Eyewitness Accounts from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society
Eyewitness Accounts Arranged by Name of Author
In this letter by Adams written on 19 May 1775 from Philadelphia (where the Second Continental Congress had convened) to Samuel Purviance, Jr., a man from Maryland who promoted the revolutionary cause, Adams mentions that he had firsthand knowledge of the battle on 19 April 1775. Adams also acknowledges the harsh conditions in besieged Boston and the difficulty of communicating with people in that town.
"At present the Sufferers by the Port bill are confined within the Town of Boston with the other Inhabitants and there can be no Communication between them and their friends without..." 19 May 1775, Page 1
Two letters from John Andrews, a merchant in Boston, to his brother-in-law William Barrell, a merchant in Philadelphia. In these letters, written on 6 May and 1 June 1775, Andrews describes conditions in Boston. The first letter details conditions shortly into the Siege including the large number of people to leave Boston and the difficulty of communicating between town and country. In the second letter, Andrews struggles to survive by himself in Boston; his family having left, Andrews remained to ensure that his family's belongings were not stolen by the British troops.
"...you must know that no person who leaves the town is allow'd to return again." 6 May 1775, Page 2.
"I find an absolute necessity to be here myself, as the Soldiery think they have a license to plunder evry ones house & Store who leaves the town..." 1 June 1775, Page 2.
A journal kept by Isaac Bangs of Harwich, Mass. after he joined the Continental Army as a 2nd lieutenant in Colonel John Bailey's 23rd Continental Regiment. In journal entries dating from January - July 1776, Bangs recounts his service in a militia regiment stationed near Boston during the Siege and as an officer in New York from April - July. The entries he kept during the Siege mention the following locations: Roxbury, Dorchester, Prospect Hill, Lechmere's Point, Cobble Hill, Nooke Point and the Neck.
"...had they been so rash they would in all probability have found the 5th of March 1776 more Bloody on their Side than Preston made the same Day in 1770 on ours..." Page 10.
Boston freeholders and inhabitants
These manuscript town meeting minutes record the two votes passed at the meeting of property owners and residents of Boston on 22 April 1775, three days after the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The first vote pertained to peaceable actions and intentions of the Provincial army outside the city in conjunction with those men remaining in the city. In exchange for peace, inhabitants and their property within Boston would be protected by General Gage and His Majesty's Troops. The second vote related to communications and the transfer of supplies, provisions and people, which all had been prohibited once the army had blocked access at Boston Neck. Inhabitants of Boston were permitted to leave the town provided they left their arms behind at a secure location under the care of the Selectmen.
"the Troops should do no damage, nor Commit any Act of Violence on the Town but that the lives & properties of the Inhabitants should be protected & Secured, if the Inhabitants behaved peacably."
This diary kept by Obadiah Brown, a soldier from Gageborough (now Windsor), Massachusetts, who served as a private during the Siege and later in New York, contains entries dating from 30 January 1776 to 7 January 1777. Brown's entries written during the Siege of Boston include brief descriptions of basic military duties, summaries of British troop activities, a statement about being fired upon while standing guard at Lechmere Point, and daily life--disciplinary actions and injuries--in his regiment. Brown's diary also describes his military experiences after the Siege of Boston when his regiment went to New York in July where he was shot in the arm and badly wounded.
"...Stood Sentry where ye balls and shots flew like hailstones" 4 March 1776 (page 4).
This brief diary kept by William Cheever in Boston from 19 May 1775-17 March 1776 contains remarks on skirmishes between British and American troops, the food shortage, and the evacuation of the British. Diary entries make mention of many events that occurred in numerous locations: Noddles Island, Thompson Island, Charlestown, lighthouse on Little Brewster Island, Thatcher's Island, Gardner's Island, Fisher's Island, Bunker's Hill, Prospect Hill, West Hill, Roxbury, West Meeting House, Cambridge, Quebec. Cheever's diary also mentions the troubles of Henry Williams, and the imprisonment of James Lovell, John Leach, and John Gill.
"An Account taking of all the Houses, etc., in town; and every Inhabitant required by Proclamation to give in a List of those in his Family" 2 October 1775, page 7.
Sarah Winslow Deming
Within this 12-page letter written in the form of journal entries from 15-26 April 1775 Sarah Winslow Deming transmits news of Lexington and Concord and the first few days of the Siege including the unpleasant conditions in the town until her difficult departure from Boston on 20 April 1775. Deming, the wife of Captain John Deming, describes various locations in Boston: Charlestown Ferry, Bartons Point, Boston Common, Boston Neck, as well as outside of the town in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury Hill, Dedham, Attleborough, and Providence.
"Out of Boston, out of Boston at almost any rate -- away as far as possible from the infection of small pox, & the din of drums & martial Musick as its call'd, & horrors of war -- but, my distress is not to be described -- I attempt not to describe it" ca. 15 April 1775, Page 1.
In this diary, Boston resident Peter Edes records entries about his capture and his 107-day-imprisonment by the British. In entries dating from 19 June 1775 to 3 October 1775, Edes, an apprentice printer (and son of the printer Benjamin Edes) writes about the difficulty of getting information about his case and describes the Boston Jail and mentions James Lovell, John Leach, and other prisoners. The last page of the diary is a list of 30 prisoners taken from the Battle of Bunker Hill and in his entry of 21 September 1775; Edes mentions that only 11 of them are still living.
