History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter VI
We have seen several years pass off in doubtful anxiety, in repression and repulsion, while many yet indulged the pleasing hope that some able genius might arise that would devise measures to heal the breach, to revive the languishing commerce of both countries, and restore the blessings of peace, by removing the causes of complaint. But these hopes vanished, and all expectation of that kind were soon cut off by the determined system of coercion in Britain, and the actual commencement of war in America.
The earliest accounts from England, after the beginning of the year 1775, announced the ferments of the British nation, principally on account of American measures, the perseverance of the ministry, and the obstinacy of the King, in support of the system; the sudden dissolution of one Parliament, and the immediate election of another, composed of the same members, or men of the same principles as the former.
Administration had triumphed through the late Parliament over reason, justice, and the humanity of individuals, and the interest of the nation. Notwithstanding the noble and spirited opposition of several distinguished characters in both Houses, it soon appeared that the influence of the ministry over the old Parliament was not depreciated, or that more lenient principles pervaded the councils of the new one. Nor did more judicious and favorable decisions lead to the prospect of an equitable adjustment of a dispute that had interested the feelings of the whole empire, and excited the attention of neighboring nations, not as an object of curiosity, but whit views and expectations that might give a new face to the political and commercial systems of a considerable part of the European world.
The petition of the Continental Congress to the King, their address to the people of England, with General Gage's letters, and all papers relative to America, were introduced early in the session of the new Parliament. Warm debates ensured, and the cause of the colonies was advocated with ability and energy by the most admired orators among the Commons, and by several very illustrious names in the House of Lords. They descanted largely on the injustice and impolicy of the present system, and the impracticability of its execution. They urged that the immediate repeal of the revenue acts, the recall of the troops, and the opening the port of Boston were necessary, preliminary steps to any hope of reconciliation; and that these measures only would preserve the empire from consequences that would be fatal to her interests, as well as disgraceful to her councils. But, predetermined in the Cabinet, a large majority in Parliament appeared in favor of strong measures. The ministerial party insisted that coercion only could ensure obedience, restore tranquility to the colonies, repair the insulted dignity, and reestablish the supremacy of Parliament.
An act was immediately passed, prohibiting New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut from carrying on the fishing business on the banks of Newfoundland. By this arbitrary step, thousands of miserable families were suddenly cut off from all means of subsistence. But, as if determined the rigors of power should know no bounds, before Parliament had time to cool, after the animosities occasioned by the bill just mentioned, another [Parliamentary proceedings in 1775] was introduced by the minister, whereby the trade of the southern colonies was restrained, and in future confined entirely to Great Britain. The minority still persevered in the most decided opposition both against the former and the present modes of severity towards the colonies. Very sensible and spirited protests were entered against the new bills, signed by some of the first nobility. A young nobleman of high rank and reputation predicted that "measures commenced in iniquity, and pursued in resentment, must end in blood, and involve the nation in immediate civil war." [Debates in Parliament, 1775]. It was replied that the colonies were already in a state of rebellion, that the supremacy of Parliament must not even be questioned, and that compulsory measures must be pursued from absolute necessity. Neither reason nor argument, humanity nor policy, made the smallest impression on those determined to support all despotic proceedings. Thus after much altercation, a majority of 282 appeared in favor of augmenting the forces in America, both by sea and land, against only 70 in the House of Commons, who opposed the measure.
All ideas of courage or ability in the colonists to face the dragoons and resist the power of Britain were treaded with the greatest derision, and particularly ridiculed by a general officer [General Burgoyne, afterwards captured at Saratoga], then in the House, who soon after delivered his standards and saw the surrender of a capital army under his command to those undisciplined Americans he had affected to hold in so much contempt. The First Lord of the Admiralty also declared, "the Americans were neither disciplined nor capable of discipline."
Several ships of the line and a number of frigates were immediately ordered to join the squadron at Boston. 10,000 men were ordered for the land service, in addition to those already there. A regiment of light horse and a body of troops from Ireland, to complete the number, were directed to embark with all possible dispatch to reinforce General Gage.
The speech from the throne, approving the sanguinary conduct of the minister and the Parliament, blasted all the hopes of the more moderate and humane part of the nation. Several gallant officers of the first rank, disgusted with the policy, and revolting at the idea of butchering their American brethren, resigned their commissions. The Earl of Effingham was among the first who, with a frankness that his enemies styled a degree of insanity, assured his Majesty "that though he loved the profession of a solider and would with the utmost cheerfulness sacrifice his fortune and his life for the safety of his majesty's person, and the dignity of his crown, yet the same principles which inspired him with those unalterable sentiments of duty and affection would not suffer him to be instrumental in depriving any part of the people of their liberties, which to him appeared the best security of their fidelity and obedience; therefore without the severest reproaches of conscience he could not consent to bear arms against the Americans."
But there is no age which bears a testimony so honorable to human nature; as shows mankind at so sublime a pitch of virtue that there are not always enough to be found ready to aid the arm of the oppressor, provided they may share in the spoils of the oppressed. Thus, many officers of ability and experience courted the American service as the readiest road to preferment.
Administration not satisfied with their own severe restrictions, set on foot a treaty with the Dutch and several other nations to prevent their aiding the colonies by supplying them with any kind of warlike stores. Every thing within ad without wore the most hostile appearance, even while the commercial interest of Great Britain was closely interwoven with that of America; and the treasures of the colonies, which had been continually pouring into the lap of the mother country in exchange for her manufactures, were still held ready for her use in any advance to harmony.
The boundaries of the King of England's continental domains were almost immeasurable, and the inhabitants were governed by a strong predilection in favor of the nation from whom they derived their origin: hence it is difficult to account on any principles of human policy for the infatuation that instigated to the absurd project of conquering a country already theirs on the most advantageous terms. But the seeds of separation were sown, and the ball of empire rolled westward with such astonishing rapidity that the pious mind is naturally excited to acknowledge a superintending Providence, that led to the period of independence, even before America was conscious of her maturity. Precipitated into a war dreadful even in contemplation, humanity recoiled at the idea of civil feuds and their concomitant evils.
When the news arrived in the colonies that the British army in Boston was to be reinforced, that the coercive system was at all hazards to be prosecuted, though astonished at the persevering severity of a nation still beloved and revered by Americans, deeply affected with the calamities that threatened the whole empire, and shocked at the prospect of the convulsion and cruelties even attendant on civil war, yet few balanced on the part they were to act. The alternative held up was a bold and vigorous resistance, or an abject submission to the ignoble terms demanded by administration Armed with resolution and magnanimity, united by affection, and a remarkable conformity to opinion, the whole people through the wide extended continent seemed determined to resist in blood, rather than become the slaves of arbitrary power.
Happily for America, the inhabitants, in general, possessed not only the virtues of native courage and a spirit of enterprise, but minds generally devoted to the best affections. Many of them retained this character to the end of the conflict by the dereliction of interest and the costly sacrifices of health, fortune, and life. Perhaps the truth of the observation that "a national force is best formed where numbers of men are used to equality, and where the meanest citizen may consider himself destined to command as well as to obey," was never more conspicuous than in the brave resistance of Americans to the potent and conquering arm of Great Britain, who, in conjunction with her colonies had long taught the nations to tremble at her strength.
But the painful period hastened on when the connection which nature and interest had long maintained between Great Britain and the colonies, must be broken off, the sword draw, and the scabbard thrown down the gulf of time. We must now pursue the progress of a war enkindled by avarice, whetted by ambition, and blown up into a thirst for revenge by repeated disappointment. Not the splendor of a diadem, the purple of princes, or the pride of power can ever sanction the deeds of cruelty perpetrated on the western side of the Atlantic, and not infrequently by men, whose crimes emblazoned by title will enhance the infamy of their injustice and barbarism when the tragic tale is faithfully related.
