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Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

To Joseph Palmer
RTP Palmer, Joseph
Philadelphia, April 2d, 1776.

The evacuation of Boston by the king’s troops, and the repossession of it by the right owners, agitates my mind with a thousand queries and calculations. As yet we know so little of the state in which they have left the 186town in general, or the possessions of individuals in particular, that I do not consider myself as yet come to my feelings about the matter; amidst all the joys there must be many scenes of distressing wo. I have not the least reason to doubt the general court will direct many circumstances relating to this occurrence with wisdom and expedition; if, therefore, I mention some matters that occur to me, I trust you will attribute it rather to my desire to help in the common cause, than to an inclination to direct. Would it not be serviceable to appoint some honest, skilful persons, to take an account of all damage done to the houses, furniture, goods, merchandise, and property of every kind, and by whom done, as near as may be; this may be applied to two uses at least, first, to make a fair representation to the world of the injury done us; (what use this may be applied to we do not yet know;) and also sufferers may expect and receive, perhaps, some compensation, which, without such an early estimate, may be very unequally distributed.

I wish, also, that those persons who have tarried in town through the whole siege, who are most capable, might be called upon to draw up as correct a narrative of the whole proceedings of the enemy, and the distress of the inhabitants, and particularly the behaviour of the tories, collectively and individually, as may be. I should think it by no means advisable to destroy our lines as yet; if it be in the power of the exiled tories to cause the town to be again attacked they will effect it; I doubt not there will be great consultations to fortify the harbour against men-ofwar; if we have cannon enough it may be done. I wish much to know what is become of the cannon that belonged to the castle; I fear they are carried off or destroyed. Those cannon which they have spiked up may easily be bored out.

* * * * * *1

The scene of action is only changed; the efforts of the enemy will be more vigorous elsewhere. I mention this, because I can easily conceive, that people who have been long harassed are too apt to sink into ease when immediate danger seems to be withdrawn. Canada and New-York are now grand objects of attention, and very interesting to New-England.

Pray be kind enough to send me as particular an account of the state of affairs in Boston as you conveniently can; who of the tories are left behind; how they behave, and what they say for themselves? whether Master Lowel2 and other prisoners were carried off? whether they have taken away the bells? whether any quantity of merchandise is left? any 187sulphur or other matters that we want? any cash? are the records of the province, superior and inferior and probate courts, left? Have they carried off the lifeless carcase of the charter, as one of their own party that was slain, or have they left it putrefying to contaminate the air? These, and such other matters as you may think worthy of note, will be very agreeable to me, not merely as matters of curiosity, which in this case I think is very natural, but as facts which may be of service to know; the place they have gone to is a material fact.

Original not located; reprinted from the New-York Review and Atheneum Magazine, Apr. 1826, 2:400–402.


Ellipsis in the printed transcript.


James Lovell (1737–1814) graduated from Harvard in 1756 and taught in Boston schools until the outbreak of the Revolution. The British arrested him on June 27, 1775, because he had conveyed military intelligence to the American troops at Bunker Hill and took him to Halifax as a prisoner when Boston was evacuated by the troops on Mar. 17, 1776. They released him in a prisoner exchange for Philip Skene on Nov. 3, 1776. While returning home, Lovell was elected to the Continental Congress, which he joined on Feb. 4, 1777. He continued in Congress until 1782 when he returned to Boston, where he later served as naval officer for the port ( ANB ).