he, "that a
little more practice will make me a good soldier. If not, it will serve to
talk over my kitchen fire in my old age, which will soon come upon us all."
He now looked forward to spirited service. "I am to have a command of
Cossacks and Wallacks," writes he, "a kind of people I have a good opinion
of. I am determined not to serve in the line. One might as well be a
The friendship of king Stanislaus continued. "He treats me more like a
brother than a patron," said Lee. In 1769, the latter was raised to the
rank of major-general in the Polish army, and left Warsaw to join the
Russian force, which was crossing the Dniester and advancing into Moldavia.
He arrived in time to take part in a severe action between the Russians and
Turks, in which the Cossacks and hussars were terribly cut up by the
Turkish cavalry, in a ravine near the city of Chotzim. It was a long and
doubtful conflict, with various changes; but the rumored approach of the
grand vizier, with a hundred and seventy thousand men, compelled the
Russians to abandon the enterprise and recross the Dniester.
Lee never returned to Poland, though he ever retained a devoted attachment
to Stanislaus. He for some time led a restless life about Europe--visiting
Italy, Sicily, Malta, and the south of Spain; troubled with attacks of
rheumatism, gout, and the effects of a "Hungarian fever." He had become
more and more cynical and irascible, and had more than one "affair of
honor," in one of which he killed his antagonist. His splenetic feelings,
as well as his political sentiments, were occasionally vented in severe
attacks upon the ministry, full of irony and sarcasm. They appeared in the
public journals, and gained him such reputation, that even the papers of
Junius were by some attributed to him.
In the questions which had risen between England and her colonies, he had
strongly advocated the cause of the latter; and it was the feelings thus
excited, and the recollections, perhaps, of his early campaigns, that had
recently brought him to America. Here he had arrived in the latter part of
1773, had visited various parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia,
taking an active part in the political agitations of the country. His
caustic attacks upon the ministry; his conversational powers and his
poignant sallies, had gained him great reputation; but his military renown
rendered him especially interesting at the present juncture. A general, who
had served in the famous campaigns of Europe, commanded Cossacks, fought
with Turks, talked with Frederick the Great, and been aide-de-camp to the
king of Poland, was a prodigious acquisition to the patriot cause! On the
other hand, his visit to Boston was looked upon with uneasiness by the
British officers, who knew his adventurous character. It was surmised that
he was exciting a spirit of revolt, with a view to putting himself at its
head. These suspicions found their way into the London papers, and alarmed
the British cabinet. "Have an attention to his conduct," writes Lord
Dartmouth to Gage, "and take every legal method to prevent his effecting
any of those dangerous purposes he is said to have in view."
Lee, when subsequently informed of these suspicions, scoffed at them in a
letter to his friend, Edmund Burke, and declared that he had not the
"temerity and vanity" to aspire to the aims imputed to him.
"To think myself qualified for the most important charge that ever was
committed to mortal man," writes he, "is the last stage of presumption; nor
do I think the Americans would, or ought to confide in a man, let his
qualifications be ever so great, who has no property among them. It is
true, I most devoutly wish them success in the glorious struggle; that I
have expressed my wishes both in writing and _viva voce_, but my
errand to Boston was mere curiosity to see a people in so singular
circumstances; and I had likewise an ambition to be acquainted with some of
their leading men; with them only I associated during my stay in Boston.
Our ingenious gentlemen in the camp, therefore, very naturally concluded my
design was to put myself at their head."
To resume the course of events at Boston. Gage on the 1st of September,
before this popular agitation, had issued writs for an election of an
assembly to meet at Salem in October; seeing, however, the irritated state
of the public mind, he now countermanded the same by proclamation. The
people, disregarding the countermand, carried the election, and ninety of
the new members thus elected met at the appointed time. They waited a whole
day for the governor to attend, administer the oaths, and open the session;
but as he did not make his appearance, they voted themselves a provincial
Congress, and chose for president of it John Hancock,--a man of great
wealth, popular, and somewhat showy talents, and ardent patriotism; and
eminent from his social position.
This self-constituted body adjourned to Concord, about twenty miles from
Boston; quietly assumed supreme authority, and issued a remonstrance to the
governor, virtually calling him to account for his military operations in
fortifying Boston Neck, and collecting warlike stores about him, thereby
alarming the fears of the whole province, and menacing the lives and
property of the Bostonians.
General Gage, overlooking the irregularity of its organization, entered
into explanations with the Assembly, but failed to give satisfaction. As
winter approached, he found his situation more and more critical. Boston
was the only place in Massachusetts that now contained British forces, and
it had become the refuge of all the "_tories_" of the province; that
is to say, of all those devoted to the British government. There was
animosity between them and the principal inhabitants, among whom
revolutionary principles prevailed. The town itself, almost insulated by
nature, and surrounded by a hostile country, was like a place besieged.
The provincial Congress conducted its affairs with the order and system so
formidable to General Gage. Having adopted a plan for organizing the
militia, it had nominated general officers, two of whom, Artemas Ward and
Seth Pomeroy, had accepted.
The executive powers were vested in a committee of safety. This was to
determine when the services of the militia were necessary; was to call them
forth,--to nominate their officers to the Congress,--to commission them,
and direct the operations of the army. Another committee was appointed to
furnish supplies to the forces when called out; hence, named the Committee
Under such auspices, the militia went on arming and disciplining itself in
every direction. They associated themselves in large bodies, and engaged,
verbally or by writing, to assemble in arms at the shortest notice for the
common defence, subject to the orders of the committee of safety.
Arrangements had been made for keeping up an active correspondence between
different parts of the country, and spreading an alarm in case of any
threatening danger. Under the direction of the committees just mentioned,
large quantities of military stores had been collected and deposited at
Concord and Worcester.
This semi-belligerent state of affairs in Massachusetts produced a general
restlessness throughout the land. The weakhearted apprehended coming
troubles; the resolute prepared to brave them. Military measures, hitherto
confined to New England, extended to the middle and southern provinces, and
the roll of the drum resounded through the villages.
Virginia was among the first to buckle on its armor. It had long been a
custom among its inhabitants to form themselves into independent companies,
equipped at their own expense, having their own peculiar uniform, and
electing their own officers, though holding themselves subject to militia
law. They had hitherto been self-disciplined; but now they continually
resorted to Washington for instruction and advice; considering him the
highest authority on military affairs. He was frequently called from home,
therefore, in the course of the winter and spring, to different parts of
the country to review independent companies; all of which were anxious to
put themselves under his command as field-officer.
Mount Vernon, therefore, again assumed a military tone as in former days,
when he took his first lessons there in the art of war. He had his old
campaigning associates with him occasionally, Dr. Craik and Captain Hugh
Mercer, to talk of past scenes and discuss the possibility of future
service. Mercer was already bestirring himself in disciplining the militia
about Fredericksburg, where he resided.
Two occasional and important guests at Mount Vernon, in this momentous
crisis, were General Charles Lee, of whom we have just spoken, and Major
Horatio Gates. As the latter is destined to occupy an important page in
this memoir, we will give a few particulars concerning him. He was an
Englishman by birth, the son of a captain in the British army. Horace
Walpole, whose Christian name he bore, speaks of him in one of his letters
as his godson, though some have insinuated that he stood in filial
relationship of a less sanctified character. He had received a liberal
education, and, when but twenty-one years of age, had served as a volunteer
under General Edward Cornwallis, Governor of Halifax. He was afterwards
captain of a New York independent company, with which, it may be
remembered, he marched in the campaign of Braddock, in which he was
severely wounded. For two or three subsequent years he was with his company
in the western part of the province of New York, receiving the appointment
of brigade major. He accompanied General Monckton as aide-de-camp to the
West Indies, and gained credit at the capture of Martinico. Being
despatched to London with tidings of the victory, he was rewarded by the
appointment of major to a regiment of foot; and afterwards, as a special
mark of royal favor, a majority in the Royal Americans. His promotion did
not equal his expectations and fancied deserts. He was married, and wanted
something more lucrative; so he sold out on half-pay and became an
applicant for some profitable post under government, which he hoped to
obtain through the influence of General Monckton and some friends in the
aristocracy. Thus several years were passed, partly with his family in
retirement, partly in London, paying court to patrons and men in power,
until, finding there was no likelihood of success, and having sold his
commission and half-pay, he emigrated to Virginia in 1772, a disappointed
man; purchased an estate in Berkeley County, beyond the Blue Ridge;
espoused the popular cause, and renewed his old campaigning acquaintance
He was now about forty-six years of age, of a florid complexion and goodly
presence, though a little inclined to corpulency; social, insinuating, and
somewhat specious in his manners, with a strong degree of self-approbation.
A long course of solicitation; haunting public offices and antechambers,
and "knocking about town," had taught him, it was said, how to wheedle and
flatter, and accommodate himself to the humors of others, so as to be the
boon companion of gentlemen, and "hail fellow well met" with the vulgar.
Lee, who was an old friend and former associate in arms, had recently been
induced by him to purchase an estate in his neighborhood in Berkeley
County, with a view to making it his abode, having a moderate competency, a
claim to land on the Ohio, and the half-pay of a British colonel. Both of
these officers, disappointed in the British service, looked forward
probably to greater success in the patriot cause.
