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A British Officer Describes Conditions in Boston, 1775

The following excerpts, originally published in the Atlantic Monthly (Volume 39, Issue 234, April 1877), are from a diary kept by a British Army officer serving in Massachusetts in 1774-1775. How does this British officer describe the life of British soldiers in Boston at this time? How critical is this officer of General Gage's leadership? To what extent was desertion a major problem for the British occupation army?

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Tuesday 15th Novr [1774] Yesterday, in compliance with the request of the Select Men, Genl. Gage orderd that no Soldier in future shoud appear in the Streets with his side Arms. Query, Is this not encouraging the Inhabitants in their licentious and riotous disposition? Also orders are issued for the Guards to seize all military Men found engaged in any disturbance, whether Agressors or not; and to secure them, till the matter is enquired into. By Whom? By Villains that wou'd not censure one of their own Vagrants, even if He attempted the life of a Soldier; whereas if a Soldier errs in the least, who is more ready to accuse than Tommy? His negligence on the other hand has been too conspicuous in the affair of Cn. Maginis to require a further comment. . . .

Sunday, 20th. Hard frost continues. A day or two ago the Comr. in Chief applied to the Select Men for the use of Faneuil Hall as a place for the Troops to attend Divine Service. They most Graciously refused to comply with his Request, as a grateful return for his singular compliance with all their desires. Was it for this he gave a protection of an Officers Guard to their Brick-kilns, to secure them from the Labourers who had not been paid for their work? and after affording such Protection asking to become a Purchaser of the Bricks, and receiving for answer No, they were to be appropriated to other purposes than accommodating the King's Troops. Was it because he disarmed the Troops to please them that the Select think it incumbent on them, to oppose him in every thing? But his . . . deserves it. Is it not astonishing that the daily instances of the opposition of the People shoud tend to make him more earnestly attentive to them? . . .

Friday, 16th. [December 1774] The Regt. march'd into the Country to give the Men a little exercise; this has been practised several days past by the Corps off duty; as they march with Knapsacks and Colours the People of the Country were allarm'd the first day; think those troops were sent out to seize some of the disaffected People; finding that is not the case they are since grown very insolent.

Sat. 17th. Desertions are still too frequent among us, tho' not as bad as it has been; last night a Soldier of the 10th deserted from his post at the Blockhouse, where he was sentry; and this evening one of the 10th was taken as he was endeavouring to make his escape by the water side, but the night was too light and the sentry too vigilant for him. Sup'd this evening with Barron at the Neck, and skated by moonlight. . . .

Sat. 24th. Bad day; constant snow till evening, when it turned out rain and sleet. A Soldier of the 10th shot for desertion; the only thing done in remembrance of Christ-Mass day. It is said Genl. Gage never pardons Deserters; at same time I don't think his manner of executing em sufficient examples, as he has only the Piquets of the Army out, instead of the whole, which wou'd strike a greater terror into the men. Punishments were never meant only to affect Criminals, but also as Examples to the rest of Mankind. . . .

Fri. 30th. . . . If an Alarm happens in the night the Troops will march to their Posts without loading, and on no account to load their firelocks. It is forbid under the most severe penalty to fire in the night, even if the Troops shou'd be fired upon; but they will oppose and put to rout any Body (that shall dare to attack them) with their Bayonets; and the greatest care will be taken that the Counter-Sign is well known by all the Corps; and small Parties advanced, that in case of meeting they may know their friends and not attack each other in the night through mistake. . . .

1775, Jany. 1st. Nothing remarkable but the drunkenness among the Soldiers, which is now got to a very great pitch; owing to the cheapness of the liquor, a Man may get drunk for a Copper or two. Still a hard frost. . . .

21st Last night there was a Riot in King street in consequence of an officer having been insulted by the Watchmen, which has frequently happend, as those people suppose from their employment that they may do it with impunity; the contrary, however, they experienc'd last night: a number of Officers as well as Townsmen were assembled, and in consequence of the Watch having brandished their hooks and other Weapons, several Officers drew their Swords and wounds were given on both sides, some Officers slightly; one of the Watch lost a Nose, another a Thumb, besides many others by the points of Swords, but less conspicuous than those above mention'd. A Court of Enquiry is order'd to set next Monday, consisting of five field Officers, to enquire into the circumstances of the Riot.

Feby. 1st. Lieut. H_KS_W of the 5th put under Arrest for having been concerned in a Riot yesterday evening, in which an Inhabitant was much wounded by him; it is supposed He will be brought to a Court Martial.
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