Motives of patriotism and private interest prompt me to hazard my fortune in this noble conflict with my brethren in the provincial army… . My friends afford me no encouragement, alleging that, as this is a civil war, if I should fall into the hands of the British, the gallows will be my fate.

—Dr. James Thacher, Continental Army surgeon1

The day, perhaps, the decisive day, is come,” Abigail Adams wrote on April 18 in a letter to her husband, who was in Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Like so many people who lived near Boston, she feared that vengeful British troops were on their way from Bunker Hill, marching to wherever they could find Rebels to slaughter. “It is expected,” she wrote, “they will come out over the Neck to-night, and a dreadful battle must ensue. Almighty God, cover the heads of our countrymen, and be a shield to our dear friends!”2

The British, tending their dead and wounded and recovering from the shock of Rebel ferocity, had no intention of leaving the relative safety of Boston. The decisive day had another consequence. Before Bunker Hill there was a chance that Concord and Lexington had been encounters like the Boston Massacre—bloody but not acts ofwar. Bunker Hill, however, was far more than an encounter. A war had begun, and people already saw it as a civil war: There was no room in Gage’s Boston for Rebels and there was no room for Tories in the Patriots’ Cambridge, or in Roxbury, or in fire-gutted Charlestown.

On April 27 Gage announced that anyone could leave the city, and a new stream of refugees flowed out of Boston.3 Days later he ordered the printing of permits that allowed people to leave “between sunrise and sunset.” Whatever they had with them was examined because, the pass said, “No arms nor ammunition is allowed to pass.”4 Permits were sold illegally, and people paid more and more to buy them. Then, beginning in July, anyone “desirous of leaving the Town of Boston” could do so only after presenting his or her name to James Urquhart, the British officer serving as town major. Within two days more than two thousand Bostonians registered with Urquhart.5

Many others hesitated to depart because they knew that the homes they left behind would almost certainly be plundered by British soldiers. Urquhart ruled that each refugee could possess no more than five pounds in cash and that no one could carry away silver-plate valuables.* But women sewed treasures into their garments, and families found ways to smuggle their silver spoons, bowls, and teapots in the goods that were piled on their carts.6 Urquhart issued a special secret pass that allowed Henry Pelham, John Singleton Copley’s halfbrother, to “take a plan of the towns of Boston & Charlestown and the Rebel works round these places.” Pelham was also assigned a sergeant and some soldiers to help him when he was in Boston. When he prowled as a British agent beyond Redcoat control, he acted like an artist making sketches. His spying gave the British detailed cartographic intelligence about Rebel fortifications—and gave posterity a magnificent map of the greater Boston area.7

In a letter to Copley in England, Pelham sketched Boston in words. The “Sword of Civil War is now unsheathd,” he wrote. “Thousands are reduced to absolute Poverty… . Buisness of any kind is entirely Stop’d… . We find it disagreeable living entirely upon salt Meat… .

Almost every shop and store is shut.” At a dinner in August with General Howe, Pelham had “the only bit of fresh Meat I have tasted for very near four Months past. And then not with a good Conscience, considering the many Persons who in sickness are wanting that and most of the Convenency of Life. The usual pleas now made by those who beg a little Bacon or Saltfish is that its for a sick person.”8

Loyalists responded to the blockade by promising “to contribute our Aid to the internal Security of the Town.” They formed a voluntary association, saying that they would do whatever Gage deemed necessary or by helping “to raise a Sum of Money for promoting this salutary Purpose.”9Gage, drawing from a pool of about two hundred Loyalist volunteers, assigned forty-nine to patrol the streets each night.10

Immediately after Bunker Hill, Gage found a mission for mandamus councillor Abijah Willard. He was put in charge of one hundred Loyalists assigned to find food for Gage’s troops, a demanding task in hungry Boston. Details on exactly how Willard’s victuallers did it are lacking; one report credits them with delivering one hundred oxen and sheep. James Putnam of Worcester, another councillor who had been targeted by Rebels, took command of a company of Brigadier Ruggles’s Loyalist volunteers.11 Three hundred Loyalists—with more signing up every day—formed a significant portion of the population. As people poured out of Boston, the number of residents dropped to 6,753. Gage had to feed 5,000 British troops and their families: 18,600 wives and children.12