Lee had been at Philadelphia since his visit to Boston, and had made
himself acquainted with the leading members of Congress during the session.
He was evidently cultivating an intimacy with every one likely to have
influence in the approaching struggle.
To Washington, the visits of these gentlemen were extremely welcome at this
juncture, from their military knowledge and experience, especially as much
of it had been acquired in America, in the same kind of warfare, if not the
very same campaigns in which he himself had mingled. Both were interested
in the popular cause. Lee was full of plans for the organization and
disciplining of the militia, and occasionally accompanied Washington in his
attendance on provincial reviews. He was subsequently very efficient at
Annapolis in promoting and superintending the organization of the Maryland
It is doubtful whether the visits of Lee were as interesting to Mrs.
Washington as to the general. He was whimsical, eccentric, and at times
almost rude; negligent also, and slovenly in person and attire; for though
he had occasionally associated with kings and princes, he had also
campaigned with Mohawks and Cossacks, and seems to have relished their
"good breeding." What was still more annoying in a well regulated mansion,
he was always followed by a legion of dogs, which shared his affections
with his horses, and took their seats by him when at table. "I must have
some object to embrace," said he misanthropically. "When I can be convinced
that men are as worthy objects as dogs, I shall transfer my benevolence,
and become as staunch a philanthropist as the canting Addison affected to
be." [Footnote: Lee to Adams. Life and Works of Adams, ii., 414.]
In his passion for horses and dogs, Washington, to a certain degree, could
sympathize with him, and had noble specimens of both in his stable and
kennel, which Lee doubtless inspected with a learned eye. During the season
in question, Washington, according to his diary, was occasionally in the
saddle at an early hour following the fox-hounds. It was the last time for
many a year that he was to gallop about his beloved hunting-grounds of
Mount Vernon and Belvoir.
In the month of March the second Virginia convention was held at Richmond.
Washington attended as delegate from Fairfax County. In this assembly,
Patrick Henry, with his usual ardor and eloquence, advocated measures for
embodying, arming and disciplining a militia force, and providing for the
defence of the colony. "It is useless," said he, "to address further
petitions to government, or to await the effect of those already addressed
to the throne. The time for supplication is past; the time for action is at
hand. We must fight, Mr. Speaker," exclaimed he emphatically; "I repeat it,
sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of Hosts, is all that
is left us!"
Washington joined him in the conviction, and was one of a committee that
reported a plan for carrying those measures into effect. He was not an
impulsive man to raise the battle cry, but the executive man to marshal the
troops into the field, and carry on the war.
His brother, John Augustine, was raising and disciplining an independent
company; Washington offered to accept the command of it, _should occasion
require it to be drawn out_. He did the same with respect to an
independent company at Richmond. "It is my full intention, if needful,"
writes he to his brother, "_to devote my life and fortune to the
cause_." [Footnote: Letter to John Augustine. Sparks, ii., 405.]
INFATUATION IN BRITISH COUNCILS--COLONEL GRANT, THE BRAGGART--COERCIVE
MEASURES--EXPEDITION AGAINST THE MILITARY MAGAZINE AT CONCORD--BATTLE OF
LEXINGTON--THE CRY OF BLOOD THROUGH THE LAND--OLD SOLDIERS OF THE FRENCH
WAR--JOHN STARK--ISRAEL PUTNAM--RISING OF THE YEOMANRY--MEASURES OF LORD
DUNMORE IN VIRGINIA--INDIGNATION OF THE VIRGINIANS--HUGH MERCER AND THE
FRIENDS OF LIBERTY--ARRIVAL OF THE NEWS OF LEXINGTON AT MOUNT VERNON--
EFFECT ON BRYAN FAIRFAX, GATES, AND WASHINGTON.
While the spirit of revolt was daily gaining strength and determination in
America, a strange infatuation reigned in the British councils. While the
wisdom and eloquence of Chatham were exerted in vain in behalf of American
rights, an empty braggadocio, elevated to a seat in Parliament, was able to
captivate the attention of the members, and influence their votes by gross
misrepresentations of the Americans and their cause. This was no other than
Colonel Grant, the same shallow soldier who, exceeding his instructions,
had been guilty of a foolhardy bravado before the walls of Fort Duquesne,
which brought slaughter and defeat upon his troops. From misleading the
army, he was now promoted to a station where he might mislead the councils
of his country. We are told that he entertained Parliament, especially the
ministerial side of the House, with ludicrous stories of the cowardice of
Americans. He had served with them, he said, and knew them well, and would
venture to say they would never dare to face an English army; that they
were destitute of every requisite to make good soldiers, and that a very
slight force would be sufficient for their complete reduction. With five
regiments, he could march through all America!
How often has England been misled to her cost by such slanderous
misrepresentations of the American character! Grant talked of having served
with the Americans; had he already forgotten that in the field of
Braddock's defeat, when the British regulars fled, it was alone the
desperate stand of a handful of Virginians, which covered their disgraceful
flight, and saved them from being overtaken and massacred by the savages?
This taunting and braggart speech of Grant was made in the face of the
conciliatory bill of the venerable Chatham, devised with a view to redress
the wrongs of America. The councils of the arrogant and scornful prevailed;
and instead of the proposed bill, further measures of a stringent nature
were adopted, coercive of some of the middle and southern colonies, but
ruinous to the trade and fisheries of New England.
At length the bolt, so long suspended, fell! The troops at Boston had been
augmented to about four thousand men. Goaded on by the instigations of the
tories, and alarmed by the energetic measures of the whigs, General Gage
now resolved to deal the latter a crippling blow. This was to surprise and
destroy their magazine of military stores at Concord, about twenty miles
from Boston. It was to be effected on the night of the 18th of April, by a
force detached for the purpose.
Preparations were made with great secrecy. Boats for the transportation of
the troops were launched, and moored under the sterns of the men-of-war.
Grenadiers and light infantry were relieved from duty, and held in
readiness. On the 18th, officers were stationed on the roads leading from
Boston, to prevent any intelligence of the expedition getting into the
country. At night orders were issued by General Gage that no person should
leave the town. About ten o'clock, from eight to nine hundred men,
grenadiers, light infantry, and marines, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel
Smith, embarked in the boats at the foot of Boston Common, and crossed to
Lechmere Point, in Cambridge, whence they were to march silently, and
without beat of drum, to the place of destination.
The measures of General Gage had not been shrouded in all the secrecy he
imagined. Mystery often defeats itself by the suspicions it awakens. Dr.
Joseph Warren, one of the committee of safety, had observed the preparatory
disposition of the boats and troops, and surmised some sinister intention.
He sent notice of these movements to John Hancock and Samuel Adams, both
members of the provincial Congress, but at that time privately sojourning
with a friend at Lexington. A design on the magazine at Concord was
suspected, and the committee of safety ordered that the cannon collected
there should be secreted, and part of the stores removed.
On the night of the 18th, Dr. Warren sent off two messengers by different
routes to give the alarm that the king's troops were actually sallying
forth. The messengers got out of Boston just before the order of General
Gage went into effect, to prevent any one from leaving the town. About the
same time a lantern was hung out of an upper window of the north church, in
the direction of Charlestown. This was a preconcerted signal to the
patriots of that place, who instantly despatched swift messengers to rouse
In the mean time, Colonel Smith set out on his nocturnal march from
Lechmere Point by an unfrequented path across marshes, where at times the
troops had to wade through water. He had proceeded but a few miles when
alarm guns, booming through the night air, and the clang of village bells,
showed that the news of his approach was travelling before him, and the
people were rising. He now sent back to General Gage for a reinforcement,
while Major Pitcairne was detached with six companies to press forward, and
secure the bridges at Concord.
Pitcairn advanced rapidly, capturing every one that he met, or overtook.
Within a mile and half of Lexington, however, a horseman was too quick on
the spur for him, and galloping to the village, gave the alarm that the
redcoats were coming. Drums were beaten; guns fired. By the time that
Pitcairn entered the village, about seventy or eighty of the yeomanry, in
military array, were mustered on the green near the church. It was a part
of the "constitutional army," pledged to resist by force any open hostility
of British troops. Besides these, there were a number of lookers on, armed
The sound of drum, and the array of men in arms, indicated a hostile
determination. Pitcairn halted his men within a short distance of the
church, and ordered them to prime and load. They then advanced at double
quick time. The major, riding forward, waved his sword, and ordered the
rebels, as he termed them, to disperse. Other of the officers echoed his
words as they advanced: "Disperse, ye villains! Lay down your arms, ye
rebels, and disperse!" The orders were disregarded. A scene of confusion
ensued, with firing on both sides; which party commenced it, has been a
matter of dispute. Pitcairn always maintained that, finding the militia
would not disperse, he turned to order his men to draw out, and surround
them, when he saw a flash in the pan from the gun of a countryman posted
behind a wall, and almost instantly the report of two or three muskets.
These he supposed to be from the Americans, as his horse was wounded, as
was also a soldier close by him. His troops rushed on, and a promiscuous
fire took place, though, as he declared, he made repeated signals with his
sword for his men to forbear.
