DescriptionAmerican Loyalists - Richard Lechmere (d. 1814) Autograph Letter Signed "Rd Lechmere." 12 pages, 7" x 9", Bos[ton], [date lost, but May 22, 1775] to [Henry Seymour Conway?]. An extremely early war-date Loyalist letter from besieged Boston, written only a month following Lexington and Concord and a month before Bunker Hill. In one of the most richly-detailed letters we have encountered, the prominent Boston Tory, Richard Lechmere, transmits news of the opening salvos of the American Revolution in superb prose. He chronicles momentous events that changed history: Lexington and Concord and the subsequent the Siege of Boston. He relates details of some early rebel raids in the opening month of the nearly year-long siege, and notes the inability of Gage to act offensively until the arrival (only 3 days later) of a large reinforcement led by generals Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne.
Lechmere opens his letter quite prophetically, after covering a few routine matters, concluding that, "...Blood must be shed, before the Colonies can be brought [to s]ubmission is sufficiently prov'd by the Event of 19 April, [it is] my opinion that large quantities must be spilt before the Continent can be reduc'd and indeed I think it a doubtfull [sic] matter, whether it can be ever be effected[.] the Corsicans without resources gave the french [sic] a great deal of trouble by retiring into the Interior Country if they were able to do there under those disadvantages, I fear Great Brittain [sic] will find it difficult to subdue an extensive Continent, full of people United in the same cause and abounding with every necessary to defend themselves, if they pursue the same method, as the Corsicans, which I believe to be their plan, and especially while Government move[s] so slow, as to give them time, from discipline, to become good soldiers, we still remain Blockaded and the Rebels are fortifying every pass and Defile in the neighbourhood [sic] of the Town, they have strong and extensive lines at Cambridge and Batteries upon the Hills about Charelstown that command the Roads there[.] you will have doubtless have an account of their surprizing [sic] Ticonderoga in which Fort, there was upwards of One hundred pieces of Cannon, and some Mortars, these they are bringing down, and a Considerable train are expected to arrive from Providence to Morrow..." Lechmere then itemizes the captured booty and then notes that the same expedition that captured Ticonderoga (led by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen) also marched to Crown Point and then "...Skenesborough, took Major Skean and his family and march'd them Prisoners, to Hartford tis said there was plenty of shall & ammunition in the Fort, which in all probability we shall have the pleasure of seeing and having soon if we believe their threats and common Report."
Gage's small force of 4,500 was unable to contend with a besieging rebel force that numbered 15,000 by June 1775. Complicating matters, Gage did not want to act in a provocative manner that would further alienate the population toward imperial authority: "The fine friends of Government that are hear [sic] impatiently long, for the Arrival of the Troops from Ireland, The Marines and recruits are arriv'd about 1100 in all, when the others arrive we hope, the Rebels may be drove to some distance from the town, tho' we have our fears that the General has not and will not have Sufficient power from the Minister to act offensively, we form this Opinion form what has (or rather has not) been done, 'tis a pity he had not discretionary powers, the want of this, has, and I fear will again produce some bad Consequences. The Troops have been unsuccessful in a very late Attempt they have made (except removing the powder at Charlestown) by some means or other, the Rebels got intelligence of their intentions, as soon as the scheme is laid, and with their usual industry find means to prevent their Executing it, 250 Troops were sent to [illeg.] to secure some Cannon, they got intellig[ence]...Revmo'd the Cannon, and pulled up the Drawbridge...Yesterday they went to Hingham with and Arm'd s[ch]ooner several Sloops and a number of Boats with thirty... Soldiers) to fetch away about 90 Tons of Hay, from and Island [Grape Island] about 500 yards form the shore, the Rebels came down to the shore, fired upon them, wounded one or two men, and oblig'd them to return without the Hay..." Lechmere adds that "in the Hay Expedition 'tis said both the Troops and Schooners had orders not to Fire, this seems very strange, indeed there has been several instances of their firing upon Boats and their not returning it, these little attempts and not succeeding in them, give the Rebels great sprit, and I wish it may not have the opposite Effect upon the Troops, the General is one of the most humane good men that lives, and I wish his tenderness may not in the end hurt him, and the Cause, he feels and Pitys [sic] the distresses of the Country..." He continues describing a fire that broke out in the barracks of the 65th Regiment that destroyed 57 warehouses extending to "the End of the wharfe [sic]..." If it wasn't for efforts of British soldiers, Lechmere concluded that much of the town would have been consumed. The fire added yet another to the already dark atmosphere: "...we seem to be surrounded with all kinds of distress, fire, swords, Pestilence, and famine, and where or when these things will end, tis hard to Guage...since tis my unhappy Lot to be ne[cess]arily oblig'd to Stay here, I determine to do my duty...I flattered myself that I had Arrang'd my Affairs in so good a way as to Afford me a handsome maintenance, and had, I thought laid a foundation to introduce my only son into the World, but this pleasing phantom has soon vanish'd, and a gloomy prospect succeeds in its stead, My Monies in the Country peoples hands lost I suppose; my farm, where we were to have Drank Tea, in the hands of, and Improv'd by the Rebels..." His farm was situated at Lechmere's Point, now a rebel stronghold. During the war, his home would be used as the genteel prison of Hessian commander Baron Von Riesdel and his wife.
