George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Josiah Quincy, 21 March 1776

From Josiah Quincy

Braintree [Mass.]
March 21st 1776.

May it please your Excellency,

Nothing less than an inveterate nervous head ach, has prevented my paying in person, those Compliments of Congratulation which are due to you from every Friend to Liberty and the Rights of Mankind, upon your triumphant and almost bloodless Victory, in forcing the british Army and Navy, to a precipitant Flight from the Capital of this Colony: A gratefull Heart, now dictates them to a trembling Hand, in humble Confidence of your favorable Reception.

Whilst the faithfull Page of History records, the british Codes of Blood against America, carried into Execution by military Murderers, to the utter Destruction of the british Empire, and the eternal Infamy of those who devised them, You Sir, must be happy, I hope in the unenvied, certainly in the unrivalled Glory, of having your Name handed down to Posterity, with the illustrious Character of being the Saviour of your Country: God grant! that the Success of your future Endeavors, for it’s Safety and Prosperity, may be equal to the past, and an adiquate Reward to your Merit in both.

Since the Ships and Troops fell down below, we have been apprehensive of an Attack from their Boats, in Pursuit of live Stock; but, yesterday in the Afternoon, we were happyly relieved, by the Appearance of a number of Whaleboats, streching across our Bay, under the Command (as I have since heard) of the brave Lieut. Colo. Tupper, who in the forenoon had been cannonading the Ships, with one or more field Pieces from the east Head of Thompson’s Island; and, I suppose, last Night cannonaded them again from the same Place, or from Spectacle Island.1 This judicious Manœuvre had its genuine Effect; for, this Morning, the Admiral, and all the rest of the Ships, except one of the Lin⟨e⟩ came to sail, and fell down to Nantasket Road; where a countless Number is now collected: In Revenge for their burning the Castle last Night; were we provided with a sufficient Number of fire Ships and fire Rafts, covered by the Smoke of Cannon from a few Row Gallies; this Night, might exhibit, the most glorious Conflagration, that was ever seen upon the watery Element, and the probable Consequences of it, a Period to the present War, otherwise, Humanity revolts at the Destruction of so great Number, even of our Enemies.2

If my Wishes must not be gratified, either in a Visit to, or fro⟨m⟩ your Excellency, the best I can form, will constantly attend you, whilst Memory and Reflection are continued to, Your Excellency’s, faithfull and obedient humble Servant

Josiah Quincy


1British engineer Archibald Robertson noted in his diary entry for 20 Mar. that about two o’clock in the afternoon “we observed about 21 Whale Boats set out from Dorchester neck and row across [to] the Thomsons Island, where they landed a small Cannon and pull’d it to the point and fired on our working Partys on Spectacle Island and some of the Transports furthest up the Bay but without effect. They retired in about ½ an hour towards Squantom” (Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 80–81; see also the journal entry for 20 Mar. 1776 of H.M.S. Chatham, in Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 12 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 4:447).

2Archibald Robertson, who assisted in destroying Castle William, wrote in his diary entry for 20 Mar.: “At 3 o’clock Colonel [Alexander] Leslie came to the Castle from the General [Howe] with orders to load the mines. We began immediately and had 63 done by 7 o’clock. As the night had the Appearance of Rain and the wind fair it was thought proper for the 64th [Regiment] to Embark, likewise to prevent any accident from the Rebels bringing a Gun and setting fire to any of the port fires, which might have been of bad Consequence. Accordingly at 8 o’clock 6 Companies Embark’d and the Boats lay off untill the mines were fired, which was done ½ an hour Afterwards and they had a very good Effect. The Barracks and other houses were then set on fire and at 9 the Rear Guard consisting of 3 Companies, the Artillery, etc., Embark’d and we got all safe on board the Transports” (Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 81). For an account by an American eyewitness of the destruction on Castle Island, see “Camp Life in 1776,” description begins “Camp Life in 1776—Siege of Boston.” Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America 8 (1864): 326–32. description ends 330. For an attempt to burn some of the British vessels with fire rafts, see GW to Artemas Ward, 24 Mar. 1776.

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