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CHAP. IV. · The town of Falmouth, a flourishing village 1775. on the seacoast of Massachussetts, having given
some particular offence, its destruction was determined on; and, under colour of these orders, a small naval force commanded by captain Mowat, was detached for that purpose.
On his arrival, about three o'clock in the er. evening of the 17th, he gave notice that he was
directed to burn every seaport town between Boston and Halifax; and that, as a favour to Falmouth, he had obtained permission to suspend the execution of his orders until the next morning, provided they would send him eight of their small arms. This proposition was acceded to, and the next day the committee of the place waited on him to endeavour to save their town. He offered to wait for further orders from his admiral, provided they would deliver up all their arms of every sort, with all their ammunition, and four of their citizens as hostages.
This extraordinary demand not being complied with, a furious cannonade and bombardment was commenced, by which the town was reduced to ashes. An attempt was then made to penetrate into the country, but the militia and minute men, rather irritated than intimidated by this wanton act of unavailing devastation, drove the party which had landed back to their ships, with loss.
This measure was very strongly reprobated CHAP. IV. throughout America, and was a mean of stimu. 1775. lating the attention of the United Colonies to their marine, and hastening their preparations for retaliating injuries sustained at sea, as far as might be in their power. It was one imme. diate motive with the convention of Massachussetts, for granting letters of marque and reprisal, and was assigned by congress, in addition to the capture of American merchant. men on the high seas, as an inducement for fitting out some ships of war, to man which they directed two battalions of marines to be recruited, and articles of war were framed for the government of their little navy.
Though general letters of reprisal were not immediately granted by congress to their continental cruisers, a measure of equal efficacy, but less hostile in appearance, was adopted. Their ships of war were authorized to capture all vessels employed in giving assistance to the enemy in any manner whatever, and no capture could be made which might not be construed to come within the terms used in their resolu. tion. At the repeated and pressing instances of the commander in chief, they also established courts to take cognizance of prizes, and adopted for their government the general principles of national law. A few small cruisers had been already fitted out under the authority and by the directions of general Washington, and the VOL. II.
the American cruisers.
CHAP. IV. coasts soon swarmed with the privateers of
1775. New England. These naval exertions were Success of attended with the most valuable consequences.
Many captures were made, and very important supplies of ammunition, without which it would have been scarcely possible to have maintained the blockade of Boston, were thus obtained. The cruisers of Massachussetts were particularly successful; and the enemy, who seem to have been under no apprehensions of an attack on what was deemed their peculiar element, smarted very severely under these first essays of the colonists in maritime war.
Captain Manly, of the Lee privateer, was remarkably active and fortunate. He made many very valuable captures of vessels laden with military stores, the most important and acceptable of which was a large ordnance ship, having on board a very considerable cargo of arms and ammunition, with a complete assortment of such working tools, utensils, and machines as were most needed in the American camp.
In addition to those prizes which contributed to relieve the most urgent wants of the provincial army, several were made which very much increased the distress of the British troops.
The extreme difficulty and uncertainty of obDistress of taining adequate supplies of fresh provisions, from the vegetables, and fuel, in America, had deterprovisions, mined the English government to furnish their
Distress of the British
want of fresh
army in Boston with those necessary articles CHAP. IV. from Europe. After they had been purchased 1775. and shipped at a very enormous price, the vessels containing them were so long tossed about by contrary winds, that a great proportion of the live stock perished, most of the vegetables were destroyed by fermentation, and when the scattered feet, laden with what remained of this cargo, reached the American coast, very many of the ships were taken by the continental and provincial cruisers. The miscarriages of supplies, which were so much needed in Boston, essentially affected the army in that place.
The distress produced in the West Indies by the unexpected prohibition to export provi. sions from the United Colonies, occasioned an application from the island of Bermudas, repre. senting their favourable dispositions towards the American cause, and their present suffer. ings, in consequence of the entire cessation of all intercourse between them. On considering this memorial, it was determined that a sufficient quantity of provisions for the support of that island, might be exported to it, to be paid for, not only in arms, ammunition, saltpetre, or sulphur, but likewise in salt, an article abounding in Bermudas, and the want of which began to be very severely felt in North
CHAP. IV. America. The quantity of provisions to be 1775. exported was apportioned among the middle
and southern states including New York ; and the respective conventions or committees of safety were requested to license and superintend the loading of vessels engaged in this commerce.
Although the British army had as yet mani. fested no intention to evacuate Boston, fears were continually entertained concerning the colony of New York. Mr. Tryon, who was very popular in that province, and who had been some time before removed from it to the government of North Carolina, had been lately recalled and appointed governor of New York, where his utmost influence and address were employed in detaching the colony from the union. His exertions were seconded* by the Asia man of war, whose guns commanded the town, and excited the fears of the citizens for the safety of their persons and property. The consequence of these intrigues and of this terror was, that even in the convention, disaffection to the American cause began openly to
* Governor Tryon derived, too, no inconsiderable degree of aid from the press of mr. Rivington, which was now devoted to the royal cause. Its influence was believed to be so pernicious, that captain Sears at the head of a body of horsemen from Connecticut, armed with muskets, entered the town, broke up his press, and carried off his types.