We have already observed on the supplicatory address every where offered to the old government, the rebuffs attending them, the obstruction to legal debate, and the best possible regulations made by the colonies in their circumstance, under the new modes established by themselves.
The authority of congresses and committees of correspondence, and the spirit which pervaded the united colonies in their preparations for war, during the last six months previous to the commencement of hostilities, bore such a resemblance that the detail of the transactions of one province is an epitome of the story of all.
The particular resentment of Great Britain leveled at the Massachusetts made it necessary for that province to act a more decided part, that they might be in some readiness to repel the storm which it appeared probable would first burst upon them. Their Provincial Congress was sitting when the news first arrived that all hope of reconciliation was precluded by the hostile resolutions of Parliament. This rather quickened than retarded the important step which was then the subject of their deliberations. Persuaded that the unhappy contest could not terminate without bloodshed, they were consulting on the expediency of raising an army of observation from the four New England governments, that they might be prepared for defense in case of an attack before the Continental Congress could again meet and make proper arrangements for farther operations. They proceeded to name their own commanding officers, and appointed delegates to confer with New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, on the proportion of men they would furnish and their quota of expense for the equipment of such an armament.
Connecticut and New Hampshire readily acceded to the proposal, but in Rhode Island several embarrassments were thrown in the way, though the people in that colony were in general as ready to enter warmly into measure for the common safety as any of the others; nor had they less reason. They had long been exasperated by the insolence and rapacity of the officers of a part of the navy stationed there to watch their trade. These had, without color of right, frequently robbed Newport and plundered the adjacent islands. They had seized the little skiffs in which a number of poor people had gained a scanty subsistence; and insulted, embarrassed, and abused the inhabitants in various ways through the preceding year.
It is the nature of man, when he despairs of legal reparation for injuries received, to seek satisfaction by avenging his own wrongs. Thus, some time before this period [see Note 11 at the end of this chapter, Governor Hutchinson's representation of this affair.] a number of men in disguise had riotously assembled, and set fire to a sloop of war in the harbor. When they had thus discovered their resentment by this illegal proceeding, they this illegal proceeding, they dispersed without farther violence. For this imputed crime, the whole colony had been deemed guilty, and interdicted as accessory. A court of inquiry was appointment by his Majesty, vested with the power of seizing any person on suspicion, confining him on board a King's ship, and sending him to England for trial. But some of the gentlemen named for this inquisitorial business had not the temerity to execute it in the latitude designed; and after sitting a few days, examining a few persons, and threatening many, they adjourned to a distant day.
The extraordinary precedent of erecting such a court [The gentlemen who composed this court, were Wanton, governor of Rhode Island, Horsemanden, chief justice of New York, Smith, chief justice of New Jersey, Oliver, chief justice of Massachusetts, and Auchmuty, judge of admiralty.] among them was not forgotten; but there was a considerable party in Newport strongly attached to the royal cause. These, headed by their governor, Mr. Wanton, a man of weak capacity and little political knowledge, endeavored to impede all measures of opposition and to prevent even a discussion on the propriety of raising a defensive army.
The news of an action at Lexington on April 19, between a party of the King's troops and some Americans hastily collected, reached Providence on the same evening, a few hours after the gentlemen entrusted with the mission for conference with the colony had arrived there; they had not entered on business, having been in town but an hour or two before this intelligence was received by a special messenger.
On this important information, James Warren, Esq. the head of the delegation, was of opinion that this event not only opened new prospects and expectations, but that it entirely changed the object of negotiation, and that new ground must be taken. Their mission was by the Massachusetts designed merely as a defensive movement, but he observed to the principal inhabitants collected to consult on the alarming aspect of present affairs, that there now appeared a necessity not only for defensive, but for offensive operations; he urged his reasons with such ability and address that an immediate convention of the Assembly was obtained. They met at Providence the ensuring day, where by the trifling of the Governor and the indiscretion of his partisans, the business labored in the upper house for several days. But the representative branch, impatient of delay, determined to act without any consideration of their Governor, if he continued thus to impede their designs, and to unite, by authority of their own body, in vigorous measures with their sister colonies. A majority of the council, however, at last impelled the Governor to agree to the determinations of the lower house, who had voted a number of men to be raised wit the utmost dispatch; accordingly, a large detachment was sent forward to the Massachusetts within three days.
When the gentlemen left congress for the purpose of combining and organizing an army in the eastern states, a short adjournment was made. before they separated, they selected a standing committee to reside at Concord, where a provincial magazine was kept, and vested them with power to summon congress to meet again at a moment's warning, if any extraordinary emergency should arise.
In the course of the preceding winter, a single regiment at a time had frequently made excursions from the army at Boston, and reconnoitered the environs of the town without committing any hostilities in the country, except picking up cannon, powder, and warlike stores, wherever they could find and seize them with impunity. In the spring, as they daily expected fresh auxiliaries, they grew more insolent; from their deportment there was the highest reason to expect they would extend their researches and endeavor to seize and secure, as they termed them, the factious leaders of rebellion. Yet this was attempted rather sooner than was generally expected.
On the evening of April 18, the grenadiers and light infantry of the army stationed at Boston embarked under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Smith and were ordered to land at Cambridge before the dawn of the ensuing day. This order was executed with such secrecy and dispatch that the troops reached Lexington, a small village nine miles beyond Cambridge, and began the tragedy of the day just as the sun rose.
An advanced guard of officers had been sent out by land to seize and secure all travelers who might be suspected as going forward with intelligence of the hostile aspect of the King's troops. But notwithstanding this vigilance to prevent notice, a report reached the neighboring towns very early that a large body of troops, accompanied by some of the most virulent individuals among the Tories, who had taken refuge in Boston, were moving with design to destroy the provincial magazine at Concord, and take into custody the principal persons belonging to the committee of safety. Few suspected there was a real intention to attack the defenseless peasants of Lexington, or to try the bravery of the surrounding villages. But it being reduced to a certainty that a number of persons had the evening before in the environs of Cambridge been insulted, abused, and stripped by officers in British uniform, and that a considerable armament might be immediately expected in the vicinity, Captain Parker, who commanded a company of militia, ordered them to appear at beat of drum on the parade at Lexington on the 19th. They accordingly obeyed and were embodied before sunrise.
Colonel Smith, who commanded about 800 men, came suddenly upon them within a few minutes after and, accosting them in language very unbecoming an officer of his rank, he ordered them to lay down their arms and disperse immediately. He illiberally branded them with the epithets of rebel and traitor; and before the little party had time either to resist or to obey, he, with wanton precipitation, ordered his troops to fire. Eight men were killed on the spot; and, without any concern for his rashness, or little molestation from the inhabitants, Smith proceeded on his rout.
By the time he reached Concord, and had destroyed a part of the stores deposited there, the country contiguous appeared in arms, as if determined not to be the tame spectators of the outrages committed against the persons, property, and lives of their fellow citizens. Two or three hundred men assembled under the command of Colonel Barrett. He ordered them to begin no onset against the troops of their sovereign, until farther provocation; this order was punctually obeyed. Colonel Smith had ordered a bridge beyond the town to be taken up, to prevent the people on the other side from coming to their assistance. Barrett advanced to take possession before the party reached it, and a smart skirmish ensued; several were killed and a number wounded on both sides. Not dismayed or daunted this small body of yeomanry, armed in the cause of justice, and struggling for everything they held dear, maintained their stand until the British troops, though far superior in numbers and in all the advantages of military skill, discipline, and equipment, gave ground and retreated, without half executing the purpose designed by this forced march to Concord.