The firing of the Americans was irregular, and without much effect; that of
the British was more fatal. Eight of the patriots were killed, and ten
wounded, and the whole put to flight. The victors formed on the common,
fired a volley, and gave three cheers for one of the most inglorious and
disastrous triumphs ever achieved by British arms.
Colonel Smith soon arrived with the residue of the detachment, and they all
marched on towards Concord, about six miles distant.
The alarm had reached that place in the dead hour of the preceding night.
The church bell roused the inhabitants. They gathered together in anxious
consultation. The militia and minute men seized their arms, and repaired to
the parade ground, near the church. Here they were subsequently joined by
armed yeomanry from Lincoln, and elsewhere. Exertions were now made to
remove and conceal the military stores. A scout, who had been sent out for
intelligence, brought word that the British had fired upon the people at
Lexington, and were advancing upon Concord. There was great excitement and
indignation. Part of the militia marched down the Lexington road to meet
them, but returned, reporting their force to be three times that of the
Americans. The whole of the militia now retired to an eminence about a mile
from the centre of the town, and formed themselves into two battalions.
About seven o'clock, the British came in sight, advancing with quick step,
their arms glittering in the morning sun. They entered in two divisions by
different roads. Concord is traversed by a river of the same name, having
two bridges, the north and the south. The grenadiers and light infantry
took post in the centre of the town, while strong parties of light troops
were detached to secure the bridges, and destroy the military stores. Two
hours were expended in the work of destruction without much success, so
much of the stores having been removed, or concealed. During all this time
the yeomanry from the neighboring towns were hurrying in with such weapons
as were at hand, and joining the militia on the height, until the little
cloud of war gathering there numbered about four hundred and fifty.
About ten o'clock, a body of three hundred undertook to dislodge the
British from the north bridge. As they approached, the latter fired upon
them, killing two, and wounding a third. The patriots returned the fire
with spirit and effect. The British retreated to the main body, the
Americans pursuing them across the bridge.
By this time all the military stores which could be found had been
destroyed; Colonel Smith, therefore, made preparations for a retreat. The
scattered troops were collected, the dead were buried, and conveyances
procured for the wounded. About noon he commenced his retrograde march for
Boston. It was high time. His troops were jaded by the night march, and the
morning's toils and skirmishings.
The country was thoroughly alarmed. The yeomanry were hurrying from every
quarter to the scene of action. As the British began their retreat, the
Americans began the work of sore and galling retaliation. Along the open
road, the former were harassed incessantly by rustic marksmen, who took
deliberate aim from behind trees, or over stone fences. Where the road
passed through woods, the British found themselves between two fires, dealt
by unseen foes, the minute men having posted themselves on each side among
the bushes. It was in vain they threw out flankers, and endeavored to
dislodge their assailants; each pause gave time for other pursuers to come
within reach, and open attacks from different quarters. For several miles
they urged their way along woody defiles, or roads skirted with fences and
stone walls, the retreat growing more and more disastrous; some were shot
down, some gave out through mere exhaustion; the rest hurried on, without
stopping to aid the fatigued, or wounded. Before reaching Lexington,
Colonel Smith received a severe wound in the leg, and the situation of the
retreating troops was becoming extremely critical, when, about two o'clock,
they were met by Lord Percy, with a brigade of one thousand men, and two
field-pieces. His lordship had been detached from Boston about nine o'clock
by General Gage, in compliance with Colonel Smith's urgent call for a
reinforcement, and had marched gaily through Roxbury to the tune of "Yankee
Doodle," in derision of the "rebels." He now found the latter a more
formidable foe than he had anticipated. Opening his brigade to the right
and left, he received the retreating troops into a hollow square; where,
fainting and exhausted, they threw themselves on the ground to rest. His
lordship showed no disposition to advance upon their assailants, but
contented himself with keeping them at bay with his field-pieces, which
opened a vigorous fire from an eminence.
Hitherto the Provincials, being hasty levies, without a leader, had acted
from individual impulse, without much concert; but now General Heath was
upon the ground. He was one of those authorized to take command when the
minute men should be called out. That class of combatants promptly obeyed
his orders, and he was efficacious in rallying them, and bringing them into
military order, when checked and scattered by the fire of the field-pieces.
Dr. Warren, also, arrived on horseback, having spurred from Boston on
receiving news of the skirmishing. In the subsequent part of the day, he
was one of the most active and efficient men in the field. His presence,
like that of General Heath, regulated the infuriated ardor of the militia,
and brought it into system.
Lord Percy, having allowed the troops a short interval for repose and
refreshment, continued the retreat toward Boston. As soon as he got under
march, the galling assault by the pursuing yeomanry was recommenced in
flank and rear. The British soldiery, irritated in turn, acted as if in an
enemy's country. Houses and shops were burnt down in Lexington; private
dwellings along the road were plundered, and their inhabitants maltreated.
In one instance, an unoffending invalid was wantonly slain in his own
house. All this increased the exasperation of the yeomanry. There was
occasional sharp skirmishing, with bloodshed on both sides, but in general
a dogged pursuit, where the retreating troops were galled at every step.
Their march became more and more impeded by the number of their wounded.
Lord Percy narrowly escaped death from a musket-ball, which struck off a
button of his waistcoat. One of his officers remained behind wounded in
West Cambridge. His ammunition was failing as he approached Charlestown.
The provincials pressed upon him in rear, others were advancing from
Roxbury, Dorchester, and Milton; Colonel Pickering, with the Essex militia,
seven hundred strong, was at hand; there was danger of being intercepted in
the retreat to Charlestown. The field-pieces were again brought into play,
to check the ardor of the pursuit; but they were no longer objects of
terror. The sharpest firing of the provincials was near Prospect Hill, as
the harassed enemy hurried along the Charlestown road, eager to reach the
Neck, and get under cover of their ships. The pursuit terminated a little
after sunset, at Charlestown Common, where General Heath brought the minute
men to a halt. Within half an hour more, a powerful body of men, from
Marblehead and Salem, came up to join in the chase. "If the retreat,"
writes Washington, "had not been as precipitate as it was,--and God knows
it could not well have been more so,--the ministerial troops must have
surrendered, or been totally cut off."
The distant firing from the mainland had reached the British at Boston. The
troops which, in the morning, had marched through Roxbury, to the tune of
Yankee Doodle, might have been seen at sunset, hounded along the old
Cambridge road to Charlestown Neck, by mere armed yeomanry. Gage was
astounded at the catastrophe. It was but a short time previous that one of
his officers, in writing to friends in England, scoffed at the idea of the
Americans taking up arms. "Whenever it comes to blows," said he, "he that
can run the fastest, will think himself well off, believe me. Any two
regiments here ought to be decimated, if they did not beat in the field the
whole force of the Massachusetts province." How frequently, throughout this
Revolution, had the English to pay the penalty of thus undervaluing the
spirit they were provoking!
In this memorable affair, the British loss was seventy-three killed, one
hundred and seventy-four wounded, and twenty-six missing. Among the slain
were eighteen officers. The loss of the Americans was forty-nine killed,
thirty-nine wounded, and five missing. This was the first blood shed in the
revolutionary struggle; a mere drop in amount, but a deluge in its
effects,--rending the colonies for ever from the mother country.
The cry of blood from the field of Lexington, went through the land. None
felt the appeal more than the old soldiers of the French war. It roused
John Stark, of New Hampshire--a trapper and hunter in his youth, a veteran
in Indian warfare, a campaigner under Abercrombie and Amherst, now the
military oracle of a rustic neighborhood. Within ten minutes after
receiving the alarm, he was spurring towards the sea-coast, and on the way
stirring up the volunteers of the Massachusetts borders, to assemble
forthwith at Bedford, in the vicinity of Boston.
Equally alert was his old comrade in frontier exploits, Colonel Israel
Putnam. A man on horseback, with a drum, passed through his neighborhood in
Connecticut, proclaiming British violence at Lexington. Putnam was in the
field ploughing, assisted by his son. In an instant the team was unyoked;
the plough left in the furrow; the lad sent home to give word of his
father's departure; and Putnam, on horseback, in his working garb, urging
with all speed to the camp. Such was the spirit aroused throughout the
country. The sturdy yeomanry, from all parts, were hastening toward Boston
with such weapons as were at hand; and happy was he who could command a
rusty fowling-piece and a powder-horn.
The news reached Virginia at a critical moment. Lord Dunmore, obeying a
general order issued by the ministry to all the provincial governors, had
seized upon the military munitions of the province. Here was a similar
measure to that of Gage. The cry went forth that the subjugation of the
colonies was to be attempted. All Virginia was in combustion. The standard
of liberty was reared in every county; there was a general cry to arms.
Washington was looked to, from various quarters, to take command. His old
comrade in arms, Hugh Mercer, was about marching down to Williamsburg at
the head of a body of resolute men, seven hundred strong, entitled "The
friends of constitutional liberty and America," whom he had organized and
drilled in Fredericksburg, and nothing but a timely concession of Lord
Dunmore, with respect to some powder which he had seized, prevented his
being beset in his palace.
