The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

“All things are in common now”

Today is the 242nd anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolution. The MHS holds some terrific letters and diaries containing first-hand accounts of that famous day, not to mention related books, pamphlets, maps, and artifacts. We’ve also digitized select items over the years, and they’re available on our website with full transcriptions. My favorites are the letters of two refugees, Sarah Winslow Deming and Hannah Winthrop.

 

Sarah Winslow Deming (1722-1788) wrote to her niece Sally Coverly, possibly sometime in June, two months after the battles. In her 12-page journal-style letter, she recounted her harrowing flight from Boston after that “fatal” and “dreadfull” day. Early the following morning, she was told that British troops had closed all roads to carriages and that she was essentially “Genl Gage’s prisoner.” Nevertheless she persisted.

I then determined to try if my feet would support me thro’, tho’ I trembled to such a degree, that I could scarce keep my feet in my own chamber, had taken no sustenance for the day, & very sick at my stomack. […] ah! can any one that has not felt it, know my sensation? Surely no.

Learning that some carriages had gotten out, she, her husband John, and others borrowed a chaise and managed to pass through the British checkpoints without incident, but with no idea of their final destination.

We had got out of the city of destruction; such I lookt upon Boston to be, yet I could not but lift up my desires to God that he would have mercy upon, & spare the many thousands of poor creatures I had left behind. […] I was far from being elated with my escape. I remember my sensations but cannot describe ‘em.

Along the way, the Demings encountered other refugees, including many women and children.

A lad who came out of Boston wth us […] run up to our chaise wth a most joyful countenance & cry’d, Sir, Sir; Ma’m, here are the cannon – Our cannon are coming […] The matter of his joy was terror to me […] We met little parties, old, young, & middle aged, some with fife & drum, perhaps not an hundred in the whole, a kind of pleasant sedateness on all their countenances. We met such parties all the way, which gave me the Idea of sheep going to the slaughter.

Drenched from a downpour of rain, they stopped at the house of Rev. William Gordon in Jamaica Plain, a man they barely knew but who immediately offered them accommodation. As Gordon told Sarah Deming, “all things are in common now.” Deming’s husband rode off to return the chaise, which was needed to rescue other stranded residents, and she was terrified she’d never seem him again.

Read about the rest of her narrow escape here.

 

The letter from Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop (1727?-1790) to her friend Mercy Otis Warren was written around May 1775 and forms part of our online exhibit of their correspondence. In this letter, Winthrop described her flight from Cambridge the day of the battle, first to a house a mile outside of town.

What a distressd house did we find there filld with women whose husbands were gone forth to meet the Assailiants, 70 or 80 of these with numbers of Infant Children, Crying and agonizing for the Fate of their husbands. In adition to this scene of distress we were for Some time in Sight of the Battle, the glistening instruments of death proclaiming by an incessant fire, that much blood must be shed, that many widowd & orphand ones be Left as monuments of that persecuting Barbarity of British Tyranny.

The next day, in the aftermath of the battles, Winthrop and others were forced to move again, which she compared to Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. But while Deming was making her way south, Winthrop fled north to the town of Andover, “alternately walking & riding.” The sights she saw along the way were gruesome.

What added greatly to the horror of the Scene was our passing thro the Bloody field at Menotomy which was strewd with the mangled Bodies, we met one Affectionate Father with a Cart looking for his murderd Son & picking up his Neighbours who had fallen in Battle, in order for their Burial.

Like Deming, Winthrop found asylum with a “very obliging” family. Her rural refuge in Andover was peaceful, a surreal juxtaposition with the historical moment in which she lived. Read the rest of her letter here.

For more information on the battles of Lexington and Concord and the people who experienced them, search our online catalog ABIGAIL or our website.

 

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 8:51 AM

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