Guide to the Microfilm Edition

Collection Summary


The papers of William Heath document his Revolutionary War military service in the Continental Army as a field commander (1776-1777) and as commander of the Eastern District (Mar. 1777-June 1779) and the Lower Hudson (N.Y.) district (June 1779-1783).

Biographical Timeline

2 Mar. 1737
Born in Roxbury, Mass., the son of Samuel and Elizabeth (Payson) Heath.
19 Apr. 1759
Married Sarah Lockwood of Cambridge, Mass.
Elected member of the Massachusetts General Court representing Roxbury.
Joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in Boston.
Re-elected to the Massachusetts General Court.
8 Dec. 1774
Appointed brigadier-general by the Provincial Assembly of Massachusetts.
Member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
June 1775
Promoted to the rank of major-general of Massachusetts forces.
At the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Appointed brigadier-general of the Continental Army under George Washington.
9 Aug. 1776
Promoted to major-general in the Continental service.
Jan. 1777
Led an unsuccessful attack on Ft. Independence (ICY).
Placed in command of the Eastern Military District, with headquarters in Boston.
Placed in command of the Lower Hudson District while George Washington was in Yorktown with main army.
1 July 1783
Returned to his farm in Roxbury, Mass.
Served as a member of the state convention which ratified the Constitution.
Member of the Massachusetts Senate.
Appointed judge, Probate Court, Norfolk County, Mass.
Elected lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts, declined to serve.
24 Jan. 1814
Died in Roxbury, Mass.

Collection Description

The William Heath papers consist of 46 reels of microfilm. The bulk of the collection concerns military matters during the American Revolution. Heath served in the Continental Army from its inception to its dissolution in 1783. The papers cover his service as a field commander, 1776-1777; his command of the Eastern District, Mar. 1777-June 1779; and the Lower Hudson District, June 1779-1783. The collection consists of loose papers, diaries, and orderly books.

Acquisition Information

The papers were purchased from the heirs of William Heath by Amos A. Lawrence, who in turn donated them to the Massachusetts Historical Society in May 1859. Additional miscellaneous materials were donated in 1970 by Mrs. Robert G. Peck of Chicago, Ill.


This collection consists of 31 numbered volumes on 46 reels of microfilm. Reels 1-26 contain loose papers formerly bound into 26 volumes. These materials are arranged chronologically according to the original sequence in the volumes. The items have two sets of numbers on them: 1) the original volume and page numbers which are marked on the back of each document and 2) a second set of page numbers on the front of each document assigned during disbinding. Although the page numbers changed slightly, the order of the documents remained the same. The volume and reel numbers are equivalent, although many reels have been split between two reels of microfilm. Volume 17, for example, is located on reels 17 and 17B.

Each item has been individually cataloged in the MHS manuscript catalog, published by G. K. Hall in 1969 as the Catalog of Manuscripts in the Massachusetts Historical Society. Each entry contains a volume and page number indicating its exact location on the microfilm. Because the materials are not in perfect chronological order and because many documents have been misfiled, this is the most exact way of locating a document on the microfilm.

If the G. K. Hall catalog is not available, two indexes are helpful in determining the approximate location of items on the microfilm. The first index is known as the "26 Volume Index" and is Volume 27 of the collection. It has been filmed at the beginning of each reel except for the split reels described above. Volume 27 was not filmed separately and does not have a corresponding reel number: there is no reel 27. The second index is actually an individual volume index filmed at the beginning of its corresponding reel. Both indexes contain an alphabetical list of names and page numbers. The separate volume indexes also contain occasional descriptions of the contents of documents.

Both indexes refer only to the original numbering system. Page references in the indexes do not match the page numbers on the front of each document, but the items remain in their original order.

Reels 28-29 contain Heath's orderly books, 1776-1783. Reel 29B also includes miscellaneous papers, 1775-1872 (see collection description for more information). Heath's diaries, 1775-1804, are on reels 30-31.

