Monday, September 28, 2015

July 4th, 1775

    It would be timely now to set forth the situation, military and political, that permeated Boston one year before the United Colonies declared their Independence from Great Britain and one day after George Washington took command of the Continental Army as Commander-in-Chief. The Battle of Bunker Hill had been fought some two weeks earlier and it left the British in total control of Boston and Charlestown. Between that time and the arrival of Washington, a kind of irregular warfare occurred, much to the dismay of the British. The British would periodically bombard the Provincials, and the Provincials would ambush British sentries and conduct minor raids. At one point, some Stockbridge Indians, assigned to a militia unit, ambushed the British and killed four of them with bows and arrows

These are two of four watercolors by  Lt Richard Williams , a
British engineer, who drew them between July and November 1775,
 of the British and American defenses during the siege of Boston.
They are now in the British Library. They cannot be adequately
presented on this blog. They can be seen in better detail at:

Taken from Osprey Campaign Series
Boston 1775
The British fleet, consisting of approximately ten ships and upwards of 250 guns, dominated Boston Harbor and the rivers leading into Boston. Water traffic was totally disrupted. Although suffering severe losses at Bunker Hill, the British Army, under General Thomas Gage, still numbered approximately 10,000 men, although a reliably accurate figure is difficult to come by. The bulk of the British Army was on Bunker Hill under the command General William Howe, the rest, with the exception of the light horse and a few men, were on Roxbury neck. The British fortified Bunker Hill with a redoubt. It was a formidable defense and could not be successfully assaulted without the use of superior artillery fire, The Provincials did have some artillery but it was insufficient for the task at hand. For some inexplicable reason, General Gage never fortified Dorchester Heights.

   The Colonial troops were spread out in a great arc some twelve miles in length. Manning the colonial fortifications were troops from all of the New England states. (Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820). In his history of the Siege of Boston, Richard Frothingham, provides this return of the New England troops besieging Boston.

   On July 9, 1775 Washington held a council of war with his senior officers and they estimated that the British forces defending Boston were 11,000 strong and that it would take an army of 22,000 to successfully maintain the siege that was currently in progress.. It was estimated that only 14,500 colonial troops were fit for duty. It was decided that the prudent course of action was to maintain the status quo and apply for reinforcements. For some reason, it was decided that it was not necessary to take and fortify Dorchester Heights nor to opposes the British should they choose to take it.

A Map drawn by a British Engineer in October 1775
        Washington also faced the fact that the outbreak of fighting had resulted in army created by circumstance from different provinces with different regulations, different laws, and different supply, transportation, and logistics problems. Regiments from four colonies acted under their respective commanders and were only cooperating out of mutual consent. They recognized no military authority above them. Discipline was lax, hygiene was substandard, fights were common, and, of course, New Englanders were New Englanders. Washington's disdain for them upon first meeting is outside the scope of this narrative, but it was palpable and real. Washington, after all, saw himself as the quintessential English gentleman. And, of course, what little military experience he had, in no way prepared him for what he found when he arrived in Cambridge on that rainy day.

   Perhaps, most importantly, Washington discovered an incredible shortage of gunpowder. Within days of his arrival in Cambridge, Washington asked for an inventory of available gunpowder. The response from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was : "303 1/2 bbbl's [barrels] of Powder."  This, in itself, was an astonishingly small amount for an army of 15,000 men, but a further report gobsmacked Washington. On 1 August, 1775,  the Massachusetts Committee of Supplies told him that in reserve “there remains but 36 barrels in Store of the Quantity collected from the Towns in this Colony & recd from others.” The larger number had been “an Account of all the Ammunition, which had been collected by the Province” over time. Training, Bunker Hill, and other actions had drawn down that stock. Soldiers and artillery companies had powder in their cartridges, but “the whole Stock of the Army at Roxbury & Cambridge & the adjacent posts, consists of 90 Bbbls [Barrels]or thereabouts.”
   Politically, although it seems incongruous, those actively engaged in rebellion were not ready for independence. Just how they expected to be reconciled with a Great Britain that treated uprisings against it with incredible ferocity is a mystery. They were well aware of what happened to the Highland Scots at Culloden, some thirty years earlier. Indeed, one of Washington's best friends, Hugh Mercer (killed at Princeton) was an assistant surgeon in Bonnie Prince Charlie's army and present at Culloden. He fled to the United States as a fugitive after months in hiding. Washington had to be aware of that whole affair. It is extremely difficult to ascertain just what percentage of the colonists did, indeed, support those who rose in rebellion. Loyalists were a significant percentage of the population and could have been of even more assistance to the British had the British Army not been so stupidly antagonistic towards them (Then again, outside of the Duke of Marlborough and Robert Clive, British generals haven't astonished the world with their military genius.) And, of course, you had those who were pinning their hopes on a swift reconciliation and those who would support whomever eventually prevailed.

   Upon returning to Cambridge from escorting Generals Washington, Lee and  their aides from  Springfield, Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr resumed his position as a delegate to the Third Provincial Congress and as a prominent member of the Committee of Safety. I can find no indication that Dr. Church was involved in practicing medicine or that he was in receipt of any type of income. His wife and family were safely housed with friends near Taunton but since a mob burned his papers later, it is impossible to determine just what kind of drain they were on his finances, which had to be in very poor shape since there was no indication that he received any income since Lexington and Concord, some two and a half months earlier, except for whatever expenses he received in reimbursement for business conducted for the Provincial Congress.

Andrew Craigie by Archibald Robertson, 1800
Craigie is a fascinating character. See more
Abut him here:
It is obvious form the records of the Third Provincial Congress that he was an extremely active and respected member of the Congress. He was assigned his own room in which to conduct business, most likely in the Edmund Fowles House in Watertown. On the day Washington assumed command of the Continental Army, Church was appointed to a committee to confer with two delegates from New Hampshire on matters pertaining to New Hampshire and Canada. On July 4th, he was appointed to a follow-up committee on the New Hampshire matter and a committee to bring in a resolve appointing the 21 year old  Dr. Andrew Craigie commissary of medical stores and determine what his pay should be. On July 5th, Church was among a committee of three charged with conferring with Washington "on the subject of furnishing his table, and know what he expects relative thereto, and that they sit forthwith" On July 6th, the Congress authorized Church and Moses Gill the sum of £28, 5 s, 10 p, for expenses in escorting General Washington to Cambridge from Philadelphia. And, finally, On Sunday July 9th., Church was paid £ 34, 5s, 2p for  expenses for him and one servant for their trip to the Continental Congress the previous month.

   On Sunday July 10th, Church, along with James Warren, the President of the Provincial Congress, and Elbridge Gerry were appointed a committee to prepare a letter to MGen Charles Lee who had informed the Congress that he had been in written communication with British General John Burgoyne who held a command in the British Army in Boston. The importance the Congress placed in that letter can be seen by the individuals who were selected to respond to General Lee. On July 11, Church and two other doctors were appointed to "take into their custody all the medicines, medical stores and instruments, which are, or may be provided for the use of the army, by this colony, and to distribute them at their best discretion, so that no peculation or needless waste be made of the medicinal stores belonging to the public."

   On July 13th, 1775 Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr was reappointed to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress' Committee of Safety with 10 other delegates. The most prominent member was John Hancock. Benjamin Church was listed second.
Edmund Fowles House, Watertown, Mass


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