Before Hugh Mercer and the Friends of Liberty disbanded themselves, they
exchanged a mutual pledge to reassemble at a moment's warning, whenever
called on to defend the liberty and rights of this or any other sister
Washington was at Mount Vernon, preparing to set out for Philadelphia as a
delegate to the second Congress, when he received tidings of the affair at
Lexington. Bryan Fairfax and Major Horatio Gates were his guests at the
time. They all regarded the event as decisive in its consequences; but they
regarded it with different feelings. The worthy and gentle-spirited Fairfax
deplored it deeply. He foresaw that it must break up all his pleasant
relations in life; arraying his dearest friends against the government to
which, notwithstanding the errors of its policy, he was loyally attached
and resolved to adhere.
Gates, on the contrary, viewed it with the eye of a soldier and a
place-hunter--hitherto disappointed in both capacities. This event promised
to open a new avenue to importance and command, and he determined to enter
Washington's feelings were of a mingled nature. They may be gathered from a
letter to his friend and neighbor, George William Fairfax, then in England,
in which he lays the blame of this "deplorable affair" on the ministry and
their military agents; and concludes with the following words, in which the
yearnings of the patriot give affecting solemnity to the implied resolve of
the soldier: "Unhappy it is to reflect that a brother's sword has been
sheathed in a brother's breast; and that the once happy and peaceful plains
of America, are to be either drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves.
Sad alternative! _But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?_"
ENLISTING OF TROOPS IN THE EAST--CAMP AT BOSTON--GENERAL ARTEMAS WARD--
SCHEME TO SURPRISE TICONDEROGA--NEW HAMPSHIRE GRANTS--ETHAN ALLEN AND THE
GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS--BENEDICT ARNOLD--AFFAIR OF TICONDEROGA AND CROWN
POINT--A DASH AT ST. JOHN'S.
At the eastward, the march of the Revolution went on with accelerated
speed. Thirty thousand men had been deemed necessary for the defence of the
country. The provincial Congress of Massachusetts resolved to raise
thirteen thousand six hundred, as its quota. Circular letters, also, were
issued by the committee of safety, urging the towns to enlist troops with
all speed, and calling for military aid from the other New England
Their appeals were promptly answered. Bodies of militia, and parties of
volunteers from New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, hastened to
join the minute men of Massachusetts in forming a camp in the neighborhood
of Boston. With the troops of Connecticut, came Israel Putnam; having
recently raised a regiment in that province, and received from its Assembly
the commission of brigadier-general. Some of his old comrades in French and
Indian warfare, had hastened to join his standard. Such were two of his
captains, Durkee and Knowlton. The latter, who was his especial favorite,
had fought by his side when a mere boy.
The command of the camp was given to General Artemas Ward, already
mentioned. He was a native of Shrewsbury, in Massachusetts, and a veteran
of the seven years' war--having served as lieutenant-colonel under
Abercrombie. He had, likewise, been a member of the legislative bodies, and
had recently been made, by the provincial Congress of Massachusetts,
commander-in-chief of its forces.
As affairs were now drawing to a crisis, and war was considered inevitable,
some bold spirits in Connecticut conceived a project for the outset. This
was the surprisal of the old forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, already
famous in the French war. Their situation on Lake Champlain gave them the
command of the main route to Canada; so that the possession of them would
be all-important in case of hostilities. They were feebly garrisoned and
negligently guarded, and abundantly furnished with artillery and military
stores, so much needed by the patriot army.
This scheme was set on foot in the purlieus, as it were, of the provincial
Legislature of Connecticut, then in session. It was not openly sanctioned
by that body, but secretly favored, and money lent from the treasury to
those engaged in it. A committee was appointed, also, to accompany them to
the frontier, aid them in raising troops, and exercise over them, a degree
of superintendence and control.
Sixteen men were thus enlisted in Connecticut, a greater number in
Massachusetts, but the greatest accession of force, was from what was
called the "New Hampshire Grants." This was a region having the Connecticut
River on one side, and Lake Champlain and the Hudson River on the
other--being, in fact, the country forming the present State of Vermont. It
had long been a disputed territory, claimed by New York and New Hampshire.
George II. had decided in favor of New York; but the Governor of New
Hampshire had made grants of between one and two hundred townships in it,
whence it had acquired the name of the New Hampshire Grants. The settlers
on those grants resisted the attempts of New York to eject them, and formed
themselves into an association, called "The Green Mountain Boys." Resolute,
strong-handed fellows they were, with Ethan Allen at their head, a native
of Connecticut, but brought up among the Green Mountains. He and his
lieutenants, Seth Warner and Remember Baker, were outlawed by the
Legislature of New York, and rewards offered for their apprehension. They
and their associates armed themselves, set New York at defiance, and swore
they would be the death of any one who should attempt their arrest.
Thus Ethan Allen was becoming a kind of Robin Hood among the mountains,
when the present crisis changed the relative position of things as if by
magic. Boundary feuds were forgotten amid the great questions of colonial
rights. Ethan Allen at once stepped forward, a patriot, and volunteered
with his Green Mountain Boys to serve in the popular cause. He was well
fitted for the enterprise in question, by his experience as a frontier
champion, his robustness of mind and body, and his fearless spirit. He had
a kind of rough eloquence, also, that was very effective with his
followers. "His style," says one, who knew him personally, "was a singular
compound of local barbarisms, scriptural phrases, and oriental wildness;
and though unclassic, and sometimes ungrammatical, was highly animated and
forcible." Washington, in one of his letters, says there was "an original
something in him which commanded admiration."
Thus reinforced, the party, now two hundred and seventy strong, pushed
forward to Castleton, a place within a few miles of the head of Lake
Champlain. Here a council of war was held on the 2d of May. Ethan Allen was
placed at the head of the expedition, with James Easton and Seth Warner as
second and third in command. Detachments were sent off to Skenesborough
(now Whitehall), and another place on the lake, with orders to seize all
the boats they could find and bring them to Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga,
whither Allen prepared to proceed with the main body.
At this juncture, another adventurous spirit arrived at Castleton. This was
BENEDICT ARNOLD, since so sadly renowned. He, too, had conceived the
project of surprising Ticonderoga and Crown Point; or, perhaps, had caught
the idea from its first agitators in Connecticut,--in the militia of which
province he held a captain's commission. He had proposed the scheme to the
Massachusetts committee of safety. It had met with their approbation. They
had given him a colonel's commission, authorized him to raise a force in
Western Massachusetts, not exceeding four hundred men, and furnished him
with money and means. Arnold had enlisted but a few officers and men when
he heard of the expedition from Connecticut being on the march. He
instantly hurried on with one attendant to overtake it, leaving his few
recruits to follow, as best they could: in this way he reached Castleton
just after the council of war.
Producing the colonel's commission received from the Massachusetts
committee of safety, he now aspired to the supreme command. His claims were
disregarded by the Green Mountain Boys; they would follow no leader but
Ethan Allen. As they formed the majority of the party, Arnold was fain to
acquiesce, and serve as a volunteer, with the rank, but not the command of
The party arrived at Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga, on the night of the
9th of May. The detachment sent in quest of boats had failed to arrive.
There were a few boats at hand, with which the transportation was
commenced. It was slow work; the night wore away; day was about to break,
and but eighty-three men, with Allen and Arnold, had crossed. Should they
wait for the residue, day would dawn, the garrison wake, and their
enterprise might fail. Allen drew up his men, addressed them in his own
emphatic style, and announced his intention to make a dash at the fort
without waiting for more force. "It is a desperate attempt," said he, "and
I ask no man to go against his will. I will take the lead, and be the first
to advance. You that are willing to follow, poise your firelocks." Not a
firelock but was poised.
They mounted the hill briskly, but in silence, guided by a boy from the
neighborhood. The day dawned as Allen arrived at a sally port. A sentry
pulled trigger on him, but his piece missed fire. He retreated through a
covered way. Allen and his men followed. Another sentry thrust at Easton
with his bayonet, but was struck down by Allen, and begged for quarter. It
was granted on condition of his leading the way instantly to the quarters
of the commandant, Captain Delaplace, who was yet in bed. Being arrived
there, Allen thundered at the door, and demanded a surrender of the fort.
By this time his followers had formed into two lines on the parade-ground,
and given three hearty cheers. The commandant appeared at his door
half-dressed, "the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his
shoulder." He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment. "By whose
authority do you act?" exclaimed he. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and
the Continental Congress!" replied Allen, with a flourish of his sword, and
an oath which we do not care to subjoin.
There was no disputing the point. The garrison, like the commander, had
been startled from sleep, and made prisoners as they rushed forth in their
confusion. A surrender accordingly took place. The captain, and forty-eight
men, which composed his garrison, were sent prisoners to Hartford, in
Connecticut. A great supply of military and naval stores, so important in
the present crisis, was found in the fortress.
Colonel Seth Warner, who had brought over the residue of the party from
Shoreham, was now sent with a detachment against Crown Point, which
surrendered on the 12th of May, without firing a gun; the whole garrison
being a sergeant and twelve men. Here were taken upward of a hundred
Arnold now insisted vehemently on his right to command Ticonderoga; being,
as he said, the only officer invested with legal authority. His claims had
again to yield to the superior popularity of Ethan Allen, to whom the
Connecticut committee, which had accompanied the enterprise, gave an
instrument in writing, investing him with the command of the fortress, and
its dependencies, until he should receive the orders of the Connecticut
Assembly, or the Continental Congress. Arnold, while forced to acquiesce,
sent a protest, and a statement of his grievances to the Massachusetts
Legislature. In the mean time, his chagrin was appeased by a new project.
