The Siege of Boston: Eyewitness Accounts from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Eyewitness Accounts from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Introduction

The Siege of Boston was the eleven-month period from 19 April 1775 to 17 March 1776 when American militiamen effectively contained British troops within Boston, and after the Battle of Bunker Hill, to the peninsula of Charlestown.  The American, or Provincial, armed forces, were initially called the New England Army (formed from the militiamen who answered the alarm on 19 April 1775) and then became part of the Continental Army when it was established in June 1775.  During the Siege many residents moved out of Boston, and some Loyalists from the surrounding countryside moved into town. Conditions within the town were harsh for all who remained; although the British maintained control of Boston Harbor, provisions dwindled while they waited for supply ships to arrive.

The Siege continued until George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, seized and fortified Dorchester Heights, just outside Boston, on the night of 4 March 1776. Using artillery captured by an expedition led by Henry Knox from Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point, Washington's forces aimed cannons at British ships anchored in the harbor. On 17 March, the British were finally forced to evacuate Boston.

This website presents more than one dozen accounts written by individuals personally engaged in or affected by the Siege, including soldiers, prisoners (one imprisoned Loyalist and one Patriot), and residents along with the record of a town meeting during the Siege. These first-hand experiences recounted in 25 manuscripts (approximately 300 pages of letters, diaries, and documents from the Massachusetts Historical Society collections) give the human side of the American Revolution, a perspective often overlooked in histories that describe the Siege as a series of military events. Three maps show the original, ruggedly-shaped peninsula of Boston, the harbor and harbor islands. The maps show various locations associated with the Siege including some military positions and defenses such as the blockade lines (or "works") on Boston Neck (the thin strip of land connecting the peninsula to Roxbury).

Funding from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati supported this project.