At this early point in the blockade Gage did not anticipate firefights inside Boston. Selectmen had assured him that all the residents had been disarmed. But Gage did not trust the selectmen, for good reason. They were all pro-Rebel, and at least one was a Son of Liberty. Presumably Gage’s many spies had reported widespread possession of firearms by lingering Boston Rebels. His proclamation ordered all firearms to be delivered immediately to a Loyalist-controlled courthouse. All who held on to firearms “should be deemed enemies to his majesty’s government.”13 People turned in 1,778 “firearms” (presumably muskets), 973 bayonets, 634 pistols, and 38 blunderbusses.14

In Cambridge, Loyalists and Patriots sparred but did not fight. Friends of departed Loyalists barricaded the entrances to vacated houses and nailed doors closed to seal off rooms piled high with furniture and other bulky valuables, stored for the day of victorious return. Patriots, who outnumbered their opponents, forced the guardians to take down the barricades and then plundered the houses.15 One of the houses belonged to John Nutting, the busy carpenter who had supervised the building of British barracks in Boston. His house served up a bit of irony: According to a Tory neighbor, it “was made a Barrack for the american Souldiers and much Damaged thereby.”16

During the lull in Boston and Cambridge, Patriots in Maine—the sparsely populated northernmost part of the Massachusetts Colony—sparked a confrontation with the Royal Navy. In Falmouth, Thomas Coulson, a wealthy Loyalist merchant, was outfitting his ship, the Minerva, and had ordered sails and rigging from Britain in defiance of the Patriot embargo on British goods. When the ship carrying Coulson’s goods arrived, Patriots ordered it to go to sea without unloading its cargo. Coulson objected, claiming that the ship was unfit for a return voyage and needed repairs. But when the repairs dragged on, Patriots decided that the ship had tarried too long and repeated their demand.

William Tyng, Falmouth’s Tory sheriff, had been given a colonel’s commission by General Gage. Expecting waterfront trouble, Tyng asked for help. Gage sent HMS Canceaux, a merchantman converted into an eight-gun Royal Navy warship, under the command of Lt. Henry Mowatt. The Canceaux’s appearance happened to coincide with the arrival of news of Lexington and Concord. Fearing that emboldened Rebels would move against them, Coulson and Tyng sought refuge on the warship, along with the Reverend John Wiswall, a Church of England clergyman, and some of his flock.

As the standoff crisis seemed to ease, sixty militiamen from Brunswick, led by Col. Samuel Thompson, arrived to support the Patriots. Mowatt, Wiswall, and the ship’s physician had disembarked and werestrolling onshore when, apparently on impulse, some of Thompson’s men pounced on them. Both Patriots and Loyalists were shocked. Mowatt’s second in command, learning of the kidnapping, threatened to shell the town if Mowatt was not released. He fired a couple of blanks as a warning.

Panic swept through the town. As one witness wrote, “Our women were … in tears, or praying, or screaming; precipitately leaving their houses, especially those whose husbands were not at home, and widows, hurrying their goods into countrymen’s carts … and carrying their children either out of town, or up to the south.”17

Thompson, pressured from both sides, released his captives “under parole.” Wiswall came ashore, was interrogated by Patriots, promised to return to his parsonage—and sneaked back to the Canceaux. The crisis worsened as some six hundred Patriot militiamen from nearby towns poured into Falmouth. A few militiamen, rebelling against their own officers, seized them and demanded rum and food as ransom. Other militiamen threatened to attack local Loyalists—or even the Canceaux.