Other Formats

On microfilm, P-205, 46 reels.

Selections published in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th series, Vol. 4 (1878); 7th series, Vols. 4 and 5 (1904-1905).

Detailed Description of the Collection

Note: If it is available, consult the published Catalog of Manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society, (G. K. Hall, 1969) to determine the volume and page number of each individual document.

Note: There is no reel 27. The contents of volume 27 appear at the beginning of each reel except where the reels have been split: i.e., on reel 12, but not 12B, etc.

Papers, 1774-1814

The papers, 1774-1814, contain correspondence from prominent political and military figures of the time, including over 300 pieces of correspondence from George Washington. Subjects include recruitment, troop movements, appointment of officers, pay, courts-martial, morale, discipline, desertion, and British prisoners of war. There are numerous warrants, petitions, guard reports, and returns. Many letters concern provisions, arms, and ammunition. The letters relate primarily to the details of military life and the conduct of the war.

Reel 1
Vol. 1, 18 Aug. 1774-31 Oct. 1776
Reel 2
Vol. 2, 1 Sep.-19 Dec. 1776
Reel 3
Vol. 3, 19 Dec. 1776-7 Apr. 1777
Reel 4
Vol. 4, 7 Apr.-1 June 1777
Reel 5
Vol. 5, 2 June-31 July 1777
Reel 6
Vol. 6, 1 Aug.-25 Oct. 1777
Reel 7
Vol. 7, 25 Oct.-26 Dec. 1777
Reel 8
Vol. 8, 1 Jan.-13 Mar. 1778
Reel 9
Vol. 9, 14 Mar.-31 May 1778
Reel 10
Vol. 10, 1 June-2 Aug. 1778
Reel 11
Vol. 11, 2 Aug.-12 Oct. 1778
Reel 12
Vol. 12, 12 Oct. 1778-3 May 1779
Reel 12B
Vol. 12, 4-20 May 1779
Reel 13
Vol. 13, 21 May-10 Aug. 1779
Reel 13B
Vol. 13, 10-31 Aug. 1779
Reel 14
Vol. 14, 1 Sep.-23 Dec. 1779
Reel 14B
Vol. 14, 24-31 Dec. 1779
Reel 15
Vol. 15, 1 Jan.-13 Feb. 1780
Reel 15B
Vol. 15, 13 Feb.-22 Apr. 1780
Reel 16
Vol. 16, 22 Apr.-12 Aug. 1780
Reel 16B
Vol. 16, 12-30 Aug. 1780
Reel 17
Vol. 17, 31 Aug.-12 Nov. 1780
Reel 17B
Vol. 17, 13-23 Nov. 1780
Reel 18
Vol. 18, 23 Nov. 1780-15 Jan. 1781
Reel 18B
Vol. 18, 15 Jan.-15 Feb. 1781
Reel 19
Vol. 19, 15 Feb.-7 Apr. 1781
Reel 19B
Vol. 19, 7 Apr.-30 May 1781
Reel 20
Vol. 20, 4 June-14 Sep. 1781
Reel 20B
Vol. 20, 14-23 Sep. 1781
Reel 21
Vol. 21, 23 Sep.-20 Oct. 1781
Reel 21B
Vol. 21, 20-30 Oct. 1781
Reel 22
Vol. 22, 1-30 Nov. 1781
Reel 22B
Vol. 22, 30 Nov.-23 Dec. 1781
Reel 23
Vol. 23, 23 Dec. 1781-5 Feb. 1782
Reel 23B
Vol. 23, 5-22 Feb. 1782
Reel 24
Vol. 24, 22 Feb.-10 Apr. 1782
Reel 24B
Vol. 24, 10 Apr.-8 May 1782
Reel 25
Vol. 25, 8 May 1782-17 July 1782
Reel 25B
Vol. 25, 17 July-6 Aug. 1782
Reel 26
Vol. 26, 6 Aug.-23 Dec. 1783
Reel 26B
Vol. 26, 28 Jan. 1784-3 Jan. 1814

Orderly books, 1776-1783

The orderly books, 1776-1783, are located on reels 28, 29, and 29B. They contain resolves sent by the Continental Congress and the war office, general orders and appointments from George Washington, and Heat's orders to his commanding officers in the field. The orderly books are general and procedural in nature.