The adjacent villagers collected and prepared to cut off their retreat; but a dispatch had been sent by Colonel Smith to inform General Gage that the country was arming and his troops in danger. A battalion under the command of Lord Percy was sent to succor him, and arrived in time to save Smith's corps. A son of the Duke of Northumberland, [The Duke of Northumberland, father of Earl Percy, had been uniformly opposed to the late measures of administration in their American system.] previous to this day's work, was viewed by Americans with a favorable eye; though more from a partiality to the father, than from any remarkable personal qualities discoverable in the son. Lord Percy came up with the routed corps near the fields of Menotomy, where barbarities were committed by the King's army, which might have been expected only from a tribe of savages. They entered, rifled, plundered, and burnt several houses; and in some instances the aged and infirm fell under the sword of the ruffian; women, with their new-born infants, were obliged to fly naked, to escape the fury of the flames in which their houses were enwrapped.
The footsteps of the most remorseless nations have seldom been marked with more rancorous and ferocious rage than may be traced in the transactions of this day, a day never to be forgotten by Americans. A scene like this had never before been exhibited on her peaceful plains and the manner in which it was executed will leave an indelible stain on a nation long famed for their courage, humanity and honor. But they appeared at this period so lost to a sense of dignity as to be engaged in a cause that required perfidy and meanness to support it. Yet the impression of justice is so strongly stamped on the bosom of man that when conscious the sword is lifted against the rights of equity it often disarms the firmest heart, and unnerve the most valiant arm, when impelled to little subterfuges and private cruelties to execute their guilty designs.
The affair of Lexington and the precipitant retreat after the ravages at Menotomy are testimonies of the truth of this observation. For, notwithstanding their superiority in every respect, several regiments of the best troops in the royal army were seen to the surprise and joy of every lover of his country, flying before raw inexperienced peasantry, who had run hastily together in defense of their lives and liberties. Had the militia of Salem and Marblehead have come on, as it was thought they might have done, they would undoubtedly have prevented this routed, disappointed army, from reaching the advantageous post of Charlestown. But the tardiness of Colonel Pickering, who commanded the Salem regiment, gave them an opportunity to make good their retreat. Whether Mr. Pickering's [Timothy Pickering, afterwards Secretary of State under the presidency of Mr. Adams, by whom he was dismissed from public business.] delay was owing to timidity or to a predilection in favor of Britain remains uncertain; however it was, censure at the time fell very heavily on his character.
Other parts of the country were in motion; but the retreat of the British army was so rapid that they got under cover of their own ships, and many of them made their escape into Boston. Others, too much exhausted by a quick march and unremitting exercise, without time for refreshment from sunrise to sunset, were unable, both from wounds and fatigue to cross the river. These were obliged to rest the night, nor were they mistaken in the confidence they placed in the hospitality of the inhabitants of Charlestown; this they reasonably enough expected, both from motives of compassion and fear.
Intimidated by the appearance of such a formidable body of troops within their town and touched with humanity on seeing the famished condition of the King's officers and soldiers, several of whom, from their wounds and their sufferings, expired before the next morning. The people everywhere opened their doors, received the distressed Britons, dressed their wounds, and contributed every relief: nothing was neglected that could assist, refresh, or comfort the defeated.
The victorious party, sensible they could gain little advantage by a farther pursuit, as the British were within reach of their own ships and at the same time under the protection of the town of Charlestown; they therefore retreated a few miles to take care of their own wounded men, and to refresh themselves.
The action at Lexington, detached from its consequences, was but a trivial maneuver when compared with the records of war and slaughter, that have disgraced the pages of history through all generation of men. But a circumstantial detail of lesser events, when antecedent to the convulsions of empire, and national revolution, are not only excusable, but necessary. The provincials lost in this memorable action, including those who fell, who were not in arms, upwards of fourscore persons. It was not easy to ascertain how many of their opponents were lost, as they endeavored by all possible means to conceal the number, and the disgrace of the day. By the best information, it was judged, including those who died soon after of wounds and fatigue, that their loss was very much greater than that of the Americans. Thus resentment stimulated by recent provocation, the colonies, under all the disadvantages of an infant country, without discipline, without allies, and without resources, except what they derived from their own valor and virtue, were compelled to resort to the last appeal, the precarious decision of the sword, against the mighty power of Britain.
The four New England governments now thought proper to make this last appeal, and resolved to stand or fall together. It was a bold and adventurous enterprise; but conscious of the equal privileges bestowed by Heaven, on all its intelligent creatures on this habitable ball, they did not hesitate on the part they had to act to retain them. They cheerfully engaged, sure of the support of the other colonies, as soon as Congress should have time to meet, deliberate, and resolve. They were very sensible the middle and southern colonies were generally preparing themselves, with equal industry and ability, for a decision by arms, whenever hostilities should seriously commence in any part of the continent.
As soon as intelligence was spread that the first blow was struck, and that the shrill clarion of war actually resounded in the capital of the eastern states, the whole country rose in arms. Thousands collected within 24 hours in the vicinity of Boston; and the colonies of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire seemed all to be in motion. Such was the resentment of the people and the ardor of enterprise that it was with difficulty they were restrained from rushing into Boston, and rashly involving their friends in common with their enemies, in all the calamities of a town taken by storm.
The day after the Battle of Lexington, the Congress of Massachusetts met at Watertown. They immediately determined on the number of men necessary to be kept on the ground, appointed and made establishments for the officers of each regiment, agreed on regulations for all military movements, and struck off a currency of paper for the payment of the soldiers, making the bills a tender for the payment of debts, to prevent depreciation. They drew up a set of judicious rules and orders for the army to be observed by both officers and soldiers, until they should be embodied on a larger scale, under the general direction of the Continental Congress.
In the mean time, the consternation of General Gage was equaled by nothing but the rage of his troops and the dismay of the refugees under his protection. He had known little of the country, and less of the disposition and bravery of its inhabitants. He had formed his opinions entirely on the misrepresentations of men who judging from their own feelings more than from the general conduct of mankind had themselves no idea that the valor of their countrymen could be roused to hazard life and property for the sake of the common weal. Struck with astonishment at the intrepidity of a people he had been led to despise, and stung with vexation at the defeat of some of his best troops, he ordered the gates of the town to be shut and every avenue guarded, to prevent the inhabitants, whom he now considered his best security, from making their escape into the country. He had before caused entrenchments to be thrown up across a narrow isthmus, then the only entrance by land: still apprehensive of an attempt to storm the town, he now ordered the environs fortified; and soon made a entrance impracticable, but at too great an expense of blood.
The Bostonians thus unexpectedly made prisoners, and all intercourse with the country, from whence they usually received their daily supplies, cut off, famine stared them in the face on one side, and on the other they beheld the lawless rapine of an enraged enemy, with the sword of vengeance stretched over their heads. Yet, with a firmness worthy of more generous treatment, the principal citizens assembled, and after consultation, determined on a bold and free remonstrance to their military governor. They reminded him of his repeated assurances of personal liberty, safety, and protection, if they would not evacuate the town, as they had long been solicited to do by their friends in the country. Had this been seasonably done, the Americans would have reduced the garrison by Withholding provisions. The inhabitants of the town now earnestly requested that the gates might be opened that none who chose to retired with their wives, families, and property might be impeded.
Whether moved by feelings of compassion, of which he did not seem to be wholly destitute, or whether it was a premeditated deception, yet remains uncertain; however, General Gage plighted his faith in the strongest terms, that if the inhabitants would deliver up their arms and suffer them to be deposited in the City Hall, they should depart at pleasure, and be assisted by the King's troops in removing their property. His shameful violation of faith in this instance will leave a stain on the memory of the Governor, so long as the obligations of truth are held sacred among mankind.