The crisis ended when Coulson’s Minerva, the ship that started it all, used its illicitly imported sails and rigging to head for Boston, carrying off Falmouth’s first Loyalist refugees—Tyng, Wiswall, and Coulson. Their families would follow later.18

The next confrontation between Maine Rebels and the Royal Navy flared into the first naval battle of the Revolution. Maine provided Boston with much of its lumber. Ichabod Jones, who had built one of the first sawmills in the little town of Machias, had made his fortune by delivering Boston goods to Machias in exchange for lumber. Machias, a river town up Machias Bay, was so far north and so isolated that its people associated themselves more with Nova Scotia than with Boston. The town did not have a militia, but it did have a Liberty pole and a Committee of Correspondence and Safety.19

On June 2 Jones sailed up the Machias River aboard a British warship, the armed schooner HMS Margaretta, ready for trouble. Accompanying the warship were two coastal trading sloops that were to deliver goods to Machias and carry off lumber. The sloops tiedup at the wharf while the Margaretta anchored offshore. Jones and Midshipman James Moore, the young captain of the Margaretta, went ashore. Jones announced that he was there to deliver supplies to Machias—if the town provided lumber. No lumber, no supplies. Jones did not identify his customer, but people knew it was the British Army, in need of lumber for barracks and floorboards for entrenchments and other earthworks.

Midshipman Moore had something to add: If the town did not take down its Liberty pole, he would bombard Machias.

Dublin-born Jeremiah O’Brien, a Patriot leader, stepped forward to say that a town meeting had voted for the Liberty pole, and only a town meeting could vote to take it down. O’Brien, knowing that town Tories were on Moore’s side, was stalling for time to rally Patriot support. He knew that the provincial congress had “strongly recommended” that no one supply the British troops with goods, including, specifically, timber, boards, spars, pickets, and tent poles.20

O’Brien also knew that if Machias did not get Jones’s goods, the town would not starve, not while there was game in the woods and fish in the sea and in the Machias River. No lumber sale meant only a shortage of rum, snuff, tobacco, and luxuries not many could afford anyway. Besides, anything could be smuggled, for a price, from Nova Scotia.

The town meeting on Saturday, June 10, voted to keep the Liberty pole. Jones reacted by distributing provisions only to those who voted against it.21 O’Brien persuaded Moore and Jones to wait for a second vote on Monday. On Sunday, Moore and his officers were invited to the meetinghouse, which served as the Machias church. The Reverend James Lyon, a Presbyterian minister, was the pastor. As the chairman of the Patriots’ Committee of Safety and Correspondence, Lyon was undoubtedly aware that O’Brien and his Patriots had a reason for wanting their visitors to go to church.

On Sunday, while listening to Lyon’s sermon, Moore looked around and noticed that there were few able-bodied men in the congregation. Through an open window he spotted a band of men approaching the church. Signaling his officers to follow, he leaped through the windowand led them racing down the road to the wharf. Jones, knowing the area, fled to the woods and hid there for several days, undoubtedly aided by Loyalist sympathizers.

On board the Margaretta, an alert petty officer saw his officers being chased by a mob. He ordered a boat launched and fired a swivel gun, a small cannon mounted on a deck railing. The ball missed the pursuers but slowed them down. Moore and his officers made it to the boat, which was rapidly rowed back to the ship.

The next day O’Brien, his five brothers, his black servant, and about twenty other men swarmed aboard the Unity, one of the trading ships, while another group of Rebels boarded the second trading ship, the Polly. The two crews had among them about twenty muskets, along with an assortment of clubs, pitchforks, and timber axes. One of the men lugged a large-caliber gun aboard the Unity.

As the two ships set sail, the Margaretta slipped its anchor cable, hoisted sail, and headed down river toward the bay, six miles away. During the chase the Polly ran aground. When the Margaretta reached the bay, it fired on the fast-closing Unity, killing a man who had propped the big gun on a gunwale. Another man stepped forward and fired, killing the Margaretta helmsman. Musketry from the Unity raked the British warship. The two ships were so close that Moore, from the quarterdeck, could hurl small, powder-filled can-nonballs with lighted fuses down on the Unity, mortally wounding one man and wounding several others.