The detachment originally sent to seize upon boats at Skenesborough,
arrived with a schooner, and several bateaux. It was immediately concerted
between Allen and Arnold to cruise in them down the lake, and surprise St.
John's, on the Sorel River, the frontier post of Canada. The schooner was
accordingly armed with cannon from the fort. Arnold, who had been a seaman
in his youth, took the command of her, while Allen and his Green Mountain
Boys embarked in the bateaux.
Arnold outsailed the other craft, and arriving at St. John's, surprised and
made prisoners of a sergeant and twelve men; captured a king's sloop of
seventy tons, with two brass six-pounders and seven men; took four bateaux,
destroyed several others, and then, learning that troops were on the way
from Montreal and Chamblee, spread all his sails to a favoring breeze, and
swept up the lake with his prizes and prisoners, and some valuable stores,
which he had secured.
He had not sailed far when he met Ethan Allen and the bateaux. Salutes were
exchanged; cannon on one side, musketry on the other. Allen boarded the
sloop; learnt from Arnold the particulars of his success, and determined to
push on, take possession of St. John's, and garrison it with one hundred of
his Green Mountain Boys. He was foiled in the attempt by the superior force
which had arrived; so he returned to his station at Ticonderoga.
Thus a partisan band, unpractised in the art of war, had, by a series of
daring exploits, and almost without the loss of a man, won for the patriots
the command of Lakes George and Champlain, and thrown open the great
highway to Canada.
SECOND SESSION OF CONGRESS--JOHN HANCOCK--PETITION TO THE KING--FEDERAL
UNION--MILITARY MEASURES--DEBATES ABOUT THE ARMY--QUESTION AS TO
COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF--APPOINTMENT OF WASHINGTON--OTHER APPOINTMENTS--LETTERS
OF WASHINGTON TO HIS WIFE AND BROTHER--PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE.
The second General Congress assembled at Philadelphia on the 10th of May.
Peyton Randolph was again elected as president; but being obliged to
return, and occupy his place as speaker of the Virginia Assembly, John
Hancock, of Massachusetts, was elevated to the chair.
A lingering feeling of attachment to the mother country, struggling with
the growing spirit of self-government, was manifested in the proceedings of
this remarkable body. Many of those most active in vindicating colonial
rights, and Washington among the number, still indulged the hope of an
eventual reconciliation, while few entertained, or, at least, avowed the
idea of complete independence.
A second "humble and dutiful" petition to the king was moved, but met with
strong opposition. John Adams condemned it as an imbecile measure,
calculated to embarrass the proceedings of Congress. He was for prompt and
vigorous action. Other members concurred with him. Indeed, the measure
itself seemed but a mere form, intended to reconcile the half-scrupulous;
for subsequently, when it was carried, Congress, in face of it, went on to
assume and exercise the powers of a sovereign authority. A federal union
was formed, leaving to each colony the right of regulating its internal
affairs according to its own individual constitution, but vesting in
Congress the power of making peace or war; of entering into treaties and
alliances; of regulating general commerce; in a word, of legislating on all
such matters as regarded the security and welfare of the whole community.
The executive power was to be vested in a council of twelve, chosen by
Congress from among its own members, and to hold office for a limited time.
Such colonies as had not sent delegates to Congress, might yet become
members of the confederacy by agreeing to its conditions. Georgia, which
had hitherto hesitated, soon joined the league, which thus extended from
Nova Scotia to Florida.
Congress lost no time in exercising their federated powers. In virtue of
them, they ordered the enlistment of troops, the construction of forts in
various parts of the colonies, the provision of arms, ammunition, and
military stores; while to defray the expense of these, and other measures,
avowedly of self-defence, they authorized the emission of notes to the
amount of three millions of dollars, bearing the inscription of "The United
Colonies;" the faith of the confederacy being pledged for their redemption.
A retaliating decree was passed, prohibiting all supplies of provisions to
the British fisheries; and another, declaring the province of Massachusetts
Bay absolved from its compact with the crown, by the violation of its
charter; and recommending it to form an internal government for itself.
The public sense of Washington's military talents and experience, was
evinced in his being chairman of all the committees appointed for military
affairs. Most of the rules and regulations for the army, and the measures
for defence, were devised by him.
The situation of the New England army, actually besieging Boston, became an
early and absorbing consideration. It was without munitions of war, without
arms, clothing, or pay; in fact, without legislative countenance or
encouragement. Unless sanctioned and assisted by Congress, there was danger
of its dissolution. If dissolved, how could another be collected? If
dissolved, what would there be to prevent the British from sallying out of
Boston, and spreading desolation throughout the country?
All this was the subject of much discussion out of doors. The disposition
to uphold the army was general; but the difficult question was, who should
be commander-in-chief? Adams, in his diary, gives us glimpses of the
conflict of opinions and interests within doors. There was a southern
party, he said, which could not brook the idea of a New England army,
commanded by a New England general. "Whether this jealousy was sincere,"
writes he, "or whether it was mere pride, and a haughty ambition of
furnishing a southern general to command the northern army, I cannot say;
but the intention was very visible to me, that Colonel Washington was their
object; and so many of our stanchest men were in the plan, that we could
carry nothing without conceding to it. There was another embarrassment,
which was never publicly known, and which was carefully concealed by those
who knew it: the Massachusetts and other New England delegates were
divided. Mr. Hancock and Mr. Cushing hung back; Mr. Paine did not come
forward, and even Mr. Samuel Adams was irresolute. Mr. Hancock himself had
an ambition to be appointed commander-in-chief. Whether he thought an
election a compliment due to him, and intended to have the honor of
declining it, or whether he would have accepted it, I know not. To the
compliment, he had some pretensions; for, at that time, his exertions,
sacrifices, and general merits in the cause of his country, had been
incomparably greater than those of Colonel Washington. But the delicacy of
his health, and his entire want of experience in actual service, though an
excellent militia officer, were decisive objections to him in my mind."
General Charles Lee was at that time in Philadelphia. His former visit had
made him well acquainted with the leading members of Congress. The active
interest he had manifested in the cause was well known, and the public had
an almost extravagant idea of his military qualifications. He was of
foreign birth, however, and it was deemed improper to confide the supreme
command to any but a native-born American. In fact, if he was sincere in
what we have quoted from his letter to Burke, he did not aspire to such a
signal mark of confidence.
The opinion evidently inclined in favor of Washington; yet it was promoted
by no clique of partisans or admirers. More than one of the Virginia
delegates, says Adams, were cool on the subject of this appointment; and
particularly Mr. Pendleton, was clear and full against it. It is scarcely
necessary to add, that Washington in this, as in every other situation in
life, made no step in advance to clutch the impending honor.
Adams, in his diary, claims the credit of bringing the members of Congress
to a decision. Rising in his place, one day, and stating briefly, but
earnestly, the exigencies of the case, he moved that Congress should adopt
the army at Cambridge, and appoint a general. Though this was not the time
to nominate the person, "yet," adds he, "as I had reason to believe this
was a point of some difficulty, I had no hesitation to declare, that I had
but one gentleman in my mind for that important command, and that was a
gentleman from Virginia, who was among us and very well known to all of us;
a gentleman, whose skill and experience as an officer, whose independent
fortune, great talents, and excellent universal character would command the
approbation of all America, and unite the cordial exertions of all the
colonies better than any other person in the Union. Mr. Washington, who
happened to sit near the door, as soon as he heard me allude to him, from
his usual modesty, darted into the library-room. Mr. Hancock, who was our
president, which gave me an opportunity to observe his countenance, while I
was speaking on the state of the colonies, the army at Cambridge, and the
enemy, heard me with visible pleasure; but when I came to describe
Washington for the commander, I never remarked a more sudden and striking
change of countenance. Mortification and resentment were expressed as
forcibly as his face could exhibit them."
"When the subject came under debate, several delegates opposed the
appointment of Washington; not from personal objections, but because the
army were all from New England, and had a general of their own, General
Artemas Ward, with whom they appeared well satisfied; and under whose
command they had proved themselves able to imprison the British army in
Boston; which was all that was to be expected or desired."
The subject was postponed to a future day. In the interim, pains were taken
out of doors to obtain a unanimity, and the voices were in general so
clearly in favor of Washington, that the dissentient members were persuaded
to withdraw their opposition.
On the 15th of June, the army was regularly adopted by Congress, and the
pay of the Commander-in-chief fixed at five hundred dollars a month. Many
still clung to the idea, that in all these proceedings they were merely
opposing the measures of the ministry, and not the authority of the crown,
and thus the army before Boston was designated as the Continental Army, in
contradistinction to that under General Gage, which was called the
In this stage of the business Mr. Johnson, of Maryland, rose, and nominated
Washington for the station of commander-in-chief. The election was by
ballot, and was unanimous. It was formally announced to him by the
president, on the following day, when he had taken his seat in Congress.
