Massachusetts

Peter Edes, Apprentice Printer, Imprisoned by the British

Battle of Bunker Hill

Battle of Bunker Hill

Peter Edes, 18, ended up in prison on June 19, 1775, after he caught the attention of the British Regulars by watching the Battle of Bunker Hill with 'anxious and tearful' eyes for his countrymen. He had already annoyed them in April when he stood on Beacon Hill and watched their retreat from Lexington with unconcealed joy.

He was an apprentice to his father,  Benjamin Edes who, with John Gill, printed the radical newspaper Boston Gazette and instigated the Boston Tea Party. His father managed to escape the Siege of Boston and settle in Watertown, Mass,  where he continued to publish the Gazette.

Peter, born Dec. 17, 1756 in Boston, was trained from a young age in the patriotism of the Revolution. He knew its leaders, who congregated in his father's printing office: John Hancock, John Adams, James Otis and Joseph Warren. On the day before his 17th birthday, Peter Edes refilled the china punch bowl several times for them as they dressed as Indians to throw tea into Boston Harbor.

Peter Edes' diary

Peter Edes' diary

He was apprehended by the British two days after the Battle of Bunker Hill and imprisoned for harboring a weapon. He would remain in prison for 3-1/2 months. The last page of the diary lists the 30 prisoners taken captive at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Only 11 were still alive by Sept. 21.

After he was liberated from prison, he worked with his father for a while, then moved his printing press to Newport, R.I., to Hallowell (now Augusta), Maine and finally to Bangor.

As an old man, he had suffered financial reverses, and his friends thought to print his prison diary as a way to raise money for him. Peter Edes died March 29, 1840, in Bangor Maine.

Here is his diary entry from June 19, 1775:

June 19, 1775. About eight o'clock in the morning, being in Edes &  Gill's office, three men belonging to the ships of war appeared round the office and having been previously informed of their pressing every person into the service who happened to fall in their way, I ran out of a back door which conducted into the lane that led to my father's house, thither I repaired; but the bloodhounds were immediately informed of my retreat and speedily followed me, and the dwelling almost instantaneously surrounded by sailors and three officers.

I soon was made a prisoner, and had the misfortune to find myself in the hands of the most unfeeling and worthless set of men, -- one of whom upon first discovering me cried out, "I have found the damned rebel." The fellow had a cutlass drown in his hand, and pulled me to the officers, one of whom was Capt. Lindsey: he asked me where Mr. Edes was, I answered he was out of town; he replied, that I was a damned liar, and that I had better tell him; he repeated the question, I answered as before; he asked me if I was Mr. Edes the printer's son, I told him I was; upon which he ordered me with him; observing that he was commanded so to do, I said it was very well, and followed him.

Gen. Thomas Gage

Gen. Thomas Gage

After we had got to New Boston, he asked me what my father had been writing to me, I replied nothing; then what I had been writing to him -- nothing; he said, "I was right in saying so, but that he would be damned if he would believe me."

We afterwards proceeded towards the Admiral's, and passing by my father's house, Lindsey discovered Mr. Starr with a firelock; upon which he ordered me to stop, for there was a trooper with a firelock. He was soon brought where I was, and both placed in the centre of a circle formed of six sailors, who were as hardened and inhuman as Turks, and were commanded to go on. Being a little animated I said, Capt Lindsey, I should be much obliged to you, if you would carry me to the General's, and see whether he will release me, or what he will do with me.

He said he was not to go where I pleased, but that I should go where he pleased to carry me, 'and damn you, if you ask me another  question, I'll knock you down, by God.'

He then sent us to the Admiral's, with an officer and a few sailors; when we were before the Admiral, he asked me my name: I replied, Edes; he said I looked like a dirty villain, and ordered his officer to carry us to the provost, with orders to hang us immediately; but looking round he saw a sailor with a firelock, upon which he asked the officer if it was found with us, being informed it was, he ordered his officer to carry us to Gen. Gage, and he would know what to do with us.

When we came before his excellency, Harry Rooke, one of his aid-de-camps, asked me how many more firelocks I had in the house, I replied, five or six more for aught I knew, for I was ignorant of that one being there; he told me that I would wish I had given it up; another officer called a sergeant of the horse, and ordered him to draw his cutless and carry us back to the Admiral's, but observed to him, if we offered to run, (made a sign by drawing his hand across his throat;) we set off, but soon an officer overtook us, and gave us orders to stop. The sergeant ordered us to lay on the ground, and in about a quarter of an hour another officer came and acquainted us that we must go to the General's again, which we did, and tarried there about half an hour, after which they called a corporal, gave him a billet, and ordered a file of men to take us to the provost; and to fall into the hands of a more worthless, infamous fellow, I don't wish my enemies.

This story was updated from the 2014 version. 

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Daniel C. Purdy

    Daniel C. Purdy

    June 19, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Did everyone in Eastern Mass keep a diary, write many letters, or write an autobiography back then? Glad that they did.

  2. New England Historical Society

    New England Historical Society

    June 20, 2014 at 7:13 am

    ^So are we! Edes actually lived in Hallowell and Bangor later in life and is credited with bringing the printing business to Maine.

  3. Sharon McDonald Hart

    Sharon McDonald Hart

    June 20, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    People had such beautiful penmanship back then.

  4. Pingback: Peter Edes: 107 Days in Prison for Watching the Battle of Bunker Hill | New England Historical Society

  5. Pingback: Benjamin Edes, Father of the Boston Tea Party and Keeper of Its Secrets - New England Historical Society

  6. Pingback: The British Get 'A Choaky Mouthful' at Bunker Hill - New England Historical Society

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