O’Brien rammed the Unity into the Margaretta. His men lashed the ships together and leaped upon the Margaretta‘s deck. Moore, cutlass drawn, led his crewmen and marines against the boarders. In a fierce fight, Americans swung muskets, clubs, axes, and pitchforks against British bayonets and Moore’s cutlass. A lethal musket shot felled Moore, and the crew shortly surrendered. O’Brien leaped to the halyards and hauled down the British ensign. Four Americans were killed and ten wounded; the British suffered ten killed and ten wounded. O’Brien and two of his brothers later became privateers in the war against the British at sea.22

As for Ichabod Jones, he was caught in the Machias woods. Condemned as “a known enemy” by the provincial Committee of Safety, he was taken to a Massachusetts town four hundred miles from Machias and released under a large bond. His property was confiscated, a retribution that would befall more and more Tories.23

Widespread confiscation of Loyalist property got its start in Cambridge. The Committee of Safety decreed that hay belonging to John Vassall, an Addresser from Cambridge, was to be cut and used by the Patriots. They took over his abandoned Tory Row mansion and his two-hundred-acre estate, even ordering that his stables be reserved for Patriots’ horses. Vassall and his family soon went aboard one of the six Loyalist-laden ships that left Boston for England that summer.24

Gage stationed about two hundred of his men on Boston Neck, the front line between British and American troops. He also strengthened the “Rebel redoubt” on Breed’s Hill, and fortified the Boston-to-Charlestown ferry stops and Moulton’s Point, where Howe’s troops had landed. Soldiers used wood salvaged from the ashes of Charles-town for fortifications, tent floors, and fuel.25 General Ward’s militiamen, numbering about sixteen thousand, threw up earthworks in a line from Cambridge to the Mystic River and built forts in Roxbury. The strongpoint in the Rebel line was on Prospect Hill in Charlestown (today’s Somerville), which loomed over Boston and the British fleet.

Propaganda broadsheets compared life for Rebel sentries on Prospect Hill in Charlestown with life for British sentries on Bunker Hill:26



I Seven dollars a month.*

I Three pence a day

II Fresh provisions and in plenty.

II Rotten salt pork.

III Health.

III The scurvy

IV Freedom, ease, affluence,

IV Slavery, beggary, and want. and a good farm.

Management of the Massachusetts militiamen was shifting to Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress voted to create the Continental Army—and, shortly after, adopted the “Olive Branch Petition.” The document was so effusive in its homage to the “Most Gracious Sovereign” from “your Majesty’s faithful subjects” that it could have been written by a Loyalist.

The delegates said they felt “required by indispensable obligations to Almighty God, to your Majesty, to our fellow subjects, and to ourselves, immediately to use all the means in our power not incompatible with our safety, for stopping the further effusion of blood… . We therefore beseech your Majesty, that your royal authority and influence may be graciously interposed to procure us relief from our afflicting fears and jealousies.” The king ignored the olive branch, declaring that the colonies were in “an open and avowed rebellion” and that “all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion.”27

While waving the olive branch, however, Congress asked Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to raise ten companies of riflemen. They would be the first soldiers to be mustered into the new army, and they would be carrying a marksman’s weapon. The rifleman’s gun, unlike a militiaman’s smoothbore musket, was rifled—long spiral grooves inside the barrel engaged the ball, starting it spinning along an axis at right angles to the direction it was shot. Stabilized instead of tumbling, the bullet could fly straighter and farther.

Congress next selected George Washington, a Virginia plantation owner, as commander in chief of the Continental Army. He was still remembered as a hero in the French and Indian War, when he had been a fearless twenty-three-year-old Virginia militia officer—”4 bullets through my Coat, and two Horses shot under me” in one battle.28 And his appointment gave to the South military power that would offset New England political power.

