NOT the least amenity (if indeed “ fascination is not the more appropriate word) of historical study is the possibility, ever present, of stumbling upon some “find” of fact or material as yet unexploited. As the prospector is led to make any exertion and endure any suffering in the search for a promising indication of precious metal, so the historian always has before him the possibility that, in the wearying and blinding study of the illegible and dusty archives he is toiling through, the next paper may contain some revelation to him almost priceless. Under the influence of this stimulant, the present writer has spent many days in the great Babylon of historical archives, the English Public Record Office, and one product of his search has been the discovery of a series of letters on which there hangs a tale.
One of the minor points of the history of the War for Independence which offers opportunity for richer illustration is the position of the Americans in London who sided with the colonies during that period. The danger Josiah Quincy was in, the talked-of arrest of Franklin, the probable action towards William and Arthur Lee, have received passing notice, but the great body of “ suspects,” to use a modern term, has been largely overlooked. Among the eases investigated by the English government was that of a young American artist just returned from Rome, and his half-brother, also an artist, just fled from America. Io what extent suspicion was attached to them it is now impossible to say, bnt it certainly went so far as to lead these two men to turn over their private papers to the government; and these, instead of being returned, drifted into this great depository of manuscripts, where they remained submerged and unrecognizable among the thousands of bundles and volumes, under the somewhat vague title of " America and the West Indies, 449. Intercepted Letters,” till stumbled upon by chance. The young artist was John Singleton Copley. His half-brother was Henry Pelham. From the jumble of these papers a few have been selected as throwing light on the men and on the public and social events of the period treated.
From Peter Pelham, artist and engraver, who married the mother of Copley, both these men derived the rudiments of their art education. Copley has spoken too well for himself to need mention as an artist. Henry Pelham was a miniaturist and engraver, who did much good work, including many prints of which no copy is now known to exist. One of these was the plate referred to in his first letter. It was of the Boston Massacre, and the letter, which was written by Pelham to Paul Revere, presents the latter in anything hut a favorable light.
BOSTON, March 29, 1770.
SIR : When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and as I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you. But I find I was mistaken and after being at the great Trouble and Fxpence of making a design, paying for paper, printing &c., find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expence I have been at as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway. If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect upon and consider of one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty of.
Rcvere’s print of the Massacre, here referred to, is well known, and has been several times reproduced ; that by Pelham, though unknown, was certainly completed and printed, as is shown by the following letter from Pelham to his half-brother, Charles Pelham: —
Tuesday Even’ g, May 1, 1770.
DEAR BROTHER : I embrace the first Leasure Moment since your Man Left Boston to appologize for the very ungenteel scrawl I sent by him. I beg you would attribute it to the shortness of ye Time and not to any disrespect to a Brother whom I shall always take the greatest pleasure in Serving whenever it is in my power. I enquired of the person who takes care of Mr. Barnard’s Business if he had left any Order respecting your Acct, but was informed he had not. My Mama sends her Love and Respects to you and Sister Pelham and Blessing to Nilly and Charles, kindly thanks you for the present of parsnips, hopes the Gooseberry Wine she sent will prove agreable. Inclosed I send you two of my prints of the late Massacre, and a Newspaper containg Messages between the L. Governor and the House. Extract from Lord Chatham’s Speech. A sketch of the proceedings of our patriotick Merchs. who have resolved to return to England 30000£ worth of Goods imported contrary to agreement. The WISPERKR No. II. The remonstrance of the City of London to Lis Majesty &c &c. By which you will conclude that they are in the utmost confusion in old as well as New England. What will be the final Result of these Altercations time only can discover, thus much seems to be certain that if there is not a change of Measures and that very soon the British Dominions will be plunged into one of the most dreadfull of all temporal Evills, into all the Horrors of a civil War. Yesterday Messrs. Hutehinsons who had a large quantity of Tea under the Custom house agreed to have it stored by the committee of Inspection till the Tea Act is repealed. A Vessell just arived who left London a week after Capt. Scott says the London Remonstrance was presented to the King, by three Gentlemen at the head of the largest Number of People ever assembled together in London and was most graciously Received.
