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Measures of General Howe. Desecration of Churches.
Three Proclamations. Seizure of Tories. — Want of Ara tillery. — Henry Knox, the Artillerist. - His Mission to Tis conderoga. — Reënlistment of Troops. - Lack of Public Spirit. - Comments of General Greene.
HE measures which General Howe had adopted after taking command in Bos
ton, rejoiced the royalists, seeming to justify their anticipations. He proceeded to strengthen the works on Bunker's Hill and Boston Neck, and to clear away houses and throw up redoubts on eminences within the town. The patriot inhabitants were shocked by the desecration of the Old South Church, which for more than a hundred years had been a favorite place of worship, where some of the most eminent divines had officiated. The pulpit and pews were now removed, the floor was covered with earth, and the sacred edifice was converted into a ridingschool for Burgoyne's light dragoons. To excuse its desecration, it was spoken of scoffingly as a “ meeting-house, where sedition had often been preached.”
The North Church, another “meeting-house," was entirely demolished and was used for fuel. "Thus,” says the chronicler of the day, “ thus are
HOWE'S THREE PROCLAMATIONS.
our houses devoted to religious worship, profaned and destroyed by the subjects of His Royal Maj
About the last of October, Howe issued three proclamations. The first forbade all persons to leave Boston without his permission under pain of military exccution; the second forbade any one, 80 permitted, to take with him more than five pounds sterling, under pain of forfeiting all the money found upon his person and being subject to fine and imprisonment; the third called upon the inhabitants to arm themselves for the preservation of order within the town; they to be commanded by officers of his appointment.
Washington had recently been incensed by the conflagration of Falmouth; the conduct of Gov. ernor Dunmore who had proclaimed martial law in Virginia, and threatened ruin to the patriots, had added to this provocation ; the measures of General Howe seemed of the same harsh character, and he determined to retaliate.
“ Would it not be prudent," writes he to Gov. ernor Trumbull of Connecticut, “ to seize those tories who have been, are, and we know will be active against us? Why should persons who are preying upon the vitals of their country, be suffered to stalk at large, whilst we know they will d. us every mischief in their power?”
In this spirit he ordered General Sullivan, wha was fortifying Portsmouth, " to seize upon such persons as held commissions under the crown, and were acting as open and avowed enemies to their
i Thacher's Military Journal, p. 50
country, and hold them as hostages for the secu rity of the town." Still he was moderate in his retaliation, and stopped short of private individ. uals. “ For the present,” said he, “I shall avoid giving the like order with regard to the tories of Portsmouth ; but the day is not far off when they will meet with this, or a worse fate, if there is not a considerable reformation in their conduct.” 1
The season was fast approaching when the bay between the camp and Boston would be frozen over, and military operations might be conducted upon the ice. General Howe, if reinforced, would then very probably “endeavor to relieve himself from the disgraceful confinement in which the ministerial troops had been all summer.” Washington felt the necessity, therefore, of guarding the camps wherever they were most assailable; and of throwing up batteries for the purpose. He had been embarrassed throughout the siege by the want of artillery and ordnance stores; but never more so than at the present momento In this juncture, Mr. Henry Knox stepped forward, and offered to proceed to the frontier forts on Champlain in quest of a supply.
Knox was one of those providential characters which spring up in emergencies, as if they were formed by and for the occasion.
A thriving bookseller in Boston, he had thrown up business to take up arms for the liberties of his country, He was one of the patriots who had fought on Bunker's Hill, since when he had aided in plan. ning the defenses of the camp before Boston.
1 Letter to William Palfrey. Sparks, iii, 158.
The aptness and talent here displayed by him as an artillerist, had recently induced Washington to recommend him to Congress for the command of the regiment of artillery in place of the veteran Gridley, who was considered by all the officers of the camp too old for active employment. Congress had not yet acted on that recommendation in the mean time Washington availed him. self of the offered services of Knox in the present instance. He was accordingly instructed to examine into the state of the artillery in camp, and take an account of the cannon, mortars, shells, lead, and ammunition that were wanting. He was then to hasten to New York, procure and forward all that could be had there; and thence proceed to the head-quarters of General Schuyler, who was requested by letter to aid him in obtaining what further supplies of the kind were wanting from the forts at Ticonderoga, Crown Point, St. John's, and even Quebec, should it be in the hands of the Americans. Knox set off on his errand with promptness and alacrity, and shortly afterwards the commission of colonel of the regiment of artillery which Washington had advised, was forwarded to him by Congress.
The reënlistment of troops actually in service was now attempted, and proved a fruitful source of perplexity. In a letter to the President of Congress, Washington observes that half of the officers of the rank of captain were inclined to retire ; and it was probable their example would influence their men. Of those who were disposed to remain, the officers of one colony were un will. ing to mix in the same regiment with those of another. Many sent in their names, to serve in expectation of promotion; others stood aloof, to see what advantages they could make for themselves; while those who had declined sent in their names again to serve. The difficulties were greater, if possible, with the soldiers than with the officers. They would not enlist unless they knew their colonel, lieutenant-colonel, and captain ; Connecticut men being unwilling to serve under officers from Massachusetts, and Massachusetts men under officers from Rbode Island ; so that it was necessary to appoint the officers first.
Twenty days later he again writes to the President of Congress: “I am sorry to be necessitated to mention to you the egregious want of public spirit which prevails here. Instead of pressing to be engaged in the cause of their country, which I vainly flattered myself would be the case, I find we are most likely to be deserted in a most critical time.
Our situation is truly alarming, and of this General Howe is well apprised. No doubt when he is reinforced he will avail himself of the information.”
In a letter to Reed he disburdened his heart more completely. “Such dearth of public spirit, and such want of virtue ; such stock-jobbing, and fertility in all the low arts to obtain advantage of one kind or another in this great change of military arrangement, I never saw before, and I
pray i Washington to the President of Congress, Nov. 8.