Traveling northward from his Virginia home, he took the Alexandria ferry across the Potomac River. A ferry going in the opposite direction carried an old friend, the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, an Anglican clergyman. “Some patriots in our boat huzzaed,” Boucherlater wrote, “and gave three cheers.” He confined himself to doffing his hat. Washington asked the ferries to stop, and he spoke for a few minutes to Boucher. Washington knew him not as an avowed Tory but as the learned man who had tutored Washington’s stepson and often dined at Mount Vernon. Boucher bluntly told Washington that Americans would soon declare for independence. Washington denied that he was “joining in any such measures,” Boucher recalled. Like most of his supporters, the new general believed that the colonies were seeking a redress of grievances, not independence.

Soon Boucher would be committed to his own civil war, preaching with a pair of loaded pistols resting on a cushion in his pulpit. He had “given notice that if any man, or body of men, could possibly be so lost to all sense of decency … to drag me out of my own pulpit, I should think myself justified before God and man in repelling violence by violence”—stating what was the moral basis for the Loyalists’ decision to arm themselves. Boucher would sail for exile in England nine months later, before the Continental Congress declared the independence that Washington had not yet realized he was actually fighting for.29

The first armed Loyalists to patrol the streets of Boston were members of General Ruggles’s Loyal American Association. Ruggles’s men did not have uniforms; a patroller simply identified himself by tying a white scarf around his left arm. They patrolled “the District about Liberty Tree & the Lanes, Alleys & Wharves adjacent” from sunset to sunrise to “prevent all disorders within the district by either Signals, Fires, Thieves, Robers, house breakers or Rioters.”30 Included among them were Edward Winslow and George Leonard, veterans of the Lexington-Concord expedition.

One patroller, Job Williams, led an attack on the Liberty Tree, a great elm on which Sons of Liberty had been hanging effigies of Tory officials since Stamp Act days. Williams and his cohorts chopped down the tree. By one account one man was killed in a fall while attempting to cut off a limb of the tree. Williams went on to become a captain in a Loyalist regiment.31

An early muster roll of the patrollers lists several men who represented the upper ranks of Massachusetts society.32 Richard Saltonstall, Harvard ‘51, whose family had lived in Massachusetts for six generations, had been a superior court judge and a colonel in the French and Indian War. After a short term of service in the association, he decided he could not take sides in the war and sailed to England, never to return.33 Thomas Aston Coffin, Harvard ‘72, came from a similarly illustrious family whose members included the holder of one of the most lucrative of royal posts: Receiver General and Cashier of His Majesty’s Customs.34 John Lindall Borland, Harvard ‘72, was born and bred on Tory Row. He went from patrolling Boston to serving as a lieutenant colonel in the British Army.35 Zebedee Terry later joined a Loyalist regiment,36 as did Benjamin Pollard.37

The chaplain of the Loyal American Association was the Reverend John Troutbeck, who in 1753 had been sent to America as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. He became the assistant rector of King’s Chapel, Boston’s oldest Anglican church.38Harried as an Addresser, he left for England in 1776. He was remembered, in Rebel doggerel, as having been both a clergyman and a distiller:

His Sunday aim is to reclaim Those that in vice are sunk, When Monday’s come he selleth rum, And gets them plaguey drunk39

Although Ruggles was one of the most militant Loyalists, Patriot neighbors treated him with restraint. After confiscating the arms and ammunition found in his home, the Patriots confined him to one of his farms, about ninety miles west of Boston, allowing him to leave only on Sundays, “fast days, or some other public days,” and charging him for the pay of his guards. After a short time members of thetown meeting voted to allow him “to go to Boston, and live there, if he pleases.”40 He did, arriving in time to give Gage advice prior to the battle of Bunker Hill. His association became a model for two other Loyalist groups later formed in Boston: the Royal North British Volunteers Formation, made up of “North British Merchants,”7 and the Loyal Irish Volunteers, consisting mostly of Irish merchants.