The following letter, written three years later by Copley, brings us to the next great event in Massachusetts history, — the opposition to the landing of tea. Copley’s father-in-law, Richard Clarke, was the merchant of Boston selected by the East India Company as an agent, to whom part of the unpopular tea was consigned. On the arrival of the tea ships, a mob smashed the windows of his house and attempted to force their way in, which so frightened Clarke that be took refuge in the “Castle,” the fort of Boston harbor, and feared to return to town. He meditated a memorial justifying Lis conduct to the Assembly, and Copley wrote to him relative thereto as follows. The “Sukey” mentioned was Mrs. Copley. This letter is without date.
HOND SIR: I received your Letter of 11 Inst iueloscing one for Coll Worthington which I have not Delivered thinking it best to see Mr. Lee first, & after weitiug till yesterday without bis coming to Town I sent to Cambridge & had a full opportunity of converseing with him on the matter, but being detained all night by means of an unruly horse which gave Sukey & myself some trouble I could not get to Town this Morng time enough to write you by any opportunity of this Day.
the matter of a Memorial had started in my mind more than three Weeks ago but I had many objections to it which I could not get over, the most, meterial was this, that however Clear the facts may be yet they may be controverted, your conduct misrepresented & what ever you either have or shall say misconstrued by the prevailing party in the House and a tryal brought on in which the House with ye other Branches will be the Umpires & their decision, should it be against you, will confirm great numbers in their oppinions who are but too much disposed to beleive the worst of you & are not at all solicitious to look into the facts & vew them with candor & impartiallity, & this judgment of ye Court will stand on Record & conclude every thing against you & render it more dificult than ever to bring people to think of you as they ought not only in this province but through ye Continent & in Europe ; should this be the effect, ns I really think it may, your principal intention would be defeated, that of doing justice to your Injured earractor which however I think will be well effected in ye way you propose if it could be ascertained, that the leading Members in the House would take hold of such an opportunity to reinstate you their ends being answered & having no advantage in prospect from keeping you at the Castle or Banishing you your Country, having taken up this oppinion & an opportunity presenting itself when I was in Town on Tuesday I improved it to ye purpose finding out ye Sentiments of some of ye Heads & hope very soon to be able to ascertain what the fate of a Memorial would be should it be pursued. Should it unfavourable it appears to me a Newspaper Publication signed by the Agents would answer all ye purposes of doing justice to your injured carracter that a Memorial would, without the disadvantages,
I have no doubt that some of the many Callumneys in ye Newspapers ought to bo contradicted. This has been ray oppinion ever since ye dispute commenced ; After I had fully weighed the whole of your design the above was what struck me & being the only sentiments I could adopt, I saw your friend Mr. Lee who agreed in every perticular only he thought me almost romantick in supposeing it a possable thing that the Leaders would countinance a Memorial in ye Coart but think it may be tried. I own I think the prospect of success very small but I dont. dispair neither. Mr. Lee observed to me that although his own sentiments were against the Memorial yet as they stood connected with yours he should be for trying it as he has offen found your judgment better than his own where you had differed in oppinion. Should you think on ye Whole conclude to prefer a Memorial rather than publish in ye Newspaper your justification be pleased to let me know & I will deliver the letter to Coll W—immediately. Mr. Green I would not see till I had been with Mr. Lee but will see him tomorrow. As it now grows late I must conclude with assureing you I shall not neglect anything that will have a tendancy to remove every obstacle to your return & that will do justice to your Carractor as far as may be in my power.
I am Hon. Sir
your Most Dutifull Son
JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY.
Equally involved with Richard Clarke in the tea affair were his two sons, Jonathan and Isaac, who were ordered to appear before the Boston town meeting to explain their “unpatriotic conduct.” Neither dared to be present, and Copley offered to act as an intermediary. He attended the meeting, and then carried to the agents, all of whom had taken refuge in the Castle, the demand of the meeting that the tea be returned. The agents could only plead their lack of power to send the tea back to England. With this answer Copley returned to the meeting. What followed is related by him in a letter to his two brothers-in-law :
Dec. 1, 1773.