Lechmere criticizes the actions of Thomas Gage for allowing the Whig residents of Boston to leave the besieged town and not consulting with the council, of which he was a member: "...As to the Council we have not been call'd together since I wrote you, nor it is it I believe the wish of any one member so to be, but I can't help saying, the Gov[erno]r [Thomas Gage] miss'd the best Opportunity of having them recogniz'd by the People the day after the 19 April, town Meeting was call'd with a design to choose a Committee to wait upon the Gov.r to Ask his Leave that the Inhabitants might remove out of town with their Effects, this Committee was [illeg.] of the Select Men with the Addition of Mr [James] Bowdin is their Chairman, they went to the Governor towards Evening, and after being with him some time, he Consented that they might remove with their Effects, whenever they pleas'd, it woul'd have been a lucky circumstance if he had said, he should as it was a matter of a civil nature consult his council, and in the Next day give his answer but unluckily he was in my poor opinion a little to precipitate, in giving his Answer immediately, and they have been constantly moving out every day since I really believe he has done this from good principles, because he could not render us more obnoxious than we were before but in this once instance, I think he was wrong. you justly observe that he has a difficult card to play, but when he is invested with powers, I hope he will convince the Rebels that he does not want [illeg.?] to execute them..." The papers reported that an agreement was struck on the 27th of May, that after Bowdin's committee delivered up a cache of arms hidden in the town, Gage gave "...liberty to the inhabitants to remove out of town with their effects..." (Newport Mercury, July 3, 1775, p. 2)
Assessing the prospects for the future, Lechmere concluded that "...a thousand Leagues is a great way to send backwards and forward in the mean time much mischief has and more will be done, if we are to wait from time to time for orders, before what may be necessary to be done, is carried into execution." Lechmere also makes note of Benjamin Franklin's arrival in Philadelphia, following his failed efforts to broker compromise in London: "...Mr. Franklyn [sic] & General [Charles] Lee are Arriv'd at Philadelphia the former chosen a Delegate to the Congress & most probably the Latter may be appointed Generalissimo of the Rebel Army. Birds of a feather flock together, By the time I get to the End of this Epistle I believe you will be pretty well tired..." Charles Lee, who resigned his Lt. Colonel's commission in the British Army to volunteer for the Continental Army, would have been an obvious choice to many in America.
The balance of the letter updates his correspondent with news of family and friends, offering a variety of clues as to the mood in the early weeks of the American Revolution. Richard Lechmere was a prominent landowner in Cambridge. His home, at Lechmere's Point was not only the place of incarceration for a British general later in the war, but also the landing point for British troops on the night of April 18, 1775 en-route to seize munitions at Concord. When the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, Lechmere and his family left with them; sailing first to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then to England settling in Bristol in 1780. True to his predictions, his property was confiscated in 1778.
The letter is most likely written to prominent opposition politician Henry Seymour Conway as it was discovered among other related correspondence to him offered in this auction. Conway (1721-95), began his career as a British officer serving in the War of Austrian Secession and the Seven Years' War. Conway sat in the House of Commons form 1741 to 1774 and again from 1775 to 1784. A leading Whig, he opposed the King's actions to suppress John Wilkes in 1763. He was appointed Secretary of State for the Southern Department 1763-5, and for the Northern Department through 1768 where he promoted a policy of moderation toward the colonies supporting the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. For his efforts, several towns in America were named in his honor. Throughout the war, Conway opposed efforts to suppress the revolution and was partly responsible for the fall of North's government in 1782, paving the way for a peace settlement.
One of the least understood aspects of the American Revolution is the large portion of the American colonial population choosing to remain loyal to the British Empire. They came from all walks of life, and likely comprised 35 to 40% of the total population. Understanding the American Revolution from their perspective has become the subject of increasing interest among scholars and collectors alike. Correspondence of this scope and detail do much to further our understanding of this important dimension of the struggle over American rights and ultimately independence.
Significant loss at top right from dampstain along vertical creases affecting words in text, else very good with only the usual folds, and other minor marginal wear.
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