Thursday, September 29, 2011

Letters from the Front: Dr. Samuel Adams to Sally Preston, March 1776

"...when I reflect on the pleasure I enjoyed when my dear Sally was so near me that when ever I wanted to unbend my mind from cares & business, could have recourse to her agreable company..."

This installment of the Letters from the Front series features the second piece of our large collection of letters from Dr. Samuel Adams. This one was addressed to his future wife, Miss Sally Preston, ans written from the lines outside of Boston towards the end of the siege that lasted through the winter of 1775-1776. At this time, Adams was the surgeon to the 18th Continental Regiment of Foot (see Duncan's Medical Men in the American Revolution). Though engaged in a dangerous military operation, as this letter shows, Adams' thoughts seem to have been more focused on the object of his heart's affections. We have 31 letters from the good doctor to his wife, which document his experiences during the War, as well as his longing for his home and family. Dr. Adams' candor challenges the popular conceptions of eighteenth-century New Englanders as stolid, hind-bound individuals. See the full transcript of the letter below.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Letters from the Front: The French Perspective on the Revolution

"...the british Armaments in America and their professed Design are only a Finesse of the Ministry to collect a large Force in the Neighbour hood of their Islands & then to fall upon them at unawares..."

In this next letter from Jedediah Huntington, written shortly after his previous one mentioning the potential of storming Boston, we see hints of foreign involvement in the conflict. First, there is the appearance of the unnamed Prussian officer, one of an increasing flood of French and German military men would were coming to America to seek their fortunes in the burgeoning conflict. Through this Prussian officer, Jedediah was able to access the larger world's perspective on the Revolution: the French, Britain's main rival, seem to have initially seen the rebellion as nothing more than a sham designed for massing troops in preparation for another war of imperial aggression, which would threaten to take the Caribbean sugar islands that the British had failed to grab in the Seven Years War. Note the final line requiring the surgeon to join Huntington's regiment: absent officers were as much a problem for the British as they were for the American Army, constituting another point of continuity between the adversaries. For the full text of the letter, please read below.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Letters from the Front: Storming Boston

"...some are of Opinion it is best to attack the Town by Surprise &  if that  does not succeed to storm, I have not many Doubts but it may be carried either Way..."

In this next installment of our large collection of letters from Jedediah Huntington, we see ample evidence of how the lengthy siege of Boston weighed upon the nerves of the Congressional forces. Now many months into the stalemate, George Washington and his officers were faced with the choice of continuing to man their siege works, with the increasing possibility of desertion in the face of boredom, or to make a bold move against the British Army encamped in the town. In the end, Washington chose not to make a sortie, since another answer was on the way: heavy artillery that had been liberated from Fort Ticonderoga and which were on their way under the care of Henry Knox. The arrival of these cannon and their emplacement on heights commanding the town would signal the end of the British occupation. This event, however, was still several weeks off and Huntington's letter provides little indication that the Army was aware of Washington's end-game. At the same time, however, Huntington's faith in Washington remained unshaken. See the full transcript of the letter below.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Letters from the Front: Jedediah Huntington to Jabez Huntington, 18 Jan 1776

"The General has been waiting with great Anxiety to see the Regiments upon the new Establishment with their full Compliment of Men...[he] is startled when thinks on our extensive Lines all alike exposed to an Attack or Surprise from our Enemies and that we have so few to man them..."

It was now January 1776 and the crisis that Jedediah Huntington predicted in his December letter had now come to pass: the Continental troops raised for 1775 were disbanding and heading home, while the new regiments for the 1776 campaign were not yet full. As Huntington notes, agents in the countryside (possibly Loyalists) were doing their utmost to slow or stop this process. Continental troops were an absolute necessity for continuing the American war effort. The militia were only required to serve for limited terms and, moreover, did not have to leave their state/colony. Continental regulars could be taken anywhere within the rebelling colonies, and their long-service meant that they could be trained to professional performance standards. The lack of sufficient numbers of reliable troops, who were capable of manning the siege lines against British sorties, constituted a fundamental threat to the American cause. One can only imagine how history might have turned out differently if the British had made a concerted push from their quarters during this period.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Letters from the Front: Jedediah Huntington to Jabez Huntington, 25 Dec. 1775. Camp at Roxbury, Massachusetts.

 "I expect an Attempt will be made to set fire to part of the Town of Boston rather than it should be made Fuel for our Enemies who are pulling down Houses to burn."

In this installment of the Letters from the Front series, we pick up with Jedediah Huntington's correspondence, almost a month after our previous entry. While his appointment as Colonel of the 17th Connecticut Regiment was still seven days away, Huntington was nevertheless consumed with the business of completing recruitment and attending to other administrative tasks. As his letter shows, the Siege of Boston was not a quiet period for the Continental Army: deserters from the British forces provided a steady source of gossip and rumor even as the heavy cannon from Fort Ticonderoga that would bring the siege to its end were on the way with Col. Henry Knox. Huntington's reference to setting part of Boston on fire to deny its use to the British provides an example of how far some Americans were willing to go to secure independence. The closing passage, referring to medical supplies coming up from New York, highlights the role of Huntington's father, Jabez, who would become a Major General in the Connecticut militia in December 1776. Thanks go to Andrew Dauphinee, loyal David Library Volunteer, for transcribing this document.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Letters from the Front: Jedediah Huntington to Jabez Huntington, 4 Dec. 1775. Roxbury Camp, Massachusetts.

"I fear as to our numbers, the new Regiments fill up but slowly-great many of the Soldiers regardless the most important consequence, are determined to leave the Service."

In this installment of the Letters from the Front series, we continue with the war as seen by Jedediah Huntington. Almost a month has passed since his previous letter and events have moved quickly for the Continental Army as well as for Huntington's personal life. Thanks to the success of the privateers, the Continental Army received a much-needed supply of arms and ammunition, alleviating shortages that had left many troops unarmed. 

Huntington next notes the beginning of a crisis that would come to a head in January 1776: the recruitment of new regiments. In contrast to professional armies of the day, where soldiers enlisted for life or for a significant stretch of years (generally no less than three), the Continental soldiers enlisted for a mere one year for the first half of the war. As a result, the Americans were forced to raise a new army every year. Huntington will remain Colonel of the 8th Connecticut Regiment until 10 December, but is already engaged in raising his new unit, the 17th Connecticut Regiment: since units were re-raised every year, their designations changed annually. Thus the 1st Connecticut Regiment of 1775 was not the same unit as the 1st Connecticut Regiment of 1776. This enlistment practice threatened the army's viability as a military force by draining it of man-power during vital periods as well as throwing the administrative structures into chaos. It was a largely unrecognized miracle that the Continental Army managed to survive through this annual cycle.

Huntington's letter ends with a reference to personal tragedy: his wife, who was ill in November, has now died, leaving him depressed and conflicted over a possible return to his home on leave. The final lines in this letter, along with other documents that will appear in this series, shows inaccuracy of the stereotypical view of New Englanders as stolid, hind-bound individuals who never expressed their feelings. Our thanks go to Library Administrative Assistant Brian Graziano for his assistance in transcribing this document.