On my return to the Meeting (after making an apology for so greatly exceeding the time proposed by me when I left it) I made use of every argument my thought could suggest to draw the people from their unfavourable oppinion of you, & to convince them your opposition was neither the effect of obstinacy or unfriendliness to the community, but altogether from necessity on your part to discharge a trust cominited to you, a failure in which would subject you to ruin in your reputation as Merchant, to ruin in point of fortune, your friends having engaged for you in very large sums, that you were uninfluenced by any persons what ever, that you had not seen the Governor that Day (this last I urged in answer to some very warm things that were said on this head in which you were charged with acting under the Imediate Influance of ye Governor which in justice to you & him I undertook to say from my own knowledg was not true). I observed you did not decline appearing in that Body from any suspicion that your Persons would not be intirely safe. But as the People had drawn the precise Line of Conduct that would sattisfy them. You thought your appearee at that Meeting would only tend to inflame it unless you could do what they demanded from you, which being impossable you thought they ought not to insist on, that you did not bring yourselves into this Dificulty & therefore, ought not to be pressed to do an Act that would involve you in Ruin &c. — i further observed you had shewn no disposition to bring the Teas into the Town nor would you but only must be excused from being the active instrument in sending it back, that the way was Clear for them to send it back by the Political Storm as they term’d it, raised by the Body as by that the Capt. could not unload it, & must return of coarse, that your refusal by no means frusterated their plan — In short I have done every possable thing, & altho there was a unanimus vote past Declaring this unsatisfactory yet it cooled the Resentment & they Desolved without Adding or saying anything that showed an illtemper to you. I have been told & I beleive it true that after I left the Meeting Addams said they must not expect you should Ruin your selves. I think all stands well at present. Before the temper of ye People could be judg’d of, we sent Cousin Harry to your Hond Father to urge his Imediate Departure to you, you will see him this Day. I have no doubt in my own mind you must stay where you are till the Vessel sails that is now in, at least; but I beleive not Longer ; Then I think you will he able to return with Honour to Town, some few things in the mean while being done on your part. I had a Long & free conversation with Doer. Warren which will be renued this afternoon, with the addition of Coll Hancock Cousin Benjn Davis is to be with us. I must conclude with recommending that you avoid seeing the Govounor. I hope he will not have any occation to go to the Castel if he should, do not converse with him on the subject, this I think is the best advise I can give you boath as a friend to you and Him, my reason for it I will tell you when I see you. Mrs. Copley & myself went at 9 o’Clock to Mrs. Lees & return’d so late that I have no time to do any thing Scrawl, but I hope you will be able to read this. I will see you as soon as possable.
