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at the same time in the strongest manner declaring, that they were resolved to take up arms in defence of their just rights, and defend, to the last, their opposition to the late acts of Parliament; and the people were exhorted to apply themselves with the greatest diligence to the prosecution of such manufactures, as were necessary for their defence and subsistence; such as sait, salt-petre, gun-powder, steel, &c. This was the universal voice of the colonies, New-York only excepted. The assembly of that province, as yet ignorant of the fate of their last remonstrance, refused to concur with the other colonies in their determination, to throw off the British yoke: their attachment was nevertheless, very faint, and by the event, it appeared, that a perseverance of the measures which the ministry had adopted, was sufficient to unite them to the
In the beginning of February the provincial congress met at Cambridge, and as no friends to Britain could now find admittance into that assembly, the only consideration was how to make proper preparations for war. Expertness in military discipline was earnestly recommended, and several military institutions established; among which that of the minute-men was most remarkable. These were chosen from the most active and expert among the militia; and their business was to keep themselves in constant readiness, at the call of their officers; from which perpetual diligence they derived their appellation.
It was now thought that a very slight occasion would bring on hostilities, for both parties were so much exasperated by a long course of reproaches, and literary warfare, that they were filled with the utmost inveteracy against each other.
On the twenty-sixth of February, 1775, general Gage, having been informed that a number of field pieces had been brought to Salem, dispatched a party to seize them. Their road was obstructed by a river, over which was a draw-bridge. This the people had pulled up, and refused to let down upon which the soldiers seized a boat to ferry them over, but the people cut out her bottom. Hostilities would immediately have commenced had it not been for the interposition of a clergyman, who represented to the military, on the one hand, the folly of opposing
such numbers; and to the people on the other, that as the day was far spent, the mintary could not execute their design, so that they might, without any fear, leave them in the quiet possession of the draw-bridge. This was complied with; and the soldiers, after having remained some time at the bridge, returned without executing their orders.
The next attempt was attended with more serious con. sequences. General Gage understanding that a large quantity of ammunition and military stores, had been collected at Concord, about twenty 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, as was reported, to seize Hancock and Adams, two leading men of the congress.
They set out before day break, on the nineteenth 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. A British officer called out to them to disperse; but as they still continued in a body, he advanced and discharged his pistol, and ordered his men to fire; who instantly obeyed, and killed and wounded 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.
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 upon them from Concord to Lexington. Here their ammunition was totally expended; and they would have been unavoidably cut off, had not a considerable reinforcement, commanded by lord Percy, met them. The Americans, however, continued the attack with great fury, and galled 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 still have been in the utmost danger.
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 were raised by this engagement, and the power of Britain became less formidable in their view; they now meditated nothing less than the total expulsion of the troops from Boston. 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 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 Boston shut up. General Gage, however, had so strongly fortified it, that the enemy, powerful as they were, feared to make the attack.
But 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 meantime, happened in the islands lying off Boston harbour; in which the Americans had the advantage, and burnt an armed schooner. Nothing decisive, however, took place, till the seventeenth of June. In the neighbourhood of Charlestown, a place on the northern shore, opposite the peninsula on which Boston stands, is an high ground, called Bunker'shill, which overlooks and commands the whole town of Boston. On the sixteenth, the provincials took possession of this place; and worked with such indefatigable industry, that, to the astonishment of their enemies, they had before day-light, almost compleated a redoubt, with a strong entrenchment, reaching half a mile eastward, as far as the river Mystic.
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 spite of all opposition, they continued their work, and finished
it before mid-day. A considerable body of foot was then landed at the foot of Eunker's-hill, under the command of generals Howe, and Pigot; the former being appointed to attack the lines, and the latter the redoubt. The Ameri cans having the advantage of the ground, as well as of entrenchments, poured down upon the British such incessant vollies, 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.
The provincials in the mean time, had taken possession of Charlestown, so that general Pigot was obliged to con tend with them in that place, as well as 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 renewcd with fresh fury, so that the provincials were driven beyond the neck that leads to Charlestown.
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 floating 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.
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 entrenchments. 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 appellation of cowards, with which they were so often branded in Britain. In other places the same de termined spirit appeared.
Lord North's conciliatory scheme was utterly rejected by the assemblies of Pennsylvania, and New-Jersey; and afterwards, in every other province. T The affray at Lexington determined the colony of New-York, which had hi therto cotinued 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 was still found incapable of defence.
The exportation of provisions was every where 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.
In the inland northern colonies, colonels Easton 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, surprized the forts of Crown-point and Tinconderoga, and those that formed a communication betwixt 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.
After the battle of Bunker's-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 offi cers, who had been accustomed to entertain a mean and unjust opinion of their courage.
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 harbour, and took prisoners the workmen employed to repair it, as well as a party of marines sent to protect them. Thus the garrison was reduced to the necessity of sending cut 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.