The insulted people of Boston, after performing the hard conditions of the contract, were not permitted to depart until after several months of anxiety had elapsed, when the scarcity and badness of provisions had brought on a pestilential disorder, both among the inhabitants and the soldiers. Thus, from a reluctance to dip their hands in human blood and from the dread of insult to which their feebler connections were exposed, this unfortunate town, which contained nearly 20,000 inhabitants, was betrayed into a disgraceful resignation of their arms, which the natural love of liberty should have inspired them to have held for their own defense, while subjected to the caprice of an arbitrary master. After their arms were delivered up and secured, General Gage denied the contract and forbade their retreat; though afterwards obliged to a partial compliance by the difficulty of obtaining food for the subsistence of his own army. On certain stipulated gratuities to some of his officers, a permit was granted them to leave their elegant houses, their furniture and goods, and to depart naked from the capital, to seek an asylum and support from the hospitality of their friends in the country.
The islands within the harbor of Boston were so plentifully stocked with sheep, cattle, and poultry that they would have afforded an ample supply to the British army for a long time had they been suffered quietly to possess them. General Putnam, an officer of courage and experience, defeated this expectation by taking off everything from one of the principal islands, under the fire of the British ships. At the same time, he was so fortunate as to burn several of their tenders, without losing a man. [General Putnam was an old American officer of distinguished bravery, plain manners, and sober habits; nourished in agricultural life, and those simple principles that excite the virtuous to duty in every department.] His example was followed; and from Chelsea to Point Alderton, the island were stripped of wheat and other grain, of cattle and forage; and whatever they could not carry off, the Americans destroyed by fire. They burnt the lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor and the buildings on all the islands, to prevent the British availing themselves of such convenient appendages for encampments so near the town.
While these transactions were passing in the eastern provinces, the other colonies were equally animated by the spirit of resistance and equally busy in preparation. Their public bodies were undismayed; their temper, their conduct, and their operations, both in the civil and military line, were a fair uniform transcript of the conduct of the Massachusetts; and some of them equally experienced thus early the rigorous proceedings of their unrelenting governors.
New York was alarmed soon after the commencement of hostilities near Boston by a rumor that a part of the armament expected from Great Britain was to be stationed there to awe the country and for the protection of numerous loyalists in the city. In some instances, the province of New York had not yet fully acceded to the doings of the General Congress; but they now applied to them for advice and showed themselves equally ready to renounce their allegiance to the King of Great Britain, and to unite in the common cause in all respects, as any of the other colonies. Agreeable to the recommendation of Congress, they sent off their women, children, and effects, and ordered a number of men to be embodied and hold themselves in readiness for immediate service.
Tryon was the last governor who presided at New York under the Crown of England. This gentleman had formerly been governor of North Carolina, where his severities had rendered him very obnoxious. It is true, this disposition was principally exercised toward a set of disorderly, ignorant people, who had felt themselves oppressed, had embodied, and styling themselves regulators, opposed the authority of the laws. After they had been subdued and several of the ringleaders executed, Governor Tryon returned to England, but was again sent out as Governor of the province of New York. He was received wit cordiality, treated with respect, and was for a time much esteemed by many of the inhabitants of the city and the neighboring country. Very soon after the contest became warm between Great Britain and the inhabitants of America, he, like all the other governors in the American colonies, tenacious of supporting the prerogatives of the crown, laid aside the spirit of enmity he had previously affected to feel.
Governor Tryon entered with great zeal into all the measures of administration; and endeavored with art, influence, and intrigue, of which he was perfectly master, to induce the city of New York and the inhabitants under his government to submit quietly and to decline a union of opinion and action wits the other colonies, in their opposition to the new regulations of the British Parliament. But he soon found he could not avail himself sufficiently of the interest he possessed among some of the first characters in the city, to carry the point, and subdue the spirit of liberty, which was every day appreciating in that colony.
On the determination of the Provincial Congress to arrest the crown officers, and disarm the persons of those who were denominated Tories, Governor Tryon began to be apprehensive for his own safety. The Congress of New York had resolved, "that it be recommended to the several provincial assemblies or conventions and councils or committees of safety to arrest and secure every person in their respective colonies whose going at large may, in their opinion, endanger the safety of the colony or the liberties of America."
Though Governor Tryon was not particularly named, he apprehended himself a principal person pointed at in this resolve. This awakened his fears to such a degree that he left the seat of government and went on board the Halifax packet; from whence he wrote the mayor of the city that he was there ready to execute any such business as the circumstances of the times would permit. But the indifference as to the residence or even the conduct of a plantation governor was now become so general among the inhabitants of America that he soon found his command in New York was at an end. After this, he put himself at the head of a body of loyalists and annoyed the inhabitants of New York and New Jersey and wherever else he could penetrate with the assistance of some British troops that occasionally joined them.
The governors of the several colonies, as if hurried by a consciousness of their own guilt, flying like fugitives to screen themselves from the resentment of the people, on board the King's ships, appear as if they had been composed of similar characters to those described by a writer of the history of such as were appointed to office in the more early settlement of the American colonies. He said, "It unfortunately happened for our American provinces that a government in any of our colonies in those parts was scarcely looked upon in any other light than that of a hospital, where the favorites of the ministry might lie until they had recovered their broken fortunes, and oftentimes they served as an asylum from their creditors." [Modern Universal History, volume 39, p. 357.]
The neighboring government of New Jersey was for some time equally embarrassed with that of New York. They felt the effects of the impressions made by Governor Franklin, in favor of the measures of administration; but not so generally as to preclude many of the inhabitants from uniting with the other colonies, in vigorous steps to preserve their civil freedom. Governor Franklin had, among many other expressions which discovered his opinions, observed in a letter to Mr. Secretary Conway, "It gives me great pleasure that I have been able through all the late disturbances to preserve the tranquility of this province, notwithstanding the endeavors of some to stimulate the populace to such acts as have disgraced the colonies." He kept up this tone of reproach, until he also was deprived by the people of his command; and New Jersey, by the authority of committees, seized all the money in the public treasury, and appropriated it to the pay of the troops raising for the common defense. They took every other prudent measure in their power, to place themselves in readiness for the critical moment.
Pennsylvania, though immediately under the eye of Congress, has some peculiar difficulties to struggle with, from a proprietary government, from the partisans of the Crown, and the great body of the Quakers, most of them opposed to the American cause. But the people in general were guarded and vigilant and far from neglecting the most necessary steps for general defense.
In Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas, where they had the greatest number of African slaves, their embarrassments were accumulated, and the dangers which hung over them, peculiarly aggravated. From their long habit of filling their country with foreign saves, they were threatened with a host of domestic enemies, from which the other colonies had nothing to fear. The Virginians had been disposed in general to treat their governor, Lord Dunmore, and his family, with every mark of respect; and had not his intemperate zeal in the service of his master given universal disgust, he might have remained longer among them, and finally have left them in a much less disgraceful manner.
However qualified this gentleman might have been to preside in any of the colonies in more pacific seasons, he was little calculated for the times when ability and moderation, energy and condescension, coolness in decision, and delicacy in execution were highly requisite to govern a people struggling with the poniard at their throat and the sword in their hand, against the potent invaders of their privileges and claims.
He had the inhumanity early to intimate his designs if opposition ran high to declare freedom to the blacks, and, on any appearance of hostile resistance to the King's authority to arm them against their masters. Neither the House of Burgesses nor the people at large were disposed to recede from their determinations in consequence of this threats nor to submit to any authority that demanded implicit obedience on pain of devastation and ruin. Irritated by opposition too rash for consideration, too haughty for condescension, and fond of distinguishing himself in support of the parliamentary system, Lord Dunmore dismantled the fort in Williamsburg, plundered the magazines, threatened to lay the city in ashes and depopulate the country: As far as he was able, he executed his nefarious purposes.