Before the next letter of the series was written, events had moved rapidly. Copley had gone to England, Mrs. Copley was on the eve of following him, and the Pelhams were discussing a like step. To understand the main reason for these migrations, it is only necessary to mention that Pelham wrote the letter to Copley shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord. The letter is not dated, and begins thus : —
The people in the Country have made it a Rule for a long time Past to brand every one with the Name of Tory and consider them as Inimical to the Liberties of America, who are not willg to go every length with them in the Scheem however mad, or who show the least doubt of the justice A Humanity of all their measures. Or even entertain an Idea that they may not produce those salutary effects they profess to have in View. This conduct has rendered My Brother [Charles] P[elham] very uneasy. They have long looked askew at him, his being a Churchman is considered as a suspicious Circumstance in short he has for some time meditated a Retreat from his present place of abode and has depended upon me for Intelligence of any movement in this town which might effect a threatened attack upon the tories. My Sister Copley & myself proposed going to Newton the very day after battle., but in the Morng finding a Disturbance in the Country we alterd our plan and with your horse & Chase I went alone to alarm my Brother & persuade him & my Sister to come to town as a place of safety. I went to the ferry. The ferrymen refused to carry me over, the Wind being high tho there was then a Chaise passing over. This I considerd as a great disapointmeut & scolded at the Ferrymen who I thot acting out of their line of Duty. I here lost an hour, being obliged to Return thro the town and go over the Neck. This in the sequal will appear a very fortunate Circumstance as it detered from attempting to return the same way. I found my brother unable to move being confined with the Gout. Anxious for my Friends, as the Country was now in the utmost Confusion my attention was drawn to our Amiable Friend Miss Sally Bromfield who was then at Cambridge. I went & took her into my Chaise. The people havg taken up the bridge at Cambridge to stop the Troops in their Retreat and fearg another Disapontment at Charlestown I thot it most prudent to Return home by the Way of Matertown tho it was 13 Miles, which I happyly effected by Sunsett after havg Rid apost a Circuit of 30 Miles. Had we Returnd thro Charlestown we should have been in the midst of the Battle and have romuiml a fortnight involuntary exiles from our Friends who as it was were very uneasy for us. This is evident Mr. Harry B. having gone the same afternoon to fetch his Sister down but finding she had just left her Uncle’s with me, hastned immediately hack to the Ferry where he found the boats stoppd by Order of the Genl. The Armies fast approachg and that being a very unsafe place he had but just time to escape over Charlestow[n] Neck before the retreatg army enterd it. He was forced to Remain 13 days in the Country unable to see his Friends before he could obtaind a pass to Returnd home. Amidst the Horrors of that fatal Day I feel myself peculiarly happy in being instrumental in rescuing my very lovely Friend from such a Scene of Distress and Danger. The other Circumstance was this, finding I should have no business here myself and friends thought it advisable for me to go to Philada. I had agreed for my Passage & was packg up my things expecting to sail the next morng when in the Night the Capt fearg some detention went off and left all his Passengers behind. This has turnd out very lucky as advices have just arrived that New Aork & Philad: are in almost as much Trouble & Confusion as we are and there is an armed force going there. This with the other disapoiitm’ at Charlestown Ferry have fully taught me that present disapontment [text lacking] will doubtless he surprised to find this transmitted to London by my dear Sister who sails in Callahan tomorrow with her little Family, the perticulars she will give you the times are such as must preclude all thout of your returng. I am in some expectation of prevailg with our hond Mamma to undertake a Voyge to England so dont be surprized if you hear of our arrival in England. I hope to he able to sail from this in about 6 or 8 Weeks. I must now conclude abruptly with assuring you I am most sincerely and affectionately your lovg Brother & humbl Servt
Pray continue to write as your letters afford us great Consolation under all difficulties. I am extremly obliged to you for the very affectionate terms with which you mention me in your letters to my Sister. My Mamma desires her kind love & Blessing to you. A Number of transports with troops have just arrived so that it will not be long before the Campain opens. We have a 74 Gun Ship between us and Charlestown another at the back of your hill & several all round the town who each keep 2 Boats out constantly reconoitring every possable Avenue to the Town. We have a small Army of Torys who have been retiring from all parts of the Country, for 9 Months past & between 6 & 7000 Regular Troops in it and daily expect as many more.
