Friday, September 11, 2015

The Days After Bunker Hill

   With the battle of Bunker Hill over, the Provincial Congress, meeting in Watertown, resumed its activities.. On the day after the battle, Sunday, June 18th, 1775, the Provincial Congress had to deal with its most pressing business - the election of a new President to replace Dr. Joseph Warren who had managed to get himself killed during the battle ( see my blog post on Dr. Warren of January 5th, 2011). Records of the Third Provincial Congress indicate that, after taking measures to insure that its papers and records were secured, the Congress's first order of business was to dispatch  a messenger to Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr to obtain the letters that he had brought with him from his visit to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. We do not know precisely what all of
the letters Dr. Church carried contained but he presumably was conveying extremely sensitive information from the Congress and the Massachusetts representatives to it.
   Next the Congress appointed a committee of seven, including Dr. Church, James Warren, and Col Joseph Otis, to prepare a letter to the Continental Congress on the Bunker Hill battle and any other matters they deem appropriate, determine a mode of government for Massachusetts and recommend it to the Congress, and determine what steps the Committee of Supply had taken to procure gunpowder from the other New England colonies.
   On June 19th, the Congress designated that the election for a new President would be held at three o'clock in the afternoon in the room previously occupied by its newly deceased President. The Congress also heard the report of the committee appointed to resolve the method of establishing civil government in the colony. Although forgotten now, this was a very pressing concern for the delegates to the Provincial Congress since armed rebellion against the Crown had, in their minds, obviously destroyed the legal foundation of their government. Interestingly, after the report was read and debated the delegates resolved that any further consideration of this matter be postponed until Doctor Church, who apparently had not been present for the Committee's report, but was present at Philadelphia at the time the resolve of the Congress was passed, was present. That consideration was further postponed indicates to me the anxieties of the delegates over this matter and the importance they assigned to the views of Dr. Church. All of this activity occurred during the morning.
James Warren by John Singleton Copley, 1763
 At 3 o'clock that afternoon the vote to elect a new president occurred. James Warren, a prominent Whig and former Speaker of the House, was elected. Warren, of Plymouth Mass, was a graduate of Harvard, a lawyer, farmer and  merchant, who had married Mercy Otis, the firebrand sister of James Otis, Jr. He was an outspoken critic of British policies toward Massachusetts since the Stamp Act of 1765. We do not know if Dr. Church voted for Warren or if, indeed, he was present for the vote.
   On Tuesday, June 20th, the Congress ordered that Doctors Church, John Taylor and William Whiting  be appointed to a committee to determine how to supply surgeons for the hospitals surrounding a Cambridge reeling with the influx of wounded after Bunker Hill and that the same doctors be a committee to provide medicine and all "other necessaries" for the hospitals. There was no central medical corps or capability to handle the approximately 300 wounded provincials. At first, the wounded were transported to two houses on the outskirts of Cambridge. The Fayerweather (Ruggles) house held the enlisted men and the Thomas Oliver (James Lowell) house the officers. (See Cambridge map in the previous post.)
Ruggles-Fayerweather House
There are various accounts as to the names and the number of physicians who treated the wounded but it is impossible to get a definitive account as physicians came and left and since the two houses handling the wounded soon to be proved inadequate. The wounded were moved to other houses inside Cambridge and into other towns. No account I have come across, however, mentions Dr. Church being involved in treating the wounded; but then most of these accounts were written long after the battle and long after Church was accused of treachery. The Provincial Congress got around to addressing the lack of a formal establishment in the army for hospitals and surgeons on June 24th.

   That same day, Church was appointed to two more committees; one to review the application for resignation by the Commissary General and another to confer "with four Indians, this day arrived from Penobscot, under the conduct of Mr. John Lane, and to provide proper entertainment for them while in this place, and for their return home."

   On June 24, 1775, Dr. Church was appointed to a committee to report on a letter from Maj Gen Artemus Ward informing the Congress of the desertion of Lt Francis Cox of Salem and a number of his men. The precise reason for Lt Cox deciding to take himself and his men home is not known but Lt Cox was part of Col John Mansfield's regiment which did not see action during Bunker Hill because Mansfield disobeyed his orders and stopped his regiment to provide support to an artillery unit commanded by Major Scarborough Gridley who ordered Mansfield to support his guns which he had positioned to cover a retreat that he thought was inevitable. Mansfield complied even though he outranked Gridley and had been ordered by Maj Gen Ward to cross the neck and engage in the battle. (Did Lt Cox leave in disgust?) In any event, Church's committee reported back to the Congress that same day with a recommendation that Gen Ward arrest Lt Cox and those men that deserted with him and court-martial them. I have been unable to determine if a court-martial was held or the result, if any. But Lt Cox later served in a Massachusetts regiment in the Continental Army so any result could not have been very severe.

   I would note two actions of the Provincial Congress during June 1775, that are of particular interest to us. The first is the desperate attempts to obtain gunpowder and the saltpeter from which it is manufactured. That concern over the lack of gunpowder inspired the Congress to immediately procure spears to arm the militia units protecting Cambridge. That is how desperate and precarious the provincials position was after Bunker Hill and the exhaustion of their already meager gunpowder supply.The second is the establishment of a smallpox hospital. Smallpox was always a concern for Bostonians and those in surrounding towns since various epidemics had caused severe death and pain. The small pox epidemic of 1721 in Boston is estimated to have a mortality rate of 15%.  There was an outbreak of the disease in Boston during the winter of 1774-75 and this was still fresh on the minds of everyone.Indeed, as the siege went on smallpox became a greater and greater threat, especially amongst the denizens and troops in Boston under siege. After he took command of the Continental Forces General Washington, a victim of smallpox himself, became convinced that the British were using it as an instrument of war.

   On Monday June 26th 1775, the provincial Congress appointed Dr Church and Moses Gill to be a committee to repair to Springfield to receive George Washington and accompany him on the final 80 miles of his journey to assume command of the Continental Forces besieging Boston.

   That will be detailed in the next post.


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