When his lordship found the resolution of the House of Burgesses, the committees and conventions was no where to be shaken, he immediately proclaimed the emancipation of the blacks and put arms into their hands. He excited disturbances in the back settlements and encouraged the natives bordering on the southern colonies to rush from the wilderness and make inroads on the frontiers. For this business, he employed as his agent one Connolly, a Scotch renegado, who traveled from Virginia to the Ohio and from the Ohio to General Gage at Boston, with an account of his success and a detail of his negotiations. From General Gage, he received a colonel's commission and was by him ordered to return to the savages and encourage them with the aid of some British settlers on the River Ohio to penetrate the back country and distress the borders of Virginia. But fortunately, Connolly was arrested in his career, and with his accomplices taken and imprisoned on his advance through Maryland. He papers were seized, and a full disclosure of the cruel designs of his employers sent forward to Congress.
By the indiscreet conduct of Lord Dunmore, the ferments in Virginia daily increased. All respect toward the Governor was lost, and his lady, terrified by continual tumult, left the palace and took sanctuary on board one of the King's ships. After much alteration and dispute, with everything irritating on the one side and no marks of submission on the other, his lordship left his seat, and with his family and a few loyalists retired on board the Fowey man of war, where his lady in great anxiety had resided many days. [Lady Dunmore soon after took passage for England.] There he found some of the most criminal of his partisans had resorted before he quitted the government. With these and some banditti that had taken shelter in a considerable number of vessels under his lordship's command and the assistance of a few runaway negroes, he carried on a kind of predatory war on the colony for several months. The burning of Norfolk, the beset won in the territory of Virginia, completed his disgraceful campaign. [see Note 12 at the end of this chapter]. It has been asserted by some that the inhabitants themselves assisted in the conflagration of Norfolk to prevent Lord Dunmore's retaining it as a place of arms.
The administration of Lord William Campbell and Mr. Martin, the governors of the two Carolinas, had no distinguished trait from that of most of the other colonial governors. They held up the supreme authority of Parliament in the same high style of dignity and announced the resentment of affronted majesty and the severe punishment that would be inflicted on congresses conventions and committees, and the miserable situation to which the people of America would be reduced if they continued to adhere to the factious demagogues of party. With the same spirit and cruel policy that instigated Lord Dunmore, they carried out their negotiations with the Indians, and encouraged the insurrections of the negroes, until all harmony and confidence were totally destroyed between themselves and the people who supported their own measures for defense in the highest tone of freedom and independence. Both the Governors of North and South Carolina soon began to be apprehensive of the effects of public resentment, and, about this time, thought it necessary for their own safety to repair on board the King's ships, though their language and manners had not been equally rash and abusive with that of the Governor of Virginia.
Henry Laurens, Esq. was President of the Provincial Congress of South Carolina at this period, whose uniform virtue and independence of spirit we shall see conspicuously displayed hereafter on many other trying occasions. It was not long after the present period when he wrote to a friend and observed that "he meant to finish his peregrinations in this world by a journey through the United States; then retire and learn to die." But he had this important lesson to learn in the ordeal of affliction and disappointment that he severely experienced in his public life and domestic sorrows which he bore with that firmness and equanimity which ever dignifies great and good characters.
Sir Robert Eden, Governor of Maryland, a man of social manners, jovial temper, and humane disposition, had been more disposed to lenity and forbearance than any of the great officers in the American department. But so high wrought was the opposition to British authority and the jealousies entertained of all magistrates appointed by the crown, that it was not long after the departure of the neighboring governors, before he was ordered by Congress to quit his government and repair to England. He was obliged to comply, though with much reluctance. He had been in danger of very rough usage before his departure from General Lee, who had intercepted a confidential letter from Lord George Germaine to Governor Eden. Lee threatened to seize and confine him, but by the interference of the Committee of Safety and some military officers at Annapolis, the order was not executed. They thought it wrong to consider him as responsible for the sentiments contained in the letters of his correspondents; and only desired Mr. Eden to give his word of honor that he would not leave the province before the meeting of a General Congress of that state; not did they suffer him to be farther molested. He was permitted quietly to take leave of his friends and his province, after he had received the order o the Continental Congress for his departure; and in hopes of returning in more tranquil times, he left his property behind him, and sailed for England in the summer of 1776. [See the conduct relative to Sire Robert Eden and the transactions between the southern governors and the people, this year, at large in the British Remembrancer, which is here anticipated to prevent interrupting the narration by any further detail of General Lee's transactions in Maryland relative to Governor Eden.]
The influence of Sir James Wright, the Governor of Georgia, prevented that state from acceding to the measure of a general congress in 1774. Yet the people at large were equally disaffected, and soon after, in an address to his Excellency, acknowledged themselves the only link in the great American chain that had not publicly united with the other colonies in their opposition to the claims of Parliament. They called a Provincial Congress, who resolved in the name of their constituents that they would receive no merchandise whatever from Great Britain or Ireland after July 7, 1775; that they fully approved and adopted the American declaration and bill of rights, published by the late Continental Congress; that they should now join with the other colonies, choose delegates to meet in General Congress; that they meant invariably to adhere to the public cause; and that they would no longer lie under the suspicion of being unconcerned for the rights and freedom of America.
Indeed the torch of war seemed already to have reached the most distant corner of the continent. The flame had spread and penetrated to the last province in America held by Great Britain, and a way opened to the gates of Quebec, before administration had dreamed of the smallest danger in that quarter. Soon after the action at Lexington, a number of enterprising young men, principally from Connecticut, proposed to each other a sudden march towards the lakes, and a bold attempt to surprise Ticonderoga, garrisoned by the King's troops. These young adventurers applied to Governor Trumbull and obtained leave of the Assembly of Connecticut to pursue their project; and so secretly, judiciously, and rapidly was the expedition conducted that they entered the garrison and saluted the principal officer as their prisoner before he had any reason to apprehend an enemy was near. [ On the surprise of Ticonderoga, the commanding officer there inquired by whose authority this was done? Colonel Allen replied, "I demand your surrender in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress."] This enterprise was conducted by the Colonels Easton, Arnold, and Allen. The invaders possessed themselves of a considerable number of brass and iron cannon and many warlike stores, without suffering any loss of life.
It had been proved beyond a doubt that the British government had spared no pains to encourage the inroads of the savages; of consequence, this coup de main was deemed a very meritorious and important step. Ticonderoga commanded all the passes between Canada and the other provinces. The possession of this important fortress on the Lake Champlain, in a great measure secured the frontiers from the incursions of the savages, who had been excited by the cruel polity of Britain to war, which, by these ferocious nations, is ever carried on by modes at which humanity shudders and civilization blushes to avow. [A few months after the expedition, Colonel Allen experienced a reverse of fortune, by falling to the hands of the British near Montreal, was loaded with irons, and immediately sent to England.]
Thus was the sword brandished through the land, and hung suspended from cruel execution of all the evils attendant on a state of civil convulsion, only by the faint hope that the Sovereign of Britain might yet be softened to hold out the olive branch in one hand and a redress of grievances in the other. But every pacific hope was reversed, and all prospect of the restoration of harmony annihilated early in the summer, by the arrival of a large reinforcement at Boston, commanded by three general officers of high consideration.
All former delusive expectations now extinguished, both the statesman and the peasant, actuated by the feelings of the man and the patriot, discovered a most unconquerable magnanimity of spirit. Undismayed by the necessity of an appeal to the sword, though unprovided with the sufficient resources for so arduous a conflict, they animated each other to sustain it, if necessary, until they should leave their foes only a depopulated soil, if victory should declare in their favor. Nature revolts at the idea, when the poniard is pushed by despair; yet preferring death to thraldom, the Americans were everywhere decisive in council and determined in action. There appeared that kind of enthusiasm which sets danger at defiance and impels the manly arm to resist, until the warm current that plays round the heart, is poured out as a libation at the shrine of freedom.