At this time Pelham wrote to his mother’s brother (Singleton) a letter which, while somewhat repeating the facts already narrated, adds enough to make it of historic interest. This letter, also, is not dated, and is as follows: —
Among other preparations of defence which the People of this province have for some months past been very industriously making they had formed some Magazines of Provisions & military stores one perticularly at Concord 18 Miles from Boston — The Granodier & light Infantry Companies belonging to the Kings Troops in this town making about 600 Men were ordered to destroy the Magazine (they began theyr march from town about 12 oClock in the nigt of the 18 of April) which after a small Skirmish they effected. By day break there was a very general rising in the Country all were in motion alarm Guns having been fired & expresses sent to every town. About 10 oClock the 19 of April Genl G[age] having rec’d advice that the troops were attackd as they were going to Concord ordered out a Reinforcement of 4 Regiments under the command of L[ord] P[ercy] with 2 field Pieces, the whole with the first party Makeing 1800 Men. This reinforcement joined the others just time eno to prevent their being entirely cut to pieces they having nearly expended all their animation. By this time a great Number of People were assembling fully equippd who lined the Woods and Houses along the Road thro which the troops must pass in returning to Boston. A general Battle ensued which was supported by an almost incessant fire on both sides for 7 Hours when the troops made good their retreat with the loss of 57 Killed above 100 Wounded amongst whom were two Officers who have since died and severall Missing. It is impossable to ascertain the loss on the part of the Country People they acknowledge the loss of 40 killed on the spot but this I apprehend must fall vastly short of the true number. a Friend of mine says he saw between 70 & 80 & the Gentlemen who were Spectators of the Scene universially argue that there could not be less than 150 or 200, they lost three of their Gaptans. Thus you have the most perticular account of this unhappy affair that I am capable of giveg you. Words are wanting to discribe the Misery this affair has produced among the Inhabitants of this Town. Thousands are reduced to absolute Poverty who before lived in Credit. Business of any kind is entirely Stop’d. The Town invested by 8000 or 10000 Men who prevent all supplis of fresh Provision from coming in so that we are now reduced to have recourse to the stores which those of us who were provident foreseeing a political Storm had laid in — We find it disagreable living entirely upon salt Meat, it is especially so to my honored Mother whose ill state of Health renders her less able to bear it. My Brother Jack has been near a year past making the Tour of France & Italy. My Sister Copley is just embarking with her little Family for London where she expects soon to meet him. She is the bearer of this to England. As for my self I dont Know what to say, this last manoevour has entirely stoppd all my business and annialated all my Property the fruits of 4 or 5 years Labor. I find it impossable to collect any Monies that are due to me so that I am forced to find out some other place where I may at least make a living. My present purposed plan is to remove to Great Britian where I shall be able to look about me and where I shall have an Opertunity of consulting my Friends respecting my future pursuits. Should I be able to perswade my Hond Mamma to undertake this Voyage Which I sometimes flatter myself I shall I would leave this place in 6 or 8 Weeks. With her love and sincerst affections I beg leave to tender you and my Aunt Singleton my most dutifull Respects and beg your blessing. Be kind eno to present my duty to my Uncle & aunt Cooper and Love to all my Cousins. I am Dear Sir with the sincerst affection & Respect your most dutifull Nephew H. P.
Pelham’s next letter to Copley recounts with much more fullness the occurrences of that period : —
BOSTON, May 16, 1775.
MY DEAR BROTHER, — Before you rec. this you will doubtless have heard alarming Reports of a late most unhappy Event which has taken place here. I have hitherto declined giving you any account of the State of Politicks since you left us thinking it a theme which could afford you no amusement. I now reluctantly find myself obliged to give you a detail of one of the most extraordinary and unhappy transactions which can possably disgrace the Records of Mankind. Alass, My dear Brother, where shall I find Words sufficiently expressive of the Distractions & Distresses of this once flourishg & Happy People. The Disorders of which we were lately such anxious Spectators have produced those effects which every dispassionate Mind foresaw & every humane & feeling Heart wished to avert. My hands tremble while I inform you that Sword of Civil War is now unsheathd. For some Months past the People of this Province impelled by the most surprizing Enthusium which ever seized the mind of Man have been industriously making every preparation for carrying on a War & had formed some considerable Magazines — Genl Gage to embarrass them & Retard their Plans ordered about 600 Men to embark from the bottom of the Common which they did and landed at Phipp’s farm about 11 oClock in the evng of the 18 of April & immediatly March’d to Concord 18 Miles from Town where they distroyd a Magazine of Provisions & Military Stores: By day Break the Country was all in Motion, Alarm Guns havg been fired & Express sent to evry town. About 10 oClock the Genl having reed advice that the Troops were attackd as they were going to Concord orderd out a Reinforcement of 4 Regiments under the command of Earl Percy with 2 field Pieces with the first Party making 1800 Men this Reinforcement fortunatly join’d the others just time eno to prevent their beg entirely cut to pieces they not having 2 Rounds left. By this time a most Prodigious Number of People were assembled under Arms who lind the Woods & Houses quite from Concord to Charlestown. An obstinate & general Battle ensued and an insessant fire was supported on both sides for 7 Hours till sunsett during which time the Regulars made a Retreat which does Honour to the Bravest & best Discipli[n]ed troops that ever Europe Bred. The fatigue & conduct of this little Army is not to be panelled in History. They march’d that day not less than 50 Miles, were constantly under Arms part of them at least from 11 oClock at night till an hour after Sunsett, the next Even’g the whole of the time without any Refreshment attackd by an Enemy they could not see for they skulkd behind Trees stone Walls &c surrounded & most vigoursly assulted hy not less than 10000 Men who then were fresh Men: In short considering the Circumstances it was almost a Maricle that they were not entirely distroy. When the battle ended they had not near a Charge a Man : The Kings troops had 57 Killed above an 100 Wounded among them 2 Officers who since dead and several missing. The Rebels loss is not ascertained as there has been scarce any Communication between town & Country since. They acknowledge they had 40 of their People killed, but this must fall Vastly short of the true number Doct. Sprig of Watertown says he saw between 70 & 80. The Officers in general agree they could not loose les than 150 or 200 among whom are 3 of their Captains. Thus I give You the perticulars of this most shockg affair, must now discribe the State of this town. It is intirely invested by an Army of about 8000 Provincials who prevent all supply and Communication from the Country. The Genl is fortifying the Town in all Parts has built a Number of Battery at the Neck at the bottom of the Common round the beach to Newboston, on fox Hill, Beacon Hill. & all along from your land entirely to Mr. Wm. Vasell’s on Fort Hill & Capt Hill at liartem Point. The threatned assault upon the town now gives ns very little disturbance. The Gel has entirely disarmed the Inhabitants & has permitted Numbers to move out with their Effects. We have been obliged to live entirely upon salt provisions and what stores we have in the house & I think we are very fortunate. Foreseeing a political Storm we had been for some time collecting provisions of all sorts had just furnish’d cnoto last our family 6 Months. Mr. Clarke has done the same. It is inconcevable the Distress and Ruin this unnatural dispute has caused to this town & its inhabitants almost every shop & store is shut. No business of any kind going on. You will here wish to know how it is with me. I can only say that I am with the multitude rendered very unhappy, the little I had collected entirely lost, the Cloaths upon my back & a few Dollers in my pocket are now the only property which I have the least Command of, what is due to me I can’t get and have now an hundred guineas worth of business begun which will never afford me an hundred farthings. I can’t but think myself very unfortunate thus to have lost so much of the best part of Life to have my Business when my happyness greatly depends so abruptly cut short all my bright prospects, the little Property I had acquired rendered useless myself doomed either to stay at home & starve or leave my Country my Friends. Forced to give up those flattering expectations of domestic felicity which I once fondly hoped to realise to seek that Bread among strangers which I am thus crually deprived of at Home. This I long foresaw would be the case. The expectation of this distressing Scene was the cause of that illness which sent me to Philadelphia last fall. When I think of my present Situation it requires all my Philosophy to keep up my spirits under this acumulated Load of uneasiness. I cant Help relating two Circumstances which amidst all my distress Afford me real pleasure and have tended greatly to relieve my anxiety, it has fully taught me that present disapontment may be productive of future good & that we are indispensable obliged after we have conscientiously done what appears to us our duty, to leave the issue to that Almighty being whose Fiat created & whose Providence Governs the World : & should either Adversity depress or Prosperity chear us we are equally bound humbly to adore his Wisdom & patiently submit to his all righteous Dispensations.
