Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Read All About it
February 17, 2005
The Revolutionary War. The defining moment of America history as she untangled herself from an intruding empire. The results etched out a “we the people” constitution that bound thirteen colonies together in a new form of democracy and ushered out British occupation forever. The joy, angst, propaganda, casualties, and victories are recorded in the newspapers of the time. Together with diaries and letters, the public record that these things actually happened is kept alive through the written word.
For Carol Humphrey newspapers from the Revolutionary War tell a story. “There were about 35 newspapers total in the thirteen colonies at the time,” Carol says, “and these served communities by telling them what was going on outside their towns. What’s fascinating about this era is that publishers of newspapers had an obvious bias, either in support of the colonies or the British. Before the Revolution, newspapers in the American colonies were much more neutral, but the common feeling is that one side or the other had to be chosen. In many ways, it’s a more honest approach because we can never get out of our own bias completely.” (We have included an example below, “The Battle of Lexington” written by Isaiah Thomas in May 1775.)
In post graduate studies, Carol did not have a clear topic of study for her dissertation. Her advisor pulled out a stack of index cards of possible topics that he had collected through the years. One struck her with particular interest: the role of newspapers during the Revolutionary War. Since then, she has worked on a number of projects related to the subject including her forthcoming publication, The War of 1812 (Greenwood, 2005), which is part of a series that details war and the media in primary documents.
As yesterdays build upon one another, what is left by a particular community often becomes more and more targeted. This is certainly true reflecting back more than one hundred years ago. But will it be true of today’s world? When Carol compares today with 200 years ago, she notes similarities but also is critical of stark differences. “Both medias are influential,” she says. “When we look at New England, it is the newspaper that kept the activity of the Revolutionary War in front of the people and was a tool to rally support. Today, this is even truer, but that is part of the criticism. Today’s media is oversaturated. We don’t know where to receive news or who to believe. During the Revolutionary War, as one might guess, the paper was a unifier because it was one of only a few public, written voices. The other difference lies in the sheer ability for myself as an historian to look at the papers of history and have the ability to isolate opinion and make assessments accordingly. I’m afraid that historians a hundred years from now, when they reflect on our current day, may not have much to go on because it will either be a virtual labyrinth of emails and blogs or a wasteland because email files were not kept. I would not want to be that future historian.”
Carol brings her knowledge into the classroom through a “History of the Media” course during the January term, as well as incorporating readings of various newspapers when the Revolutionary War period and other periods are discussed in more general history courses.
To read descriptions of several works by Carol Humphrey, visit Greenwood Publishing Group
Here is an article by Isaiah Thomas called “The Battle of Lexington”
from the Massachusetts Spy published May 3, 1775 that you might enjoy reading.
"Americans! Forever bear in mind the BATTLE OF LEXINGTON! - where British troops, unmolested and unprovoked, wantonly and in a most inhuman manner, fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed, ransacked, and burnt their houses! nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood!-or divert them from the DESIGN OF MURDER and ROBBERY!
The particulars of this alarming event will, we are credibly informed, be soon published by authority, as a Committee of the Provincial Congress have been appointed to make special inquiry and to take the depositions, on oath, of such as are knowing in the matter. In the meantime, to satisfy the expectations of our readers, we have collected from those whose veracity is unquestioned the following account, viz. A few days before the battle, the Grenadier and Light-Infantry companies were all drafted from the several regiments in Boston; and put under the command of an officer, and it was observed that most of the transports and other boats were put together, and fitted from immediate service. This manoeuvre gave rise to a suspicion that a more formidable expedition was intended by the soldiery, but what or where the inhabitants could not determine---however, town watches in Boston, Charlestown, Cambridge, etc., were ordered to look well to the landing place.
