« PreviousContinue »
a few miles from Boston, and where the provincial congress was sitting, sent a detachment, under the command of colonel Smith, and major Pitcairn, to destroy the stores, and seize Hancock and Adams, two leading men of the congress. 188. They set out before day-break, on the 19th of April
, marching with the utmost silence, and securing every one they met with upon the road, that they might not be discovered; but notwithstanding all their care, the continual ringing of the bells and firing of guns as they went along, soon gave them notice, that the country was alarmed : about five in the morning they had reached Lexington, fifteen miles from Boston, where the militia of the place were exercising.
189. A British officer called out to them to disperse; but as they still continued in a body, he advanced, discharged his pistol, and ordered his men to fire; they instantly obeyed, killing and wounding several of the militia ; the detachment then proceeded to Concord, where having destroyed the stores, they were encountered by the Americans, and a scuffle ensued, in which several fell on both sides.
190. The purpose of their expedition being accomplished, it was necessary for the king's troops to retreat, which they did through a continual fire kept up on them from Concord to Lexington. Here their ammunition was totally expended ; and they would have been unavoidably cut off, had not a considerable reinforcement met them, commanded by lord Percy. The Ame. ricans continued the attack with great fury, destroying the British from behind stone fences, as they retreated : and had it not been for two field-pieces, which lord Percy brought with him, the whole detachment would have been cut off.
191. The impetuosity of the Americans being thus checked, the British made good their retreat to Boston, with the loss of two hundred and fifty killed and wounded ; that of the Americans about sixty. The spirits of the Americans being raised by this engagement, and the power of Britain becoming less formidable in their view; they now meditated nothing less than the total expulsion of the troops from Boston.
192. An army of twenty thousand men was assembled ; a line of encampment was formed from Roxbury to Mystic, through a space of about thirty miles; and here they were soon
а after joined by a large body of Connecticut troops, under the command of general Putnam, an old officer of great bravery and experience. By this formidable force was the town of Bos. ton shut up: but General Gage had so strongly fortified it, that the Americans feared to make an attack.
193. Towards the end of May, a considerable reinforcement having arrived, with the generals Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton, he was soon enabled to attempt something of consequence : and this the boast of the provincials seemed to render necessary. Some skirmishing, in the mean time, happened on an island in Boston harbor; in which the Americans had the advantage, and burned an armed schooner.
194. Nothing decisive, however, took place, till the 17th of June. In the neighborhood of Charlestown, a place on the northern shore, opposite the peninsula on which Boston stands, is a high ground, called Bunker Hill, which overlooks and commands the whole town of Boston.
On the 16th the provincials took possession of this place; and worked with such indefatigable industry that before day-light, to the astonishment of their enemies, they had almost completed a redoubt, with a strong intrenchment, reaching half a mile eastward, as far as the river Mystic.
195. After this, they were obliged to sustain a heavy and incessant fire from the ships and floating batteries, with which Charlestown neck was surrounded; as well as the cannon that could reach the place from Boston. In defiance of all opposition, they continued their work, and finished it before mid-day. A considerable body of infantry was then landed at the foot of Bunker Hill, under the command of generals Howe and Pigot, the former being appointed to attack the lines, and the latter the redoubt. The Americans having the advantage of the ground, as well as of intrenchments, poured down upon the British such incessant volleys as threatened the whole body with destruction; and general Howe was, for some time, left almost alone; all his officers being either killed or wounded.
196. The provincials, in the mean time, had taken possession of Charlestown, so that general Pigot was obliged to contend with them in that place, as well as with those in the redoubt. The consequence was, that he was overmatched; his troops were thrown into disorder, and he would, in all probability, have been defeated, had not general Clinton advanced to his relief : upon which the attack was renewed with such fury, that the provincials were driven beyond the neck that leads to Charlestown.
197. In the heat of the engagement, the British troops, in order to deprive the enemy of a cover, set fire to Charlestown, which was totally consumed; and, eventually, the Americans were obliged to retreat over Charlestown neck, which was incessantly raked by the fire of the Glasgow man-of-war, and
several loating batteries. The loss on the side of the British was computed at one thousand ; among whom were nineteen officers killed and seventy wounded. The loss of the Americans did not exceed five hundred..
198. This was a dear-bought victory to the British. The Americans boasted that the advantage lay on their side, as they had so weakened the enemy, that they durst not afterwards move out of their intrenchments. This being the first time the provincials were in actual service, it must be owned they behaved with great spirit; and by no means merited the appel. lation of cowards, with which they were so often branded in Britain. In other places the same spirit appeared.
199. Lord North's conciliatory scheme was utterly rejected by the assemblies of Pennsylvania and New-Jersey; and afterwards in every other province. The affray at Lexington determined the colony of New York, which had hitherto con. tinued to waver; and as the situation of New-York rendered it unable to resist an attack from the sea, it was resolved, before the arrival of a British fleet, to secure the military stores, send off the women and children, and to set fire to the city, if it were found incapable of defence.