Rising in his place, he briefly expressed his high and grateful sense of
the honor conferred on him, and his sincere devotion to the cause. "But,"
added he, "lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my
reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that
I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal
to the command I am honored with. As to pay, I beg leave to assure the
Congress that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to
accept this arduous employment, at the expense of my domestic ease and
happiness, I do not wish to make any profit of it. I will keep an exact
account of my expenses. Those, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that
is all I desire."
"There is something charming to me in the conduct of Washington," writes
Adams to a friend; "a gentleman of one of the first fortunes upon the
continent, leaving his delicious retirement, his family and friends,
sacrificing his ease, and hazarding all, in the cause of his country. His
views are noble and disinterested. He declared, when he accepted the mighty
trust, that he would lay before us an exact account of his expenses, and
not accept a shilling of pay."
Four major-generals were to be appointed. Among those specified were
General Charles Lee and General Ward. Mr. Mifflin, of Philadelphia, who was
Lee's especial friend and admirer, urged that he should be second in
command. "General Lee," said he, "would serve cheerfully under Washington;
but considering his rank, character, and experience, could not be expected
to serve under any other. He must be _aut secundus, aut nullus_."
Adams, on the other hand, as strenuously objected that it would be a great
deal to expect that General Ward, who was actually in command of the army
in Boston, should serve under any man; but under a stranger he ought not to
serve. General Ward, accordingly, was elected the second in command, and
Lee the third. The other two major-generals were, Philip Schuyler, of New
York, and Israel Putnam, of Connecticut. Eight brigadier-generals were
likewise appointed; Seth Pomeroy, Richard Montgomery, David Wooster,
William Heath, Joseph Spencer, John Thomas, John Sullivan, and Nathaniel
Notwithstanding Mr. Mifflin's objection to having Lee ranked under Ward, as
being beneath his dignity and merits, he himself made no scruple to
acquiesce; though, judging from his supercilious character, and from
circumstances in his subsequent conduct, he no doubt considered himself
vastly superior to the provincial officers placed over him.
At Washington's express request, his old friend, Major Horatio Gates, then
absent at his estate in Virginia, was appointed adjutant-general, with the
rank of brigadier.
Adams, according to his own account, was extremely loth to admit either Lee
or Gates into the American service, although he considered them officers of
great experience and confessed abilities. He apprehended difficulties, he
said, from the "natural prejudices and virtuous attachment of our
countrymen to their own officers." "But," adds he, "considering the earnest
desire of General Washington to have the assistance of those officers, the
extreme attachment of many of our best friends in the southern colonies to
them, the reputation they would give to our arms in Europe, and especially
with the ministerial generals and army in Boston, as well as the real
American merit of both, I could not withhold my vote from either."
The reader will possibly call these circumstances to mind when, on a future
page, he finds how Lee and Grates requited the friendship to which chiefly
they owed their appointments.
In this momentous change in his condition, which suddenly altered all his
course of life, and called him immediately to the camp, Washington's
thoughts recurred to Mount Vernon, and its rural delights, so dear to his
heart, whence he was to be again exiled. His chief concern, however, was on
account of the distress it might cause to his wife. His letter to her on
the subject is written in a tone of manly tenderness. "You may believe me,"
writes he, "when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from
seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid
it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but
from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity; and I
should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home than I have
the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven
times seven years. But as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me
upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking it is designed to
answer some good purpose. ...
"I shall rely confidently on that Providence which has heretofore
preserved, and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return
safe to you in the Fall. I shall feel no pain from the toil or danger of
the campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will
feel from being left alone. I therefore beg that you will summon your whole
fortitude, and pass your time as agreeably as possible. Nothing will give
me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your
And to his favorite brother, John Augustine, he writes: "I am now to bid
adieu to you, and to every kind of domestic ease, for a while. I am
embarked on a wide ocean, boundless in its prospect, and in which, perhaps,
no safe harbor is to be found. I have been called upon by the unanimous
voice of the colonies to take the command of the continental army; an honor
I neither sought after, nor desired, as I am thoroughly convinced that it
requires great abilities, and much more experience, than I am master of."
And subsequently, referring to his wife: "I shall hope that my friends will
visit, and endeavor to keep up the spirits of my wife as much as they can,
for my departure will, I know, be a cutting stroke upon her; and on this
account alone I have many disagreeable sensations."
On the 20th of June, he received his commission from the president of
Congress. The following day was fixed upon for his departure for the army.
He reviewed previously, at the request of their officers, several militia
companies of horse and foot. Every one was anxious to see the new
commander, and rarely has the public _beau ideal_ of a commander been
so fully answered. He was now in the vigor of his days, forty-three years
of age, stately in person, noble in his demeanor, calm and dignified in his
deportment; as he sat his horse, with manly grace, his military presence
delighted every eye, and wherever he went the air rang with acclamations.
MORE TROOPS ARRIVE AT BOSTON--GENERALS HOWE, BURGOYNE, AND CLINTON--
PROCLAMATION OF GAGE--NATURE OF THE AMERICAN ARMY--SCORNFUL CONDUCT OF THE
BRITISH OFFICERS--PROJECT OF THE AMERICANS TO SEIZE UPON BREED'S HILL--
PUTNAM'S OPINION OF IT--SANCTIONED BY PRESCOTT--NOCTURNAL MARCH OF THE
DETACHMENT--FORTIFYING OF BUNKER'S HILL--BREAK OF DAY, AND ASTONISHMENT OF
While Congress had been deliberating on the adoption of the army, and the
nomination of a commander-in-chief, events had been thickening and drawing
to a crisis in the excited region about Boston. The provincial troops which
blockaded the town prevented supplies by land, the neighboring country
refused to furnish them by water; fresh provisions and vegetables were no
longer to be procured, and Boston began to experience the privations of a
On the 25th of May, arrived ships of war and transports from England,
bringing large reinforcements, under Generals Howe, Burgoyne, and Henry
Clinton, commanders of high reputation.
As the ships entered the harbor, and the "rebel camp" was pointed out, ten
thousand yeomanry beleaguering a town garrisoned by five thousand regulars,
Burgoyne could not restrain a burst of surprise and scorn. "What!" cried
he, "ten thousand peasants keep five thousand king's troops shut up! Well,
let us get in, and we'll soon find elbow-room."
Inspirited by these reinforcements, General Gage determined to take the
field. Previously, however, in conformity to instructions from Lord
Dartmouth, the head of the war department, he issued a proclamation (12th
June), putting the province under martial law, threatening to treat as
rebels and traitors all malcontents who should continue under arms,
together with their aiders and abettors; but offering pardon to all who
should lay down their arms, and return to their allegiance. From this
proffered amnesty, however, John Hancock and Samuel Adams were especially
excepted; their offences being pronounced "too flagitious not to meet with
This proclamation only served to put the patriots on the alert against such
measures as might be expected to follow, and of which their friends in
Boston stood ready to apprise them. The besieging force, in the mean time,
was daily augmented by recruits and volunteers, and now amounted to about
fifteen thousand men distributed at various points. Its character and
organization were peculiar. As has well been observed, it could not be
called a national army, for, as yet, there was no nation to own it; it was
not under the authority of the Continental Congress, the act of that body
recognizing it not having as yet been passed, and the authority of that
body itself not having been acknowledged. It was, in fact, a fortuitous
assemblage of four distinct bodies of troops, belonging to different
provinces, and each having a leader of its own election. About ten thousand
belonged to Massachusetts, and were under the command of General Artemas
Ward, whose head-quarters were at Cambridge. Another body of troops, under
Colonel John Stark, already mentioned, came from New Hampshire. Rhode
Island furnished a third, under the command of General Nathaniel Greene. A
fourth was from Connecticut, under the veteran Putnam.
These bodies of troops, being from different colonies, were independent of
each other, and had their several commanders. Those from New Hampshire were
instructed to obey General Ward as commander-in-chief; with the rest, it
was a voluntary act, rendered in consideration of his being military chief
of Massachusetts, the province which, as allies, they came to defend.
There was, in fact, but little organization in the army. Nothing kept it
together, and gave it unity of action, but a common feeling of exasperated
The troops knew but little of military discipline. Almost all were familiar
with the use of fire-arms in hunting and fowling; many had served in
frontier campaigns against the French, and in "bush-fighting" with the
Indians; but none were acquainted with regular service or the discipline of
European armies. There was a regiment of artillery, partly organized by
Colonel Gridley, a skilful engineer, and furnished with nine field-pieces;
but the greater part of the troops were without military dress or
accoutrements; most of them were hasty levies of yeomanry, some of whom had
seized their rifles and fowling-pieces, and turned out in their working
clothes and homespun country garbs. It was an army of volunteers,
subordinate through inclination and respect to officers of their own
choice, and depending for sustenance on supplies sent from, their several
Such was the army spread over an extent of ten or twelve miles, and keeping
watch upon the town of Boston, containing at that time a population of
seventeen thousand souls, and garrisoned with more than ten thousand
British troops, disciplined and experienced in the wars of Europe.
In the disposition of these forces, General Ward had stationed himself at
Cambridge, with the main body of about nine thousand men and four companies
of artillery. Lieutenant-general Thomas, second in command, was posted,
with five thousand Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island troops, and
three or four companies of artillery, at Roxbury and Dorchester, forming
the right wing of the army; while the left, composed in a great measure of
New Hampshire troops, stretched through Medford to the hills of Chelsea.