Subjects covered in the orderly books are: army and camp regulations for officers and soldiers, behavior, morale, desertion, discipline, punishment, courts-martial, the abuse of private and public properties (plunder and pillage of fields, gardens, and fences), prisoner-of-war care, health, and sanitation. There are detailed instructions for alarms and the use of arms and ammunition.

There are gaps in the orderly books. There are no orders from July 1778-Feb. 1779, Mar. 1780-Jan. 1781, and Dec. 1782-Mar. 1783. Entries within the volumes are not in strict chronological order, particularly from 23 June 1779-July 1781 during Heath's command of the Lower Hudson district.

Some sections of the orderly books were filmed out of order.

Reel 28
Vol. 28, 17 Aug. 1776-3 Feb. 1780

Orders for 30 June-7 Nov. 1779 are followed by Massachusetts Bay accounts and receipts with William Heath for monies paid and received for enlisting troops, 21 Oct. 1779-3 Feb. 1780. There is a single oversize account dated 1 Apr. 1780.

Reel 29
Vol. 29, 7 Feb. 1780-10 July 1782

Begins with orders 23 June 1779-5 Feb. 1780. (Many are not in strict chronological order.) Orders for 26 Jan.-21 Feb. 1780 follow 23 Apr. 1781. (These entries are not in chronological order.) Orders for 18 Apr.-2 May 1782 follow 20 June 1782.

Reel 29B
Vol. 29, 11 July 1782-22 June 1783

Miscellaneous papers, 1775-1872

Miscellaneous papers, 1775-1872, located on Reel 29B include non-military materials. There are receipts for Heath's funeral in 1814 and a receipt to Samuel Heath dated 1744 (this item falls outside the nominal inclusive dates of the collection).

Reel 29B

Diaries, 1775-1804

The diaries of William Heath, 1775-1804, are located on microfilm reels 30 and 31. There are gaps from Dec. 1798-July 1801 and 22 Aug. 1802-Feb. 1803.

Diary entries during the war include Heath's comments on daily military life. Subjects covered during the war years include location and possible movements of the enemy, main and Northern Army locations, marches, brigade distribution, prisoner escapes, courts-martial, executions, work details, the reenlistment of troops, the personal health of Heath (including his smallpox inoculation on 21 Apr. 1776 and its after effects), and the movements of the French fleet and army. Some battles and skirmishes are also described. Friendly and enemy casualty figures are often listed.

After the war, diary entries refer to global events, including politics, wars, and natural catastrophes, in particular French politics and conflicts between 1789 and 1793. Daily weather reports are given, as are family milestones, i.e., births, marriages, and deaths.

Reel 30
Vol. 30, 29 June 1775-13 Feb. 1785
Reel 31
Vol. 31, 14 Feb. 1785-14 Oct. 1804

Preferred Citation

William Heath papers, Massachusetts Historical Society

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Burgoyne, John, 1722-1792.
Hancock, John, 1737-1793.
Knox, Henry, 1750-1806.
Lee, Charles, 1731-1782.
Sullivan, John, 1740-1795.
Washington, George, 1732-1799.


United States. Continental Army. Eastern District.
United States. Continental Army. Lower Hudson District.
United States. Continental Army--Officers.


Courts-martial and courts of inquiry.
France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799--Foreign public opinion, American.
Hudson Highlands (N.Y.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
Orderly books.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--American forces.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Campaigns.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Equipment and supplies.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Muster rolls.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prisoners and prisons.