200. The exportation of provisions was everywhere prohibited, particularly to the British fishery on the banks of Newfoundland, or to such other colonies in America, as should adhere to the British interest. Congress resolved on the establishment of an army, and of a large paper currency, in order to support it.
201. In the inland northern colonies, colonels Eaton and Ethan Allen, without receiving any orders from Congress, or communicating their design to any body, with a party of two hundred and fifty men, surprised the forts of Crown-Point and Ticonderoga, and those that formed a communication between the colonies and Canada. On this occasion two hundred cannon fell into their hands, some brass field-pieces, mortars, and military stores, together with two armed vessels, and materials for the construction of others.
202. After the battle of Bunker Hill, the provincials erected fortifications on the heights which commanded Charlestown, and strengthened the rest in such a manner, that there was no hope of their being driven from thence; at the same time, their boldness and activity astonished the British officers, who had been accustomed to entertain a mean and unjust opinion of their courage.
203. The troops, shut up in Boston, were soon reduced to
distress. They were obliged to attempt carrying off the cattle on the islands before Boston, which produced frequent skirmishes; but the provincials, better acquainted with the navigation of the shores, landed on the islands, and destroyed or carried off whatever was of any use, burned the light-house at the entrance of the harbor, and took the workmen prisoners employed to repair it, as well as a party of marines sent to protect them.
204. Thus the garrison was reduced to the necessity of sending out armed vessels, to make prizes indiscriminately of all that came in their way, and of landing in different places to plunder for subsistence, as well as they could. The Congress in the mean time continued to act with vigor. Articles of confederation and perpetual union were drawn up, and solemnly agreed to; by which they bound themselves and their posterity for ever, as follows:
ART. 1. “Each colony was to be independent within itself, and to retain an absolute sovereignty in all domestic affairs.
Art. 2. Delegates to be annually elected, to meet in Congress, at such time and place as should be enacted in the preceding Congress.
ART. 3. The assembly should have the power of determining war, or peace, making alliances, and, in short, all that power which sovereigns of states usually claim as their own.
ART. 4. The expenses were to be paid out of the common treasury, and raised by a poll-tax on males between 16 and 60, the proportions to be determined by the laws of the colony.
ART. 5. An executive council to be appointed to act in place of the Congress during its recess.
Art. 6. No colony to make war with the Indians without consent of Congress.
Art. 7. The boundaries of all the Indian lands to be ascertained and secured to them; and no purchases of lands were to be made by individuals, or even by a colony, without consent of Congress.
Art. 8. Agents appointed by Congress should reside among the Indians, to prevent frauds in trading with them, and to relieve, at the public expense their wants and distresses.
ART. 9. This confederation to last until there should be a reconciliation with Britain ; or if that event should not take place, it was to be perpetual.” 205. After the action of Bunker Hill, when the
power Great Britain appeared less formidable to the Americans than before, Congress proceeded to justify their proceedings, in a de
claration drawn up in terms more expressive, and well caleulated to excite attention. “Were it possible for men, said they, who exercise their reason, to believe that the Divine Author of our existence intended a part of the human race to hold an absolute property in, and unbounded power over others, marked out by his infinite goodness as the objects of a legal domination, never to be resisted, however severe and oppressive; the inhabitants of these colonies might, at least, require from the parliament of Great Britain, some evidence that this dreadful authority over them had been granted to that body; but a reverence for our great Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense must convince all those who reflect on the subject, that government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered to the attain. ment of that end.
206. “The legislature of Great Britain, stimulated by an inordinate passion for power, not only unjustifiable, but which they knew to be peculiarly repugnant to the constitution of that kingdom, and despairing of success in any mode of contest where regard should be had to law, truth, or right; have, by deserting those principles, attempted to effect their cruel and impolitic purpose of enslaving these colonies, by violence; and have thereby rendered it necessary for us to close with their last appeal from reason, to arms. Yet, however blind that assembly may be, by their intemperate rage for unlimited domina. tion, so to slight justice in the opinion of mankind, we esteem ourselves bound by obligations to the rest of the world, to make known the justice of our cause." 207.
After taking notice of the manner in which their ancestors left Britain, the happiness attending the mutual and friendly intercourse betwixt that country and her colonies, and the remarkable success in the late war; they proceed as fol. lows: “The new ministry, finding the brave foes of Britain, though frequently defeated, yet still contending, look up to the unfortunate idea of granting them a hasty peace, and of then subduing her faithful friend.
208. “These devoted colonies were judged to be in such a state as to present victories without bloodshed, and all the easy emolument of statutable plunder. The uninterrupted tenor of their peaceable and respectful behavior, from the beginning of their colonization; their dutiful, zealous, and useful services during the war, though so recently and amply acknowledged in the most honorable manner, by his majesty, the late king, and by parliament, could not save them from the intended in