On the other hand, the fears of the dependents on the Crown were dissipated by the augmentation of the British army, their hopes invigorated and every artifice used to spread terror and dismay among the people. The turpitude of rebellion and the dread consequences of defeat were painted in the most gloomy colors; the merits and the abilities of the principal officers extolled, their distinguished names and characters enhanced, and every thing circulated that might tend to weaken the resolution of the people.
It was said, General Burgoyne commanded a squadron of light horse which was to scour the country, and pick up the leading insurgents in every quarter. The capacity, bravery, and virtues of General Clinton were everywhere announced by the votaries of administration; and the name of Howe was at that time at once revered, beloved and dreaded in America. A monumental tribute of applause had been reared in honor of one brother, who had fallen in that country in the late war between Great Britain and France; and the gratitude of the people had excited a predilection in favor of the other, and indeed of every branch of that family. But this partiality was soon succeeded by a universal disgust towards the two surviving brothers, Lord and General Howe, who undertook the conquest of America; a project held reproachful, and which would have reflected dishonor on the perpetrators, even had it been crowned with success.
In the beginning of June, 1775, General Gage thought proper to act a more decided part than he had hitherto done. He published a proclamation, denouncing martial law in all its rigors against any one who should supply, conceal, or correspond with any of those he was pleased to stigmatize by the epithets of traitors, rebels, or insurgents. But as an act of grace, he offered pardon in the King's name to all who should lay down their arms and submit to mercy, only excluding by name, Samuel Adams and John Hancock; he alleged that their crimes were of too flagitious a nature to hope for pardon.
This proscription discovered the little knowledge which General Gage then possessed of the temper of the times, the disposition of the people at large, or the character of individuals. His discrimination, rather accidental than judicious, set these two gentlemen in the most conspicuous point of view, and drew the particular attention of the whole continent to their names, distinguished from many of their compeers, more by this single circumstance than by superior ability or exertion. By this they became at once the favorites of popularity and the objects of general applause, which at that time would have been the fortune of anyone honored by such a mark of disapprobation of the British commander in chief.
Mr. Adams was a gentleman of good education, a decent family, but no fortune. Early nurture din the principles of civil and religious liberty, he possessed a quick understanding, a cool head, stern manners, a smooth address, and a Roman-like firmness, united with that sagacity and penetration that would have made a figure in a conclave. He was at the same time liberal in opinion, and uniformly devout; social with men of all denominations, grave in deportment; placid, yet severe; sober and indefatiguable; calm in seasons of difficulty, tranquil and unruffled in the vortex of political altercation; too firm to be intimidated, too haughty for condescension, his mind was replete with resources that dissipated fear, and extricated in the greatest emergencies. Thus qualified, he stood forth early, and continued firm, through the great struggle, and may justly claim a large share of honor, due to that spirit of energy which opposed the measures of administration and produced the independence of America. Through a long life, he exhibited on all occasions an example of patriotism, religion, and virtue honorary to the human character.
Mr. Hancock was a young gentleman of fortune, of more external accomplishments than real abilities. He was polite in manners, easy in address, affable, civil, and liberal. With these accomplishments, he was capricious, sanguine, and implacable: naturally generous, he was profuse in expense; he scattered largesses without discretion, and purchased favors by the waste of wealth, until he reached the ultimatum of his wishes, which centered in the focus of popular applause. He enlisted early in the cause of his country, at the instigation of some gentlemen of penetration, who thought his ample fortune might give consideration, while his fickleness could not injure, so long as he was under the influence of men of superior judgment. They complimented him by nominations to committees of importance, until he plunged too far to recede; and flattered by ideas of his own consequence, he had taken a decided part before the Battle of Lexington, and was President of the Provincial Congress when that even took place.
By the appearance of zeal, added to a certain alacrity of engaging in any public department, Mr. Hancock was influential in keeping up the tide of opposition; and by a concurrence of fortuitous circumstances, among which this proscription was the most capital, he reached the summit of popularity which raised him afterwards to the most elevated stations, and very fortunately he had the honor of affixing his signature as president to many of the subsequent proceedings of the Continental Congress, which will ever hold an illustrious rank in the page of history.
Mr. Hancock had repaired to Philadelphia to take his seat in Congress immediately after he made his escape from Lexington. Part of the object of the excursion of April 18 was the capture of him and Mr. Adams. They were both particularly inquired for, and the house in which they lodged was surrounded by the King's troops the moment after these gentlemen had retreated half-naked. Had they been found, they would undoubtedly have been shut up in Boston, if nothing more fatal had been inflicted, instead of being left a liberty to pursue a political career that will transmit their names, with applause, to posterity.
The absence of the late worthy President of Congress, Mr. Randolph, and the arrival of Mr. Hancock at Philadelphia at the fortunate moment when the enthusiasm inspired by Gage's proclamation was at the height, both concurred to promote his elevation. He was chosen to preside in the respectable assembly of delegates, avowedly on the sole principle of his having been proscribed by General Gage. It was uncouthly said by a member of Congress that "they would show mother Britain how little they cared for her by choosing a Massachusetts man for their president, who had been recently excluded from pardon by public proclamation." The choice was suddenly made and with rather too much levity for the times, or for the dignity of the office. Mr. Hancock's modesty prompted him for a moment to hesitate on the unexpected event, as if diffident of his own qualifications; when one of the members, [A Mr. Harrison, from Virginia, the same who made the above speech. These circumstances were verbally detailed to the author of these annals by a respectable member of Congress then present.] of a more robust constitution, and less delicacy of manners, took him in his arms, and placed him in the presidential chair.
This sudden elevation might place the fortunate candidate in a similar situation with the celebrated Pope Ganganelli, who observed of himself that after putting on the triple crown, he often felt his own pulse to see if he was the same identical person he was a few years before. Mr. Hancock continued in the presidential chair until October, 1779, when he took a formal leave of Congress and never again rejoined that respectable body. His time, however, was fully occupied in his own state in the various employments to which was called by a majority of voices in the Massachusetts, where his popular talents had a commanding influence during the residue of his life. [See Note 13 at the end of this chapter] But in the progress of the revolution, several men of less consequence than Mr. Hancock and with far inferior claims to patriotism were raised to the same dignified station.
In the effervescence of popular commotions, it is not uncommon to see the favorites of fortune elevated to the pinnacle of rank by trivial circumstances that appear the result of accident. Those who mark the changes and the progress of events through all revolutions will frequently see distinctions bestowed where there are no commanding talents and honors retained more from the strong influence of popular enthusiasm than from the guidance of reason, which operates too little on the generality of mankind.
It may be observed that public commotions in human affairs, like the shocks of nature, convulse the whole system and level the lofty mountains which have arisen for ages above the clouds, beneath the valleys; while the hillock, unnoticed before, is raised to a pitch of elevation that renders it a landmark for the eye of weary seamen to rest upon.
All revolutions evince the truth of the observation of a writer that "Many men great in title have the spirit of slaves, many low in fortune have great spirits, many a Cicero has kept sheep, many a Caesar followed the plough, many a Virgil folded cattle." [Sir Francis Osborne's Memoirs]
The sudden rotations in human affairs are wisely permitted by Providence to remind mankind of their natural equality, to check the pride of wealth, to restrain the insolence of rank and family distinctions which too frequently oppress the various classes in society.