As narrated in the preceding letters, Copley’s wife and children sailed for England, and so the next letter is from Pelham to Mrs. Copley, written July 23. 1775, after the battle of Bunker’s Hill had been added to the chronology of events: —
MY DEAR MADAM. — I should ill deserve that friendship and Regard with which you have hitherto honour’d me & which I am ambitious ever to possess was I longer to omitt congratulating your departure from this land of Ruin & Distress, and arrival at a more friendly & peacefull Shore where I sincerely pray you may long enjoy every blessing that can fall to the lot of Human Nature. You had scarcely left us before we began to experience all the inconveniences attending a siege and beheld the desolations ever consequential upon a War. As you have doubtless had the particulars of the destruction of property on Noddle Isle, of the Governour’s proclimation declaring Adams & Hancock with their Abettors & aiders traitors & Rebels, of the suspension of all Civil Law & Courts and the establishment of the Martial Law and the important Battle & Victory at Charlestown and destruction of that Town of all which I had with my Telescope a very perfect, but very malencholly View. I shall forbear reciting an account which cannot fail of renewing Sensations which would be painful to a mind as yours susceptible of the finest feelings of Humanity, Benevolence & Compassion. A retrospect for a few Years back compared with the present Contest can but be a matter of uncommon surprize to the most inattentive Observer. Within the few years which indulgent Providence has permitted to rod over my head I well remember the Inhabitants of this Town and adjacent Country put into the greatest consternation and uneasiness upon a vague report of the approach of a small Army of France’s & this at a time too when they had added to their own Strength the victorious Arms of the most powerfull Nation in Europe Drawn in their Defence. Now vve see this very Country arming themselves & unsupported by any foreign Power ungenerously Waging War against their great Benefactors and endeavouring to Ruin that State to whom they owe their being ; Whose Justice & Gennerosity has fostered them to the late flourishing & Happy Condition, and who sence has protected them in the uninterupted Enjoyment of all the blessings of Peace.
We are at present invested by an army of about 14000 Men, whose almost Continual Firig of Shot has in a grt degree reconciled us to Noise of Cannon & we are daily spectators of the Operations of War since the last Vessel sailed from this 500 Men in Whale boats attacked &, I am sorry to say it, within sight of the British Flag, carried off from long Island just below the Castle 13 Men who had fled to this Town from the Country, & Miss Lydia Sand Doct. Perkins Niece who was there for her Health. They have not since been heard off. Likewise a Number of sheep & cattle & returned the next day & burnt all the buildings with a Quantity of Hay. A few days ago they destroyed the light House at noon day within a Quarter of a Mile of a Man of War.
I with pleasure inform you that your Friends here are as happy if not more so than could be expected considering the narrow limmitts to which we are confined & our being entirely cutt. off from all supplies except what our Friends in Europe will let us have.
I was in hopes I should have had the Happy ness of seeing you in England this fall but now give over all thoughts of it as I can’t at present prevail upon my hond Mother to undertake the Voyage and should very uneasy at leaving her during this scene of Confusion. Your Son is a fine boy in good Health. My business is entirely ceased I have not now a single days business. But to fill up time I have begun a Survey of Charlestown for which I have permission from Genl Gage & Genl Howe who were polite eno to grant me a general Pass directed to all Officers commanding Guards for going to and returning from Charleston. Genl Howe to assist me in the laborious part of Measuring has kindly put a Sargant and two Men under my Comnmd. This Plan when finished will give a good Idea of the late battles & I propose sending Home a Coppy to be engraved together with a View of it as it appears in its present Ruins with the encampment on the Hills behind it. I have often Passed Doct. Warrens Grave. It is disagreable thus To see a Townsman, an old Acquaintance led by unbounded Ambition to an untimely death and thus early to realise that Ruin which a lust of Power & Dominion has brought upon himself & partly through his means upon this unhappy Country. I would wish to forget his principles to Lament his Fate. I almost forgot to tell you that Mr. T. Mifflin of Philadel’a is aid de Camp to Genl Lee & that the Continental Congress have taken the entire direction of the War, have erected themselves into an Independant body, are addressed by the title of Excellenceys & call themself s the states General of the united american provinces and their Army the grand Confederate Army. They have appointed Mr. Washington of Virginia Lieutenant Genl & Ward Putnam & Lee Major Genls. They are all now at Cambridge. They have been very industrious in constructing fortifications all round this Town & it is said as far back as Worcester. What the Result of this Contest will be God only knows. I have not heard a Word of Brother Pelham since you left us. I wonder much at not having a single line from Brother Copley since one dated the 26th of last Sepr now near a twelve month. Mrs Cordis whom you have some knowledge off Capt Ruggles Niece & a near Neighbour at Cl any obligingly promises to deliver you this. My hond Mamma desires her kindest Love & Blessing to you, My dear Brother, & my little amiable & lovly Friends. Accept my Love and best Wishes which ever attd You & them and beleive sincerely Dear Madam your very affectionat Brother & Humble Servat.