Royal North British Volunteers, each wearing a blue hat bearing a Saint Andrew’s Cross (the blue-and-white emblem of Scotland), were to “take into Custody all Suspicious & Disorderly Persons found in the Streets at improper Hours.” Similar duties were assigned to the Loyal Irish, who attached white cockades (rosettes or knots of ribbon) to their hats as badges.41

Gage did not bring the volunteers into the regular military establishment because that was not the way the British Army worked at that time. Officers came from the noble ruling class. They purchased and sold their commissions. Americans had become aware of this practice during the French and Indian War, when “provincial” regiments went into battle side by side with British forces but were not integrated, and American officers were not given equal treatment with their British counterparts. One of the provincials who discovered this was Col. George Washington of the Virginia Regiment. After learning that he could not be given a British Army commission higher than captain, he resigned.42

When Washington arrived in Cambridge, he first boarded at the home of the president of Harvard, who was a Son of Liberty. Washington then moved, setting up his headquarters in the Tory Row mansion that General Ward had taken over.43 In Cambridge and Boston, Washington found not warfare but stalemate. Loyalists fled to Boston and Patriots left, all seeking safety. Soldiers fought spasmodically. The British made thrusts across the Neck or tried to drive the Rebels off Prospect Hill. The Rebels slipped into enemy territory to burn a barn or kill a Redcoat. In the Rebel ranks were snipers and Indians armed with bows and arrows. On one June day, two Indians killed four Regulars.44

The Indians, members of the Stockbridge tribe of Massachusetts, joined the Patriots’ ranks after a propaganda drive aimed at gaining allies from several eastern tribes.45 The Massachusetts Provincial Congress sent a letter to Indian leaders, telling them that the British “want to get all our money … and prevent us from having guns and powder to use and kill deer, wolves and other game with or to send to you for you to kill your game and to get skins and furs to trade with us for what you want.”46 Gage reacted by telling Lord Dartmouth in a letter that “we need not be tender of calling upon the Savages, as the Rebels have shewn us the Example.”47 Gage’s remark foreshadowed the British use of Indians as allies, especially along the New York—Canadian border.

The arrival of riflemen sharpened the close combat along the lines. The British were stunned by the way their sentries were picked off by these backwoods marksmen. A British newspaper, quoting a letter from Norfolk, Virginia, described their uniforms as “something like a shirt, double caped over the shoulder, in imitation of the Indians; and on the breast, in capital letters, is their motto, ‘Liberty or Death!’” One captured rifleman was taken to England as a curio, much like the American Indians displayed in previous times.48

“Never had the British Army so ungenerous an enemy to oppose,” a British officer complained. They “send their riflemen (five or six at a time), who conceal themselves behind trees, &c., till an opportunity presents itself of taking a shot at our advanced sentries; which done, they immediately retreat.”49

The British Army did not yet see its ungenerous enemy as soldiers worthy of decent treatment as prisoners. Washington, who knew Gage from the French and Indian War, viewed him at first as an honorable opponent playing by the accepted rules of war. But when Washington learned that Americans captured in the Bunker Hill battle were notbeing treated as prisoners of war, he wrote to Gage saying he was shocked that the men had been “thrown indiscriminately into a common jail appropriated for felons” and that some of them, “languishing with wounds and sickness,” had undergone amputations in the jail. Gage responded by saying that he viewed the captives as criminals “whose lives by the laws of the land are destined to the cord”—the noose.50

Gage, representing British authority, believed he was dealing with a rebellion and a civil war. He saw local Loyalists as counterrebels who could aid him. Gage had a limited view, for militant Loyalists looked beyond Boston. They saw themselves as having more to contribute to the war than service as a home guard for the British garrison. Tory civilians were beginning to realize they were caught in an unforeseen war. “We are in the strangest state in the world, surrounded on all sides,” wrote a Tory woman in Boston. “The whole country is in arms, and intrenched. We are deprived of fresh provisions, subject to continual alarms and cannonadings, the provincials being very audacious, and advancing near to our lines.”51

