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Relocated: Displaced Civilians and the Siege of Boston
BY KATIE TURNER GETTY
In the aftermath of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, thousands of colonial militiamen trapped occupying British forces and ordinary civilians on the tiny Boston peninsula. As the provincials massed in the countryside around Boston and laid siege to the city, they blocked the one land route across Boston Neck, cutting off British access to surrounding towns. General Thomas Gage, senior commanding British officer, prohibited any civilians from leaving the city.
All commerce, travel, and trade between Boston and local towns stopped. No fresh meat or produce from the country was carted to the city. Dysentery and fever raged throughout Boston as both civilians and British soldiers consumed only salt provisions.
As desperation increased among the Bostonians, local officials negotiated with the British to allow civilians to leave the besieged city. In April and May, General Gage permitted some civilians to cross into the colonist-controlled countryside. As many as 130 of these desperate Bostonians would end up finding refuge in Concord.
Not all Bostonians who wished to leave the city had the ability to pack up and move under their own power. Some were indigent due to age or illness. Others had already been struggling due to the Port Act and lacked the means to relocate themselves. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress resolved to aid in the removal process and facilitate the relocation of particularly vulnerable civilians.
City officials provided certificates to relocating civilians attesting to their indigent status and recommending them to the care of various Massachusetts towns, including Concord. The Provincial Congress developed a schedule by which displaced persons would be relocated and hired wagons and drivers to transport whole families out of Boston.
Displaced civilians fanned out all over Massachusetts. The Provincial Congress charged Concord with sheltering sixty-six individuals, but the town would end up accommodating at least twice that number.
Bostonians began to arrive in Concord in May and continued to filter in throughout the summer and fall. As many as 130 Bostonians relocated to Concord during the siege of
Boston in 1775. Families of all sizes arrived, from single men traveling alone to lone women managing children, to larger families comprised of anywhere from five to nine individuals. Among them, Enoch Hopkins arrived in Concord with his wife, Mary, and seven children, Manasseh Morton arrived with seven family members, and Eunice Nichol with two.
Expecting this influx of displaced civilians, Concord had already voted to supply the Bostonians with accommodations and provisions in accordance with the Provincial Congress’ resolution. Townspeople opened their homes while town officials obtained lamb, pork, beef, veal, butter, and corn from local farmers and disbursed the provisions to the displaced families.
Finally, in March 1776, General George Washington seized Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to evacuate Boston. About one month later, the Provincial Congress resolved that all displaced civilians could return to the city. Finally, after an eleven-month siege and nearly one year in Concord, Bostonians could go home. ————————————
Katie Turner Getty is an independent researcher and writer based in the Boston area. She can be reached at katieturnergetty.com.
The Town of Concord Archives, Early Town Records; The Town of Concord Archives, Town Record Book IV, (1746-1777); List of Boston families going to Concord, October 1775, Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society; The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts ; Boston Town Meeting Minutes 22 April 1775, retrieved from Massachusetts Historical Society.