The late proclamation of General Gage was considered as a prelude to immediate action, and from all intelligence that could be obtained from the town, there appeared the strongest reason to expect a second sally from the troops lying in Boston. Uncertain on which side the storm would begin, the provincial thought it necessary to guard against surprise by fortifying on both sides of the town, in the best manner they were able. They threw up some slight entrenchments at Roxbury, and several other places on the south side of Boston; at the same time, on the night of June 16, they began some works at the extreme part of a peninsula at the north, running from Charlestown to the river, which separates that town from Boston. They executed this business with such secrecy and dispatch that the officers of a ship of war then in the river expressed their astonishment in the morning when they saw some considerable works reared and fortified in the compass of a few hours, where, from the contiguous situation, they least expected the Americans would look them in the face. [These works were erected on Breed's Hill. This was the spot that cost the British army so dear through the glorious action of that day generally styled the Battle of Bunker Hill. After the Americans retreated, the British left Breed's Hill, took their stand, and strongly fortified Bunker Hill, about a fourth of a mile distant. Thus has the name of the place of action been frequently confounded.]
The alarm was immediately given, and orders issued, that a continual fire should be kept playing on the unfinished works from the ships, the floating batteries in the river, and a fortified hill on the other side; but with unparalleled perseverance, the Americans continued to strengthen their entrenchments, without returning a shot until near noon, when the British army, consisting of ten companies of grenadiers, four battalions of infantry, and a heavy train of artillery, advanced under the command of General Pigot and Major General Howe. A severe engagement ensured: many men and several brave officers of the royal army fell on the first fire of the Americans. This unexpected salute threw them into some confusion; but by the firmness of General Howe, and the timely assistance of General Clinton, who, with a fresh detachment arrived in season, the troops were immediately rallied and brought to the charge with redoubled fury. They ;mounted the ramparts with fixed bayonets, and notwithstanding the most heroic resistance, they soon made themselves masters of the disputed hill.
Overpowered by numbers and exhausted by the fatigue of the preceding night and all hope of reinforcement cut off by the incessant fire of the ships across a neck of land that separated them from the country, the provincials were obliged to retreat and leave the ground to the British troops. Many of their most experienced officers acknowledged the valor of their opponents; and that in proportion to the forces engaged, there had been few actions in which the military renown of British troops had been more severely tried. Their chagrin was manifest that the bravery of British soldiers, which had been often signalized in the nobles feats of valor, should be thus resisted; that they should be galled, wounded, and slaughtered by a handful of cottagers, as they termed them, under officers of little military skill, and less experience, whom they had affected to hold in ineffable contempt.
There is a certain point of military honor that often urges against the feelings of humanity, to dip the sword in blood. Thus, from the early maxims of implicit obedience, the first principle of military education, many men of real merit hazarded fortune, life, and reputation in the inglorious work of devastation and ruin, through the e fields and villages of America. Yet such was the reluctance shown by some to engage with spirit in the disagreeable enterprise of this day that their officers were obliged to sue the utmost severity towards them, to stimulate others to persevere. The town of Charlestown was reduced to ashes by the fire of the shipping, while the land forces were storming the hills. Thus, in concert, was this flourishing and compact town destroyed, in the most wanton display of power. There were about 400 dwelling houses in the center of Charlestown, which, with the out-houses adjacent, and many buildings in the suburbs were also sunk in the conflagration. The fate of this unfortunate town was beheld with solemnity and regret, by many even of those who were not favorably disposed to the liberties of the western world. The ingratitude which marked the transaction aggravated the guilty deed. We have recently seen the inhabitants of that place, prompted by humanity, opening their doors for the relief, and pouring balm into the wounds of the routed corps on April 19. This in the eye of justice must enhance the atrocity and forever stigmatize the ingratitude which so soon after wrapped the town in flames and sent out the naked inhabitants, the prey of poverty and despair.
There are few things which place the pride of man in a more conspicuous point of view than the advantages claimed in all military rencontres that are not decisive. Thus, though at the expense of many lives, and the loss of some of their bravest officers, the British army exulted much in becoming masters of an unfinished entrenchment and driving the Americans from their advanced post. Upwards of 1000 men, including the wounded, fell in this action on the royal side. Among the slain was Lieutenant Colonel Abercrombie, an officer much esteemed by his friends and his country, and a Major Pitcairn, a gentleman of so much merit that his fall was lamented even by his enemies. His valor on this occasion would have reflected glory on his memory, had it been signalized in a more honorable cause. [It may be observed that his zeal in the cause in which he was engaged had hurried him previous to this action to some steps that could not easily be forgiven by Americans, particularly by those who believed him to have been the officer who first gave the order for the King's troops to fire on the militia assembling at Lexington on their appearance.]
While this tragedy was acting on the other side of the Charles River, the terror and consternation of the town of Boston are scarcely describable. In the utmost anxiety, they beheld the scene from the eminences. Apprehensive for themselves, and trembling for their friends engaged in the bloody conflict, they were not less affected by the hideous shrieks of the women and children connected with the King's troops, who beheld their husbands, their friends, and relations, wounded, mangled, and slain, ferried over the river in boatloads from the field of carnage.
On the other side, though the Americans were obliged to quit the field with very considerable loss, yet they gloried in the honor they had this day acquired by arms. They retired only one mile from the scene of action, where they took possession of an advantageous height, and threw up new works on Prospect Hill, with the enthusiasm of men determined to be free. They soon environed the town of Boston on all sides with military parade, and though they wept the fall of many brave men, they bade a daily challenge to their enemies.
But a cloud was cast over every face by the death of the intrepid Major General Joseph Warren, who, to the inexpressible grief of his countrymen, lost his life in the memorable action usually styled the Battle of Bunker Hill. He fell covered with laurels, choosing rather to die in the field than to grace the victory of his foes by the triumph they would have enjoyed in his imprisonment. He had been chosen president of the Provincial Congress when Mr. Hancock repaired to Philadelphia. and was an active volunteer in several skirmishes that had taken place since the commencement of hostilities, which in the minds of his enemies would have sanctioned the severest indignities their resentment might have dictated had he fallen into their hands at this early period of the war.
This gentleman had been appointed a major general only four days previous to the late action: he was educated in the medical line, and was much respected for his professional as well as his political abilities. He possessed a clear understanding, a strong mind, a disposition humane and generous, with manners easy, affable and engaging; but zealous, active, and sanguine in the cause of his oppressed country, it is to be lamented that he rather incautiously courted the post of danger and rushed precipitately on his fate, while more important occasions required his paying some regard to personal safety. Yet, if the love of fame is the strongest passion of the mind, and human nature pants for distinction in the flowery field, perhaps there was never a moment of more unfading glory, offered to the wishes of the brave than that which marked the exit of this heroic officer.
He was the first victim of rank that fell by the sword in the contest between Great Britain and America: and the conflagration of Charlestown, enkindled by the wanton barbarity of his enemies, lighted his manes to the grave. These circumstances ensure a record in every historical annal, while his memory will be revered by every lover of his country, and the name of Warren will be enrolled at the head of that band of patriots and heroes who sacrificed their lives to purchase the independence of America.
After the late action, the British troops appeared to be in no condition for further operations; weakened by the severe engagement near Bunker Hill, sickly in the camp, and disheartened by unexpected bravery where they had feared no resistance; straitened for provisions, destitute of forage, except what was piratically plundered from the neighboring shore, they kept themselves shut up in Boston the remainder of the summer. Here they continued in so quiet a manner that had they not sometimes for their own amusement saluted the country with the sound of a useless canonade or the bursting of a shell, the people might have forgotten that the Monarch of Britain had several thousand soldiers cooped up within the walls of a city that still acknowledged him as their Sovereign. the inhabitants of the town were held in duress, but their military masters did not presume to enlarge their won quarters.
While this interesting scene had been acting in the field, the Congress of the Massachusetts had sent on to Philadelphia for the opinion of the united delegates relative to their assumption of a regular form of government. Articles of Confederation had been agreed to in General Congress, in which a recapitulation of grievances and the reasons for taking up arms were subjoined in terms little short of a declaration of war. These had been published in May, 1775; but their ratification by legislative bodies or provincial congresses, had not yet generally taken place. But as the independence of America was not yet formally declared, it was in contemplation with many members of Congress as well as others of equal judgment, that when all should be convinced that the breach between the two countries was totally irreconcilable, that the same modes of legislation and government should be adopted in all the colonies. It was then thought that a similarity of manners, police, and government, throughout the continent, would cement the union and might support the sovereignty of each individual state, while yet, for general purposes, all should be in subordination to the congressional head.
