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Letter from Israel Putnam, October 3, 1774


POMFRET, October 3, 1774.

In Mr˙ Gaine' s New-York Gazette, of the 12th of September, I am called upon to set the affair of my writing a letter to Captain Cleveland in a true light, which was wrote in consequence of intelligence brought me by Captain Keys, on the 3d of September last. Being then at home about my lawful business, said Keys came to my house about eleven o' clock, A˙ M˙, and informed me that an Express came from Boston to Oxford, who set out from thence on the preceding evening, and brought the alarming tidings contained in my letter herein inserted. The true state of the case, as I have since learned, is as follows: * * * * Wilcot, Esquire, of Oxford, hearing the news posted his son off towards Boston to learn the certainty of the report; and when he came to Grafton, about thirty-five miles from Boston, he heard a further confirmation of it, and returned immediately back to Oxford, when the said Wilcot, his father, sent him to Dudley, to Carter' s Tavern, where one Mr˙ Clarke, of that Town, a trader, happened to be, and he came to his father, Captain Clarke, of Woodstock, who came to said Keys, and on his coming to me with the strongest assurances of the truth and reality of said report, I wrote the following letter to Captain Aaron Cleveland, of Canterbury:

"Mr˙ Keys this moment brought us the news that the Man-of-War and Troops began to fire upon the people last night at sunset, at Boston, when a post was immediately sent off to inform the country. He informed that the Artillery played all night; that the people were universally rallying as far as here, and desire all the assistance possible. This first commencement of hostilities was occasioned by the country' s being robbed of their powder, from Boston as far as Farmingham; and when found out, the persons who went to take the perpetrator of the horrid deed (who had fled to the Camp) were immediately fired upon; six of our number were killed the first shot, and a number wounded; and beg you will rally all the forces you can, and be upon the march immediately for the relief of Boston, and the people that way.


The title of "Lieutenant Colonel of the Connecticut Forces," I did


not assume in my said letter, it being inserted in the New-York Paper by the Printer' s own capricious whim, or to gratify some of his votaries.

The above letter is as nearly conformable to the original as I can recollect, not having a copy of it; by comparing which with that inserted in said Gaine' s Paper, the reader will perceive they somewhat differ. Whether the difference arises from a wrong copy sent forward by Captain Cleveland, or from some other cause, I am not able to determine. I hope the reader will make a proper allowance for incorrectness, when he considers it was wrote in great haste, and the author aimed at nothing but plain matters of fact, as they were delivered to him, not expecting said letter would have been transported through the Continent, subject to the critical inspection of the learned in every Town.

The writer in Mr˙ Gaine' s Paper of September 10, who styles himself a New-York Freeholder, introduces his piece with a rhetorical picture of the honours of a civil war; which, though I agree with him that it brings a train of evils along with it, yet when drove to a state of desperation by the oppressive hand of tyranny and the lawless violence of arbitrary power, what people on earth would not be justified, in the eye of right reason and common sense, for the resistance even to the shedding of blood, if the preservation of their liberties demanded it. After having said sufficient to alarm the fears of all those who have a pusillanimity of soul, or rather an infamous desire of screening their Jacobitish principles under the mash of dread of consequences, he ushers in this paragraph, with a sneer: "Colonel Putnam' s famous letter, forwarded by special messengers to New-York and Philadelphia, and the consequences it produced, are very recent and fresh in our memories." Then, after reciting some part of my letter, he proceeds, "The evident confusion of ideas in this letter betrays the state of the poor Colonel' s mind, whilst writing it, and shews he did not possess that calm fortitude which is necessary to insure success in military enterprises." Paying all due deference to this author' s learning, and his undoubted acquaintance with the rules of grammar and criticism, I would beg leave to ask him whether he does not betray a total want of the feelings of humanity, if he supposes, in the midst of confusion, when the passions are agitated with a real belief of thousands of their fellow-countrymen being slain, and the inhabitants of a whole City just upon the eve of being made a sacrifice by the rapine and fury of a merciless Soldiery, and their City laid in ashes by the fire of the Ships-of-War, he or any one else could set down under the possession of a calmness of soul becoming a Roman Senator, and attend to all the rules of composition in writing a letter to make a representation of plain matters of fact, under the hieroglyphical similitude of tropes and figures?

He goes on to cast a censure upon the New England Colonies, saying the above mentioned report "has eventually made evident, past all doubt, that many in the New England Colonies are disposed and ripe for the most violent measures." This is as gross a falsehood as the Boston alarm, and discovers the evident disposition of the author to cast an odium upon the patriotick sons of New England, whose arms are emblazoned with humanity; who wish to gain a redress of their grievances by the most pacifick and gentle means, but rather than submit to slavery, are determined to drench their swords in blood, and die gloriously, or live free! — Under whose banners, possibly, this jesuitical


pretender to friendship for the liberties of America and the British Constitution, may be glad to take sanctuary, when the virtuous inhabitants of the Colony into which he fled from the Scotch rebellion, may find him out, and pass that act of outlawry against him, which every Jacobitish hypocrite deserves.

Now, I submit it to the determination of every candid unprejudiced reader, whether my conduct in writing the above mentioned letter, merits the imputation of imprudence, asserted by said writer; or whether they would have had me tamely sit down and been a spectator of the inhuman sacrifice of my friends and fellow-countrymen; or, in other words, Nero like, have sat down and fiddled, while I really supposed Boston was in flames; or exerted myself for their relief? And pray, in what easier way could I have proceeded, than in writing to one of the Militia Captains, (who I desired to forward the intelligence to the adjacent Towns,) when I really believed the story to be true? Which having done, I immediately mounted my horse and made the best of my way towards Boston, having only four gentlemen to accompany me. Having proceeded as far as Douglass, which is about thirty miles from my own house, I met Captain Hill, of that Town, with his Company, who had been down within about thirty miles of Boston, and had just returned. He informed me that the alarm was false, and that the forces of Worcester and Sutton were upon their return. I then turned my course homewards, without loss of time, and reached my house on Sunday morning about sun-rising, taking care to acquaint the people on the road that they need not proceed any further. Immediately on my return I sent an express to Captain Cleveland, letting him know what intelligence I had heard, and.desiring him to give the like information to the adjoining Towns to the Southward.

I believe the alarm was first occasioned by Mr˙ Benjamin Hallowell, who, going into Boston in a great fright, informed the Army that he had killed one man and wounded another, while they were pursuing him from Cambridge, and that the country were all in arms marching into Boston; which threw the military into great consternation; and they were quickly paraded and put into the most convenient posture of defence, in which situation they remained till next day. In the midst of this hurry and confusion, I believe a post was despatched into the country, but by whom, or to answer what purpose, I cannot tell; but what took place in consequence of it is evident. General Gage' s apprehension of danger was so great, that he speedily began to fortify the entrance to the Town, to prevent a surprise from the enemy without.

From what has been said, I believe it will sufficiently appear that I was not the inventor of this alarm; and I am told from good authority, that tho people were in motion in the Northward part of the Massachusetts Government, even to the distance of one hundred miles from Boston, who were alarmed by an Express sent thither by the same Wilcot, above mentioned, before the news reached me, which I think is enough to silence the ill-natured aspersions of every caviling Tory against my conduct, and make them, dog-like, draw in their tails and lop their ears, and skulk into some obscure hole or kennel and hide themselves from the contempt of the world. Haying evidently discovered their attempt to stir up a spirit of animosity and disunion among the good people of the Colonies, I pray God it may prove abortive.