The last letter in our budget was written by Pelham to Copley, and shows how hard and cruelly the siege was bearing on the residents of Boston : —
MY DEAR BROTHER, — It was my intention to have wrote you a long Letter to have accompanyed a plan which I have almost this moment finished proposing to have exhibited to the Publick as perfect an Idea as was possable upon Paper of the late most important and glorious action which I was an axious Spectator of and to which under God I attribute my present capacity for writing and I hope will be our future security.
I was disapointed in my expectations this morning upon waiting upon Genl Gage he acquainted me that it would not be altogether proper to publish a plan of Charlestown in its present state as it would furnish those without with a knowledge of the fortification erected there & in a polite manner desired I would postpone the sending it at present. Mrs. Copley desired we would write word when we met with fresh Meat. You will form some Idea of our present disagreable Situation when I tell you that last Monday I eat at Genl Howe’s Table at Charlestown Camp the only bit of fresh Meat I have tasted for very near four Months past. And then not with a good Conscience considering the many Persons who in sickness are wanting that and most of the Convency of Life. The usual pleas now made by those who beg a little Bacon or Salt fish is that its for a sick person.
Mr. Clarke says he has inclosed you Copies of some late intercepted Letters. By them you will find whot those who stile themselves patriots are after and where there Scliems will drive us. Independency is what alone will content those who have insinuated themselves into the good Opinion (generally speaking) a well meaning but credulous people. Upon the supposition that this Country was totally independent on the parent State, in the Name of common sense what one advantage could accrue ? Should we be freer from Taxes? We know we could not support a government for ten times the expence. Should we be safer from forreign insults. Reason tells us that we should be exposed to every Inconvence that a defencless and impoverish’d people ever experienced. Would our internal Peace and Happyness be greater. Here alas, we may look back to those days of Felicity & Peace which we enjoyed under the fostering Care & indulgent Protection of Britain and contemplate ourselves as having ever been the happiest people in the Empire & on this View I am sure every unprejudiced Person will execrate those destructive Schems & that unbounded Ambition which from the piuacle of Ease has plunged us into the depths of Distress & Ruin. Judge Sewall who kindly takes the Care of this just setting out on his Voyage obliges me to conclude abruptly acquantg you that we are all as well as the times will permitt. Wishing My dear Sister and family ever possable felicity.
P. S. I write in this your house in the Common where the Company unite with me in good Wishes. Our hond Mama desires her kind Love to you all. I must beg when you write me to be carefull what you say as all Letters that come into ther hands are price. I beleve there is one or more of your Letters at Cambridge, I almost hope ther is as I should be gereved to find you had not wrote to me. When you write send your Letters directly to this Place.
Whether Copley’s letters had been made a “ price ” (that is, prize) by the Continental army I cannot learn. Certainly it was a curious train of circumstances that made his letters equally seizable in Massachusetts and England. That they were never reclaimed is strange, but “ what is, is right; ” for had they been, they would not have been preserved, but would have suffered the destruction with his manuscripts which every biographer of Copley has deplored.
Paul Leicester Ford.