An elegant writer has observed that it is no easy matter to render the union of independent states perfect and entire, unless the genius and forms of their respective governments are in some degree similar. The judicious body assembled at Philadelphia were fully convinced of this; they were not insensible that a number of states, under different constitutions and various modes of government and civil police, each regulated by their own municipal laws, would soon be swayed by local interests that might create irreconcilable feuds tending to disjoint the whole. [Congress had about this time adopted the resolution to advise each of the colonies explicitly to renounce the government of Great Britain and to form constitutions of government for themselves, adequate to their exigencies, and agreeable to their own modes of thinking, where any variation of sentiment prevailed. This was acted upon and a representative government, consisting of one or more branches, was adopted in each colony.] It was therefore judged best to recommend to the Massachusetts the resumption of a regular form of government in the present exigency, on the plan of the old charter of William and Mary, which gave authority to the majority of counsellors, chosen by a house of representatives, to exercise all governmental acts, as if the governor was really absent of dead.
On this recommendation, James Warren, Esq., President of the Provincial Congress, by their authority, issued writs in his own name, requiring the freeholders in every town to convene and elect their representatives, to meet at Watertown on July 20, 1775. This summons was readily obeyed, and a full house appeared at the time and place appointed; the late president of the Provincial Congress was unanimously chosen Speaker of the New House. Regardless of the vacant chair, they selected a Council, and the two ranches proceeded to legislation and the internal police of the province, as usually had been the practice in the absence of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. [See Note 14 at the end of this chapter.]
Thus, after living for more than 12 months without any legal government, without law, and without any regular administration of justice, but what arose from the internal sense of moral obligation which is seldom a sufficient restraint on the people at large, the Massachusetts returned peaceably to the regular and necessary subordination of civil society reduced nearly to a state of nature with regard to all civil or authoritative ties, it is almost incredible that the principles of rectitude and common justice should have been so generally influential. For, such is the restless and hostile disposition of man that it will not suffer him to remain long in a state of repose, whether on the summit of human glory, or reclined on his own native turf, when probable contingencies promise him the acquisition of either wealth or fame. From the wants, the weakness, and the ferocity of human nature, mankind cannot subsist long in society, without some stable system of coercive power. Yet amid the complicated difficulties whit which they were surrounded, the horrors of anarchy were far from prevailing in the province: vice seemed to be abashed by the examples of moderation, disinterestedness, and generosity, exhibited by many of the patriotic leaders of present measures.
It has been observed already that not a drop of blood had ever been spilt by the people in any of the commotions preceding the commencement of war, and that the fear of popular resentment was undoubtedly a guard on the conduct of some individuals. Others, checked by the frowns of public virtue, crimes of an atrocious nature had seldom been perpetrated: all classes seemed to be awed by the magnitude of the objects before them; private disputes were amicably adjusted or postponed, until time and events should give the opportunity of legal decision or render the claims of individuals of little consequence, by their being ingulfed in the torrent of despotism, generally poured out by the conqueror, who fights for the establishment of uncontrolled power.
Extract of a letter from Governor Hutchinson to Commodore Gambier.
"Boston, June 30, 1772.
"... Our last ships carried you the news of the burning of the Gaspee schooner at Providence. I hope if there should be another like attempt, some concerned in it may be taken prisoners and carried directly to England. A few punished at Execution Dock would be the only effectual preventive of any further attempts..."
On the same subject, to Secretary Pownal.
"Boston, August 29, 1772.
"I troubled you with a long letter the 21st of July. Give me leave now only to add one or two things which I then intended, but, to avoid being too tedious, omitted. People in this province, both friends an enemies to government, are in great expectations from the late affair at Rhode Island of burning the King's schooner, and they consider the manner in which the news of it will be received in England, and the measures to be taken, as decisive. If it is passed over without a full inquiry and due resentment, our liberty people will think they may with impunity commit any acts of violence, be they ever so atrocious, and the friends to government will despond, and give up all hopes of being able to withstand the faction. The persons who were immediate actors are men of estate and property in the colony. A prosecution is impossible. If ever the government of that colony is to be reformed, this seems to be the time, and it would have a happy effect on the colonies which adjoin to it. Several persons have been advised by letters from their friends that as the ministry are united, and the opposition at an end, there will certainly be an inquiry into the state of America, the next session of Parliament. The denial of the supremacy of Parliament and the contempt with which its authority has been treated by the Lillputian assemblies of America can never be justified or excused by any one member of either house of Parliament...."
"Boston, September 2, 1772.
"Samuel Hood, Esquire
"Captain Linzee can inform you of the state of Rhode Island colony better than I can. So daring an insult as burning the King's schooner, by people who are as well known as any who were concerned in the last rebellion and yet cannot be prosecuted, will certainly rouse the British lion, which has been asleep these four or five years. Admiral Montague says that Lord Sandwich will never leave pursuing the colony, until it is disenfranchised. If it is passed over, the other colonies will follow the example."
The sufferings of the colony of Virginia, under Lord Dunmore's administration, and the spirit and magnanimity of the inhabitants, might claim a larger detail in this narrative; but so distinguished have been many of their leading characters, through all the transactions of the great contest, from the introduction of the resolves by Patrick Henry, in the year 1765, to the elevation of Mr. Jefferson to the presidential chair in 1801, as to be sufficient to furnish ample materials for a volume by itself. But every historical record of the American Revolution and its consequences must necessarily introduce the names of many illustrious characters that have adorned and dignified the state of Virginia.
Mr. Hancock retained his popularity to the end of his life. His death did not take place until the year 1793. He was chosen governor of the Massachusetts in 1780, and though a remarkable debilitation of body rendered him to appearance little able to discharge the duties of the first magistrate, yet the suffrages of the people kept him long in the chair, after he was reduced to such a state of weakness as to be lifted by his servants into his carriage, ad thence into the State House, to deliver his public speeches. In this, he acquitted himself with a degree of elocution, pleasing and popular, though his health did not admit of his writing them previously, and seldom had he strength to add his signature to the acts of the legislature. But his mental faculties were not much impaired by the infirmities of his bodily constitution; they were not indeed composed of those elementary sparks of genius that soon burn themselves out; nor were the energies of his mind blunted by industry and application.
He had been so long habituated to ideas of independence that after they were thoroughly fixed in his mind, he uniformly retained his principles to the last. He was against the consolidation of the general government, and the monarchical views of many who had risen to power before the had finished his career of life. He supported his opinion of the sovereignty of the individual states in a manly manner, in one of his last transactions of a public nature. This was his conduct relative to the suability of the states. An experiment made by a process commenced against the Massachusetts in favor of William Vassal, Esquire, the governor of the state was summoned by a writ to answer to the prosecution. He declined the smallest concession that might lessen the independence and sovereignty of each state, and supported his opinion with firmness and dignity equally popular and honorable to himself. Litigations of this nature were soon after barred by an amendment in the Constitution of the United States.
An ample measure of gratitude was repaid to Mr. Hancock, both for public services and private benefits; a mantle of love was thrown over his foibles by his countrymen, and his memory was embalmed in the affections of his townsmen.
The state of Massachusetts continued this mode of legislation and government until the year 1780, when a convention was called for the purpose, and a more stable form adopted. By this, a governor, lieutenant governor, senate, and house of representatives were to be chosen by the free suffrages of the people. A council of nine were to be chosen by the legislative, either form the senate or the people at large.