It was a great annoyance to the British officers and soldiers, to be thus
hemmed in by what they termed a rustic rout with calico frocks and
fowling-pieces. The same scornful and taunting spirit prevailed among them,
that the cavaliers of yore indulged toward the Covenanters. Considering
episcopacy as the only loyal and royal faith, they insulted and desecrated
the "sectarian" places of worship. One was turned into a riding school for
the cavalry, and the fire in the stove was kindled with books from the
library of its pastor. The Provincials retaliated by turning the Episcopal
church at Cambridge into a barrack, and melting down its organ-pipes into
Both parties panted for action; the British through impatience of their
humiliating position, and an eagerness to chastise what they considered the
presumption of their besiegers; the Provincials through enthusiasm in their
cause, a thirst for enterprise and exploit, and, it must be added, an
unconsciousness of their own military deficiencies.
We have already mentioned the peninsula of Charlestown (called from a
village of the same name), which lies opposite to the north side of Boston.
The heights, which swell up in rear of the village, overlook the town and
shipping. The project was conceived in the besieging camp to seize and
occupy those heights. A council of war was held upon the subject. The
arguments in favor of the attempt were, that the army was anxious to be
employed; that the country was dissatisfied with its inactivity, and that
the enemy might thus be drawn out to ground where they might be fought to
advantage. General Putnam was one of the most strenuous in favor of the
Some of the more wary and judicious, among whom were General Ward and Dr.
Warren, doubted the expediency of intrenching themselves on those heights,
and the possibility of maintaining so exposed a post, scantily furnished,
as they were, with ordnance and ammunition. Besides, it might bring on a
general engagement, which it was not safe to risk.
Putnam made light of the danger. He was confident of the bravery of the
militia if intrenched, having seen it tried in the old French war. "The
Americans," said he, "are never afraid of their heads; they only think of
their legs; shelter them, and they'll fight for ever." He was seconded by
General Pomeroy, a leader of like stamp, and another veteran of the French
war. He had been a hunter in his time; a dead shot with a rifle, and was
ready to lead troops against the enemy, "with five cartridges to a man."
The daring councils of such men are always captivating to the
inexperienced; but in the present instance, they were sanctioned by one
whose opinion in such matters, and in this vicinity, possessed peculiar
weight. This was Colonel William Prescott, of Pepperell, who commanded a
regiment of minute men. He, too, had seen service in the French war, and
acquired reputation as a lieutenant of infantry at the capture of Cape
Breton. This was sufficient to constitute him an oracle in the present
instance. He was now about fifty years of age, tall and commanding in his
appearance, and retaining the port of a soldier. What was more, he had a
military garb; being equipped with a three-cornered hat, a top wig, and a
single-breasted blue coat, with facings and lapped up at the skirts. All
this served to give him consequence among the rustic militia officers with
whom he was in council.
His opinion, probably, settled the question; and it was determined to seize
on and fortify Bunker's Hill and Dorchester Heights. In deference, however,
to the suggestions of the more cautious, it was agreed to postpone the
measure until they were sufficiently supplied with the munitions of war to
be able to maintain the heights when seized.
Secret intelligence hurried forward the project. General Gage, it was said,
intended to take possession of Dorchester Heights on the night of the 18th
of June. These heights lay on the opposite side of Boston, and the
committee were ignorant of their localities. Those on Charlestown Neck,
being near at hand, had some time before been reconnoitered by Colonel
Richard Gridley, and other of the engineers. It was determined to seize and
fortify these heights on the night of Friday, the 16th of June, in
anticipation of the movement of General Gage. Troops were draughted for the
purpose from the Massachusetts regiments of Colonels Prescott, Frye and
Bridges. There was also a fatigue party of about two hundred men from
Putnam's Connecticut troops, led by his favorite officer, Captain Knowlton;
together with a company of forty-nine artillery men, with two field-pieces,
commanded by Captain Samuel Gridley.
A little before sunset the troops, about twelve hundred in all, assembled
on the common, in front of General Ward's quarters. They came provided with
packs, blankets and provisions for four-and-twenty hours, but ignorant of
the object of the expedition. Being all paraded, prayers were offered up by
the reverend President Langdon, of Harvard College; after which they all
set forward on their silent march.
Colonel Prescott, from his experience in military matters, and his being an
officer in the Massachusetts line, had been chosen by General Ward to
conduct the enterprise. His written orders were to fortify Bunker's Hill,
and defend the works until he should be relieved. Colonel Richard Gridley,
the chief engineer, who had likewise served in the French war, was to
accompany him and plan the fortifications. It was understood that
reinforcements and refreshments would be sent to the fatigue party in the
The detachment left Cambridge about 9 o'clock, Colonel Prescott taking the
lead, preceded by two sergeants with dark lanterns. At Charlestown Neck
they were joined by Major Brooks, of Bridges' regiment, and General Putnam;
and here were the waggons laden with intrenching tools, which first gave
the men an indication of the nature of the enterprise.
Charlestown Neck is a narrow isthmus, connecting the peninsula with the
main land; having the Mystic River, about half a mile wide, on the north,
and a large embayment of Charles River on the south or right side.
It was now necessary to proceed with the utmost caution, for they were
coming on ground over which the British kept jealous watch. They had
erected a battery at Boston on Copp's Hill, immediately opposite to
Charlestown. Five of their vessels of war were stationed so as to bear upon
the peninsula from different directions, and the guns of one of them swept
the isthmus, or narrow neck just mentioned.
Across this isthmus, Colonel Prescott conducted the detachment
undiscovered, and up the ascent of Bunker's Hill. This commences at the
Neck, and slopes up for about three hundred yards to its summit, which is
about one hundred and twelve feet high. It then declines toward the south,
and is connected by a ridge with Breed's Hill, about sixty or seventy feet
high. The crests of the two hills are about seven hundred yards apart.
On attaining the heights, a question rose which of the two they should
proceed to fortify. Bunker's Hill was specified in the written orders given
to Colonel Prescott by General Ward, but Breed's Hill was much nearer to
Boston, and had a better command of the town and shipping. Bunker's Hill,
also, being on the upper and narrower part of the peninsula, was itself
commanded by the same ship which raked the Neck. Putnam was clear for
commencing at Breed's Hill, and making the principal work there, while a
minor work might be thrown up at Bunker's Hill, as a protection in the
rear, and a rallying point, in case of being driven out of the main work.
Others concurred with this opinion, yet there was a hesitation in deviating
from the letter of their orders. At length Colonel Gridley became
impatient; the night was waning; delay might prostrate the whole
enterprise. Breed's Hill was then determined on. Gridley marked out the
lines for the fortifications; the men stacked their guns; threw off their
packs; seized their trenching tools, and set to work with great spirit; but
so much time had been wasted in discussion, that it was midnight before
they struck the first spade into the ground.
Prescott, who felt the responsibility of his charge, almost despaired of
carrying on these operations undiscovered. A party was sent out by him
silently to patrol the shore at the foot of the heights, and watch for any
movement of the enemy. Not willing to trust entirely to the vigilance of
others, he twice went down during the night to the water's edge;
reconnoitering every thing scrupulously, and noting every sight and sound.
It was a warm, still, summer's night; the stars shone brightly, but every
thing was quiet. Boston was buried in sleep. The sentry's cry of "All's
well" could be heard distinctly from its shores, together with the drowsy
calling of the watch on board of the ships of war, and then all would
relapse into silence. Satisfied that the enemy were perfectly unconscious
of what was going on upon the hill, he returned to the works, and a little
before daybreak called in the patrolling party.
So spiritedly, though silently, had the labor been carried on, that by
morning a strong redoubt was thrown up as a main work, flanked on the left
by a breastwork, partly cannon-proof, extending down the crest of Breed's
Hill to a piece of marshy ground called the Slough. To support the right of
the redoubt, some troops were thrown into the village of Charlestown, at
the southern foot of the hill. The great object of Prescott's solicitude
was now attained, a sufficient bulwark to screen his men before they should
be discovered; for he doubted the possibility of keeping raw recruits to
their post, if openly exposed to the fire of artillery, and the attack of
[Illustration: FORTIFYING BREED'S HILL IN THE NIGHT. JUNE 16, 1775.]
At dawn of day, the Americans at work were espied by the sailors on board
of the ships of war, and the alarm was given. The captain of the Lively,
the nearest ship, without waiting for orders, put a spring upon her cable,
and bringing her guns to bear, opened a fire upon the hill. The other ships
and a floating battery followed his example. Their shot did no mischief to
the works, but one man, among a number who had incautiously ventured
outside, was killed. A subaltern reported his death to Colonel Prescott,
and asked what was to be done. "Bury him," was the reply. The chaplain
gathered some of his military flock around him, and was proceeding to
perform suitable obsequies over the "first martyr," but Prescott ordered
that the men should disperse to their work, and the deceased be buried
immediately. It seemed shocking to men accustomed to the funeral
solemnities of peaceful life to bury a man without prayers, but Prescott
saw that the sight of this man suddenly shot down had agitated the nerves
of his comrades, unaccustomed to scenes of war. Some of them, in fact,
quietly left the hill, and did not return to it.