"From before Sunrise till after Sunset a continued Scene of horrid Swearing, obscene talk, and Shocking blasphemy..." 20 August 1775, Page 13.
In letters written on 23 and 24 April 1775, and a draft of a letter of 31 May 1775, Boston Minister Andrew Eliot describes Boston shortly after the Siege began. Eliot was minister of the New North Church in Boston, and although he made great efforts to get his family safely out of Boston, he stayed to serve the members of the community and his congregation who remained in town. The letter written on 23 April 1775 to one of his sons (most likely his oldest son, Andrew, who was a minister in Connecticut) describes the importance of getting his wife out of Boston. The draft of the letter he wrote in May 1775 describes shops and warehouses being shut up, grass growing in the public walks and streets, and "every one in anxiety and distress." In addition to describing Boston he mentions Cambridge College (Harvard), Roxbury, and Dorchester.
"poor Boston May God sanctify our distresses which are greater than you can conceive - Such a Sabbath of melancholy and darkness I never knew" 23 April 1775, Page 1.
"The unhappy situation of this town....Filled with the Troops of Britain & surrounded with a provincial Army, all communication with the Country is cut off, & we wholly deprived of the necessaries of Life" 25 April 1775, Page 1.
These two detailed financial accounts list the expenses and losses of Jonathan Green (1719-1795) of Chelsea, whose crops, property, and livestock were affected by the Siege of Boston. Green's property along Boston Harbor faced Charlestown, a location that got the attention of both the British and American troops. One history of Chelsea indicates that Lieutenant-Colonel Loammi Baldwin and his men occupied Green's property for part of the Siege, and also noted that the property allowed a good view of the Battle of Bunker Hill. At the request of the Committee of Correspondence, Green moved much of his livestock inland (to Stoneham, where some of his family lived) to protect them from being taken by British soldiers. However, Green's property was damaged and his crops were lost to plundering groups of soldiers from both sides.
"to Remove all his Stock of Creatures from Said Chelsea Back to Some more Distant place and as he could not Get them kept nearer he was obliged to Remove them to Stoneham, Eight miles Distance" [7 May 1776], Page 1 of Account of damages (first link below).
This letter, written on 13 November 1775 from the Continental Army's headquarters in Cambridge, from Robert Harrison to Colonel Loammi Baldwin in Chelsea grants permission to distribute livestock such as oxen and milch cows. Harrison, an aide-de-camp of General George Washington, cautions Baldwin of the importance that the livestock not fall into the hands of the British soldiers.
"but he would have them take the utmost care that they do not fall into the enemy's hands, for should they, the publick will make them no compensation as for the loss" 13 November 1775.
William Jackson was born in Boston in 1731 and was a long-time Boston merchant. He consistently defied patriot attempts to embargo British goods during the years before the Revolution, earning him the ire of the Sons of Liberty who urged Bostonians to boycot his shop. He left Boston with the British in March 1776, but his ship was captured, and he was returned to Boston and jailed. In this letter to the Continental Congress on 6 July 1776, Loyalist William Jackson complains of his imprisonment in the Boston jail and requests that his confiscated property be recovered. Jackson also describes the evacuation of Boston on 17 March 1776. Jackson went into exile in England and was formally banished by the Revolutionary government of Massachusetts in 1778.
"as soon as we came out of the Inn we received Blow's, mud, stones, Eggs, and every other abuse and proceeded to Boston being 40 miles on foot" 6 July 1776, Page 3.
This diary was kept by Nathaniel Ober from 15 May - 3 September 1775. Ober, a shoemaker, served as a member of John Mansfield's Massachusetts Regiment. (This regiment was recruited in southeastern Essex County and was taken into the Continental Army when it formed in June 1775.) Although his entries describe events and army life during the Siege (including a description of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the arrival of General Washington at Cambridge, the desertion of soldiers, and military punishments), on many days Ober simply writes, "nothing remarkab[le] today."
"the 29d [of July] it Being Saterday we Concluded the Day with a Drink to wives and Sweatharts" Page 13.
In this letter written to his wife Hannah from Dorchester Hill on 9 March 1776, Brigadier General John Thomas details the military preparations toward the end of the Siege that would lead to the evacuation of the Boston eight days later. In addition to his role as an army officer, rising to the rank of major general, Thomas was a doctor. He died of small pox during the retreat from Canada within three months of this letter.
"about Sunrise the Enemy & others in Boston appeared Numerious on the Tops of Houses & on the wharfes vewing us with astonishment for the appearance was unexpected to them" 9 March 1776, Page 1.
[Unidentified] American Lady
This manuscript poem by an anonymous "American Lady" satirically describes British officials and generals including General Thomas Gage who relinquished command of the British Army to General Howe in October 1775 and departed for England.
"From Boston comes the frited Cow / The ruins left happless Howe!"
Henry Howell Williams
This selection of documents conveys the arduous experience of Henry Howell Williams who owned property on Noddles Island in Boston Harbor and suffered great financial losses in May 1775 when the Continental Army burned his property and confiscated his livestock to prevent them from being taken by the British Army. The documents (including statements certifying the events that occurred and a detailed list of items lost by Williams) were assembled around 1787, about 12 years after the Siege, when Williams petitioned the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for proper compensation for his losses. Williams's case was finally settled in 1789 and he was awarded £2,000. Three years later, in 1792, a committee appointed by the two houses of the Legislature of the Commonwealth found that the compensation that was awarded to Williams in 1789 wouldn't preclude him from receiving additional compensation from other agencies.