Gage called on the Royal Navy to help feed his hungry soldiers and civilian wards. The British Army had grown to about six thousand men. Its supply line, which stretched to England, was menaced by Patriot privateers. Adm. Samuel Graves, commander of the Royal Navy’s North American Squadron, judged that the rebellious acts of colonists had “rendered our dependance for Fuel and fresh provisions very precarious.”52

Capt. Sir James Wallace, commanding officer of the Rose, on station off Newport, Rhode Island, gathered provisions by having his sailors and marines go ashore and take what they needed. When farmers moved their livestock inland, Wallace sailed to Bristol, Rhode Island, where he sent an officer ashore in a longboat. When it came alongside the wharf, the officer demanded that a small delegation of town officials accompany him back to the Rose to meet with Wallace. A magistrate gruffly told him that if his captain wanted to talk, he should come ashore himself.

The officer returned to the Rose and reported to Wallace. Back in March, Wallace had had experience with cheeky Rebels, who had intercepted a letter sent to him by Col. Thomas Gilbert, leader of the Tory militia in Freetown. Now, infuriated by another act of disrespect, Wallace opened fire on the town.

After a few cannonballs struck, the town leaders agreed to go aboard the Rose. Wallace demanded two hundred sheep and thirty head of cattle. The townsmen balked, saying that much livestock was unavailable. Negotiations ended when Wallace made his final offer: “If you will promise to supply me with forty sheep, at or before twelve o’clock, I will assure you that another gun shall not be discharged.” The townsmen agreed. Rose crewmen loaded the sheep on board, and Wallace sailed off with his fleet to Boston.53

A few days later Admiral Graves issued an order to Lt. Henry Mowatt, captain of HMS Canceaux and recent victim of abduction by Falmouth Patriots. “My Design,” Graves wrote, “is to chastize Mar-blehead, Salem, Newbury Port, Cape Anne Harbour, Portsmouth [New Hampshire], Ipswich, Falmouth in Casco Bay, and particularly Mechias where the Margaretta was taken … and where preparations I am informed are now making to invade the Province of Nova Scotia.”54 Graves was right. Machias was the secret headquarters of American Rebels and anti-British Nova Scotians who were planning an invasion. One of the planners was the Reverend James Lyon, the Presbyterian clergyman who had been a confederate of the Machias captors of the Margaretta.55

The Canceaux and three other warships left Boston on October 8, 1775. Supposedly, bad weather forced Mowatt to change course and as a result Falmouth became the first port he would “chastise.” But Mowatt obviously had a personal reason for picking Falmouth. On October 17 he sent an officer ashore with a warning that he would bombard the town in two hours. He also invited local Loyalists to come aboard the Canceaux. None did, fearing that they would be shot as they rowed to the warship.

A committee that included a leading Loyalist won a delay until the next morning, when Mowatt ordered all five ships to begin a cannonade with shells and the incendiary balls called carcasses. The bombardment, in his words, “continued till six, by that hour the body of the town was in one flame.” Then Mowatt sent some men ashore to finish the mission by setting fire “to the vessels, wharfs, storehouses, as well as to many parts of the town that escaped from the shells and carcasses.”56 The bombardment destroyed about three-quarters of the town’s buildings, including about 130 dwellings, many of them housing two or three families; a church, the courthouse, the library, and almost every store and warehouse. Sheriff Tyng’s mansion was spared, spotlighting his Tory status and guaranteeing his self-exile.57 Fourteen ships were burned and several others seized.58

As autumn settled on Boston, Gage made one of his last decisions in America, for he was scheduled to sail to England on October 10. Knowing that his successor, General Howe, would soon go into winter quarters, Gage wanted his soldiers—many of them living in tents—to have decent shelter by occupying some of Boston’s many abandoned houses. To find someone to supervise the emptying of the houses and the storing of their contents, he reached beyond Massachusetts to the Tory stronghold of New York. He chose Crean Brush, a striving, self-promoting Dublin-born Loyalist.