To inspire confidence by example, Prescott now mounted the parapet, and
walked leisurely about, inspecting the works, giving directions, and
talking cheerfully with the men. In a little while they got over their
dread of cannon-balls, and some even made them a subject of joke, or rather
bravado; a species of sham courage occasionally manifested by young
soldiers, but never by veterans.
The cannonading roused the town of Boston. General Gage could scarcely
believe his eyes when he beheld on the opposite hill a fortification full
of men, which had sprung up in the course of the night. As he reconnoitered
it through a glass from Copp's Hill, the tall figure of Prescott, in
military garb, walking the parapet, caught his eye. "Who is that officer
who appears in command?" asked he. The question was answered by Counsellor
Willard, Prescott's brother-in-law, who was at hand, and recognized his
relative. "Will he fight?" demanded Gage, quickly. "Yes, sir! he is an old
soldier, and will fight to the last drop of blood; but I cannot answer for
"The works must be carried!" exclaimed Gage.
He called a council of war. The Americans might intend to cannonade Boston
from this new fortification; it was unanimously resolved to dislodge them.
How was this to be done? A majority of the council, including Clinton and
Grant, advised that a force should be landed on Charlestown Neck, under the
protection of their batteries, so as to attack the Americans in rear, and
cut off their retreat. General Gage objected that it would place his troops
between two armies; one at Cambridge, superior in numbers, the other on the
heights, strongly fortified. He was for landing in front of the works, and
pushing directly up the hill; a plan adopted through a confidence that raw
militia would never stand their ground against the assault of veteran
troops; another instance of undervaluing the American spirit, which was to
cost the enemy a lamentable loss of life.
BATTLE OF BUNKER'S HILL.
The sound of drum and trumpet, the clatter of hoofs, the rattling of
gun-carriages, and all the other military din and bustle in the streets of
Boston, soon apprised the Americans on their rudely fortified height of an
impending attack. They were ill fitted to withstand it, being jaded by the
night's labor, and want of sleep; hungry and thirsty, having brought but
scanty supplies, and oppressed by the heat of the weather. Prescott sent
repeated messages to General Ward, asking reinforcements and provisions.
Putnam seconded the request in person, urging the exigencies of the case.
Ward hesitated. He feared to weaken his main body at Cambridge, as his
military stores were deposited there, and it might have to sustain the
principal attack. At length, having taken advice of the council of safety,
he issued orders for Colonels Stark and Read, then at Medford, to march to
the relief of Prescott with their New Hampshire regiments. The orders
reached Medford about 11 o'clock. Ammunition was distributed in all haste;
two flints, a gill of powder, and fifteen balls to each man. The balls had
to be suited to the different calibres of the guns; the powder to be
carried in powder-horns, or loose in the pocket, for there were no
cartridges prepared. It was the rude turn out of yeoman soldiery destitute
of regular accoutrements.
In the mean while, the Americans on Breed's Hill were sustaining the fire
from the ships, and from the battery on Copp's Hill, which opened upon them
about ten o'clock. They returned an occasional shot from one corner of the
redoubt, without much harm to the enemy, and continued strengthening their
position until about 11 o'clock, when they ceased to work, piled their
intrenching tools in the rear, and looked out anxiously and impatiently for
the anticipated reinforcements and supplies.
About this time General Putnam, who had been to headquarters, arrived at
the redoubt on horseback. Some words passed between him and Prescott with
regard to the intrenching tools, which have been variously reported. The
most probable version is, that he urged to have them taken from their
present place, where they might fall into the hands of the enemy, and
carried to Bunker's Hill, to be employed in throwing up a redoubt, which
was part of the original plan, and which would be very important should the
troops be obliged to retreat from Breed's Hill. To this Prescott demurred
that those employed to convey them, and who were already jaded with toil,
might not return to his redoubt. A large part of the tools were ultimately
carried to Bunker's Hill, and a breastwork commenced by order of General
Putnam. The importance of such a work was afterwards made apparent.
About noon the Americans descried twenty-eight barges crossing from Boston
in parallel lines. They contained a large detachment of grenadiers,
rangers, and light infantry, admirably equipped, and commanded by
Major-general Howe. They made a splendid and formidable appearance with
their scarlet uniforms, and the sun flashing upon muskets and bayonets, and
brass fieldpieces. A heavy fire from the ships and batteries covered their
advance, but no attempt was made to oppose them, and they landed about 1
o'clock at Moulton's Point, a little to the north of Breed's Hill.
Here General Howe made a pause. On reconnoitering the works from this
point, the Americans appeared to be much more strongly posted than he had
imagined. He descried troops also hastening to their assistance. These were
the New Hampshire troops, led on by Stark. Howe immediately sent over to
General Gage for more forces, and a supply of cannon-balls; those brought
by him being found, through some egregious oversight, too large for the
ordnance. While awaiting their arrival, refreshments were served out to the
troops, with "grog," by the bucketful; and tantalizing it was, to the
hungry and thirsty provincials, to look down from their ramparts of earth,
and see their invaders seated in groups upon the grass eating and drinking,
and preparing themselves by a hearty meal for the coming encounter. Their
only consolation was to take advantage of the delay, while the enemy were
carousing, to strengthen their position. The breast-work on the left of the
redoubt extended to what was called the Slough, but beyond this, the ridge
of the hill, and the slope toward Mystic River, were undefended, leaving a
pass by which the enemy might turn the left flank of the position, and
seize upon Bunker's Hill. Putnam ordered his chosen officer, Captain
Knowlton, to cover this pass with the Connecticut troops under his command.
A novel kind of rampart, savoring of rural device, was suggested by the
rustic general. About six hundred feet in the rear of the redoubt, and
about one hundred feet to the left of the breastwork, was a post and
rail-fence, set in a low foot-wall of stone, and extending down to Mystic
River. The posts and rails of another fence were hastily pulled up, and set
a few feet in behind this, and the intermediate space was filled up with
new mown hay from the adjacent meadows. This double fence, it will be
found, proved an important protection to the redoubt, although there still
remained an unprotected interval of about seven hundred feet.
While Knowlton and his men were putting up this fence, Putnam proceeded
with other of his troops to throw up the work on Bunker's Hill, despatching
his son, Captain Putnam, on horseback, to hurry up the remainder of his men
from Cambridge. By this time his compeer in French and Indian warfare, the
veteran Stark, made his appearance with the New Hampshire troops, five
hundred strong. He had grown cool and wary with age, and his march from
Medford, a distance of five or six miles, had been in character. He led his
men at a moderate pace to bring them into action fresh and vigorous. In
crossing the Neck, which was enfiladed by the enemy's ships and batteries,
Captain Dearborn, who was by his side, suggested a quick step. The veteran
shook his head: "One fresh man in action is worth ten tired ones," replied
he, and marched steadily on.
Putnam detained some of Stark's men to aid in throwing up the works on
Bunker's Hill, and directed him to reinforce Knowlton with the rest. Stark
made a short speech to his men now that they were likely to have warm work.
He then pushed on, and did good service that day at the rustic bulwark.
About 2 o'clock, Warren arrived on the heights, ready to engage in their
perilous defence, although he had opposed the scheme of their occupation.
He had recently been elected a major-general, but had not received his
commission; like Pomeroy, he came to serve in the ranks with a musket on
his shoulder. Putnam offered him the command at the fence; he declined it,
and merely asked where he could be of most service as a volunteer. Putnam
pointed to the redoubt, observing that there he would be under cover.
"Don't think I seek a place of safety," replied Warren, quickly; "where
will the attack be hottest?" Putnam still pointed to the redoubt. "That is
the enemy's object; if that can be maintained, the day is ours."
Warren was cheered by the troops as he entered the redoubt. Colonel
Prescott tendered him the command. He again declined. "I have come to serve
only as a volunteer, and shall be happy to learn from a soldier of your
experience." Such were the noble spirits assembled on these perilous
The British now prepared for a general assault. An easy victory was
anticipated; the main thought was, how to make it most effectual. The left
wing, commanded by General Pigot, was to mount the hill and force the
redoubt, while General Howe, with the right wing, was to push on between
the fort and Mystic River, turn the left flank of the Americans, and cut
off their retreat.
General Pigot, accordingly, advanced up the hill under cover of a fire from
field-pieces and howitzers planted on a small height near the landing-place
on Moulton's Point. His troops commenced a discharge of musketry while yet
at a long distance from the redoubts. The Americans within the works,
obedient to strict command, retained their fire until the enemy were within
thirty or forty paces, when they opened upon them with a tremendous volley.
Being all marksmen, accustomed to take deliberate aim, the slaughter was
immense, and especially fatal to officers. The assailants fell back in some
confusion; but, rallied on by their officers, advanced within pistol shot.
Another volley, more effective than the first, made them again recoil. To
add to their confusion, they were galled by a flanking fire from the
handful of Provincials posted in Charlestown. Shocked at the carnage, and
seeing the confusion of his troops, General Pigot was urged to give the
word for a retreat.
In the mean while, General Howe, with the right wing, advanced along Mystic
River toward the fence where Stark, Read and Knowlton were stationed,
thinking to carry this slight breastwork with ease, and so get in the rear
of the fortress. His artillery proved of little avail, being stopped by a