About ten o'clock on the night of the eighteenth of April, the troops in Boston were disclosed to be on the move in a very secret manner, and it was found they were embarking on boats (which they had privately brought to the place in the evening) at the bottom of the Common; expresses set off immediately to alarm the country, that they might be on their guard. When the expresses got about a mile beyond Lexington, they were stopped by about fourteen officers on horseback, who came out of Boston in the afternoon of that day, and were seen lurking in by-places in the country till after dark. One of the expresses immediately fled, and was pursued two miles by an officer, who when he had got up with him presented a pistol, and told him he was a dead man if he did not stop, but he rode on till he came up to a house, when stopping of a sudden his horse threw him off, having the presence of mind to halloo to the people in the house, "Turn out! Turn out! I have got one of them! The officer immediately retreated and fled as fast as he had pursued. The other express, after passing through a strict examination, by some means got clear. The body of the troops, in the meantime, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Smith, had crossed the river and landed at Phipp's Farm. They immediately, to the number of 1,000, proceeded to Lexington, about six miles below the Concord, with great silence. A company of militia, of about eighty men, mustered near the meeting house; the troops came in sight of them just before sunrise. The militia, upon seeing the troops, began to disperse. The troops then set out upon the run, hallooing and huzzaing [sic], and coming within a few rods of them the commanding officer accosted the militia, in few words to this effect, "Disperse, you damn'd rebels! - Damn you, disperse!" Upon which the troops again huzzaed [sic] and immediately one or two officers discharged their pistols, which were instantaneously followed by the firing of four or five of the soldiers; and then there seemed to be a general discharge from the whole body. It is to be noticed that they fired on our people as they were dispersing, agreeable to their command, and that we did not even return the fire. Eight of our men were killed and nine wounded. The troops then laughed, and damned the Yankees, and said they could not bear the smell of gunpowder. A little after this the troops renewed their march to Concord, where, when they arrived, they divided into parties, and went directly to several places where the province stores were deposited. Each party was supposed to have a Tory pilot. One party went into the jailyard and spiked up and otherwise damaged two cannon, belonging to the province, and broke and set fire to the carriages. Then they entered a store and rolled out about a hundred barrels of flour, which they unheaded and emptied about forty into the river. At the same time others were entering houses and shops, and unheading barrels, chests, etc., the property of private persons. Some took possession of the town house, to which they set fire, but was extinguished by our people without much hurt. Another party of the troops went and took possession of the North Bridge. About 150 provincials who mustered upon the alarm, coming toward the bridge, the troops fired upon them without ceremony and killed two on the spot! (Thus did the troops of Britain's king fired FIRST at two separate times upon his loyal American subjects, and put a period to two lives before one gun was fired upon them.) Our people THEN fired and obliged the troops to retreat, who were soon joined by their other parties, but finding they were still pursued the whole body retreated to Lexington, both provincials and troops firing as they went. During this time an express from the troops was sent to General Gage, who thereupon sent out a reinforcement of about 1400 men, under the command of Earl Percy, with two fieldpieces. Upon the arrival of this reinforcement at Lexington, just as the retreating party had got there, they made a stand, picked up their dead, and took all the carriages they could find and put their wounded thereon. Others of them, to their eternal disgrace be it spoken, were robbing and setting houses on fire, and discharging their cannon at the meetinghouse. The enemy, having halted about an hour at Lexington, found it necessary to make a second retreat, carrying with them many of their dead and wounded. They continued their retreat from Lexington to Charlestown with great precipitation. Our people continued their pursuit, firing till they got to Charlestown Neck (which they reached a little after sunset), over which the enemy passed, proceeded up Bunker's Hill, and the next day went into Boston, under the protection of the Somerset, man-of-war of sixty-four guns.
A young man, unarmed who was taken prisoner by the enemy, and made to assist in carrying off their wounded, says that he saw a barber who lives in Boston, thought to be one Warden, with the troops and that he heard them say he was one of their pilots. He likewise saw the said barber fire twice upon our people and heard Earl Percy give the order to fire the houses: He also informs that several officers were among the wounded who were carried into Boston, where our informant was dismissed. They took two of our men prisoners in battle, who are now confined in barracks. Immediately upon the return of the troops to Boston, all communication to and from the town was stopped by General Gage. The provincials, who flew to the assistance of their distressed countrymen, are posted in Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, Watertown, etc., and have placed a guard on Roxbury Neck, within gunshot of the enemy. Guards are also placed everywhere in view of the town, to observe the motions of the King's troops. The Council of War and the different Committees of Safety and Supplies sit at Cambridge, and the Provincial Congress at Watertown. The troops in Boston are fortifying the place on all sides, and a frigate of war is stationed at Cambridge River, and a sixty-four-gun ship between Boston and Charlestown.
Deacon Joseph Loring's house and barn, Mrs. Mulliken's house and shop, and Mr. Joshua Bond's house and shop, in Lexington, were all consumed. They also set fire to several other houses, but our people extinguished the flames. They pillaged almost every house they passed by, breaking and destroying doors, windows, glass, etc., and carrying off clothing and other valuable effects. It appeared to be their design to burn and destroy all before them, and nothing but our vigorous pursuit prevented their infernal purposes from being put into execution. But the savage barbarity exercised upon the bodies of our unfortunate brethren who fell is almost incredible. Not content with shooting down the unarmed, aged and infirm, they disregarded the cries of the wounded, killing them without mercy, and mangling their bodies in the most shocking manner. We have the pleasure to say that notwithstanding the highest provocations given by the enemy, not one instance of cruelty that we have heard of was committed by our militia; but, listening to the merciful dictates of the
Christian religion, they "breathed higher sentiments of humanity." The public most sincerely sympathize with the friends and relations of our deceased brethren, who sacrificed their lives in fighting for the liberties of their country. By their noble intrepid conduct, in helping to defeat the force of an ungrateful tyrant, they have endeared their memories to the present generation, who will transmit their names to posterity with the highest honor."