In the words of Gage’s commission, Brush would become the official receiver of “large quantities of Goods, Wares, and Merchandize, Chattles and Effects of considerable value left in the Town of Boston by persons who have thought proper to depart therefrom.” To give the looting a veneer of legitimacy, Gage ordered townspeople to provide Urquhart, the town major, with their names and addresses so that someday their property could be returned. Then, in a conflicting proclamation, he made a leading Loyalist the sole auctioneer for selling off the goods to the highest bidder.59

Brush affected a military-style wardrobe and, claiming to be a former British Army officer, demanded to be addressed as “Colonel.” He had arrived in northeastern New York about a dozen years before. As a favored Loyalist in New York, he became wealthy by simultaneouslyserving in placeman posts, becoming a member of the legislature, and acquiring land.

Most of Brush’s holdings were in disputed territory claimed by New York, New Hampshire, and a land speculator named Ethan Allen. Brush solved the dispute by introducing a bill that outlawed Allen and his lieutenants in the Green Mountain Boys, a guerrila force originally formed to fight for disputed land bordering on Vermont. By 1775 he was the owner of twenty thousand acres. But Patriots took over the New York legislature, which wiped out Brush’s claims and made him a public enemy.60 In 1777 most of his New York land would become part of the Republic of Vermont.

In Boston, Brush used his newfound connection with Gage to ask a favor: When the general arrived in London, would he please present a petition to King George III? The petition asked royal approval of Brush’s plan to “raise a Body of Volunteers,” a three-hundred-man unit modeled on the Royal Fencible Americans, an early Loyalist regiment formed in Nova Scotia.* Brush promised that he and his men would “open a Line of communication” from the Connecticut River westward toward Lake Champlain.

Brush said his “intimate Knowledge of that Frontier” would enable him to track down the “dangerous Gang of Lawless Banditti, who, without the least pretext of Title, have, by Violence, possessed themselves of a large Tract of Interior Territory.” That territory, of course, was land that Brush claimed.61 On the New York frontier, British officials did depend on Loyalist allies but did not need any help from Crean Brush.

Brush’s emptying of houses was only part of the British pillaging of Boston. Dragoons turned the Old South Church into a riding school, hacking and carrying away the pulpit and pews and spreading dirt and gravel on the floor. An exquisitely carved pew, with silk seats, was taken off to become a hog-sty. A stove was installed, thechurch library’s books and manuscripts providing the kindling. Another church became a barracks, and its steeple was dismantled for firewood, as was the entire church. More than one hundred houses were torn down for firewood. Some of the work was done by members of Ruggles’s Loyal American Association.62

So much looting was going on that General Howe directed his provost marshal “to go his rounds, attended by the executioner, with orders to hang up on the spot the first man he should detect in the fact without waiting for further proof for trial.”63 Because of the food shortage, Howe, loosening the rules, allowed families to leave in increasing numbers. Loyalists appealed to him to stop the exodus because they feared that the Rebels would burn down the town if its only population were Tories and soldiers. Howe agreed, after letting some three hundred people leave on November 25. When they got past the checkpoint, one was dead and two were dying. Washington, fearing a smallpox epidemic, barred the refugees from the American camp.64

Soon after taking over from Gage, Howe formed quasi-military “companies,” commanded by officers he named, and directed by members of the mandamus council. Volunteers for the companies, he proclaimed, “shall be properly armed, and an allowance of fuel and provisions be made to those requiring the same, equal to what is issued to his Majesty’s troops within the garrison.”65

By December members of another Loyalist home guard unit—three hundred Royal Fencible Americans—were patrolling the streets, on the watch for fires and burglaries while Crean Brush was busily emptying houses.66 Generals Howe and Washington, meanwhile, were planning their strategies for the months ahead. Howe looked to New York as the next battleground. Washington looked to Canada.

* This generally meant real silver.

* Seven dollars had about the same purchasing power as about $200 in 2009.

* A “fencible soldier” was eligible for home service only. The British interpreted this to mean that fencibles could be deployed anywhere in the colonies.

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