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Boston Evacuated

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

March 17. –This morning the British army in Boston, under General Howe, consisting of upwards of seven thousand men, after suffering an ignominious blockade for many months past, disgracefully quitted all their strongholds in Boston and Charlestown, fled from before the army of the United Colonies, and took refuge on board their ships. The most material particulars of this signal event are as follows: –About nine o’clock, a body of the regulars were seen to march from Bunker’s Hill, and, at the same time, a very great number of boats, filled with troops, put off from Boston, and made for the shipping, which lay chiefly below the castle. On the discovery of these movements, the continental army paraded; several regiments embarked in boats and proceeded down the river from Cambridge. About the same time two men were sent to Bunker’s Hill, in order to make discoveries. They proceeded accordingly, and, when arrived, making a signal that the fort was evacuated, a detachment was immediately sent down from the army to take possession of it. The troops on the river, which were commanded by General Putnam, landed at Sewall’s Point, where they received intelligence that all the British troops had left Boston, on which a detachment was sent to take possession of the town, while the main body returned up the river. About the same time, General Ward, attended by about five hundred troops from Roxbury, under the command of Colonel Ebenezer Learned, who embarked and opened the gates, entered the town on that quarter, Ensign Richards carrying the standard.

The command of the whole being then given to General Putnam, he proceeded to take possession of all the important posts, and thereby became possessed, in the name of the Thirteen United Colonies of North America, of all the fortresses in that large and once populous and flourishing metropolis, which the flower of the British army, headed by an experienced general, and supported by a formidable fleet of men-of-war, had, but an hour before, evacuated in the most precipitate and cowardly manner. God grant that the late worthy inhabitants, now scattered abroad, may speedily re-occupy their respective dwellings, and never more be disturbed by the cruel hand of tyranny; and may the air of that capital be never again contaminated by the foul breath of Toryism.

The joy of our friends in Boston, on seeing the victorious and gallant troops of their country enter the town almost at the heels of their barbarous oppressors, was inexpressibly great. The mutual congratulations and tender embraces which soon afterwards took place, between those of the nearest connections in life, for a long time cruelly rent asunder by the tyranny of our implacable enemies, surpasses description. From such a set of beings, the preservation of property was not expected. And it was found that a great part of the evacuated houses had been pillaged, the furniture broken and destroyed, and many of the buildings greatly damaged. It is worthy of notice, however, that the buildings belonging to the honorable John Hancock, Esq., particularly his elegant mansion house, are left in good order. All the linen and woollen goods, except some that may be secreted, are carried off, 1 and all the salt and molasses is destroyed. The regulars have also destroyed great quantities of effects belonging to themselves, which they could not carry away, such as gun carriages and other carriages of various kinds, house furniture, &c., together with a quantity of flour and hay. All their forts, batteries, redoubts, and breastworks remain entire and complete. They have left many of their heaviest cannon mounted on carriages, and several of them charged, all of which are either spiked, or have a trunnion beaten off. They have also left several of their largest mortars; quantities of cannon shot, shells, numbers of small arms, and other instruments of war, have been found, thrown off the wharves, concealed in vaults or broken in pieces. In the fort on Bunker’s Hill, several hundred good blankets were found. It is said about fifteen or twenty of the king’s horses have also been taken up in the town; and it is thought that about the same number of Tories remain behind.

We are told that the Tories were thunder-struck when orders were issued for evacuating the town, after being many hundred times assured, that such reinforcements would be sent, as to enable the king’s troops to ravage the country at pleasure. Thus are many of those deluded creatures, those vile traitors to their country, obliged at last, in their turn, to abandon their once delightful habitations, and go they know not where. Many of them, it is said, considered themselves as undone, and seemed, at times, inclined to throw themselves on the mercy of their offended country, rather than leave it. One or more of them, it is reported, have been left to end their lives by the unnatural act of suicide.

The British, previous to their going off, scattered great numbers of crows’ feet on Boston Neck, and in the streets, in order to retard our troops in case of a pursuit; and with such silence and precaution did they embark, that a great part of the inhabitants did not know it until after they were gone.

To the wisdom, firmness, intrepidity and military abilities of our amiable and beloved general, his Excellency George Washington, Esq., to the assiduity, skill, and bravery of the other worthy generals and officers of the army, and to the hardiness and gallantry of the soldiery, is to be ascribed, under God, the glory and success of our arms, in driving from one of the strongest holds in America, so considerable a part of the British army as that which last week occupied Boston. 2

This afternoon, a few hours after the British retreated, the Reverend Mr. Leonard3 preached at Cambridge an excellent sermon, in the audience of his Excellency the General, and others of distinction, well adapted to the interesting event of the day, from Exodus xiv. 25: “And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily; so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” 4


1 On the 10th of March, a week previous to the evacuation of Boston, General Howe issued the following proclamation: –“As linen and woollen goods are articles much wanted by the rebels, and would aid and assist them in their rebellion, the commander-in-chief expects that all good subjects will use their utmost endeavors to have all such articles conveyed from this place. Any who have not opportunity to convey their goods under their own care, may deliver them on board the Minerva, at Hubbard’s wharf, to Crean Brush, Esq., marked with their names, who will give a certificate of their delivery, and will oblige himself to return them to the owners, all unavoidable accidents excepted. If after this notice any person secretes or keeps in his possession such articles, he will be treated as a favorer of the rebels.”–Pennsylvania Evening Post, April 16.
2 New York Packet, March 28: –A British officer gives the following account of the bombardment and evacuation of Boston: –“About three weeks ago the rebels opened a heavy cannonade and bombardment on the town of Boston, from the neighboring heights, which they continued for several successive nights. On the 6th instant, General Howe held a council of war, wherein it was determined that next morning the enemy should be attacked on Dorchester Neck, and a large detachment from our army was embarked on board of transports and flat-bottomed boats for that purpose; but when they were about to land, the wind blew so hard as rendered the disembarkation impossible. When the day dawned, it was perceived that the enemy were so numerous and so strongly fortified and intrenched, even beyond belief, that it was judged prudent to desist from the attempt. Had we proceeded, the affair must have been very bloody, no less than twelve thousand of the rebels were ready prepared to defend their redoubts; however, our disposition was such as would, in all human probability, have insured victory. The grenadiers were to have attacked in columns, with fixed bayonets, and had strict orders not to fire a shot. The light infantry were to have covered the flanks of the grenadiers’ columns, who were to have been supported by several regiments.
“On this day se’nnight, the general was pleased to order a retreat, which was effected with the utmost regularity. Nor did the rebels enter the town for above an hour after it was evacuated. We have brought off all our cannon, all our artillery stores, all our provisions, and every thing else which could be of any use to the rebels. Our army, together with the women and children, and almost all the friends of government who were in town, are now on board transports. Our destination is not yet made known.”–Middlesex Journal, May 12.
3 Chaplain to Gen. Putnam’s command.
4 Penn. Evening Post, March 30.

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